Morning Irritation

I was reading this piece in Current Affairs about Jordan Peterson (who sounds like a right git, really) and sheer irritation managed to roll me out of bed. Not so much at Peterson–I was married to a man whose verbosity others mistook for a higher grade of genius than the one he possessed for multiple years, and was mostly amused by the experience.1

What irritated me was this assertion:

Another part of it, though, is that academics have been cloistered and unhelpful, and the left has failed to offer people a coherent political alternative. (Nathan Robinson, Current Affairs)

Academics have not been cloistered and unhelpful, they’ve been systematically robbed of a reasonable living and saddled with make-work instead of being paid decently to teach. The “left” does have a coherent political alternative, it’s called don’t be a dick, and its simplicity is only part of the reason why plenty of asshats nitpick with it or shut their eyes and scream “la la la la, I can’t hear you!” Plenty of people want to be dicks, plenty of corporations want academics so busy trying to pay rent and feed themselves that they can’t fulfill their actual function, and pretending otherwise on either count makes you part of the problem.

Bloviating proto-fascists like Peterson are chump-change a dozen; they come in and out of fashion like the tide. I’m not even mad about it anymore, I just roll my eyes when yet another misogynist, racist, verbose jackass starts gathering converts who really just want an excuse to piñata-pin their insecurities on someone else and pick up a stick. I am irritated with the assertion that “the left” doesn’t have a coherent alternative. We do, it’s just that “don’t be a dick, for God’s sake” isn’t something the vast majority of selfish “conservatives” want to hear.

TL;DR: Peterson is yet another asshat on the self-help gravy train, and “don’t be a dick” is actually a coherent political platform.

Morning Melange

Cow mouth 1
© Lisavan | Dreamstime Stock Photos
I’ve been obsessively playing Hay Day lately. It’s a very gentle game, full of feeding animals and making things. It’s a nice change from the outside world’s screaming. Of course it’s one of those freemium games, which is annoying, but since I tend to play for a few months then leave a game fallow (pun intended) for longer, I can’t complain. Much.

There’s another round of bigots and sexist crapheads trying to pull the old “but art should be apolitical” canard. *sigh* Art is made by people and is the product of choices. People and their choices are political, because politics affects what choices people have. I cannot believe this simple and elementary truth is invisible; those who want “apolitical” art just want art that agrees with the benefit they believe they get from a status quo they see as under threat. Nothing more, nothing less.

Odd Trundles has taken to dragging every toy he can find to the office dog bed, piling them, then settling atop them like Smaug on his treasure. This would be fine (although it looks damn uncomfortable) if the pile didn’t tend to settle and move just when he has reached maximum nap, startling him awake. And when Odd is startled awake, he gets loud. The frantic “oh my GOD something MOVED” borking is then echoed by Miss B, who answers from whatever part of the house she is investigating or herding, and she scrabbles into the office at full speed, baying “I’LL GET IT, I’LL HEEEEEERD IT!”

This would be mildly amusing if not for the sheer volume sending my blood pressure skyrocketing and adrenaline pouring through me. Never a dull moment around here, folks. Never, ever.

I’ve also been reading Lovecraft lately. He was racist as fuck and in many cases not a very good writer. Plenty of his work has been referenced elsewhere, so it’s like reading the Bible despite all the rape and murder and nastiness, or Shakespeare despite all the misogyny, in order to better follow the references and threads through other works. I won’t deny that every once in a while I get the urge to read something, and it won’t pass until I’ve scratched the itch bloody, like a mosquito bite. (I’m terrible with those.) Cycling through obsessions feeds the mill inside my head, and what comes out is story-powder, or something.

What Lovecraft was very good at was giving just enough information to let the reader scare themselves most effectively. Kind of like how Pennywise was terrifying until the kids found out IT was just a giant spider, or Black Phillip/the Devil in Witch manages to terrify and entice with a spur, a heel, a whisper, and the flip of a cloak. I tend to err on the side of letting the reader’s imagination fill things in, and to doubly err on the side of trusting the reader to connect dots and infer from context.

This sometimes drives my editors up the wall. One of the major struggles in edit letters is where they think I’m relying too much on the reader’s ability to connect things in context. Since the story and connections are so clear inside my head, what’s blindingly obvious to me needs a little help to become obvious for readers. This is one of the many ways a good editor saves one’s bacon.

*looks over this post* Goodness, this is a melange, isn’t it. I contain multitudes this morning. Time for more tea, or maybe a bit of yoga to get the blood flowing. I am cold and sluggish, and even the adrenaline from Odd’s treasure-mound shifts and concomitant noise isn’t keeping me at a high enough pitch.

Over and out.

Upham on Salem

Witch Board, Occultism, Necromancy
© | Dreamstime Stock Photos
I fell asleep last night reading Charles Wentworth Upham on the Salem witch trials. First published in 1867, the work is prey to racism common at the time, though Upham seems rather uneasy at the genocide of the Native Americans. He also doesn’t mention chattel slavery in the colonial period more than glancingly–of course, with the Civil War reaching its final bloody conclusion two years earlier, he may have thought it indelicate to refer to. There’s also a regrettable lack of women in his text–they’re wives or daughters, rarely even rating their own name. It will be interesting to see how he approaches the actual trial events themselves.

Right now (well, a good 200 pages in) he’s carefully laying out all the property disputes that set the stage for the witchcraft fury, untangling the resentments that no doubt gave it dry fuel. Surprisingly, for a man who no doubt had several Confederate sympathies, he seems to be trying to be…fair and even-handed? Kind of? At least, he has the idea that we cannot point out a mote of dust in historical eyes without dealing with the beams in our own to some extent.

“They did not understand the great truth which Hugh Peters preached to Parliament, “Why,” said he, “cannot Christians differ, and yet be friends? All children should be fed, though they have different faces and shapes: unity, not uniformity, is the Christian word.” They admitted no such notion as this. They thought uniformity the only basis of unity. They meant to make and to keep this a country after their own pattern, a Congregational, Puritan, Cambridge-Platform-man’s country. The time has not yet come when we can lift up clean hands against them. Two successive chief-magistrates of the United States have opened the door and signified to one-eighth part of our whole people, that it will be best for them to walk out. So long as the doctrine is maintained that this is the white man’s country, or any man’s, or any class or kind of men’s country, it becomes us to close our lips against denunciation of the Fathers of New England because they tried to keep the country to themselves.” Excerpt From: Charles Wentworth Upham. “Salem Witchcraft, Volumes I and II.” iBooks.

I’d be more impressed if he wasn’t the guy who got Hawthorne dismissed from the Salem customs-house, or if he hadn’t gotten Jones Very institutionalized. I’d be truly impressed if he went the extra step and denounced genocide and chattel slavery in America as the cancer it was, and remains. Still, the book is public domain, and it remains a good and careful tracing of a seminal event in American history.

One of the side effects of reading about the Puritans is a distressing feeling of having sinned just by breathing. (This was particularly marked when I read Cotton Mather and watched The Witch in short order; Puritanism is somewhat of a virus, and its infection of the American body politic is insidious.) This morning’s coffee felt like a stolen pleasure, hence all the more intensely enjoyable. I’m going to need a palate cleanser after going from Serge’s Russia: Twenty Years After straight to Upham. Maybe that latest Bernie Gunther novel.

*wanders away, muttering about the Colonial Era*

Russia’s Pockets

So, just in the past few years, Russia has poured a lot of resources not only into bankrolling the Syrian war but also into fucking with elections and social media in other countries. Ukraine, France, Britain, and yes, the US. (At this point, anyone who still thinks the Mango Mussolini and his merry nepotist crew weren’t funded and prodded by the Kremlin is simply refusing to see the obvious and proven.) Servers aren’t cheap, neither is the time spent finding ways around various defenses or deciding whom to sic the dogs of harassment upon.

This is a massive outlay. Where is the money to fund it coming from? The oligarchs, the perennial dependence on a tax on spirits, gas pipelines, certainly. Also, during the period of openness, the economy exploded in a good way, and that leap forward is still being cannibalized by the oligarchs. Still…that’s a lot of effort and cash going basically down foreign holes.

One of the reasons the Soviet bloc fell apart was the USSR’s propping up of various regimes. Frex, North Korea playing the USSR and China against each other to extract the most from both, or aid to Cuba, various rebuilding programs in Iron Curtain countries, aid to nascent Communist China once Stalin (and his rivalry with Mao) was safely dead continuing into a significant drain of rubles all through Kruschev’s and later regimes, Kalashnikovs shipped to insurrections–I could go on, but you get the idea.

Russia’s pockets are deep but not endless. I’m wondering how sustainable Russia’s meddling is in the long term, and how the looming Vodka Politics demographic disaster will affect funding for it, and also wondering what shape the inevitable collapse will take. Of course Putin and his crew will escape offshore with their looted billions if they’re quick enough to get out before the instability reaches critical mass. But if there’s one thing about iron-fisted oligarch kleptocrats, it’s that they’re addicted to stealing more and more–a gambler’s addiction, forgetting that the house always wins.

These are things I think about when I should be writing, apparently. Hrm.

Fireplug

I used to go out at night and take pictures of gas meters. Sadly, I’m out of the habit now, but I find myself noticing fireplugs these days. Sturdy little morning papers for the dogs, waiting patiently in all weather, quietly holding a force that can save homes.

Every time I see one, I feel like the world might be an all right place after all. And of course, Miss B loves every single one she meets.

Things I Think About

In lieu of an actual post today, here are some things rolling around inside my head, in no particular order.

* The Killer as Aesthete. I’ve been kicking around this idea of murderers portrayed with heightened sensory acuity as aesthetes for a while. From Anne Rice’s vampires and their florid sensory overloads to Hannibal Lecter and his refined palate–it’s strongly implied Hannibal senses/experiences things differently than normal people–the killers seem to have all sorts of supernatural senses. Once I started noticing it, it was everywhere. I am trying to decide if it’s a sense of writerly shame at diving into these horrid characters doing transgressive things, or a way to remove said characters safely into fantasy, or…? It’s an inchoate mass of concepts revolving in my head, and fun to think about.

* Often, I find myself looking at very large things–cranes, buildings, jets, bridges–and struck by the thought that hands no bigger than mine put these massive items together. Brains no bigger than mine conceived of it, figured out building it. Human beings are amazing.

* I think the gigantic squirrel who’s been taunting the dogs from the back fence is Beauregard, but he doesn’t seem to recognise me. This…could escalate quickly.

* Of course deciding to cut down on refined sugar means all I can think about are cupcakes. Fuck this noise. *eats cupcakes*

* Reading Rudé on the crowd in the French Revolution makes me wonder about the compositions of current protest crowds. It also made me wonder if der Turmper is analogous (however loosely) to the Thermidorean Reaction. It certainly seems we’re living in a counter-revolutionary (what a loaded term!) moment.

* Being so exhausted everything around you seems underwater, and your face begins twitching in strange ways, is odd. There’s got to be a word in some language for that precise state of being. I’m betting there’s one in German.

* Latin, piano, knitting. Apparently I can only have two of the three. BUT I WANT THEM ALL.

* There is a red bubble on my Slack icon that won’t go away. It distresses me with the idea that I’m missing something. CURSE YOU, TINY TELLTALE.

* A Year’s Worth of Water is a great story title. Grabbed from Cliff Mass’s weather blog, of all places.

* True to form, now that I’m focusing on only two instead of three projects at once, the Muse is trying to tempt me with a bakery witch, her crazy family, and her habit of helping other people fall in love. Goddammit.

And that is an (incomplete) list of things swimming around in my head. The rest would take too long to write.

Over and out.