Category Archives: Rant

Revisiting politics in science fiction and fantasy, comments edition

I know, right? This thing’s been beaten to death, and I feel like I’ve said all I could say on the topic last time around. But I got a comment this week on that very post that got my brain engaged again, mostly because I disagreed with pretty much all of it. So instead of replying there, I thought it was enough to warrant another post.

Please note: None of this is done with malice toward the poster of the comment. He’s entitled to his own opinions. However, his ability to post them here is because I allowed it, as this is my house and my rules and my comment moderation. Further, I’m really not inviting debate. The commenter wasn’t owed a response, and I’m not sure he wanted one, but he got one. If you comment on this or on the original, it’s still my call whether we keep it going or not. Nobody owes anybody a response or a platform.

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Politics is inseparable from science fiction and fantasy

So today, on that outrage machine known as Twitter, I saw that there’s a new consortium of science fiction and fantasy writers out looking for members, going so far as to dive into the mentions of an established author to get her to sign on. (No, I was not invited – and I’m really fine with that.)

Putting aside this very mild breach of Twitter etiquette, this group’s stated goal is to create an inclusive organization for all genre creators that steers away from “non-SF/F issues” and does not get bogged down in divisiveness over race, creed and politics.

When a respected agent chimed in with the belief that all art is political, the group’s Twitter scribe responded by saying that such an opinion was a “cancer” on science fiction and fantasy.

OK, full stop. Wut? No. (Rant ahead. You have been warned.) Continue reading


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A less-than-fond farewell to 2017

I know I’m not the first one to say this, of course — 2017 was not fun, and for many people, that’s a monumental understatement. Personally, professionally, culturally, politically…this year was a godforsaken mess. I’m far less inclined to toast the year that was, but I’m quite ready to embrace the one coming down the pike, and I hope you are too.

So let’s start with the elephant in the room, which would be Trump and his coterie of destructive buffoons. I’m not going to go into his policies, or the rapacious GOP’s attempts to create a permanent, uneducated American underclass to serve the top 1%. But I know full well that the very presence of this looming threat to American values and democracy, and the utter barrage of weaponized fake outrage and falsehoods, has taken its toll on so many of us, myself included.

Now, let’s be quite clear in that I’m a straight, married, white male, so when I say “taken its toll,” the bill for me is extremely light compared to women, people of color, folks with chronic physical and/or mental conditions, our LBGTQ+ friends, etc. In fact, it feels slightly disingenuous to be bitching about things when my family and I are doing well, and may even see a tax cut next year.

But while my toll is far less, it’s there. 2017 has messed with my head. In so many areas of my life, I found myself waiting for something, waiting for change. Yes, I ramped up my contributions and I joined a protest at Trump Tower and I spoke out and all that good stuff. But the rest of it was kind of living in a defensive crouch in the corner, trying to go about my business and waiting, hoping, praying for the support to help all of us turn a corner.

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Rebellion is our American birthright

The United States was born of rebellion against a distant crown. America fought a civil war to free slaves. So much of the progress made in our history stems from rebellion. Women rebelled to win the vote. African-Americans rebelled to end Jim Crow and win civil rights. Disobedience is woven into the fabric of our nation as surely as fifty stars are sewn into our flag.

So when the President calls on NFL players to be fired for taking a knee in protest, when the Interior Secretary says 30 percent of his staff is “not loyal to the flag,” when those protesting against racism and Nazism are equated with said racist Nazis – all this is utterly un-American.

The current administration would like us all to be loyal to the flag, but they have no idea what that truly means. They think that this means standing for the national anthem. They think it means accepting the word of the administration without question, hence the demonization of journalists. They think it means offering un-earned respect and, yes, subservience.

They’re wrong. So incredibly, egregiously wrong.

Protest is American. The Olympians raised a fist, the NFL takes a knee, the NBA opts to work for social change instead of kowtowing to a narcissist. Americans battled their brethren to preserve the Union and free slaves. Women marched for the vote. Rosa Parks refused to move. Dr. King told us his dream. Ferguson reminds us we have so much ground left to cover. Charlottesville reminds us that we must stand guard against the creeping danger of racism and Nazism.

But they don’t want that now. Not when they’re in power.

Our current President showed zero respect for his predecessor by insinuating – without evidence – that he was not American, a baldly racist ploy to trump up (pun intended) his own ambitions. Now in office, he demands the same respect he failed to give and, moreso, has failed to earn in office.

He accused Barack Obama of playing too much golf, but has spent at least a third of his time in office at his own properties, fully a quarter of his time at his golf resorts.

He accused Hillary Clinton of endangering the nation by using private emails for government work; at least five current and former Trump White House staffers, including members of his family, have used private emails for government work. No big deal, according to his spokesperson.

But we know this, of course. We know Trump’s word is about as trustworthy as a wooden nickel. All of this – his reaction to Charlottesville, his whole-cloth invention of the NFL controversy, his calls for patriotism and honor when he has neither – is just a façade, a show for the rubes whose patriotism is nothing more than sports fandom. He wants us all to care about which side we’re on, to divide us into winners and losers, rather than focusing on what it really means to love our country, to be patriots, to participate in our democracy.

Meanwhile, the GOP tries and tries to take millions of people off healthcare – thankfully, with little success, and due in no small part to Americans engaging in the time-honored, patriotic act of protest. They’re demonizing immigrants for taking jobs and committing crime, whereas our nation is near full employment and immigrant crime rates are lower than those of native-born Americans. They’re furthering an agenda that would continue to put more money in the pockets of the rich and cement a permanent American underclass, denying the American Dream to millions.

People in Puerto Rico – and yes, dear God, Puerto Ricans are American citizens – are suffering without food, potable water and electricity in the wake of hurricanes. The current President, though, focused on the flag and the anthem this weekend. He is Nero without even a fiddle to cover for his breathtaking inadequacies.

Just watch the reality show. Never mind the suffering of millions from lack of healthcare, hurricane relief, a living wage, the right to speak freely and to demand government transparency. Never mind all that. Just watch the dancing bear.

There’s a Russia segue in that, but honestly, this post is long enough as is.

The President and the GOP want to deny our very birthright – our right to rebel. More than a flag or a song, rebellion and protest is in our national DNA. If enough of us embrace that birthright, they know they’re screwed.

So rise up. Rebel. Protest. America is slowly turning into an oligarchy while they distract us with siren songs of false patriotism. Don’t let them. Call your reps. March. Donate. Support local politicians who remember our rebellious birthright. Throw out the bums in the Senate and House. Speak up.

For our country, and for my daughter…

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Free speech, public discourse and tolerance in 2017

Yesterday, after watching the President’s abject moral failure to categorically denounce Nazism, racism and white supremacy as bad — which, really, should not have been a big ask — I went over to Trump Tower after work to let off some steam and shout at the gleaming black Isengard with my fellow Ents. Honestly, it felt great.

A gentleman on social media got into a discussion with me afterward regarding free speech and political discourse. Now, I don’t think he was a Trump supporter by any stretch, but he was passionate about free speech. The conversation was civil, but I pretty much ended it when I saw the rhetorical trap he was setting with regard to free speech, boiling it down to either for or against.

Obviously, it’s not as simple as that, and the argument goes well beyond whatever one can thumb-type on a bus. So I’m gonna unpack it here. Fair warning: politics and Nazis below. Skip if you’re understandably tired of it all.

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Let’s talk about media leaks

The new, and supremely unqualified, White House communications honcho Anthony Scaramucci threw a public fit this week when some media types got hold of his financial disclosure form. He called it an unauthorized leak and saying he was gonna find out who did it and file charges.

Of course, this end up being a blinding display of ignorance and incompetence, as said form was already in the public domain. But this is what you get when you put a hedge fund manager in charge of political communications, rather like the result you’d get putting a mechanical engineer in charge of heart surgery. Just because you’re smart at one thing doesn’t mean you’re qualified to do something completely different.

As for the leaks coming out of the White House, Congress and the various executive branch departments…well, duh, what did you expect? Leaks happen. Leaks are currency, man. So long as people have agendas and/or axes to grind — and the Trump Administration is causing a run on grindstones all over town — there’s gonna be leaks.

And here’s the thing: In many cases, leaks aren’t bad in and of themselves. We wouldn’t have known about Watergate without leaks. Or Iraq’s lack of weapons of mass destruction. Yes, they can be weaponized to drag people down — ref. Clinton, William Jefferson, who of course should’ve kept it in his pants in the first place. And yes, on very rare occasion, leaks can cause real damage to American interests and lives.

But let’s be super clear. Those occasions are exceedingly rare, and the vast majority of responsible journalists will hold off on publishing leaked information if it impacts intelligence gathering, military operations, court proceedings, etc. There’s an entire system of informal exchanges that happen in these cases; for example. rumor has it The Washington Post is sitting on some great dirt on Trump and not publishing it at the request of special counsel Robert Mueller because it would screw up his investigation.

Now, I didn’t cover much of Washington back in my journalism days, but I did get leaks on the business beat. And I found that they tend to fall into three categories. Read on for some serious journalism wonkery!

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The Doctor, Confederate, and the echoes of history

Well, the culture wars sure came home to roost this week, didn’t they? One step forward, one step back.

First, forward! The 13th Doctor — the time- and dimension-hopping, body-regenerating protagonist of Doctor Who — is going to be a woman, and it’s damn well about time. Pun intended. Women, of course, make up slightly half of the human race, after all, and I think it’s safe to say that Gallifreyan Time Lords (and Ladies!) are similarly proportional in gender, lest there be a shortage of little Time Lords/Ladies. So the fact that it took the 14th iteration of the Doctor (there was a War Doctor between #8 and #9) to get a woman is a statistical outlier, to say the least.

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Communications fail

No, I’m not talking about this blog, which hasn’t been updated in a good long while, sad to say. Between travel and work and getting MJ-12: Endgame off the ground — plus preparing for the launch of MJ-12: Shadows  in September — it’s been rather busy.

Plus, there have been distractions. I know I’m not the only writer grotesquely entranced by the insanity coming out of Washington, from TrumpCare to climate change denial to God-knows-what. But the train wreck that never ceases to amaze me is the utter lack of sensible communications from the White House.

In short — the font of self-inflicted damage is amazing. And so easily avoided, too.

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Everything I learned about working I learned at McDonald’s

This isn’t my McDonald’s, because they tore down the one I worked at and put this one up next door.

I am not, actually, a big fan of McDonald’s. I can’t really remember the last time I ate there — chances are, it was during a road trip somewhere and the Golden Arches was the only option for the next sixty miles, or something like that. Mickey D’s hasn’t been a dining destination for me in at least two decades, easily.

The food is, of course, a nutritionist’s nightmare. Yes, there are healthy options on the menu, but nobody really goes in for those. You want a salad, you have options for salad beyond McDonald’s, is what I’m saying. Breakfast, if I’m being honest, is actually about as healthy as your typical big breakfast — i.e., greasy and laden with carbs and cholesterol, but actually less so than your typical platter at a Jersey diner.

The parent corporation isn’t great, either. I remember when McDonald’s put out a money management guide that included a line for a second job — a not-so-subtle admission that a normal human can’t get by on a fast-food wage. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, which blows up to an annual salary of $15,080. By way of comparison, the federal poverty line for a family of four is $24,339.

And the work itself? Working the grill is hot, sweaty, greasy and during rush hours, a non-stop parade of rapid, repetitive, assembly-line work. Working the counter is likewise rapid and repetitive, and while there’s less heat and grease, the procession of people at your register invariably includes people with hygiene issues, angry people, rude people, horrible people in general. Not all, of course — but enough that if you get out of a shift without an unpleasant experience with humanity, it’s a pretty excellent day.

I know all this because from 1987 to early 1993, on and off, I donned the taupe uniform — and later, the managerial clip-on tie — of a McDonald’s employee, back when the minimum wage was $3.35, the McDLT was a thing, and salads were new and strange. I lived in a small town at the time, and Mickey D’s was the only joint that would hire on 16-year-olds without much fuss. By the time I went to college, they lured me back every summer and winter break by making me “breakfast coordinator” — the 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. managerial shift — and later assistant manager for the times I was in town.

And you know what? I learned a lot. I kid you not. Yes, I learned how to construct a Big Mac (though the Secret Sauce recipe remains a mystery) and take a drive-thru order. But I learned a lot about how to get my shit together and keep it together. I learned a lot about the workplace. I learned about people. And now, 25 years after I tossed my last grill apron aside, I’m gonna tell you what I learned.

Nothing is insurmountable. When it’s 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night, it’s you and two teenagers holding down the joint, and then two buses full of Vermont National Guardsmen pull in to your parking lot, it’s mighty tempting to just shut down the lights and lock the doors. Mighty tempting. But you don’t. You deal with the crush in the lobby, then yell out for the C.O. — because two months ago, you interviewed the commanding major general of the Army ROTC for a story while interning at a news service in Washington and “C.O.” seems like what you should ask for.

You get a captain who agrees to not only consolidate everyone’s orders and get them seated to wait patiently, but even gets four men to stay on the buses with the M-16s because your sixteen-year-old grill crew member literally started crying at seeing so much weaponry in her workplace. And then you churn out more Macs, fish, fries and nuggets as you’ve ever seen in one place, including massive amounts of comped food for the guys on the buses because you feel bad. And you still close on time at 11 p.m.

Seriously, you wanna learn how to work fast? Efficiently? You want to handle crises and roll with it and work the problem and all that crap? Go work at McDonald’s. I see a direct through-line in my career from handling a massive lunch rush to writing the AP NewsAlert that Bill Gates stepped down as CEO of Microsoft. You wanna up and quit as the only CEO Microsoft has ever known, Bill? Please, son. I once cooked 360 cheeseburgers in an hour. I got this. Book deadlines? Bad reviews? Whatever.

People aren’t all good or all bad. They’re just people. Look, I’ve seen things. I’ve seen a disgruntled customer throw his food directly in the face of a fellow manager, who proceeded to stand there and take it until the customer stalked off. (He then punched clear through the glass door of the salad cabinet once the customer was gone, but damn, that’s still some admirable restraint.) I have seen people try to cheat me out of 30 cents by claiming a large fry instead of a medium after the fact. And I let ’em  because, hell, if you feel the need to do that, my fry count pales in comparison to whatever issues you got going on.

But I’ve seen awesome people, too. I’ve seen customers by lunch for someone else just because they looked like they were in a rough spot, or they were short. I’ve had people try to tip. I’ve seen smiles and patience in the middle of a horrible rush in which the kid running the fry station was asleep at the wheel and literally the McDonald’s has no goddamn fries. I’ve seen the best and worst of people, and sometimes from the very same people.

And I learned to lead, too. I never got a formal manager training session or anything. Nobody ever taught me how to manage people, just inventory and production and cash register counts. I got keys to the building and the combo to the safe, but never once got a briefing on what to do when the grill person gets freaked out by the sight of thirty-plus military assault weapons. So you make do and you learn on the go. When your grill crew gets into a tartar-vs.-secret-sauce dispenser battle, you can choose to write ’em all up…or you can grab a tartar gun, catch the instigator right in the face, and tell them they have five minutes to clean up or else they get written up. And every now and then, you lead a sing-along of Bohemian Rhapsody in the middle of dinner rush. (I got written up for that myself, actually, but you know what? That crew would fall on their spatulas for me.)

It is really hard out there for a lot of good people. As a teenager, working at McDonald’s was kind of optional. Yes, I helped pay for my own college, but there’s a huge difference between working to pay for college and working to put food on the table. There were so many good people I worked with who almost invariably had been dealt bad hands. We’re talking factory closures, failed farms, layoffs, recovering addicts, dicey pasts, spousal abuse and abandonment, you name it.

Nobody working at McDonald’s wants to be working at McDonald‘s. Remember that the next time you go there, or to any fast-food or even casual-dining spot. It really is hard work and low pay. You actually don’t get to complain about hard work and low pay unless you’ve worked at Mickey D’s, because you have no basis for comparison. And yet people do it, they put in forty hours, grab overtime whenever humanly possible and usually work another job somewhere else at least part time. I worked with a woman whose car was repossessed during her shift. The shift leader offered to let her go and deal with it, but the poor woman decided to stay because she didn’t want to lose hours. Only when the shift leader told her she could officially forget to clock out did she go running after the repo man.

We also did a brisk business with regulars, too, who scraped up enough money for our food because it was cheap and hot. The guy who lived in his van and did odd jobs around town always ordered a Big Mac when he was flush, an 89-cent cheeseburger otherwise. There was the  little old lady anywhere between 90 and 300 years old who ordered a single biscuit with butter and jam each morning, and always asked for the “senior” coffee because the coffee was free to senior citizens, and would usually have the 92-cent tab in exact change. Actually, we’d get worried when she’d skip a day because…well, she was old. And she was so sweet, too. Even asked about college after she overheard me talking with a coworker about it. I know it’s impossible, but I hope she’s still there every morning, 25 years later.

To sum up: I can do anything and deal with anyone, basically, because I worked at McDonald’s. Honestly, I’m lucky to have moved on and will be luckier if I never have to go back. And yes, I wrote this for my newly-minted teenage daughter, because I feel like she should know.


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This is what you get when folks vote against their own interests

Warning: Political rant incoming. Feel free to skip if you like, though I hope you won’t — especially if you think you might disagree. Different perspectives are fun. 

Nearly two months into the great Trump experiment in governmental self-destruction, I hope it’s becoming clear that the populist veneer of the Donald was just that — a veneer. A thin layer of formica made to look like marble, slapped onto plywood, rather like the furnishings in his casinos.

The GOP replacement for the Affordable Care Act will result anywhere from 6 million to 10 million people losing health insurance coverage, according to the Standard & Poor’s rating agency (hardly a bastion of liberal socialism), while providing $600 billion in tax breaks to the richest 0.1% of Americans — roughly $200,000 per rich person. Let’s put it another way — that extra $600 billion is enough money to provide $50,000 in basic income for 12 million families of four for a year.

Now, I’m not so much a socialist liberal elitist or whatever to suggest that we do that. But I’m not so blind as to think that even a fraction those immensely rich folks are going to take their $200,000 and increase investment into industries and businesses that will help employ more Americans, as per the thoroughly discredited trickle-down economics the GOP seeks to cling to. No, chances are, that $200,000 will be rolled over into the market, or maybe go toward a really nice first-class vacation somewhere — just like the rest of us do with our tax refunds.

This is not populist. This is not any sort of salve to the middle class. This is a naked giveaway to the most wealthiest people on the planet. And it is shameful.

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