Showing posts with label Leigh Lundin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Leigh Lundin. Show all posts

22 June 2017

Bullying 101

by Eve Fisher

DISCLAIMER: Almost 40 years ago, a dear friend of mine
committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his running vehicle.
I claim no objectivity in what follows.

Earlier this week, Leigh Lundin posted The Wickedest Woman in the World, a great blog post about the Michelle Carter case. A lot of us chimed in. During the discussions, I agreed that an article about Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome would be valuable, along with a little thing on hybristophilia, but later, later, later… And I will. But after I listened, briefly, to Rush Limbaugh (I try to keep an ear on what the self-proclaimed Doctor of Democracy is up to) and got ticked off, I've decided that the REAL description of Ms. Carter's behavior is bullying.

You see, Rush was defending Michelle Carter, saying that the case against her is nothing but liberal BS, because liberals don't believe in free speech (oh, Rush, if you only knew!). He said, "this woman, Michelle Carter, she may be just downright mean. She may have no heart. She may just be brutal, getting on the phone and telling this guy to kill himself, ’cause he said he was going to, and if he doesn’t now he’s a coward and whatever. But she didn’t kill him. And yet so many people are coming along thinking he didn’t do, he’s a victim, she did it. This is 180 degrees out of phase. If we’re gonna start penalizing people for things they say or things that they think, but don’t actually do — now, I know what some of you think. “But, Rush, you just got through saying that the Democrats turned this Hodgkinson guy into a lunatic.” I do believe that. But..." (See full Transcript for more of the typical Rush twist on how it's different when…)

Well, first off, sorry, Rush, but we already penalize people for things they say. We have freedom of speech, not freedom from consequences of said speech. But more on that later.

Secondly, what Rush presented was the standard bully's defense:
  • "I didn't MAKE them do anything."
  • "It's THEIR fault if they can't take a joke."
  • "Can I help it if they're a loser?"
  • "I didn't do anything wrong."
  • "Hey, 'sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me'. So what's the problem?"
Okay, show of hands, how many people out there have ever been bullied? How many felt helpless? How many felt afraid?

Scut Farkus
Scut Farkus
Let's use Scut Farkus (of "A Christmas Story") as an example: Scut had all the neighborhood boys terrorized to the point that, when he came up and yelled at them "Come here!" they came. No, he didn't lasso them or hold a gun, he just yelled and they did it. And there's at least one scene where a boy turns around and gives him his arm to twist. They were thoroughly cowed.

But it can get infinitely worse than that.

When we first moved up to South Dakota, I subbed at the high school for a while, and a student there committed suicide because of the constant, non-stop bullying that he received. That was before internet and cellphones. Google bullying and suicide and see the number of hits you come up with. And cyber-bullying, with teens and adolescents, is pushing the number of suicides up.

According to PEW research on teens and cellphones, one in three teens sends 100 text messages a day. 15% send 200 text messages a day. And a certain percentage of that is cyber-bullying. And a certain percentage of that leads to suicides. Michelle Carter exchanged over 1000 text messages with Conrad Roy, encouraging him, telling him, badgering him to commit suicide. What makes it worse is that she knew that he had attempted suicide already, back in 2012, and that he was battling anxiety and depression. After learning that he was planning to kill himself she repeatedly discouraged him from committing suicide in 2012 and 2014 and encouraged him to "get professional help". But then her attitude changed and in July 2014, she started thinking that it would be a "good thing to help him die" (Wikipedia) Thus the 1000 text messages. That's cyber-bullying, and it worked. She even admitted it, in an infamous text to a friend - “I was on the phone with him and he got out of the [truck] because it was working and he got scared and I f***ing told him to get back in."

And why did Michelle Carter want Conrad Roy dead? Because she wanted to receive the sympathy of her classmates as the grieving girlfriend, who only wanted the best for her boyfriend, and the best was that he die.
Defense attorney Joseph Cataldo talks to Michelle Carter in court.
Michelle Carter - from CNN,
"Text Messages Michelle Carter Used
How many of you have been or have known the victim of domestic abuse? There's often more verbal than physical, because it's all about control. Here are some of the many signs of domestic abuse, a/k/a bullying (from the Domestic Violence and Abuse Checklist.):

Does the abuser:
  • humiliate or yell at you?
  • criticize you and put you down?
  • treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your friends or family to see?
  • ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?
  • blame you for their own abusive behavior?
  • see you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?
  • act excessively jealous and possessive?
  • control where you go or what you do?
  • keep you from seeing your friends or family?
  • limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?
  • constantly check up on you?
Notice that I did not include any physically violent act. All of the above are verbal, emotional abuse; and they're enough to leave the victim answering "yes" to, Do you:
Ingrid Bergman in "Gaslight"
  • feel afraid of your partner much of the time?
  • avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
  • feel that you can’t do anything right for your partner?
  • believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
  • wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
  • feel emotionally numb or helpless?
Domestic abuse is bullying, carried on into adulthood. There's a direct link between bullying in childhood and domestic abuse in adulthood (Psychiatry Online): "Men who had bullied schoolmates once in a while were twice as likely to have engaged in violence against a female partner within the previous year as were men who said they had never bullied their school peers. And men who had admitted bullying frequently in school were four times as likely to have done so as were men who had never bullied in school."

On top of that, there's a direct link between domestic abuse and mass shootings (see here and here, too.) Because bullying is all about control and fear. Domestic abuse is all about control and fear. Mass shooting is all about control and fear.

Okay, that was quite a long and winding road. And not every bully, cyber-bully, or just narcissist is going to end up a mass shooter. But I noticed this in the Wikipedia article cited above: This decision "could set legal precedent for whether it's a crime to tell someone to commit suicide." My response?

I CERTAINLY HOPE SO.

Why wouldn't it be a crime to tell someone to kill themselves? Why wouldn't it be a crime to gaslight a person? Why wouldn't it be a crime to do your best to INCREASE someone's mental illness? Or to use their mental illness to your advantage?

Here's the deal, Rush and followers: I believe 100% in free speech. You can say anything you please, anywhere, any time. But I also believe that free speech has consequences. After all,
  • If you yell "FIRE!" in a crowded theater, you're liable for the results.
  • If you threaten the President's life, you're going to get a visit from the Secret Service.
So why, if you badger someone who's battling depression and mental illness with over 1000 texts telling them to kill themselves, and they do it, why wouldn't you be culpable?
Of course, the bullies would totally disagree: to a bully, all the consequences flow one way, onto the victim, who is solely responsible for what happens to her/him. And so we have Michelle Carter, new icon of free speech, who told her boyfriend to "get back in the f*****g truck" so that she could go cry about his death to her friends.

Next time, Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome and hybristophilia, or why Erik Menendez has a wife.

18 June 2017

The Wickedest Woman in the World

by Leigh Lundin

Ever see the movie Gaslight? Based on the play by Patrick Hamilton, the British version came out in 1940 followed by the North American version in 1944. Gaslight, as you know, entered the vocabulary meaning psychological torture against another made vulnerable by love. Dante should have created a subcircle for those who destroy people who love them. We’ll come back to playwright Patrick Hamilton shortly.

Distaff Defense

When a client is a woman, defense teams try to jury-select as many men as possible. Men tend to be far more sympathetic toward a woman killer than do other women. It’s been said women aren’t as easily fooled by their own sex.

Sometimes I’m susceptible, I admit it, but I like to think logic and rationality provide the best hope to resolve cases. For example, a careful look at the evidence– at times presented in twisted ways to the jury– suggest Casey Anthony did not kill her daughter. More likely, chlorine findings intimate the little girl drowned in the family pool and Casey panicked.

On the other hand, who can doubt Jodi Arias didn’t murder her boyfriend? Yet, even after her admissions, some guys continued to contend it was all a mistake. Fanboys insisted she ought to be pardoned or at least paroled. Neither Arias, Anthony, nor anyone else should face execution, but come on guys, grow brain cells.

Death by Unseen Hand

Michelle Carter
Now we have Michelle Carter. Over time she encouraged and manipulated a vulnerable boy into suicide. This boy trusted her; he deeply believed she held his best interest at heart. In actuality, she held his life in her hands and she, intoxicated with the power and drama, crushed it like an empty cigarette pack.

This past week, she was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and released by the judge on bail pending sentencing… if any.

Impassioned articles calling for her unconditional release have appeared across the spectrum. Editorials argue she’s “a young, impressionable girl,” she’s a child, she’s an innocent, she didn’t mean it and besides she’s just too cute to kill.

The judge was astonishingly sympathetic toward her, but that didn’t stop critics insisting he should have dismissed the charges or throw out his own verdict. Some have followed lawyer Joseph Cataldo’s lead by suggesting she is the victim, brainwashed by a suicidal boy.

Conrad Roy III
Cataldo, along with conservative outlets such as National Review and Hot Air, further argues her whispers of death should be protected by the First Amendment. By that reasoning, a spouse who hires a hitman to kill their mate could claim protected free speech. Once on that slippery slope, what would preclude a mafia don from claiming orders of murder-for-hire to underlings should be protected too?

Murder by Suicide

The main difference is Michelle Carter cut out the middle man and nagged her mentally enfeebled ‘friend’ to just ƒ-ing kill himself. After coming up with the idea of carbon monoxide poisoning, she dreamt up further ways for him to kill himself– hanging and bagging. For the drama, you know, the ooh and ahhs of classmates and the warm glow of hugs and Twitter attention and that lovely feeling of power over life and death.

One major assertion claims she can’t be a killer because she wasn’t present. Again, the spouse-hiring-hitman argument could be applied, but it’s simpler than that: She was in his head. Instead of commanding her own finger to pull the trigger, she commanded his. In his susceptible state, the lad followed through, an instrument of his own demise.

Give a Girl Enough Rope…

Michelle Carter’s plotting reminded me of another classic play and crime movie again by Patrick Hamilton, the same playwright who wrote Gaslight. Film fans will recognize Rope as the innovative Hitchcock suspense. Inspired by a true story, students experimentally kill a friend, arrogantly believing they’ll get away with it.

Michelle Carter
In a nutshell, that sums up Michelle Carter’s approach. The difference is she strangled no one; instead she manipulated her friend into killing himself.

That anyone could reach that depth of evil beggars imagination. Clearly she knew exactly what she was doing. Over hundreds of text messages, she cajoled, threatened, urged and persuaded her friend to take his own life. She gaslighted him.

Part of me argues she was only 17 then, intelligent but immature, that she lovingly practiced assisted suicide. But then I reread the transcripts of their cell phone records. She lied to the boy’s mother, his sister, her own friends, the police, and the boy himself. She admitted he’d be alive if it weren’t for her.

She’s young, so she has plenty of time for redemption. That’s more than she gave her friend, Conrad Roy.

Children shouldn’t be tried as adults, and that includes her. Nonetheless, a possible sentence of zero time would be a terrible miscarriage of justice.

What is your take?

Cellular Text Transcript


11 June 2017

Suspension Bridge

by Leigh Lundin

Suspension of disbelief — While used all the time in story-telling, the phrase always struck me as a particularly awkward and unwriterly agglomeration or words. It seems more appropriate for a turn-of-the-century magic show than for literature.

To begin with, the human brain cannot grasp a negative without first comprehending or at least thinking of its positive. The mind first considers ‘belief’ and, after momentary processing, pulls up ‘disbelief’. Then the grey cells attach ’suspension of’, resulting in complex mental gymnastics for a simple concept, even if we remain unaware of the internal computing at the time.

Enantiosemy

suspension
© courtesy imgarcade, artist unknown

‘Suspend’ is one of those words that can mean virtually its opposite, a contronym if you will, like the word ‘citation’ in North American English. You can suspend fruit bits in Jell-o or suspend a balloon in mid-air. But if you suspend the suspending, they come crashing down, much like my faith in our phrase under discussion.

Imagine an author constructing posits like fragile clouds floating in the sky. That writer has suspended his beliefs. He wants his audience to believe those illusions hover there in the magical atmosphere of his tale.

Science and engineering students play sly and sometimes sophisticated jokes on one another such as disassembling a Volkswagon and reassembling it in a boy's dorm room.
    An urban legend has it Coca Cola will dissolve metals overnight, engine blocks or some such. A freshman went on about this and sophomores suggested the only way to prove or disprove it was to run the experiment himself. They helped him gather half a dozen different types of nails to leave in a jar that night.
    The next morning the freshman awoke to find the nails had dissolved into nothingness, thus proving the urban legend. Upperclassmen clapped him on the back and complimented him on his research.
    They didn’t compliment his naïveté, his suspension of disbelief. As you figured out, the sophomores silently removed the nails in the middle of the night.
Thus when you think about it, an author of fiction is ultimately asking for belief… a believing in his world rather than the reality surrounding us.

Coming to Terms

Everyone knows what ‘suspend disbelief’ means, but nobody’s bothered to come up with more elegant wording. We could toy with ‘enbelief’ or ‘sur-belief’ or even ‘lief’, although that last means ‘gladly’.

English often adapts foreign words for concepts. We could try ‘glauben’ in German, ‘foi’ or ‘croyance’ in French, ‘creencia’ in Spanish, ‘убежден’ in Russian, and my favorite, ‘credinţa’ in Romanian. Feel free to leave off the çedilla. (Pardon the childish play on that word.) Would professionals accept this following term? “A writer asks little more from his audience than credinta.”

Frankly, I’m surprised our literary forebears haven’t borrowed an equivalent phrase from French or Russian authors. All the Russians I know are in Washington busily working on the next election, but I do have good French friends. I asked two of my closest, Micheline and Jean-François, for their opinions. J-F responded with this:
“Suspension of disbelief” is a useful concept, and quite hard to render accurately in French. The direct translation is clumsy. It is close to “licence poétique” but poetic license designates a liberty of the author rather than the reader blindly following the enchantment.

Actually, “enchantement” or “envoûtement” is a good path, with the idea that the reader is so charmed by the story that he forgets about reality and plausibility. I would suggest “succomber à l’enchantement” (succumb to the enchantment), e.g. in full context:
“Readers of Tolkien willingly suspend their disbelief” ➔
“Les lecteurs de Tolkien succombent de plein gré à son enchantement.”

Succomber à l'enchantement— I like that. If I can’t have credinţa, I vote for that.

Does ‘suspension of disbelief’ seem awkward to you? What are your ideas, your suggestions?

04 June 2017

Notes from the Underground

by Leigh Lundin

Amtrak Virginia
Virginia and West Virginia are gorgeous
Notes from the underground… so to speak. Notes from a train anyway, this is a stream-of-consciousness about people watching and train spotting, noting little nothings.

I spent the last couple of weeks visiting my brothers, Ray and Glen, and my beautiful niece Paris. It’s hard to believe she’s 31 and so cute and so smart. Also, I give a shout-out to my sister-in-law Pat, the best thing that ever happened to brother Ray.

Dale Andrews and his wife (also named Pat) put me up and put up with me for a few days. We worked on writing together… honestly! Thanks, Pat and Dale!

Riding the Rails

As before, I took the train and as usual, I made sometimes sardonic observations.

Did you know the Walgreens at Union Station, 50 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington, DC, doesn’t have a pharmacy? Really, it doesn’t. It’s like a Kroger, Winn-Dixie or Safeway without groceries, an Exxon/Mobil without gasoline, a McDonald’s without pulverized bovine protein products.

On the other hand, you might find this sign found in Indiana therapeutic:
Chocolate doesn’t ask silly questions.
Chocolate understands.

Train Trivia

atrium, Union Station, Washington, DC
Washington hosts a classically designed train station, albeit one populated with Greco-Romanesque soldiers once totally nude. Prudish politicians demanded the naked thrust of the sculptures be hidden so as not to ruin the morals of an entire nation. Elected officials insisted upon covering the nakedness of the many sculptures, much like Bush’s Attorney General John Ashcroft spent $8000 to cover the b-b-bare b-b-bosom of Lady Justice at the DoJ. A century ago, Washington’s elected spent even more to hide the n-n-naked protruding bits behind strategically placed shields. To be fair, the Obama administration did not undrape the Spirit of Justice. Only in America, once draped, never undone.

The variety of railroad stations around the nation is inspiring. New York, Chicago, Washington feature stations with the elegant architecture of a bygone era. Many small towns throughout the country take pride in their period buildings reminiscent of the 1880s. Ever-practical Richmond, Virginia strives for the coldest, hardest, most obnoxious, move’em-out depot this side of livestock cars.

Amtrak waiting area, Indianapolis
Amtrak Indianapolis as imagined by HR Giger
original © TrainWeb.org
The Indy City

Indianapolis asked itself what hadn’t been attempted before. City officials said, “Dreary, let’s try dreary. Think H.R. Giger or say Blade Runner on a cheerless day with oily rain. Instead of marble and classic statuary, let’s greet passengers with steel beams, rivets, and institutional tile that will always look dated.”

To be clear, I’m not talking about the beautiful, artful refurbished Union Station converted to a shopping mall and Crowne Plaza Hotel shown below. We’re talking about the loud, ghastly functional Amtrak waiting room at right where the desperate spend as little time as possible.

Indianapolis Union Station
What was, what should be.
Photographs of the original mid-1800s Indianapolis train station show a brick building with a clock tower, not unpleasant at all. But like other cities, Indy found rumbling rail crossings interfered with bustling street traffic. Cities like New York and Washington routed trains underground, or at least beneath city streets. Indianapolis chose to elevate tracks above street level.

Passengers in the waiting room can’t escape a claustrophobic awareness they’re sitting under tons and tons of moving steel. This surely contributes to an oppressiveness and possibly a superfine grey dust that works its way into grout and grime. Would it kill the city to paint the interior once in a while?

Tender in the Moment

Like other stations, Indy selects plastic and metal bucket seats designed to make waiting as uncomfortable as possible. Passenger victims innovate ways to rest in this chamber of the restless.

Among the detainees was an eldery couple. Although the woman wore no bindi, something suggested India, Bangladesh or perhaps Pakistan.

The man stretched out across four of the miserable bucket seats, padding it with coats where he could. He positioned a hat to block the worst of the harsh lighting.

The lady tucked a blanket around his shoulders. Restless, she flitted around the terminal, checking schedules, gazing through the window of the garish sundries gift shop. Every few minutes she floated back and leaned in close to her husband. She smoothed his collar, tipped his hat to better shield his eyes, brushing the hair of his temple, whispering and holding his hand to her cheek.

Charmed, I realized I hadn’t seen such tender affection from an older couple in decades. My parents had been very affectionate, but when had I last seen such adoring compassion? The hippie days perhaps… Has couples’ fond gentleness gone out of style? I have occasionally witnessed devoted moments between East Asian couples but why has gentle affection nearly disappeared from American society?

It’s tempting to posit notions about political pop-culture dismissal of public affection, pseudo-personal Hallmark cards, or an end-product of modern feminism. Maybe all of these or none, but I miss the private endearments that once graced couples, especially older couples.

Car Characterization

One afternoon found me sitting at a food court eating those calories such places serve. A young family sat across from me. The little boy tore around the food court, exuberantly demonstrating the H in his ADHD.

The little girl wore pink and carried a pink water bottle. Her little tennis shoes sported glitter embedded in the plastic. Typical little girl, right? Except she was playing with toy cars, pushing Hotwheels nose to nose, and chattering to herself.

Whilst musing, I heard the little girl say the words ‘sugar and cream’ and I paid more attention. The scraps of conversation I caught went something like this:
Hotwheels cars
Car 1:  Do you like tea or coffee?
Car 2:  Coffee sounds good.
Car 1:  Did you hear about Jessica? I’m so mad at her.
Car 2:  No, she’s not nice.
Car 1:  Would you like sugar for your coffee?
Car 2:  Thank you, Lily. I’d love milk.
Car 1:  (apparently named Lily) Have a cookie and a cocktail.
Car 2:  Oh, thank you. Could I have one for Baby Justin?
To my eye, the Baby Justin car looked about the same as Lily and her automotive friend, but I had to admire an imagination that anthropomorphized toy vehicles in a tea party. One could almost picture a Disney movie titled… what should we call it… Cars?

The scene reminded me of remarkably similar classic cartoons by Cathy Guisewite and Garry Trudeau. In his Doonesbury comic strip, Trudeau summed up the results of gender-neutral toys, a concept from the 1970s. Two mothers chat while in the background, a boy plays with a rag doll and a cooking pot. One mother tells the other she’s committed to gender-neutral toys for her son. The other mother asks how that’s working out. In the final panel, the boy is wearing the cooking pot like a battle helmet and has stretched the doll to resemble a machine gun, going “Rat-at-at-at-at-at.”

The Rest of the Room

Speaking of gender, I feel chagrined, mortified on behalf of males for women train travelers. When less than sober, staggering, weaving males are not at their best in restrooms, and rail travel is all about staggering and weaving. I’m willing to accept responsibility for 75-80% of…
Already I hear an objection… only 80%?

Yes, because I know about the hover.

Men are looking at one another asking, “The hover? What the hell’s the hover?”

Women are on phones, texting, calling, emailing… “He knows about the hover? Who told him? How does he know? How many guys has he told? Do we let them live?”
Wait, wait, no violence please. My solution calls for single-use disposable toilets. After each flush, the so-called comfort station is immediately ejected and a new WC slid into place. A mechanical compactor crushes the ejected loo, kicking it to the side of the rails to be later collected and melted down for recycling. Awesome.

Kindly vote whether this brilliant proposal should be enacted into law.



Proposition 441

Disposable Restrooms

(34 503 281)             (2)




21 May 2017

Imagination

by Leigh Lundin

You can learn a lot about story-telling from movies, but ounce-for-ounce, you might learn even more from short films. Much like comparing short stories to novels, these compact stretches of faux celluloid take a lot of work and often collaborative effort.

I've kept the examples short, partly because our time is valuable but also to demonstrate the impact of tight story telling. An issue seen in YouTube shorts is that student movie-makers sometimes haven't figured out the definition of plot. Instead, some present vignettes masquerading as stories. Undoubtedly our editors at AHMM and EQMM come across the same problem when parsing new submissions.

Following are three short samplings. Pick and choose as you will. I saved the most unexpected for last.

Print Your Guy


Old theme, new technology. You know what's going to happen, but it's still fun watching it play out.



Waltz Duet

This brilliant little film packs a lot into three minutes. You'll notice the music-box theme. I don't have sufficient adjectives to describe the plot and I've struggled to come up with a way of explaining it without giving it away. Let me know what you think in the comments.



The Future

You'll need 3-D VR googles (like a high-tech stereiscope) and  an Android or iPad tablet or smart phone. Google Cardboard goggles priced at $10-20 are very cheap and easy to use. Without the right gear, you'll only get a hint of what to expect, but imagine a modern-day ViewMaster and watch this Justin Lin short movie to see where the future or presentation technology is heading.

14 May 2017

Opposites Attract

  Family Fortnight +   Leading up to the International Day of Families on the 15th of May, we bring you the sixteenth in a series about mystery writers’ take on families. Settle back and enjoy this Mother’s Day article!

by Leigh Lundin

My parents were complete opposites. Dad was tall and enormously strong at 6’4 and 240 pounds. Legend said he once lifted a tractor off a man. On the way into the city for my world debut, their car slid off an icy Iowa country road. Dad shouldered the car back onto the track, and they continued to the hospital.

Mom weighed a hundred pounds and topped a shade over five feet. Even so, she could be ferocious. Dad was easy-going; Mom was anything but. The word ‘feisty’ was one of the milder applicable adjectives.

Dad was slow-talking and patient. Mom wasn’t. She could fit a couple of paragraphs in between any two words of his. As for patience, I think she ripped that page out of the dictionary.

Animals, children, and women of all sorts loved Dad. Mom could stare down lions and tigers.

Dad farmed and was gifted at mechanics, but unexpectedly, he was a self-taught polymath. It’s difficult to discuss his range of interests, because they included pretty much everything– math, science, psychology, philosophy, literature, art, poetry, and world events. On Sundays, he’d listen to opera on the radio followed by baseball. He was a google before Google– it seemed impossible to name a subject he either didn’t know or know where to find it.

Each year, my mother purchased a Playboy subscription for my father. She often pointed out pretty women on the street. When her friends questioned her sanity, she said she liked that her husband appreciated beautiful women and preferred her most of all.

In these days of parental hysteria, if little Johnny or Jane sees a bare boob or bottom, the child’s life is considered ruined. This seems so alien to the way I was raised given not only my parents, but my artist Aunt Rae. Nudity in art hung on walls and appeared in books all around us. We weren’t actually proffered Playboy, but being kids, we discovered where they were kept and we caught up on the ‘articles’ from time to time. We learned the lesson that sex was natural and part of a loving environment. When I moved to New York, many residents appeared repressed to me. Bear in mind that New York then had restrictions on selling of condoms and even discussions of birth control.

Swelter Smelter

Dad slept two to four hours a night. Mom could sleep twelve and take an afternoon nap. My father owned pajamas, but apparently never wore them. My mother would appear in the late morning swathed in his oversized PJs, a fuzzy towel pinned around her neck, an ancient green cardigan buttoned over that, boy’s argyle socks… and that’s merely the part we could see. If Dad slept nude, Mom covered up for an Arctic winter.

Once a year, Mother made an exception when Dad’s mother visited. My mom and grandmother loved each other, but they also loved to annoy each other. During her mother-in-law’s visits, Mom wore short-shorts and a halter top, clearly hoping to needle Granny. How Mom survived those freezing 98° temperatures, no one knows.

Mom’s broken thermostat and susceptibility to chills carried over into the car. On a summer day with the windows rolled up and no air conditioning, we kids gasped for oxygen. If we dared roll down the window a crack, Mom would say, “There’s a draft… I can feel it.” Dad typically responded with a dry admonition. “Boys, it’s only 98° and your mother’s chilled. If your flesh isn’t melting, roll up the window.”

Supercharged Action Heroine

Dad usually drove an old truck or car that interested him at the time, but he made sure Mom had a nice car. He bought Mom a Packard with a supercharged V-8 and the acceleration of a Lear Jet.

Mom sat on a cushion to peer over the hood. To a casual observer unable to see a driver, the Packard must have looked like it drove itself.

For such a tiny thing, Mom had a lead foot. Her gas pedal had only two positions– off and full on. One of my grade school classmates described a Sunday morning when we met at a highway crossroads. Both vehicles politely stopped at the stop signs and then Mom rocketed off. Roger claimed that by the time their family reached the town limits, we were sitting in church singing hymns.

Mom versus Chuck Berry

Two branches of a local Everhart family turned out wildly divergent. One exhibited a wicked sense of humor, the other had no humor gene at all. Naturally this latter bullying branch, Lloyd, Floyd, and Lester, rode our school bus and made life miserable for the rest of us. Actually Lloyd wasn’t bad, but the other two had the girth and temperament of constipated Cape buffalo. Flexing arms the size of 55-gallon drums, they boyishly liked to stress-test the reflexes of kids three, four, five years younger. As long as they didn't get blood or body parts on the seats, our school bus driver was content to ignore their playful antics.

Slight relief came about when Floyd reached high school age and bought an old Studebaker junker. He souped up the engine and from there on out, terrified citizens on the highway instead of us kids on the bus.

Studebaker versus the Packard
1951 Studebaker Commander 1958 Studebaker Packard Hawk

One fine day on a ride with Mom, she swept up on the bumper of Everhart, who wasn't used to seeing anything arrive in his rear-view mirror. About now you can start humming Maybellene.
As we was motivatin’ over the hill,
Everhart was whuppin’ a Coup de Ville.
His Studebaker a-rollin’ out of the gate,
But nothin’ outrun Mom’s Packard V-8.
Mom swung out to pass him, again not something bully boy Everhart was used to seeing. He leaned forward and gripped the wheel.
His Studebaker doin’ about ninety-five,
She's bumper to bumper, rollin’ side by side.
He punched the accelerator. The barrels of his carburetor opened, gulping raw gasoline into the cylinders. The gutted mufflers roared flaming unburned fuel.
Next thing I saw that Studebaker grill
Doin’ a hundred and ten gallopin’ over that hill.
Off hill curve, a downhill stretch,
We and that Studebaker neck and neck.
Realizing she wasn't passing as expected, Mom goosed the accelerator. Thrown back in our seats, my brother and I, mouths agape in horror, were petrified– NO ONE messed with an angry Everhart. Seeing he was losing ground, he plunged his pedal to the floor. He was determined no broad was going to pull ahead of him.
The Studebaker pulled up door to door,
Struggling and straining, it wouldn't do no more.
The sky clouded over and it started to rain.
Mom tooted her horn from the passin’ lane.
Still in the left side of the road, Mom glanced over and said, "What is that boy doing?" She floored it. The supercharger clutch engaged. Its rotors whined as it spun up, pressurizing air, vaporizing fuel, taching 6000… 7000 RPM.
The motor wound up, the shift went down
And that’s when we heard that highway sound.
The Studebaker lookin’ like it’s sittin’ still
She passed Everhart at the top of the hill.
Everhart faded to a dim speck on the horizon. Uh-oh.

My brother and I, half the size of Everhart, fully expected him to corner us and beat us to death with a rusty tire iron. We hadn’t, however, counted on his embarrassment. Everhart was so mortified, so humiliated to be out-raced by our tiny mother, he avoided us, turning away whenever he saw us coming.

Gossip of the escapade reached my father. He quietly removed the belt from the supercharger, claiming its bearings had overheated. Mom noticed something amiss and complained its get-up-and-go had got up and gone.

Just another day in the life of my family. With characters like my parents, how could anyone not expect me to write?

23 April 2017

International Good Books • Great Writers Series

by Leigh Lundin

Last month, I talked about Alice and how buying from International GoodBooks (GoGoodBooks.com) donates to a humanitarian cause. From the land of Stephen Ross, the New Zealand Oxfam charity has created two other ads, one I’d seen before and another recommended by a reader (thanks ABA), I wasn’t aware of.

Whereas Alice was surreal, one of the others defines racy and the other esoteric noir. Let’s start with the dark esoteric and save the sexy one to wrap up.

Metamorphosis

This way lies madness…


An advanced education gone horribly wrong.

Havana Heat

This way lays… well…


Once your panting subsides, you know where to order your books.

Go ask Alice.

16 April 2017

Model Employees

by Leigh Lundin

The French noun librairie looks obvious, right? Library? Mais non, it is one of those words related yet different… it means bookstore. Library en français is bibliothèque. Biblio– the root is obvious once you know the word.

La Librairie Mollat is a sizable bookstore in Bordeaux that has gained a reputation not only for books, but for its photography of books as modeled by store employees. By reputation, I refer to its 50 000 Instagram fans. What makes Librairie Mollat special? Take for example:



The employees photograph book covers… modeled with fellow employees.


Most are amusing, but the precision of the photos astonishes me.




Employees lend body parts or portions of their faces.






The eyes in this lady amaze me.


This case looks almost transparent.


Mustaches are a thing.




Charming, isn't it!


I love this one.


Our paranormal pal Charlaine Harris is very much a thing, too.












Charlaine Harris' covers are by far the most popular.


Enjoy the rest of the show.








Clever!














Backstory…


 Finally for you Star Wars fans…


Thanks to the reader who brought the bookstore to my attention. For other examples, visit here. For the full collection, check the store's Instagram page.

09 April 2017

The Expanse

by Leigh Lundin

A month ago, when Barb Goffman wrote about new television shows, she touched on the sci-fi series, Timeless which, in my opinion, is pretty good as long as they keep SOS out of it.

Becoming an adherent of hard science fiction was foreordained– my first or second adult novel in the third grade was Fritz Lieber’s Gather Darkness (serialized 1943, published in book form 1950). I still keep that novel. Part of its technology of light wave cancellation is under study ¾ of a century later– Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility could become a real thing one day.

Mysteries and sci-fi formed two great genre loves, and their golden ages lived for me. Blade Runner, The Man in the High Castle… stories like those formed the bookscape of middle and high school.

Soft on Hard Fiction

The term ‘hard’ science fiction defines the purest form harking back to the golden and silver ages. At one time, adherents adopted ‘SF’ to distinguish the real stuff from the lighter fare enjoyed by science fantasy and space opera (e.g, Star Wars) fans, but others resented the co-optation of sci-fi.

This may surprise to those who aren’t yet fans: Hard sci-fi isn’t about monsters or wookies or paranormal. Hard science fiction is about society and ‘what’s possible’ propositions.

The Science of Imagination

One unspoken maxim rules sci-fi… the science must either be real or at least possible. That’s why Superman would be classified more as science fantasy because the physics doesn’t compute. Writers can exploit an exception– they may devise a universe with its own physics as long as the science can logically and consistently be extrapolated.

Consider Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park (1990). Dinosaurs in modern times? What could be sillier? Except Crichton knew his biology. He delved into considerable detail (in a clever Disney Epcot-like presentation) how dinosaur DNA might be trapped in amber. DNA has also also been recently found in mammoth bone marrow, so these ideas lie within the realm of possibility.

Likewise, Crichton’s 1999 Timeline might seem preposterous to congressional and cabinet appointees to science and environmental committees, guys who failed sixth grade Creationism in the Classroom. Facing a career as vacuum cleaner salesmen, they opted to enter politics specializing in the myths of global climate change and those unexplained mysteries of female fertility. Crichton, in fact, based the premise on actual physics experiments of space-time teleportation.

Those then-current experiments in space-time underlaid “Think Like a Dinosaur”, a subtle, almost tender, bitter-sweet episode of The Outer Limits, (2001, S07E08) which had nothing to do with dinosaurs. The program explored ethics and commitment through a vehicle of love and quiet despair.

Hard-Boiled Directives

Dashiel Hammett’s and Raymond Chandler’s stories touched upon socialism and capitalism gone bad. We’ve read that Ross MacDonald’s works were a commentary on the indolently wealthy 1%, and Dennis Lehane writes about a civilization uncaring about about cops, crime, and corruption. These societal undercurrents– intended or not– are a side-effect of their crime writing. In contrast, the best science fiction centralizes social themes as the core thrust.

For example, 2001, A Space Odyssey reimagined evolution of the human species. Soylent Green and one of my favorites, Silent Running, dealt with a society increasingly indifferent about pollution, over-population, and food shortages. Why fictionalize these issues? The creators want you to care while largely avoiding the politics of the day.

No Expanse Spared

The Expanse
My attention was drawn to the 2015 SyFy television series, The Expanse. Sporting a title in homage to Star Trek, it’s based on the novels of James S.A. Corey, nom de plume of writers Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. (Their pseudonym combines their middle names.)

The Expanse skipped 2016 but returned this year for a second season, which is running now. A third series is in the works for 2018.

The Expanse… within thirty seconds it hooked me. The music… the dark theme– trust me, this program is so Stygian, it makes noir look like Easter pastels in kindergarten.

The cast includes an intriguing classic detective, Josephus Miller, who channels the quintessential Marlowe and Spade. Another fascinating character is the assistant undersecretary to the UN, Chrisjen Avasarala, played to perfection in the smoker’s voice of actress Shohreh Aghdashloo. A third complex character is Colonel Fred Johnson, former UN Marine and accused war criminal who runs a ship-building base at Tycho Station.

And then we have the crew of the Rocinante, kind of a Firefly on steroids. (Firefly was a great but short-lived sci-fi series also made into a movie.) The crews take a while to set aside their trust issues and realize the innate decency of the others.

To my surprise, I came to like the character of Amos Burton, a marine and mechanic, extremely devoted to his colleague Naomi Nagata. ‘Character’ is the key word. Appearing as a man of deceptively simple outlook and tastes, Burton wins over the audience and crew thanks to his private code of loyalty, decency, bravery, and level-headedness. He’s the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to marry your sister until you suddenly realized how wrong you were and what a great man she’d miss out on.

A kind of perfect resolution unexpectedly came about in the midst of season 2 titled “Home”. (S02E05) It achieved an unheard-of 9.6 rating in IMDB. At the moment, I’m enjoying a break from viewing, savoring the episode.

The Science of Silence

Last week, John wrote about guilty pleasures. I can’t say space battles do much for me, but The Expanse is enjoyably different. Mainly, it’s much more realistic. For example, rail guns, capable of high ‘muzzle’ velocities, are a real ‘thing’. The US Navy electromagnetically launched projectiles without the aid of chemical propellants or explosives at 8600kmph, seven times the speed of sound, double the speed of a very fast bullet. Think of a hi-tech slingshot powered by magnets.


The shows contain a few mistakes, including a deliberate one. Like every movie and television show ever filmed, you hear the roar of rockets, the sounds of gunfire, and the boom of explosions in outer space. Except… space is absolutely silent. Alien capitalized on this with the tag-line, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” Space movies would be boring without sound effects and a lot of foley artists would find themselves out of work, so phony sfx are forgivable. (2001 might have used silence in the outdoor scenes.)

And so?

Earlier, I rattled on about societal themes in hard science fiction. What are the underlying social issues of The Expanse? Politics, greed, exploration and exploitation, war and weaponry. Look for a scathing side note vis-à-vis the amoral symbiosis of Werhner von Braun-type Nazi technocrats as exploited by Germany and then the Allied Powers.

Like I said it’s all about society.