Monday, August 15, 2016

REVIEW: "Polarity in Motion", by Brenda Vicars


Genre:  Young Adult, Coming of Age, Whodunnit
Publisher:  Red Adept, 2014
Length: 266 pages


This book was recommended to me as being an especially good representation of the genre. I almost never read young adult novels - they just rarely interest me, and so few are well-done. So it was with a little reluctance that I began Polarity in Motion.

About ten pages in, I was hooked. The opening was expertly-written, immediately grabbing the reader as it should. As I read, it occurred to me that I would like to use it as an example to beginner novelists I am working with as a mentor and/or editor, as I try to instill in them the terrible importance of a great opening to a novel. At that point, I double-checked to see how many books the author had under her belt; I was surprised to find out that this was her first novel.

The next thought I had was that she had an excellent editor. Not only was the text clean (I think I found two typos and one grammar error - this is present in any novel, no matter how thoroughly edited), but the book was structurally extremely sound. This wasn't an easy task for a beginning novelist: the book is at its core a mystery, and with that type of book plot structure must be near-perfect: in order to keep the reader wondering and the story flying along, a writer has to do some painstakingly careful plotting. Foreshadowing must be continuous but not overwhelming; tension must be maintained to a high degree; most importantly, all the strings of plot must come together neatly at the end. The reader must be surprised by the ending, and yet satisfied and not surprised at all by what they learn. This book, for the most part, accomplished that.

Polarity in Motion is about a young girl caught up in a sexting scandal at a high school - one in which she is victimized. We follow her as she is removed from her school and home, and - during the impending formal investigation - becomes a temporary ward of the state. I really liked this section of the book, because I think it deftly illustrated the confusion, helplessness and anger of a child in such a situation. The main plot revolves around the discovery of who set her up, where the photo originated, and how it came to be a tool of bullying as it was disseminated among the peers in Polarity's social and academic world.

This book is entertaining and suspenseful and would entertain anyone from 12 to 80. It contains a lot of teen angst, crazy teachers, annoying parents, bullies, cute boys and a little romance. It really is a bang-up debut young adult novel, and is far above most others out there in terms of both quality of writing and of story.

As an editor, I did have one reservation about it, and it is one particularly interesting for me to bring up because it concerns all beginning novelists. This book makes one mistake that is very common in first books: it wants to be too many things. It hovers between being a mystery novel and meandering into various social issues that really have little to do directly with the plot. Although these passages do build layers of character and add atmosphere, they are a bit clumsy and neither advance the plot nor affect the outcome of the story.

I want to take a moment to speak about this in general terms, for the benefit of writers. Oftentimes, first-time novelists try to work a social issue that is near and dear to them personally into their story. This is perfectly fine, as long as the issue is shown within the plot of the story and has some effect on the plot's outcome. Too often, a new novelist wanders occasionally from the narrative of the plot to get on a soapbox of some sort. In terms of the technique of writing there are a few problems with this:

1 - It slows down the tension of the plot. In some cases pontificating about some moral concern goes on for paragraphs, in the middle of what should have been a continuous build of dramatic tension. The new writer will justify this as "well,  but the main character is talking about it, so..."  I appreciate that it is worked into the character's thoughts or dialogue, but that isn't enough. It still has to advance the plot, and be directly related to the story.  Otherwise the impatient reader is skipping those passages in frustration.

2 - A reader is satisfied by a well-defined theme. A great reading experience requires that the book know what it's about. As I said above, this problem is so common with beginning novelists - especially the intelligent, involved, engaged people who have real passion about a cause - and I often find myself saying to someone I'm editing, "Do you want to write a good novel, or do you want to do some real research and write a good non-fiction book about this issue? Because you need to pick one." When the narrative is interrupted by paragraphs of moralizing - even when it is part of the characters' thoughts - and that moral message doesn't directly affect the plot or move it along, it causes the reader to get an overall sense of disorganization in terms of theme. It's very hard to explain to someone inexperienced with writing that a novel is not the place to lecture the reader about social issues. Which brings me to my next point...

3 - Readers don't like unsolicited lectures. The reader of a novel is in it for two reasons. The first is enjoyment. An uninvited, unexpected lecture on a moral issue can be annoying and takes away from the enjoyable experience of being told a story.  But secondly, some people like to learn something as well from a novel. It may be argued, in fact, that the greatest novels in literature explore the social issues of the day. I would absolutely agree with that. But I guarantee you that every one of those great novels presents that social issue in a way that it is 1) incidental to the fabric of the story (that is, it never interrupts the flow or reads like a lecture to the reader) 2)  completely and intricately woven into the plot itself: that is, the social issue is the primary cause of tension, affects the plot, and affects the outcome.  It takes some very experienced writing to deftly work a moral lesson into the weave of a good story, and the best writers learn to do it well... which brings me to the last point...

4 - Readers don't need to be beaten over the head. Especially not with the author's life philosophies. Not outright, anyway. Ask my editing clients how many times I said to them, as we worked on a first novel, "Less is more. Less is more."  What I mean is, if you are going to work in philosophizing - and you certainly have the right to as a the author - work it in subtly. Most beginners don't understand how smart the reader is going to be, and how much a reader likes to work things out for themselves. Do you remember when you were a child how your mom used to tell you the same thing over and over to make her point, and how annoying that was?

Beginning authors explain way too much about the meaning and morality of the tale. They need to show it, not tell it. Too much telling - in this case talking about this social or moral issue or that (regardless of who is doing the talking) - feels to the reader like being hammered over the head with a moral. Especially when there are several (let's define that as three or more) places in the novel where that happens. I would argue it doesn't ever need to happen in a well-written novel, because the moral message should be conveyed subtly by the very action of the tale alone, and never have to be stated outright.

In the case of Polarity in Motion, the moralizing is separate from the plot. There is a lot of talk about race, and a lot of talk about inequality of privilege as regards race. But within the story this point is not illustrated: all the kids at the school seem to have the same opportunities for success, and successful individuals are presented in all races. Consequences for characters have everything to do with action, and nothing to do with race. Everything that happens in the story could have happened regardless of what color everyone's skin is. There is some suggestion that only kids of color end up in juvenile detention, which anyone who has worked with teen offenders knows is hooey  (I can say from personal first-hand work experience that many are white). There is suggestion that the kids of color are less often guilty of the charges that put them there - but it is never shown positively that this is true. And again, it's a side-plot.

One disturbing element was Polarity's many descriptions of her love interest's skin color - so many that the reader wonders if the girl is a bit obsessed with him precisely because he is black. Which would be in itself, of course, a type of racism, wouldn't it? And that would be a subject for a whole different story and possibly a legitimately interesting plot it itself. But it doesn't belong here - because in the end his skin color has nothing to do with anything.  I think this feeling comes, again, because the reader is being beaten over the head by the fact his skin is brown - the implication being isn't it cool that this white girl can fall for this great black guy. But I think most modern 13-year-olds already know that.

At the end of the book, to her credit, the author valiantly tries to tie together bullying, racism, economic under-privilege (of white "trailer trash" and blacks), and then other various notions about inequality, all together... but it ends as a jumbled bit of yet more philosophizing (not to mention some bad poetry - such as that our 15-year-old character would in fact write) and it ultimately feels out of place - because there is too much effort to make it fit neatly in to a package. The mystery story works well, and would have felt more organized, if this moralizing had all been left out or had been worked into the actual plot with subtlety.

I don't mean to seem to pick on this book - I want to state again that it is overall well-done and an exceptionally competent first effort at a novel. I simply want to clearly illustrate for potential writers who read my blog how easy it is to get caught up in trying to convey one's personal passion and political philosophy; and without the skill to do it right, you can end up lowering the quality of the novel for the reader.

I did some research on the author of Polarity in Motion after reading it, and find that she has an extensive background in secondary education. This was apparent in the book, in which the reader is taken into the inner workings of high school administration.  Ms. Vicars has openly stated her passion for questions of inequality among teens, and I'm sure that it was tempting to try to work some teaching into her novel.  I really hope to see another novel, and perhaps some of these sub-themes worked in again, but less blatantly and more closely with the plot line.

Polarity in Motion is widely available and can be found at Amazon, where I posted a portion of this review.



Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Some thoughts on the kindness of PC . . .

Ironically, the day before the Orlando massacre, I had an unpleasant Twitter exchange with someone I had previously enjoyed.  This East Coast university professor shared an interest with me, in medieval literature and history.  It isn't always easy to find kindred souls in that area (yeah, we're geeks), so I always appreciate fellow medieval fanatics.

But on this day, he tweeted a tweet that I found so disturbing, I couldn't stay silent. It was a statement to the effect that people who didn't share his world view (liberal) and weren't PC, were somehow less intelligent (conservatives).  I replied something to the effect that his comment seemed elitist, and that it wasn't my experience that those who embraced PC ideology were always more intelligent than others. He shot back that they had a "kinder and more humane vision".

Oh. Not elitist at all.

I'm sure this man sees himself as intellectually superior to me and to most people around him. He is amused that I am not enlightened enough to appreciate his view. It will never occur to him that I have thoroughly considered his view - indeed years ago I may have even embraced it. At the time of the exchange, I dismissed him as rather limited in his viewpoint; I had to laugh to myself, considering the environment - liberal academia, increasingly intolerant of diversity in viewpoints. No wonder he's as blind as he is to common sense.  I still question his ability to think through layers, despite his Ph.D. level education. But all week I've been haunted by the exchange for another reason: this man is a prime example of one of the biggest myths about the PC culture and the biggest points of misunderstanding of the Left:  that a PC-driven set of values is "kinder".

Maybe it's because of what happened in Orlando. Maybe it's something that has nagged at the back of my brain for quite some time. But I've been chewing on this question all week: is it really kinder? Every cell in me screams, "No way!"  and I have been driven to define for myself specifically how it is unkind.

I agree with this misguided professor that the PC movement was born of the intention to make interactions between people kinder. Back in the 1980s, the term "politically correct" didn't make me cringe; it was an invitation to simply stop and think something through, consider if prejudice was present, if discrimination was present. It began as a nice idea.

But today, in 2016, it has mutated into a tool for intimidation, thought-shaming, censorship, and ultimately, an attempt to control. Read that list again: it has a lot in common with "socialist" (read: progessive) movements in history that ended up oppressing and eventually murdering their own people.

Besides its blatant ignorance of history - or its willful desire to selectively forget history - there are several things that frighten me about the PC culture in 2016. I mean, really frighten me.


  • It seeks to censor the world of journalism. It seeks to control the free flow of ideas in the mainstream press. Those within that structure who disagree with any element of the PC world view are isolated, ridiculed, even bullied out of their jobs. At this point, we have journalists selectively editing anything from interview footage to statistics, in order to deceptively present them in such a way that the PC narrative is protected. The accompanying willingness to ignore simple - simple! - fact is astounding. Worse, the intellectual arrogance of a journalist who would manipulate factual information to fool his or her audience into adopting a particular view is ... well, immoral. 
  • It seeks to censor the world of science. Working with the press, the PC culture has demonized and ostracized formerly-respected scientists by creating a mythology around "climate change". While fact is that many of these scientists tell us that although the climate is changing, a tiny fraction of the change is due to human influence, the PC culture continues the narrative that any scientist disagreeing with their view that climate change is an imminent disaster is a nutjob. This they perpetuate through the press. 
  • It seeks to control the world of education. A serious study of the industry of textbook publishing in recent decades will make it obvious to a thinking person that some of our history is being rewritten and taught in such a way as to align with the current PC thought. Now it may be argued that as any society evolves, its textbook material also evolves. But the problem here is that it has evolved in a very specific direction, favoring very particular ideologies that may or may not be based upon the humane values of our traditional past. These would include such things as liberty, freedom of thought, freedom from an intrusive government, freedom of speech, responsibility toward one's fellow man, integrity of one's right to protect home and family. The PC culture seeks to alter actual history in such a way that it will align with the rest of the narrative. The facts be damned; so many are inconvenient. 
  • It seeks to control the world of art. In an area of society where all viewpoints should be explored at the deepest and most creative level, we have thought control. In my view, this cheapens all of art. Consider the loudest and most arrogant of Hollywood voices - they seem to project an absolute zero tolerance for a conservative viewpoint. If you have read up on that issue, you know that many actors, writers, technicians, have reported being persecuted - from being harassed verbally, to being ostracized from social events, to being outright fired because of their views. Hollywood has sought to create an environment where one point of view rules. Consider the music industry. It's even worse. What do you think would happen to a conservative who, upon accepting some award at the Grammys, got up and expressed a view the room didn't share?  This used to happen, and be accepted. No more. Recently I watched episodes of Seinfeld and realized they wouldn't fly today. Not because they are not thought-provoking, but because the PC crowd running television media would be overly sensitive to them. It even seeks to squelch humor - except humor at the expense of the opposing view. 
  • It seeks to define morality for all society. I don't deny that we, as the collective humanity, must define a common morality. Most of western society, at least, can agree that enslavement, punishment without trial, rape, child abuse causing injury, political imprisonment, racial bias, gender bias, are all wrong. But PC culture seeks to define minutia, for all of us. Although the United States was founded by a group of people seeking the freedom to practice Christianity as they chose without governmental interference, the PC culture has used the laws growing out of that centuries-old history to silence all non-secular expressions of religious faith. Or at least, two religious faiths that they don't like. Thus we have courts dealing with situations where a creche is removed from view, but another symbol is welcomed. Or where school children are taught the tenets of some religions, as part of a "cultural sensitivity experience", while other religions are ignored or even demonized.  Again, some views are oppressed in favor of those
    that fit the narrative. 
  • It seeks to control the free flow of information, aside from media. Consider the environment that has grown in the state-funded universities of this country, where by definition all views should be welcome. We now have young people who insist they should be considered adults who need "safe places", and "time-outs" when they hear speech they don't agree with. We have students who see no moral problem with their behavior when they interrupt and stop a presentation by a conservative speaker. In their arrogance, they truly believe that they have a monopoly on intelligence, on Truth, and this justifies silencing opposing opinion.  Consider the behavior of the mobs of "protestors" - some there for hire and some too young to know better - who have recently perpetuated real violence at rallies for Donald Trump. These people have one aim: to prevent the free flow of ideas, by preventing others from hearing ideas that they don't agree with. Historically, they have this in common with rising fascist movements. But they are too young, uneducated, naive... and maybe too arrogant, to know history and understand the patterns.
I could go on. But my point is, when people are silenced, intimidated, bullied out of jobs... is it kind? When people are terrorized, pummeled with rocks, eggs, and even fists, at a rally, is it kind? When people are lied to about the value of their own heritage in favor of another group's, is it kind?  When people are shamed in 2016 for actions of their ancestors in 1800, or 1700, or 1600, is it kind?  When people's work and struggles are erased because of their skin color, and their right to reap benefits of their labor denied, is it kind

The current PC culture has come with a sense of entitlement and superiority that is alarming. Like the most dangerous and ultimately oppressive socio-political movements of the past, it justifies unethical behavior by virtue of a sense of moral/ethical/intellectual superiority; the immoral has become relative to how the behavior serves the goal. PC culture justifies shaming someone for their views as "stupid". It justifies ignoring factual information in order to convey what one considers a bigger message. It justifies robbing people of livelihoods, personal safety, the right to an idea. It justifies, even, taking a "protest" as far as violence. Because, you know, the Greater Good.  
Problem is, that greater good is coming at a higher and higher price to the integrity of this nation, as the PC culture grows more and more certain of its own superiority. And sadly, it comes at a higher and higher price to the individual.

So I'm just going to say it. I think this pattern of PC thought is the worst of the worst kind of just plain mean. It devalues Truth in favor of New Narrative. It devalues the right -the right! - of a human being to acquire real, factual information before making up his own mind. It distorts our world when it distorts science, education, journalism, arts, political discourse. It robs us and cheats us and binds us in ways we never agreed to. It presents a false picture to us, which is ultimately misleading. And it is deliberate in its deceit. Because it believes it knows what is best.

Call me old-fashioned, but I come from an era where lying and deceit no matter the reason were
immoral. I come from a time where people understood the meaning of the word "humility" (wonder how many 20-somethings can even define that?). I come from a time when, to assume one's own intellectual superiority was not only immoral, but to assume the right to rob others of their autonomy and liberty and rights by virtue of one's own intellectual superiority, would be unthinkable. 

It doesn't take much courage to stomp one's foot and shout over an opponent until they are silenced or slink away in defeat. It doesn't take any courage to shame someone into non-opposition, conveniently ignoring your own shortcomings. It takes no courage to join a group of like-minded bullies to shout another, minority, view into silence.  It takes zero courage and less character, to assume your own ideas and opinions are so perfect that they can never change or alter in keeping with new information. It takes nothing to assume you're superior to another human being because they don't share your narrow view of the world. 

It takes real work and time to seek out and research factual information. It takes real patience to listen to someone whose life experience has led them to have views different from yours. It takes intellectual courage to examine the ways in which information that makes you uncomfortable may have merit (that would go to allowing opposing speakers and opposing theories a platform at universities, wouldn't it?).

We are becoming a society of cowards due to a rising PC culture. It demands persecution of any voice it doesn't like. If it can't legally silence, it does it by intimidation and harassment. Again, this is the beginning of fascism - that word so many of our youth, with their PC-saturated minds and view of the world, throw around so easily to describe the opposing view, all the while never really understanding its history or meaning. This is the beginning of one loud societal group silencing another. 

The real irony of PC culture is that it becomes the very thing it seeks to stop. In striving to emphasize certain races, histories, art forms, groups, that it has deemed persecuted, it begins the same persecution of other groups. Thus, Christians are bad, conservatives are bad. Police, whites, are bad. Some people deserve persecution more than other people - and we have come full circle. We've simply swapped victims.

My hope is that the part of the American spirit that has defeated fascism again and again in this world, will rise in a common voice that will say, "Enough."  That, although the ideas that gave birth to political correctness may have been noble, it's gone too far. When it stepped into oppression territory it went too far. 

The PC culture doesn't value character. It doesn't value integrity. It doesn't value truth - not the real,
unpleasant, inconvenient truth that often accompanies fact. It doesn't value humility. It doesn't value real equality - you know, that old ideal where people would have the same rights regardless of their background or skin color or what their blinking ancestors did four hundred years ago. It doesn't value diversity of ideas, or ideology. It doesn't value diversity of heritage - not really, because it overvalues and re-invents the heritage of some and ignores and re-tells the heritage of others. The PC culture wars within itself because it never stops shrieking long enough to really hear and examine all points of view, and come to real compromise. Compromise does not fit the narrative. The patience required to accept that most social change requires time to happen humanely, is not part of the PC mindset. 

Sorry, Professor, but there is nothing kind about it.

----------------------------------------

UPDATE:  The Benghazi hearing concluded on June 28, and the following came to light: Obama's administration, after the Sec. of Defense ordered that our military needed to go in to Libya and rescue Americans who were under attack, fretted over what impression our military uniforms would make upon the Libyan terrorists. Because we didn't want to offend their sensibilities, our citizens suffered over 13 hours under severe attack, and our ambassador and three others met horrible deaths (which we now know for a fact Obama and Hillary lied about, Hillary even lying to the families of the victims - to save the election which for Obama's second term which was 59 days away).  One serviceman reported that he and comrades changed clothes four times (!) - in vain, as it turned out, because by the time the administration came to any conclusion about attire, it was too late to help, and none was ever sent.  This is a prime example of how political correctness is not kind, it is not sensible, it is not reasonable. It is selfish; it seeks to value one point of view over another, and it seeks to silence any opposition.  Political correctness out of control, in this case, killed four brave Americans. 





Friday, April 29, 2016

Me, He, and She: A Writer's View on Infidelity

So I'm sitting with a long-time friend recently, chatting about our mutual lives and people in them, and she alludes to something that causes me to glance up at her in astonishment.

"You knew I had a boyfriend, right?"

I burst into astonished, semi-amused laughter. "No, I did not know that."

This friend has been married for nearly thirty years to the same man. They were married very young. I have never asked, but knowing their background, I would say that they probably got married because everyone expected it, and were too young to really have a clue about anything beyond puppy love. Four kids and several grandkids later, things have soured. Her husband has health issues and a problem with erectile dysfunction. Despite her pleading with him to seek medication and/or marriage counseling, he has refused to show any interest in fixing the problem. The problem being not so much that he can't get it up, but that he doesn't want to, and she is a good-looking, red-blooded and often horny woman. This isn't a novel. This is a real adult life.

My writing buddy recently asked how my new book was coming along, and as I heard myself enthusiastically relay some possible plot twists I had considered, it occurred to me that I am again writing about - and maybe obsessing about? - infidelity. It's a subject that is so interesting to me that I can't stop working it into my plot lines.

As a writer, I have learned a lot about the subject of infidelity; I have learned more as a writer, perhaps, than I did years ago as a cheated-on wife. Now, there is something I never would have thought possible.  I thought you all - writers and others - might like to hear about some of that.

My book Gentlemen's Game involved quite a bit of cheating. Some of it was mindless "for fun" cheating - where the spouse doesn't find out and the perpetrator feels no guilt.  Some of it was "I'm cheating because you have given me no choice by your behavior".  I think that it took many years for me as a person to understand that sometimes, there is justification.  Sometimes, as in much of life, the issue isn't all that black and white. I had to laugh at the many reviews for G Game that mentioned the infidelity, usually in the vein of "there is cheating, but . . ."  and some praise of the book as a whole.  People really, really don't stomach infidelity easily.  And I noticed more than once that it is the young, the more recently-married (say less than ten or fifteen years), who are the least tolerant of the notion.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that fidelity as a concept should be morally acceptable! I'm saying that for me, there was a point in life where I realized that cheating is common (more than it should be), that all who cheat are not pigs, that people can be good spouses and still cheat, that people can be good people in much of their lives, and still cheat.  It's more complicated than we want it to be.  I am speaking about tolerance of the notion in the sense of a writer - that when one has the maturity to tolerate the thought of infidelity enough to try to understand it and allow one's mind to explore it, a given book might be more enjoyable and more of an enlightening experience than simply an emotionally difficult one.

Infidelity in the publishing world is interesting. In literary, mainstream fiction, it's acceptable.  In the romance genre, it most often isn't; publishers' guidelines will state outright that infidelity is not to be presented. Most interesting to me, many publishers of erotic romance - the most X-rated - also don't like to publish infidelity, unless it's a group sex thing where the spouse/significant other is involved. This is amazing to me:  so often the conflict of relationships, in real adult life, involves some sort of infidelity, whether strictly emotional, or sexual. And yet it makes readers of romance so uncomfortable that publishers are shy about it.

I confess that I was once one of those readers. Well, I never could stand romance novels - haha! - but I was that kind of person. I could not read about infidelity. I could not watch a movie about it. I was terrified. I did a lot of thinking about why I was terrified (I'm a writer, it's what we do - obsess about the whys of human behavior).  This is what I believe:  I could not allow my mind to go to a dark place where everything I wanted to believe in would be rendered, perhaps, null and void.  I was afraid the book or film in question would present cheating in a sympathetic light. And then what would that mean for my beliefs and my views of the world?  Would it suddenly have to be a place where The Cheaters were not so bad, and we - the ones who would never cheat - were doomed to be deceived, lied to, hurt? What kind of backwards Hell would that be?

If you've read this far, I'm going to reward you with a juicy personal story. I want to tell you the story so that you understand how my feelings about cheating evolved as a writer to a point where I can write a sympathetic character that happens to be cheating. And there will be a point to all of this, I promise. Here goes.

I was about thirty-five or so. I'd been married for about a dozen years by then. I was fairly attractive, I had a lot of friends. As a wife I was fun, kind, if a little bullheaded. My husband was not so kind, not much fun, and I had married him too young to know that someone who is egocentric doesn't get better through the years, but worse. But I was raised with some old-fashioned values, which is probably why I hadn't walked out years before, and as long as he was faithful, I was committed.

He had a colleague and best friend, whom I'll call Mark. He often hung out with us. I didn't care much for him.... he was fairly young, maybe late twenties, and he had a high-school level locker room style humor that often offended me. And I had nothing in common with him. Plus, my forty-year-old husband acted like an immature ass when they were together. But Mark never knew my feelings. His maturity level wasn't his fault. And they had known each other and worked together for several years by then.

The day came when Mark suddenly got married, to a girl from his hometown he'd known for a few
years and dated off and on. He said his parents didn't like her - I wondered why - and didn't explain further why the relationship hadn't been more on than off.  But at any rate, now they were married, and he brought her to our area to live and work.  My husband met Angela, came home and mentioned how gorgeous she was. She was from another country and culture originally - not unusual in our circle, since my husband was also foreign and many of our friends were immigrants.

They married on Valentine's Day.  Within a month, the four of us were spending a lot of time together. Angela was also much younger than I was, and I had little in common with her either. She was nice enough, but a little full of herself. I chalked it up to the age and maturity level, and did my best to help her feel at home in a new place. She adored me. She used to bring me little gifts, tell my husband how wonderful I was. I liked being looked up to.

Meanwhile, my husband insisted we spend a lot of time with them. Maybe two evenings a week, plus time on weekends. I gradually started to resent it. Before, we had always had Friday as a "date night". Now the date was always a double date. Always. When we weren't with them, he was talking about them. I started to go a little nuts with it. But the months went on, and I didn't say a lot. After all, Angela was getting used to being married, in a new place, and she often sought my advice.

 Once, she confided in me that she appreciated my friendship, because she had never had a lot of female friends. "Women don't like me. They always think I will steal their boyfriends." She laughed. I thought it was a rather arrogant thought on her part. But I couldn't argue, she was a very pretty and very, very sexy girl. She was from South America, and displayed an easy physical sensuality that so many Latina women have. In addition she was funny and charming, and had just finished a law degree. I imagined she might invite a lot of jealousy from women.

And advice she needed. They both did. The fights were often, and childish. My husband and I spent not a few evenings with them indulging in a bit of impromptu marriage counseling. But they seemed to be a good match, and Mark certainly loved the girl. I never could quite figure how she felt about him, but I didn't want to judge something so personal.

I spent early evening of Halloween at their apartment. Angela had summoned me there, saying she was in some crisis and needed to talk. I remembering listening to her and wondering what the issue actually was. She rambled on about the usual, her frustration with Mark, their fighting. But I didn't get a feeling of crisis and wondered why I had had to drop everything and drive over there. It was weird, and I felt rather manipulated. Mark and my husband arrived at some point, and things were even weirder. Mark seemed oblivious. My husband seemed annoyed. Have you ever had that feeling that something is definitely going on in a room, but you haven't been made privy to it and can't put your finger on it?

Next morning, my husband nervously told me he had to tell me something. I remember him shaking as he told me - sitting there on the side of the bed, this man who usually didn't care what I thought about anything - that he and Angela had been having an affair since May. Since two months after her marriage. He was having an affair with his best friend's wife.

Now... this is where it gets really interesting. Because this is where I started learning what infidelity really is, and what it really means.  It isn't about someone having sex with someone. That is just a tiny detail in the end.  It hardly matters. (Believe me, it doesn't.)  What matters is that your judgement failed you.  You failed to see the signs. Your mind failed to protect you from your worst nightmare. You were deceived by the person closest to you. Everything you believe about yourself, and the reliability of your intelligence, explodes around you. He would not have told me because of an attack of conscience, mind you. He told me because they had quarreled and she had threatened to tell me. He had merely beat her to it.

I didn't scream. I didn't yell. I was numb. He asked if I was going to leave him. I told him I didn't know. I cried a little.  It was immediately apparent to me that this man who was often so cold, so arrogant, so dismissive of me, was now shaking, so small and terrified that he would lose me. I wondered if he was surprised too. (Looking back, I know he was. He never saw her again. Hilariously, after that day the fun of it was gone for them. The sneaking around made it interesting. They didn't even like each other much as people, and both were painfully aware of it in the end, much to my great amusement. Last laughs, poetic justice, all that, you know.)

And then as I watched him sitting there wringing his hands, I said something that surprised me as much as it did him. And I am proud of it to this day, because I learned how terribly strong I was, and I knew in that moment that of the four of us, I was the strongest. And I knew he knew it too.

I said, "I don't know what will happen. But I will tell you this: you have 24 hours to tell Mark. If you don't, I will."

He said quietly, "You would do that, wouldn't you?"

I said, "Try me. He deserves to know the truth about his life and what he is married to. He deserves better than her. And better than YOU."

In the end, he told Mark, after begging me to be present. He told him like a man, apologized like a man. A few hours before, Angela, forewarned, had gone crazy. She begged, threatened, cried to me, "You don't understand! Mark isn't like you! He isn't going to understand and he'll divorce me."

Tough cookies, little girl.  You made this bed.

Not like me?  Who said I wasn't going to leave?  What did she imagine I was? A saint? I was no saint, but I was no fool either.

Mark surprised me, moved me, and humbled me by his reaction. He was calm, he didn't try to kill my
husband. Within weeks, he'd forgiven him and they were working out together. He did file for divorce the very next day.  I didn't feel sorry for her one bit.  I did feel sorry for Mark. He did deserve better. Anyone would.

I stayed in my marriage for several years, but I should not have. It took time to get my mind to stop obsessing over the deception.  Because that's what you obsess over. It isn't flashes of possible sexual rendezvous. It's memories of the moments your partner looked you in the face and lied. And questions about how you were so easily fooled.

Here was another surprise. A revelation. It took a while to come to me. But finally one day I said to my husband, "You know... I have a feeling that Angela's sleeping with you had something to do with..."

"... fucking you?  Of course it did. It wasn't about me at all."  He finished the thought for me.

Fidelity is ultimately a terribly selfish act. It's the deliberate deception of the person who relies on you to keep them emotionally safe in this emotionally brutal existence we all share. It's the ultimate betrayal from the ultimate friend. It's ugly.

It's also selfish on the part of the co-cheater. Angela wanted to stick it to me: someone she couldn't be. She called me, in fact, a few months after the divorce. "Mark and D-- are still friends. Why can't we be friends?" she whined.

"Are you crazy?  You fucked my husband. That is why we are not going to be friends. I have no respect for you. Now get the hell off my phone."  I knew that she knew I was a bigger person than she was. That was enough for me. I hope she grew from it, but I really don't care. She was a big girl, she destroyed a marriage and nearly two. She knew what she was doing. Now for the rest of her life she gets to know what she did and regret it.

When I was younger and more innocent, I thought infidelity was always unacceptable. I don't believe that now, despite the ugliness of what Angela and my ex did. I think of relationships, particularly marriage, as a literal contract. You screw me, prepare to be screwed.  I used to tell my husband in those latter years, "I guess you owe me a freebie."  Meaning that I could, without guilt, sleep with a man of my choice for a few months. At any time. I enjoyed watching him squirm, wondering if I'd do it.  I never did. Because in the same way he chose to live deceptively, I chose to live honestly.  Like I said before, I should have left him immediately after. But I was young and dumb. Marriages may survive infidelity but they are never the same again. This is the bottom line: A person who is capable of that level of deception will always be capable of it. Each individual has to chose whether living with such a person and the fear of the havoc they can wreak in your life, is really worth it. When I did leave him finally, he knew that I would always deserve better than he had been. Because I never would have done to him what he did to me.

Characters are never interesting if they are saints. Sometimes good people do bad things. Selfish things. Maybe even unforgivable things. The wounded party, after an affair, understands this as no one else can. All of this makes for multi-layered relationships, real multi-layered characters, and interesting stories. Affairs are common. We all know the stories. We all can predict every scene and the ending.  But can we all understand the emotions? The nuances of the experience?  I think that is where one can weave a unique tale. And we are all individuals, certainly experiencing infidelity differently, both as the offender and the offended party.

I do believe that some philanderers have good reason - or at least an understandable reason. Coming up with those reasons as a writer is the fun part, and does allow me to reflect and invite the reader to reflect, on some of the more difficult aspects of human behavior.  Jack Miles, in Gentlemen's Game, came to believe he was in a terrible, bad marriage, to a selfish person, and strayed to explore who he really was. Jack was basically a good man who did some bad things.  In my story Frozen, Ethan is a selfish man who keeps a young gay man on the side, masquerading as a straight and happily-married man with small children.

My friend, after bowling me over with her announcement that she had a boyfriend on the side, quickly explained that her husband knows and doesn't seem to care.  I listened for half an hour, and at the end of our conversation, I said, "Good for you, Girl!"  And I meant it.  Her boyfriend is also married, his wife knows, and this works for all of them. Divorce for either couple would affect children and many lives, and isn't the best option. For them it is not a moral one.

Life is messy. People are messy.  A writer that is afraid of looking at messy never gets their hands dirty, and misses a lot of fun playing in the mud.  Okay, my writing buddy Becky is the Queen of Metaphors and I'm not, but you get my point.  Wallow in the mud, Writers!  Figure out the real whys of why people do what they do.  Putting all behavior in a "this is good" and "this is bad" box is cowardly for a writer, and will stifle your voice and imagination. Don't be afraid of exploring the darkest places.

You are not your characters.  I would never do what Jack Miles did. I would never live as Ethan's piece on the side.  I am infallibly honest to my friends and lovers.  But then . . . I'm much less interesting than my characters are. ;)

Gentlemen's Game and Frozen can be found at Amazon.com and other online retailers. See reviews on this page and at lichencraig.com .  

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Tragically Disappearing Value of Letters

I have a letter dated 1852. It is written by an ancestor - Reuben Peacher - to his son-in-law Zachariah Elkins and his daughter Nancy Jane. The young couple, who had been married some three or four years by then (she had been only fifteen, but he almost a decade older), were living only a few counties away, but in an age when there was no email, no phone, no motorized vehicle, it was a few days journey. They both came from large, tight-knit families, and it must have been a big decision to leave; in a few years more, they would join the wagon train on the Oregon Trail, going from Independence, Missouri, to a new home at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

The letter tells us a great deal about them. It is written on light blue, unlined paper. The weight and quality is such that it has survived intact for 164 years. The black, uneven ink pen lines belie the use of a fountain pen. The hand is neat and well-schooled, the grammar good but not perfect. Spelling wasn't yet standardized. Reuben was educated. Zachariah was obviously capable of reading it - although he had been raised in the wilderness of Kentucky and later Missouri. I don't know whether Nancy Jane could not read or whether common custom dictated that the men should write to one another and bypass the women.

At any rate, Reuben had a bit to say, over two pages.  Although the details are mundane, they paint a picture of domestic life for a frontier family, and the very real individuals who lived what we can hardly imagine now. Imagine their world, where one couldn't exist without a horse or a plow or an ax or a rifle or a thorough knowledge of agriculture and hunting. Imagine staining your fingers with ink as you wrote, knowing that news of a death in the family or a new baby would take a week to get there. Imagine that visiting on a whim was impossible - a move across country meant saying goodbye for a very, very long time, if not forever. Imagine that our journeys of a few hours took days or weeks. This is the world the letter allows me to visit - and as I hold it in my hands I wonder about the hands that first made the creases in it and sealed it with wax, and then saddled the horse or hitched him to the wagon, to travel several miles to post it.

The point is, these letters can be held in a hand, my experience of it mingling with a man's of 164 years ago, his skin cells mingling with mine. Letters are a tangible piece of the evidence of lives of the past. And they are quickly fading from our experience.

When I was young, letters were a fact of life. There was no internet, no email. I wrote and received
letters from relatives who lived four states away, across the prairies and cornfields of the Midwest and West. I still have a few of those letters. When I was maybe about ten years old - my favorite grandmother taught me about writing a proper letter.  She said it had to begin with some personal news. Then, a good story - which must include some description or drama or something else of entertainment value to the recipient. And it should end with affection and some plan to write again or to see the loved one again. I have a few of her letters in a box; she's been dead for a few decades now. When I look at them I remember the way she formed words, and the slow, careful way she spoke. She had a wonderful, warm chortle in her voice. I marvel at the uniqueness of her hand and her style.  And I experience her again as an individual and miss her. Without those letters, I don't think I could get so close.

The earliest letters I have read were those written between kings in the early medieval period. Such as letters from Charlemagne, king of Franks (and part of what is now France) and the great Mercian (England) king, Offa. They survive on vellum, a material made from lambskin and dried. They are written in Latin, which in that world enjoyed the universality similar to today's English. They show the personalities, the daily concerns, and the world, of two powerful men in the eighth century. Twelve hundred years ago. I envy the researchers who protect these letters, and who have held them in their hands. A part of me believes that the energy of the past world travels through such objects - what a gift it is to reach back through time and touch the eighth century.

Letters exist between family members, friends and lovers, that reveal details of famous lives. Mozart's wife understood the enormous value of letters to reveal secrets: she burned all of the great musician's letters upon his death. I can almost forgive her - Mozart was mentally ill and so difficult to live with that she had left him years before and they lived apart. But in the end she was there, and his friend, and she had the foresight to protect his privacy.  She robbed us all of a glimpse into his mind and genius, of course.

The great Persian poet, Kahlil Gibran, enjoyed a decades-long romance with a woman through letters. It is believed that although their letters are affectionate and romantic and show devotion and respect, they never met face-to-face.

In December of 2015, a New York man was remodeling the fireplace of this vintage home and found letters over a century old - written by the two young children of an Irish immigrant family that had once lived in the house, to Santa Claus. Ten-year-old Mary's words reveal much about their lives, their values, and the thoughts of a generous-hearted little girl:

"Dear Santa Claus . . . My little brother would like you to bring him a wagon which I know you cannot afford. I will ask you to  bring him whatever you think best. Please bring me something nice what you think best. - Mary   P.S. Please do not forget the poor. "

Letters reveal the most intimate relationships of the famous people of the past, and also the lives and cares and dreams of people who no one would remember if not for a surviving letter - a bit of a person that survives for decades or centuries beyond death. What are we losing, as we allow the art of letter-writing - in my generation something so common - to fade from our experience?  What are we sacrificing?  How will people, hundreds of years from now, know how we spoke and how our experience of the world around us differed from theirs?  How will they know the things that letters have preserved for us about our past?

They will have books, of course, but letters are different. They are informal, intensely personal, and reveal personality more clearly than any carefully-written prose ever could.  How sad it is that people in the future won't hold the leaves of a letter, with beautiful handwriting and a lingering scent of perfume, in their hands and glimpse the private life of someone else who has passed away?

From now on people will not know the joy of receiving into their hands a personal letter - its paper once handled by the hands of a distant loved one or a lover, the individual's unique handwriting decorating the front. They won't know the surprise of finding a feather, or a piece of lace or fabric, a lock of hair, or other surprise. Or the familiar welcome scent of cigar smoke or perfume. The intimate nature and privacy of a letter is forever lost in the age of computers and emails.  Now, with schools discontinuing the training of children in handwriting skills, future generations won't be able to write a letter if they want to.

I have made a decision that soon I will have that old letter laminated, so that it will survive for decades to come. I won't be able to touch it anymore in the same way, and that bothers me greatly, but it's time to give that up in favor of its preservation. I hope that someone in a coming generation appreciates it as much as I have, and the view of the past and three pioneers' lives, that it offers.

----------------------------------------------------------

NOTES:

Reuben Peacher lived to old age and is buried in Howard County, Missouri, on the land that once belonged to his farm, from where he wrote the letter and many others. His grave still exists. His own father had come from Virginia and wealth but had been ousted from the family by his father, along with his brother. The two, once the heirs of a rich Eastern family, would eventually be hanged in the wilds of Kentucky for stealing horses. But their children, Reuben and his wife and first cousin Anne, would live the quiet life of farmers in Howard County, Anne preceding her husband in death by a few decades.

Zachariah Elkins took his young family by wagon train to Colorado around 1861. He worked as a cattle rancher on the eastern plains of Colorado Territory, until his death in 1880. In 1870 a census taker asked him what year he was born in, and he wasn't certain, according to a marginal note. But I know now that it was about 1825. Funny that I know and he didn't. He did know that he had been born in Missouri, but when asked where his parents were born he didn't know that either; it was Kentucky - of that I am certain. He died in his fifties, in 1880. His grave has been lost.

Nancy Jane Peacher Elkins was married to the boy who lived on the farm next door, about 1848, at fifteen. It must have been a bittersweet day, because only a few days earlier her 13-year-old brother and 8-year-old sister had both drowned, in the creek that divided the two farms. One can safely assume the brother died trying to save the sister, or the other way around. Several children still survived, including Nancy Jane, and life had to go on. She is buried in Colorado, between her son and his wife on one side, and an infant grandchild on the other. She lived well into her nineties, and was photographed with four younger generations, including my grandmother who is an infant on her lap.

I wonder if they would smile to know that I have and treasure that letter.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

How Far Will the Lies Go? 9 Reasons Why Michelle Fields is not Believable

NOTE:  Late-breaking #10:  The video shows Lewandowski grabbing her upper arm. Her tweeted photo of bruises shows her lower arm.  Oops.

I didn't start out supporting Trump. I loved him in The Apprentice. But as a president?  Not so much. (Although I have to admit, nearly anyone would be more competent and principled a leader, in my view, than Obama.) Now, as the campaign progresses, we have seen a lot of nonsense, from all quarters. But I notice especially the nastiness with which the candidates attack Donald Trump. Maybe it's because he's a political outsider - the only non-career politician. Maybe it's because he represents a threat to the political establishment and the comfy status they all enjoy. Maybe they are jealous of his wealth and the fact he can run without being in any rich corporation's pocket. Maybe it's because he is a little like a junk-yard dog - he'll go over them with teeth bared if they dare to harass him. Whatever it is, it's become damned unattractive.

It's enough to make a person who is sitting on the fence, jump to the Trump camp.

One may argue that Trump can be equally vicious. The difference is that he doesn't pose as morally superior, a "true Christian", a politician with more class, more experience, more humanity. The self-righteous posturing, from Ted Cruz, to the insufferable Marco Rubio (I was once a fan), to John Kasich, is obvious to many voters for the self-serving hypocrisy it really is.

Since most of what the rumor mill produces about Trump has turned out to be nonsensical: either outright fiction or serious twisting of the original truth, those still spouting sound bites like "Trump is a racist!" "Trump hates women!"  "Trump steals from the poor!" -  look sillier and sillier.  A serious perusal of the man's accomplishments and a serious listen to interviews with his many friends - educated, accomplished, articulate people all - who offer a glimpse into the real character of the man, would convince the intelligent person to take a second look at him as a candidate.

It would be expected that the Left candidates and their reporters would be equally as nasty, of course, but they have taken it to a new level. They actively threaten and harass Trump supporters at rallies, blocking access to those rallies and threatening the organizations and venues that host them. They bully those who go to hear Trump and then play the victims for the press. Today, they've taken it up another notch.  A few weeks ago, a two-bit reporter was fired from her job at Breitbart News after lying about an encounter with a Trump staffer. Now, bitterly tweeting her anger for all to see, she has done her best to make trouble for the staffer, all the while falsely championing women's causes and hoping she'll do damage to Trump at the same time.

Former presidential candidate (and black leader) Herman Cain says what many are thinking: "The attacks on Trump have gone from ridiculous to stupid. . . this is another attempt to distract from his campaign."

Indeed. It seems Miss Fields may be seeking - again - her 15 minutes of fame. And this time it's at the expense of a presidential candidate she doesn't happen to like, and his employee.

1.  Michelle Fields, before she knew the episode was on tape, said to the press that Corey Lewandowski "almost threw" her to the ground.  Trump released the video, which clearly shows she lied.

2.  Fields waited 3 days to go to police with the story that Lewandowski attacked her.

3.  Fields at first said she did not know who pulled her to the ground. Later, after Lewandowski's name was offered by another reporter, she pounced on that. The video shows him touching her briefly to move her back from Trump. She complies, always on her feet, and doesn't show any reaction of distress whatsoever.

4.  Video shows that she, after the press period was over, pursued and Trump and grabbed his arm, still asking questions.  At that point even his bodyguards (Secret Service) reached for her to move her away. Lewandowski, whose job description includes acting as bodyguard to Trump, beat them to it.

5.  Michelle Fields, years back, accused the NYPD of throwing her to the ground, during her reportage on "Occupy Wall Street".  This was never charged.  (Info can easily be found on search of internet.)

6.  Lewandowski, in anger, sent out a tweet to Fields claiming he didn't touch her and had never even met her.  While those opposed to Trump call this a "lie", it is more likely that in the confusion of the crowd and his job as bodyguard, he simply moved a person away from Trump, and indeed did not speak to her or even look her in the face, and thus had no memory of her at all.  (And since video shows she did not, as she shrieked, fall to the ground, why would he notice?)

7.  Reporters are regularly jostled and bumped in a crowd situation. Field claims she had bruises on her arm from Lewandowski, but there is no evidence that he caused the bruises. 

8.  The "incriminating" videos all came from Trump himself, a man who has long understood the value of videotape for security purposes. Once Breitbart saw them and realized the extent of Field's dishonestly, she was immediately fired and a "cease and desist" order placed against her. 

9.  The District Attorney of Palm Beach is a Democrat. The accusation has been deemed by police to be worthy of investigation, since in Florida, merely touching someone without permission is a misdemeanor crime.  Lewandowski voluntarily turned himself into police for questioning but  has NOT been formally charged.

Meanwhile, Hillary of the HIdden Emails has jumped on the chance to point out the "sleaze" in the Trump camp and his hatred of women.  Never mind that she was happy to hobnob with him and take his money not so long ago.  And that beacon of Christian charity Ted Cruz has taken to the press corps to harp about how the Trump campaign is now engaging in "physical violence".  Yep, Ted, the violence on that video is pretty traumatizing! 

It's anyone's guess how much further the biggest character assassination attempt, arguably, in the history of American politics will go before this election season is up.




Friday, March 11, 2016

Enter the Age of Lies and Ignorance: The True Fascism

I can't remember the last time I was this angry. It is after 9:00 pm now, and I know I won't be sleeping tonight. I am by nature a very calm person; I can occasionally be very direct, some might say blunt. I tend to appreciate the irony in Life and I like dark humor. Some get the humor, and those who don't would say I can be snarky. But this . . . this heat tonight . . . this is rage. This is unfamiliar to me. This is something I feel about once every five years, and so as I sit here and feel my temperature rise, my heart pounding (guess that coffee I am craving won't be a good idea now), and notice how irregular my respiration is, I am not sure how to get myself back in order. Thank goodness I live alone.

When I was a teenager, many years ago, I had the opportunity to live in Europe for a time. Those were the days when East was divided from West by a "wall", which really consisted not only of a wall but of stone barriers and electric wire. Stretches of this were guarded by armed soldiers who would, and did, gun down the occasional human being who, driven to his wit's end by the injustice of an elite group of governing individuals deciding for others what they could hear and see and where they could travel, rushed the wall in a desperate attempt to grasp freedom even for a few moments before death. Or maybe it wasn't an attempt at all, but the ultimate last act of defiance of the human spirit.

We in the West - we kids in American schools (that was back when we were actually being educated)
were taught early about the Soviet Union and its history, and about those many souls trapped in the strange world of the Eastern Block and Russia. We learned early to appreciate their suffering. We learned early to understand the root of it, and how it came to be. We understood that we were fortunate and privileged, and that we would inherit a responsibility to find a way to end their suffering. If you asked 100 random university students today to explain that history, I wonder if even three - or one - could. The suggestion of that obligation would no doubt cause them to stare back in blinking dumb muteness. These are the walking blind, this generation of "millennials". The dire, horrible mistake that we have made in allowing our educational system to fail will be seen through the decades to come. We have created a generation of ignorant, spoiled, self-obsessed, perpetual children - useless to their society and to the rest of the world. Oh they want to "help" all right, but they haven't the power of mind to understand what in this world actually needs help, nor the ability to understand the power of sacrifice.

In an earlier blog, I mentioned my experience of a day trip into the Eastern Block, into East Berlin. It changed the way my young mind saw the world forever. As did the visit to a Holocaust survivors exhibit, and the experience of writing a term paper on a Russian writer imprisoned and tortured for years because he wrote books the government didn't like.

HE WROTE BOOKS THE GOVERNMENT DIDN'T LIKE AND WAS PUT IN PRISON.

This week the Obama administration has admitted that they are exploring the idea of criminal prosecution for people in this "free country" who disagree with Obama about climate change.  THEY WANT TO CRIMINALIZE IDEAS.  We have an attorney general, who as recently as a few months ago, suggested that "hate speech" - which she defines as criticizing the religion of one favored minority group - should be legally punishable.

And so it begins. The world of the U.S.S.R. - an acronym that chilled the blood of American school children for years, and not a few adults as well - is greedily peeking around the corner at a vulnerable world and calculating its chances of rising again.

Trump isn't always PC or eloquent, but he has the right to speak.
I had spent the evening with friends, bowling and eating. It's a welcome change on Friday evenings from the stress of a week of editing and writing. I came home to the news:  a political rally had been cancelled in Chicago, due to an organized group of rabble-rousers having entered it and started fights en masse with people who were simply there to hear a conservative speaker. Police were called, and became involved in a situation growing too violent to be brought under control in an easy and timely manner, and Donald Trump's campaign decided to postpone the event. The political group MoveOn.org, which has a history of being involved in "protests" which depend upon violent frenzied crowds of very young people, strategically designed to do harm to groups they don't agree with politically, is believed to be involved (and at this hour some of the group's members are confirming it).

In other words, a Leftist political, monied organization, has manipulated undereducated youth and others to do their dirty work of stopping the open dissemination of information they don't want to be heard.

Behind reporter at the rally riot, a protester flies a communist flag. 
The University of Illinois at Chicago - and mind you that the Univ. of Illinois is a STATE funded university system, depending upon your tax dollars and mine for its existence - has said that for many days faculty and staff have been petitioning the university to cancel the event, warning that it would create an atmosphere that would result in dangerous behavior and bodily harm. HUH? How did they know this?  I have to wonder who had a hand in it and knew beforehand of what kind of plans were underway to stop it. Given the atmosphere in our universities in 2016 - one in which conservative voices are silenced routinely by intimidation or direct threat and where young minds are indoctrinated to be wary of ideas that contradict the Left, instead of think critically according to their own values - it isn't surprising that this abomination tonight occurred at an academic venue.
In the past few years, event after event has been cancelled at universities due to the threats and protests coming from students wanting to silence others.  These children have no understanding whatsoever of the First Amendment or the history of the political process in this country, not to mention the concept of fair exchange of ideas.

Video of the protests is stunning. But not for the reasons one might predict.

  • The vast majority of "protesters" are obviously under 25. They are hardly old enough to wipe their own asses, they have no experience of a 9-5 career and a mortgage and grown-up life, and judging from the number of them laughing with their buddies as people were being slugged in the face and banners were being gleefully snatched and torn to shreds, they have spent very little of their tuition actually learning anything.  
  • Despite the very ironic screaming from the protesters about the "hate" of the Trump campaign, their own rhetoric and signage betrays some of the most exclusionary, bigoted, misguided, hateful, vile garbage that I have heard in this political season. I witnessed some of them questioned by reporters out on the street. When asked directly about this little irony, they seem not to comprehend the point at all; they justify their abuse and violence and silencing of other people by pointing out things about Trump's THOUGHTS they don't like. The arrogance of the assumption is mindbogling: as previous candidate and Trump supporter Dr. Ben Carson stated this evening, university students are being taught that when someone doesn't agree with them (and the Left P.O.V.), attack - even violent attack - is justified, because "we must fight hate".  And then they go on to list the things they hate about Trump's ideas. . . which leads to my next point.
  • These people understand nothing about Trump. They seem to be working with little real information, because their facts are so screwed up. One young man, when asked directly what Trump had said or done to make him feel justified in trying to stop a political speech, he said "he says he hates Islam!"  "he says all Muslims should be banned!" . . . then he mumbles, a defiant glint in his eyes, "and all that stuff about Mexicans! you know!"  Oh, we know all right. Never mind that what Trump actually said.  Which is that immigration from Muslim countries should be TEMPORARILY halted while we fix the vetting system, which the Obama administration admits is not working. Never mind that many in Congress agree. That is not hate, it's freaking common sense!  But some professor, or someone from MoveOn.org, has fed this young man and others just like him some sound bites that they swallowed like sweet little peppermint candies. Here is another young man's justification:  "The city felt they didn't like what Trump was saying so the city shut him down."  Never mind that thousands of the citizens of that city - young and old, Democrats as well as others - wanted to hear Trump. But thus is the level of reasoning of these jerks. A third young man, trying to speak to a reporter about why he had wanted to hear Trump, was heckled so loudly that he became frazzled and intimidated and couldn't speak to the microphone. I saw two more interviewed who when asked what they believed and why they were protesting, shrugged and said they didn't want to talk about it. (Translation: Drunk and nothing better to do on a Friday night.)
  • Many signs in the crowd of protesters supported Bernie Sanders. 
The irony lost upon student protestors and MoveOn.org. . . 
I am increasingly grateful that I came up in a generation where a higher education was offered in a thorough, balanced manner Most students would have been offended by a professor who used our class time to trumpet his or her own politics. That wasn't what we paid for. We paid for the facts, and we expected to be respected as budding adults who were capable of then making up our own minds. Today, I suspect professors think their students are malleable and somewhat naive, and care little for them at all. Our professors are some of the most intolerant people in this country, and they are carefully teaching that intolerance to our youth. As Dr. Carson says, it is interesting that "tolerance is only taught in one direction".  

Which brings me right back to the U.S.S.R.  In that system, there was one favored political ideology. It was a socialist ideology, eerily compatible with the liberal progressive ideology shoving its angry words down others' throats today. Like today's Left, it also fancied itself as the Savior of Humanity, as the only fair and just way, as the only humanitarian way, as the way of the future.  It felt so confident in this idea that it justified the murders of millions, the silencing of generations, the jailing of innocent people for lifetimes, behind a wall.  It sent writers and other "dissenters" to prison.  The religion of Bernie Sanders - that one that is based on the false idol of a vast government parent that pays all the bills and solves all the problems and controls anyone who has too much of a unique voice - is the religion of the New Left of the youth in our universities. 
Bernie Sanders is a silly old man that has no fucking idea what socialism really is. If he did, he would not embrace it. Or.... think about this: maybe he understands it very well, and like those silly old men who ran the monster that was the U.S.S.R., knows that it is the way to power for a select elite at the expense of the ignorant masses. He and his ilk want these kids ignorant and their empty little heads filled with garbage - because that inevitably leads to control and power by a big government.

If these kids had any real education, they would know the history: that Socialism inevitably led to Communism, which led to Fascism, throughout history. That this ideology has been responsible for more human suffering, torture, imprisonment, murder, and genocide than any other ideology in history (The idea - popular amongst the self-styled liberal intellectual crowd in every generation, yawwwwn, that it was Christianity, or "all religion" - a bigoted Marxist mantra since the late19th century! - that holds that honor, is demonstrably a factual fallacy.).  If these well-meaning children knew history as well as they should by their early twenties, they would know that they are terribly used by a radically liberal political agenda, and stop allowing themselves to be made fools of. Because . . . many of us are still on this earth who remember it first hand: the horror that was real fascism, real socialism. 

I lived in a tame socialistic country in my own youth. Do you know what that time away from the freedom of American life taught me?  That socialism murders the individual. It stifles creativity. It makes things like entrepreneurship and innovation so difficult by its inherent economics that people give up on dreaming and innovating and achieving great heights. (Is it any wonder why the USA has led in innovation in so many areas?  It was free thought and free trade and economics that drove this!)

And here is the ultimate lesson: Socialism ultimately goes down a very familiar path. First, freedom of expression is stifled. Next, education becomes controlled by the government, and by its own favored ideological point of view. At some point, those who resist - those who stubbornly cling to the idea that the individual has the right to certain freedoms, including the free exchange of ideas - are criminally dealt with. These things are already beginning in Europe - where freedoms of the citizens are being stripped under the stress of immigration and failing economies, in Canada - where "hate speech", that is speech which disagrees with the politically correct point of view, is criminally prosecuted, and in the USA - where our own government contemplates punishing citizens for thoughts and where university campuses allow student thugs to shut down free speech.
Think I'm crazy? He is another demonstrable fact. Brigitte Gabriel, Ben Shapiro, Robert Spencer, Donald Trump, and many others. What do these people have in common?  They were all threatened and/or some students attempted to disrupt or stop their ability to share their ideas with other people who had come to hear them speak, all in the past year. And . . . they are all conservatives. Exclusively. These incidents are increasing. These are all - ALL - perpetuated by an elitist, leftist, self-righteous, self-congratulatory mob that points its collective finger at conservative speakers and calls them names . . . "racist", "bigot", "hater".  

Ironic. 

And so . . . it begins. Do you grasp the enormity of these things?  The Russians, and later the Poles, the Czechs, the Slavs, the Latvians, the Lithuanians, the Ukrainians, the Romanians, the Germans, and others . . . all ignored the signs of rising Fascism. As the socialist movement rose, they told themselves it was all in the best interest of progressiveness, of justice, of humanity, and they went about their business and told themselves it would all be all right. But it would not be all right. Not at all. 

Socialism is a virus. It infects and destroys society. It wounds the human spirit. It steals freedom. It is the BFF of censorship of free discourse. Look around you. Look what is happening in the West. Look at what happened in Chicago tonight.

What are we going to do now?  

What are we going to do?  

------------------------------------------


Read an excellent first-hand account of the Chicago rally riot by someone who was there.









Tuesday, March 1, 2016

If Trump Trumps Them All . . .

Whatever your political affiliation, if you have any interest in politics at all, you must be having as much fun as I am watching this year's election process unfold. From the British Parliament taking time to debate the issue of banning Donald Trump from the country for using offensive language so that no one in Britain will be exposed to offensive language, to Bernie's Einstein hairdo and his supporters' blindness to the real meaning of "socialist" (no it isn't another word for "humanist", "philanthropist" or "social worker"), to Hillary's being investigated by the FBI even as we all revisit her husband's White House Philanderer years (horrors!), to having to admit to oneself that the best thing going on reality TV is the GOP debates (sorry, Bachelor) . . . this is the most entertaining, craziest election in my lifetime of over half a century of presidential elections.

I have been registered as an Independent for quite a while, minus a few years' stint as a Libertarian. The far Left scares me and the far Right makes me roll my eyes. Neither appeals to my common sense or my morality, so I'm a renegade. Like most people, I voted ultra-liberal in my college years, came to my senses by my thirties, and tend to be more conservative as I age. Much of the conservative platform I can't support, and the liberal is just too nonsensical. But in the end, I do try to vote in such a way that it will matter. So this year, I'm watching all candidates closely and I can't wait for the dust to settle in early November.

As the person amongst my friends and family who is arguably the best-informed and up-to-date on current issues, I get about five texts a day asking who I like in this election and why.  Today I got a barrage of questions about the latest Trumpisode. Which isn't unusual: the man does know how to keep the presses rolling.  After listening to myself repeat the same things all day, I thought I'd put them down here for you all, in case a few of you are interested. You might be surprised at what I have to say about The Donald.

The biggest question I am getting is: If Trump gets the nomination, aren't you scared?

My answer: Not a bit. Oh, I can't stand the sight of him. Like many, I cringe when he puts his foot in his mouth. But . . .

I am not personally supporting his nomination, just for the record. There are two others I like better. A lot better. And let me just say that this year - as entertaining as it may be - is crucial. We must get it right, because I agree with so many on both sides that the last seven years got it terribly wrong. It is no laughing matter, really. But at the same time, I'm only one person: I have a healthy sense of what I can affect and what I can't.

But let's talk about the elephant in the room: Trump.  What do I think about him, as his campaign screams along like a freight train toward the nomination?

Unlike many people, I was a bit addicted to his reality show, The Apprentice, when he was on it. For probably four seasons, I watched religiously.  I found it really fascinating to watch the minds of highly-driven people, entrepreneurs by their wiring, battling it out. I learned something about business, but I learned even more about the qualities some successful people have: never quit; if Plan A fails, switch to B seamlessly; be a great team player, and get rid of those that hurt the team.

Here is what surprised me most about the show:  Trump is a terribly impressive man. I had expected
to dislike him. After all, I don't like his history with women; I don't like the bombastic personality, or arrogance. I don't, in general, like people too full of themselves.  But during the course of watching the show, I came to see something unexpected: it's all an act.  Through four seasons, he surprised me, time and time again.

So here, in a nutshell, is what I think of Trump:


  • He's smarter than people realize.  I think he often puts his foot in his mouth because he hasn't learned to think an opinion through before spouting it. That can make him appear stupid. But it isn't stupidity, it's bad judgment. His raw intelligence always struck me when I watched The Apprentice
  • He's ethical and fair-minded.  These qualities were very apparent in the show. He never fired someone unjustly. He was not intentionally cruel - although he could be terribly blunt, it was always about business, it wasn't personal. He has a certain kindness, even in dealing with difficult people. 
  • He doesn't play favorites between men and women.  I had expected him to talk down to the "ladies", to either treat them with kid gloves or be so demanding they couldn't compete fairly. Neither happened. He expects the women to be just as tough, and often pointed out to the men the strengths of a particular female competitor. 
  • He has amazing kids.  This is a man who has raised incredible children; all are adults, and all adore him. That says something. Even his daughter from his briefer marriage to Marla Maples, is assisting in the campaign and worships the man, even though he wasn't present a lot during her childhood.  During The Apprentice, he was often assisted by his younger son and his daughter, and both are very impressive people:  savvy, articulate, intelligent, classy, always polite and patient, and great business people in their own right. 
  • He is well-liked by impressive people who actually know him.  His wide circle of long-time friends have come out to speak about him, and many of them are successful, respected people.  Each one of them emphasizes his generosity, his morality, his intelligence. Each of them speaks of him as an honest, good-hearted man who occasionally speaks before he thinks. Each of them says he isn't in bed with the political elite, or the mafia, or any other group.  Each of them says he would make a fantastic president. How can so many people of that quality be wrong? 
  • He is quietly generous.  As his friends have begun to speak up, stories have come to light of the things he has done through the years for people who could give him nothing.  He is the type of wealthy man who, upon hearing about the plight of a person down on their luck, quietly gives financial support without being asked. He has been generous with veterans, both in terms of individuals and organizations; he has been generous with homeless.  Early in the campaign, a story was raised by another candidate about Trump using imminent domain to take an elderly woman's house: actually not the entire truth. Trump offered her a ridiculously high price for the house, and the land was slated to be taken anyway.  He did nothing illegal, nothing out of line with other businesses.  
  • He tends to surround himself with capable people.  This is important: a more arrogant man
    surrounds himself with people he can manipulate. Trump hasn't seemed to do that in his business life; rather, he sought out people who knew more than he did, and then gave them a task. He knows how to hire the best, then stand back and let them do their job. Again, arrogant men don't operate like that.  In terms of governing, I would think he would be one to find people who are experts and let them teach him.  That's a great quality in a leader. 
  • He has an uncanny ability to ignore the chaos of the forest and pick out the diseased tree.  This is exactly why thousands are showing up to his rallies. He tells the truth as he sees it, ignoring the self-strangling politically correct screech that has held this society hostage since Obama took office. 
  • He can be immature and mean.  This is an unattractive quality in a candidate and in a person. It happens when his thin skin gets nicked and his short fuse lights.  It is something he seems to be learning to censor, but he needs to learn faster.  It makes him appear to be a loose cannon; after all he can't be popping off to just anyone on an international stage - he needs to learn to marry that strong will with common sense and good judgment. I hope he can do it. 
  • He is good-hearted.  I don't think he is racist, or a misogynist. I think he is practical, less than diplomatic, and sometimes is so blunt that people aren't hearing what he is really saying. It makes me cringe, both because I hate to hear it from anyone, and because coming from a man
    who is shooting himself in the foot with it, it hurts. 
  • Trump will support minorites, the LGBT community, etc.  These issues are important to me. I don't believe the hype from the far Left that conservatives are all racists - I know that is nonsense. A few are. Not a few liberals are too.  I think when it comes down to it, Trump is pretty much color-blind. I think he will think in terms of equity and fairness without allowing the Left to hijack the narrative and take it to a ridiculous place of non-fairness.  I think he supports the gay community unconditionally.
  • Like great leaders, he is flexible.  I think he makes mistakes now, but will learn as he goes. This is not someone who has had years to learn the ropes of political science. He's an outside, which is exactly the point.  The danger would be a know-it-all; that isn't what we have here. He seems to be less concerned with pleasing everyone than with speaking his own mind and truth as he sees it. Refreshing in a "politician". We have a guy who seems to adjust his view as he goes in order to win - the quality of a stellar businessman - the quality of a great leader.  This is why he can win both sides of the aisle. He is being driven by common sense, not misplaced blind loyalty to some unworkable ideology that the constituents do not relate to.
  • He is weird when it comes to women, BUT . . .  You know, I don't like his history with women. I don't like the images he has promoted as the former owner of the Miss America pageant. I don't like the way he has talked about women, focusing obsessively on their looks rather than their actual capabilities. I don't like the way he went after Megyn Kelly because she dared challenge his treatment of women - in a way I suspect he would not have dared to if she were a male journalist.  I don't like his smarmy pokes at Carly Fiorina's looks. But I can't explain - if he is truly a misogynist, why did he marry such intelligent, capable women? Why is his daughter so incredibly capable, articulate, classy - never hiding her intelligence for the convenience of men around her. It doesn't compute. A man who dislikes women doesn't raise such a daughter or marry strong-minded, talented women.  I do believe that he is a bit conflicted, and a bit of an ass when it comes to women - but I can't give myself a reason why that should matter so much in a president at this point, in this year. Other issues are enormous.  
As you watch the process, I would - humbly - advise you not to panic. Trump may be the best thing in the end - for the conservatives, because they will have to finally get a grip and look at the real world; and for the liberals, because Trump won't deal in pie-in-the-sky narratives that aren't based in reality. His deep streak of common sense will trump anything.

And I would caution you to take all the pointing fingers with a big grain of salt. I've taken time to research the accusations others level at Trump, in their zeal to bring him down. Every one has turned out to be ... well, less that accurate.  Remember that both the far Left and the far Right don't want him in the way.  The Left may be afraid of the momentum behind his popularity; the Right is worse, as they see the empire that years of cronyism has built start to crumble as Trump preaches to the dissatisfied conservative masses. That is a very frightening thing for people who have their livelihoods and years of their lives built upon power.  

I am sick of some conservatives defining the movement for us all. By the looks of Trump's numbers, it would seem many - from independents to evangelicals, from immigrants to Democrats, from students to retirees, are good and sick of the establishment too. The degree of hate displayed by the Right has to be motivated by fear, of having their throne toppled and broken into irretrievable pieces. What they don't realize - those elite running the show - is that none of us are interested in picking the pieces up anymore so that they can stay in power and keep deceiving us.

Some say that Trump can't beat a Democratic candidate because he has too many secrets and garbage in his past. I notice that most saying that are staunch conservatives, invested in the status quo. They said the same thing about Reagan, by the way. Others say that he is the one who can beat Hillary - I don't think that is necessarily true, but I can't see any reason why he couldn't - we have evidence of many Dems defecting to Trump now, and more will during the general election. (Think about it - that would be a nightmare for the conservative elite, even as Trump is cleaning up the economy and creating jobs for thousands of liberals!) He certainly is likely to show no hesitation in going after Hillary with guns blazing, and she has plenty to hide herself, in addition to the Clinton cesspool that is already becoming more public daily. 

Whatever happens in the end, Donald Trump has been a godsend to America. He has stimulated a movement where people are tuning in to debates in record numbers, and going out to vote primaries in record numbers. Politics are studied and discussed as they haven't been in decades. People who long ago felt disenfranchised by the process and lost interest, suddenly are involved again. People have begun to think outside the lines that seemed so permanent for so long. And best of all - those who have run both major parties for so long are running scared, because this "crazy man" has risen in this fight to make a fool of all of them.