18 June 2020

Adventures in Logic


At the entrance of the Temple to Apollo at Delphi were three maxims:
  1. Know thyself.
  2. Nothing to excess.
  3. Surety brings ruin.
All very logical, and God knows every philosopher from Cleobolus (c. 6 BC) to Aristotle (384-322 BC) hammered home the maxim "Moderation in all things." Along with the primacy of Man's Reason, and how that made Man superior to the beasts of the field, not to mention foreigners (all of them barbarians to the Greeks), slaves and, of course, women.  (Except the hetairai.)

But the Greeks also worshiped Dionysus, the god of wine, fertility, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, festivity and theater.  Their symposia were all male affairs (except for the high-class hetairai and the low-class musicians) at which they recited poetry, discussed philosophy, sing songs, give speeches, and get thoroughly drunk.  (Please, read Plato's Symposium HERE for one of the great discussions of love anywhere - interrupted by a very drunk Alcibiades and his buddies.)  

Decent women - wives and daughters - were kept at home, uneducated and working, in the women's quarters, where they were to never be seen or heard by any other man.  Except at weddings.  And their coming of age.  And the Dionysian Mysteries when all those well-hidden wives and daughters turned into Maenads, Bacchantes, and raced out into the hills, where they drank and danced and sang all night long, in the religious frenzy of Dionysus, tearing animals apart with their bare hands.  (And the occasional man who dared to look into their rituals.  See Euripedes' The Bacchae.)


That's the Greeks for you.  Logic, logic, logic, and the next thing you know they're screaming wild in the mountains.  Well, at least they had the gods to blame.  

So much for logic.  

"If we stop testing right now, we'd have very few cases, if any."  President Trump, 6/15/2020.  

In the world of Logical Fallacies, this is known as a False Equivalence - if THIS, then THAT - which always sound logical, and can work, but only if both parts are completely true.  

BTW:  Twitter has been full of other examples of such thinking:
"Yes, and if I stop weighing myself, I'll never gain any weight."
"If we stopped being poor, we'd all be rich."
"If I quit recognizing birthdays, I won't get any older."
Make your own:  ______________________ 

But God knows, that's not the first time that Presidents have said dicey things:

"When a great number of people are out of work, unemployment results."  Calvin Coolidge  
"While the crash only took place six months ago, I am convinced we have now passed the worst and with continued unity of effort we shall rapidly recover." - Herbert Hoover, May 1, 1930
"Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?" —George W. Bush, Jan. 11, 2000
"I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself." - Ronald Reagan
"I was under medication when I made the decision to burn the tapes."—Richard Nixon

Meanwhile, there is no system of logic in any universe that will allow you to be both the Party of Lincoln and carry a Confederate flag.  The history is plain:  Lincoln and the Confederacy were on opposite sides of the Civil War.  

BUT the Appeal to Ignorance (argumentum ad ignoratiam)  can work a treat if people are determined enough to remain ignorant.



And let's not forget the classic misshapen logic of criminals, all of which - and more! - I've heard on the job at the pen:  

"Look, if they didn't want to be robbed, they shouldn't have had such nice stuff."  
"I don't have to follow the rules.  Rules only apply to losers." 
"No one has ever been mistreated the way I've been mistreated.  I'm amazed that I'm even alive."
"No one has ever done anything for me.  Everything I've got I've had to take."
"No matter where I am, I always know I'm the smartest person in the room."
"It's not my fault I got arrested:  my baby mama turned me in to the cops for dealing because I was cheating on her."  
"I've never done a thing wrong in my entire life.  It's just that people always have it in for me."
"I'm the messenger of God.  If you hadn't been such sinners, God wouldn't have sent me to punish you."
     (All right, all right, the last one's Genghis Khan.)

Also, see the wonderful Top Ten Criminal Thinking Errors HERE.

If the numbers don't fit, change things!

Back on May 13, two weeks after reopening, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that the State of Georgia made it look like its COVID-19 cases were going down by putting the dates out of order - April 26th after May 2nd, and two Sundays in one week - on its published chart of COVID-19 cases, in order to prove that "new confirmed cases in the counties with the most infections had dropped every single day for the past two weeks."  (Link)  And to prove that the reopening was going great!  Huzzah!  Except it wasn't.  

What's that about All Lives Matter?

"A resurgent economy is seen as critical to boosting President Donald Trump’s reelection hopes and has become a growing focus of the White House coronavirus task force led by Vice President Mike Pence."  (AP)  

Which begs the question, why isn't preventing a second, third, or fourth deadly wave of COVID-19 seen as critical to boosting President Trump's reelection hopes?  Especially since the stock market that increased at the reopening dropped like a hot rock through ice cream - almost 2,000 points - on June 12, as COVID-19 spiked around the country.  Oh, and currently COVID-19 cases are increasing around 10,000 a day in the United States.  Doesn't look like we flattened the curve.

I know he says terrible things, but look at all the conservative judges...  Especially Neil Gorsuch...

Image


One of the accomplishments ascribed to President Trump is the appointment of conservative judges and Supreme Court Justices.  Meanwhile, two days ago, SCOTUS refused to hear review a ruling on California sanctuary laws, as well as a several Second Amendment Cases.  And then Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion in the above ruling.  “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,” Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.  As one might expect, many conservatives who now praised him as the country's moral salvation are now calling him "Deep State".  (And far more unprintable things.)

BTW, two things to remember:
(1) Judges don't always vote their party.  I grew up seeing "Impeach Earl Warren Signs" on trees because as Supreme Court Chief Justice, ultra-conservative Earl Warren decided that segregation, suppression of free speech (whether for Communists or protesters), and mandatory official school prayer were all unconstitutional.  
(2) Those who assume that Justices will vote their party (i.e., "dance with them what brung 'em"), are always going to be SOL somewhere along the line.  In fact, this is a damn good thing to remember as a general rule in life.  Otherwise, you're gonna end up crying over The Tennessee Waltz way too many times.


I'm not a doctor, but I play one in my mind

Among many other current arguments in what I like to think is the fringe (but is rapidly becoming the back and sides as well):

"It's no worse than the flu."  
Tell that to the people who, after 60 days, are still sick with COVID-19, the ones who have had major organs compromised (apparently for life), and what about the guy who got a 1.1 million dollar hospital bill?  Oh, and since we have neither treatment nor vaccine, the current mortality rate is averaging about 6%.  It's 0.1% for the flu.  (I know, percentages are hard... look it up.  There are websites that will explain it to you.)

"I don't wear a mask because masks make you sick!  You breathe all that CO2 and you're gonna die!  You've got to have as much fresh air as possible!"  
My dears, if masks make you sick, then every surgeon, physician, nurse, and lab technician must die extremely young.  And they should all, obviously, be in ICU right now, as patients.  BTW, you don't have to wear masks in your own home, or in your car, or when you're taking a (socially distanced) walk outside.  

"If masks were so good for you, why didn't they tell us to wear them from the beginning?  Huh?  How can you trust the doctors if they keep changing their minds?"
So, if the antibiotic isn't working on your gangrene, you shouldn't listen to your doctor when she changes your medication in search of something that might work?  

If you think I'm exaggerating, check out this video of Orange County residents protesting against a requirement to wear masks.  Notice the reference to "I am a sovereign citizen" (and read my 2012 blogpost - https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2012/08/sovereign-citizens.html - about this unmerry loose rubberband of hoaxers and victims).   


The gist of the anti-mask crowd is: "It's so inconvenient etc. for me to wear a mask, so rather than protect the elderly, or those with pre-existing conditions, or even my own family & friends, EVERYONE ELSE STAY HOME FOR MY CONVENIENCE!"  (At least they're easy to avoid - they're the ones not wearing a mask.)
And when they say, "I'd rather die of COVID-19 than live in fear and wear a mask all the time", all I can say is (1) death is far more inconvenient, and (2) if you're scared of dying of CO2 poisoning from wearing a mask, I think you're going to be terrified when your lungs and kidneys collapse from COVID-19.  

Also, scientists change their minds after experiments and research have proved that their hypothesis was faulty.  They don't keep doing the same damn thing over and over again, even when it's proved ineffective, expecting different results.  That's why the call it science, instead of magic.  

A Great Number of Logical Fallacies Revolve Around Bulls&8t.

Ad Hominem - or the Personal Attack.  From Crooked Hillary to Racist Clementine, Sleepy Joe to Moscow Mitch, we've heard a ton of them.  Most of us will have been on the receiving end of them, especially in junior high.  The key is to ignore them all.  

A subgroup of this is Guilt by Association - where a person is vilified for "associating" with someone else.  Thus the 75 year-old protester Martin Gugino (peace activist with Dorothy Day's Catholic Worker Organization) was called "Antifa" by our President.

Another subgroup of this is Guilt by the Past.  Example: After Tamir Rice, the 12 year old black boy was shot by a Cleveland cop for playing in a park with a toy gun, "The Northeast Ohio Media Group investigated the backgrounds of the parents and found the mother and father both have violent pasts." Which has nothing to do, of course, with a little boy playing in a park.

Strawman Argument - where one attacks a position the other doesn't really hold.  

“You're against the death penalty. You want to set murderers loose to kill again.” (Instead of arguing what punishment murder should get, this accuses you of wanting murderers to be allowed to run amok in society.)  

Pars Pro Toto, or "The Part Taken for the Whole" - Used - often extremely successfully, to divert attention away from, and even to ridicule, a particular case.

"We must save the children in Yemen."  "No, first we must stop all abortion."
“We must save the whales.” “No, we must save all the creatures in the sea.”
“Black lives matter.” “No, all lives matter.”

(My favorite response to the last one was when a conservative acquaintance announced his birthday on Facebook only to have someone - not me, sadly - respond #AllBirthdaysMatter.  Really pissed the guy off.)  
Slippery Slope - This is used over and over and over again.  Among the most popular in the US are:

"Same-sex marriage leads to bestiality."  (Louie Gohmert, Rick Santorum, and Ben Carson, among others, have all used this argument.  - HERE)
"If marijuana is legal, everyone will become heroin addicts."  (Classic, going all the way back to Richard Nixon.)
"If you give the poor money, they won't work because they are feckless and lazy, and that's why they're poor in the first place, so you should never just give the poor money because it won't help them, it will just make them lazy." (This one is a double decker of Logical Fallacies, because it combines the Slippery Slope with Circular Reasoning.  Used frequently to gut SNAP, etc.)
"Give teenagers birth control and all they'll do is have sex and get pregnant." (Actually, the opposite is true - see HERE)

False Dilemma - You're given two options, black or white, which do you choose?  Except that there is probably at least a third option, if not a lot more.  

“Either we go to war, or we appear weak.”  (Ever hear of diplomacy?)
"The only economic options are unfettered capitalism or communism." (There used to be a wide range of economic theories and practices - remember mercantilism? - but that was back in the 18th & 19th centuries when, apparently, people had time to think about such things.)  
"Either we open the country to restart our economy or we keep everything shut down."  (How about if we increase our testing and contact tracing abilities first?  How about if we mandate certain rules for how we open and what we have people do?)  

Meanwhile, all of these, and many more can be found at the following websites:


Good reads. After all, it's always good to know what kind of bulls&&t's being handed to you, and how to refute it.

† "We have courtesans [hetairai] for pleasure, concubines for the daily tending of the body, and wives in order to beget legitimate children and have a trustworthy guardian of what is at home." Appolodorus, Speech Against Neaera (Link HERE)

17 June 2020

Fancies and Goodnights


The July/August issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine hit the newsstands yesterday (are there still newsstands?) and I am delighted to report that I have a story  in it.  (After I typed that I saw the cover.  Wow!  AHMM has really been on a roll the last few years with great covers.  I am proud to benefit from that again.)

"The Library of Poisonville" is full of literary references, appropriately enough.  The title refers to Jorge Luis Borges' great story "The Library of Babel," which inspired my piece, and also to a work by Dashiell Hammett.  Most of the references are obvious, but I thought I would write about an author who my story only touches on tangentially.

John Collier was born in London in 1901.  He was reading Hans Christian Andersen by age 3.  As a teenager he told his father he wanted to be a poet.  Believe it or not, that was fine with dear old Dad, who never required him to get a job or even go to university.  (His work contains several  odd father-son relationships.)

By age thirty he had switched his emphasis to fiction which gave him the chance to show off his, um, unique imagination.  (In what way unique?  Well, his first novel was entitled His Monkey Wife, or I Married A Chimp.)  His story collection Fancies and Goodnights won both the Edgar Award and the International Fantasy Award.    And how often has one book scored both of those?

My favorite Collier story - which I list among my all-time favorite fifty crime tales - is "Witch's Money." In spite of the title this is no fantasy, but rather a tale of cross-cultural misunderstanding in which the arrival of an American painter in a village in southern France leads, with the inevitability of Greek tragedy, to utter destruction.

His writing style tended toward the flowery and sardonic, reminding me of Saki, Roald Dahl, Avram Davidson, and James Powell.  His work has been adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, and Tales of the Unexpected.  He also wrote screenplays for the Hitchcock show and movies; most importantly he was part of the team the wrote The African Queen.

Of all of his works the one that has been adapted for other media the most is probably "Evening Primrose," about a poet who rejects society by living what might be the ultimate consumer dream: dwelling secretly in a department store.  It was even turned into a TV musical starring Anthony Perkins, with songs by Stephen Sondheim!

"I sometimes marvel," Collier once wrote, "that a third-rate writer like me has been able to pass himself off as a second-rate writer."

Here are some of my favorite lines from this first-rate writer:

"Alice and Irwin were as simple and as happy as any young couple in a family-style motion picture.  In fact, they were even happier, for people were not looking at them all the time and their joys were not restricted by the censorship code." - Over Insurance

"How happy I might be if only she was less greedy, better tempered, not so addicted to raking up old grudges, more affectionate, with slightly yellower hair, slimmer, and about twenty years younger!  But what is the good of expecting such a woman to reform?" - Three Bears Cottage

Actress and screenwriter: "I think I'd like to play Juliet."
"It's been done."
"Not as I shall do it.  You shall write a new script, especially for me." - Pictures in the Fire

"So Mrs. Beaseley went resentfully along, prepared to endure Hell herself if she could deprive her husband of a little of his Heaven." - Incident on a Lake

"Annoyed with the world, I took a large studio in Hampstead.  Here I resolved to live in utter aloofness, until the world should approach me on its knees, whining it apologies." -Night! Youth! Paris! And the Moon!

"As soon as Einstein declared that space was finite, the price of building sites, both in Heaven and Hell, soared outrageously." -Hell Hath No Fury

"The young man was greatly taken aback to hear a gorilla speak.  However, common sense reminded him that he was in a city in which many creatures enjoyed that faculty, whom, at first sight, or at any hearing, one would hardly credit with sufficient intelligence to have attained it." -Variation on a  Theme

"It is the fate of those who kiss sleeping beauties to be awakened themselves."  -Sleeping Beauty

"The first cognac is utilitarian merely.  It is like a beautiful woman who has, however, devoted herself entirely to doing good, to nursing, for example.  Nothing is more admirable, but one would like to meet her sister." - Old Acquaintance

If you have read this far I have an offer for you.  As I said, my reference to Collier's work in "The Library of Poisonville" is obscure, but it should ring clear to any fan of the man.   If someone can tell me which of his stories I referred to - and where - I will send that person an autographed copy of the magazine or something of equally dubious merit.  First responder only!


16 June 2020

News From the Dark Side


A year before I joined SleuthSayers, I wrote “Tales From the Dark Side,” a guest post about editing that included some information about my editing background and several tips on how to please editors.

I’ve touched on editing in some of my subsequent posts, but this time I’m sharing news.

BLACK CAT MYSTERY MAGAZINE

Those of you who have read the recently released Black Cat Mystery Magazine #6—or have used Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature to read the issue’s editorial—will already know this, but I am now the editor of BCMM.

I joined the BCMM staff at last year’s Malice Domestic, replacing Carla Coupe as co-editor upon her retirement. Earlier this year, after working together on the forthcoming special issue Black Cat Mystery Magazine Presents Private Eyes and reading through all the submissions from last fall’s open call, Wildside Press Publisher John Betancourt asked me to step into the editor’s role while he concentrated on his duties as publisher.

So, I did.

Our goal is to publish quarterly, with three numbered issues and one special issue each year, and John has charged me with ensuring that BCMM is home to the full range of subgenres within our field.

BCMM #6—filled will new stories by Michael Bracken, Trey R. Barker, Patricia Dusenbury, Robert Guffey, John Hegenberger, Laird Long, and Robert Lopresti, and a classic reprint by Bryce Walton—is the last issue in which all the stories were selected by John and Carla. John and I selected the stories for the private eye issue, and subsequent issues 7–10 contain a mixture of stories selected by John and Carla, John and me, and me.

As you likely gathered from the previous paragraph, we have filled the next four regular issues, so it could be as much as a year before we again open for general submissions. Even so, our next special issue—Black Cat Mystery Magazine Presents Cozies—will open for submissions later this year. Keep a close watch at https://bcmystery.com/Guidelines/ for guidelines and information about the short submission window.

DOWN & OUT BOOKS

A few years ago I began work on my first anthology for Down & Out Books—The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes From the Panhandle to the Piney Woods—and the number of projects I’m doing with D&O continues to grow.

The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes From the Panhandle to the Piney Woods

The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods
was released just before the 2019 Bouchercon in Dallas. In addition to strong reviews and an Anthony Award nomination for Best Anthology or Collection, stories from The Eyes of Texas have been singled out for award recognition:

Sandra Murphy’s story “Lucy’s Tree” earned a Derringer Award.

Richard Helms’s story “See Humble and Die” was nominated for a Derringer Award and was selected for inclusion in The Best American Mystery Stories 2020, due out later this year.

Michael Pool’s story “Weathering the Storm” has been short-listed for a Shamus Award.

Guns + Tacos

Guns + Tacos, the serial novella anthology series I co-created and co-edit with Trey R. Barker released its first season in 2019. Six novellas, released as ebooks one episode each month July–December constitute a season, and, after each season ends, that season’s novellas are assembled into a pair of paperbacks, each containing three episodes.

Season 2—with novellas by Ann Aptaker, Eric Beetner, Alec Cizak, Ryan Sayles, Mark Troy, and a collaboration between Trey R. Barker and me—begins next month. Each episode can be ordered individually, but subscribers receive a special bonus story that non-subscribers don’t. Last season I wrote the bonus story; this season Trey wrote it.

And—good news!—we’ve been approved for season 3.

Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir

Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, the first in what we hope will be an annual anthology series, is set to release this fall. After all the contracts are signed and we get a bit closer to publication date, I’ll share the list of contributors.

Mickey Finn 2, slated for publication fall 2021, is in the last stages of the editing process and the manuscript will soon be delivered to the publisher.

Jukes & Tonks

Jukes & Tonks, which I am co-editing with Gary Phillips, is scheduled for publication in spring 2021. Gary and I are awaiting delivery of the last few stories and then copyediting begins.

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

In addition to the above, I remain editor of a bi-monthly consumer magazine for gardeners and a weekly electronic newsletter for gardeners.

BUT WHAT ABOUT SOME WRITING NEWS?

My story “Best Be the Tie that Binds” appears in Black Cat Mystery Magazine #6.

You might say I have a vested interest in two of this year’s Anthony Award-nominated anthologies. Crime Travel (Wildside Press), edited by fellow SleuthSayer Barb Goffman, contains my Derringer Award-nominated story “Love, Or Something Like It.”

15 June 2020

Heartbreaks & Half-Truths


That's the anthology coming out June 18 with one of my stories in it. John Floyd has one in it, too, along with several other people I know. Kate Flora, who founded Level Best Books, accepted my first short story for publication fifteen years ago. K.M. Rockwood suggested the name of a band that appears in one of my novels. Crime writing is a small world.

The back cover copy gives you a good sense of what's in store:

Lovers and losers. Whether it's 1950s Hollywood, a scientific experiment, or a yard sale in suburbia, the twenty-two authors represented in this collection of mystery and suspense interpret the overarching theme of "heartbreaks and half-truths" in their own inimitable style, where only one thing is certain: Behind every broken heart lies a half-truth. And behind every half-truth lies a secret.

According to my spreadsheet, "Ugly Fat" received fourteen rejections between the end of 2008 and early this year when Judy Penz Sheluk selected it for the anthology. One market told me to re-submit it--and rejected it again. That did wonders for my self-esteem. I assume another market rejected it because I sent it in April 2018 and haven't heard from them yet. That's not unusual, though. I still have seventeen unanswered queries from agents to whom I sent The Whammer Jammers in 2011. That's a major reason I started self-publishing my novels.

I've always loved short stories but never felt comfortable with the form until I attended the Wesleyan Writer's Conference in summer of 2004. Alex Chee, Roxanna Robinson and Chris Offutt were all excellent teachers. Chris also gave me helpful feedback on an early version of what eventually became Blood on the Tracks (Interestingly enough, so did Kate Flora at Crime Bake a year or two later, on a very different draft). I wrote eight or ten short stories in the months after that one-week workshop, and four stories that have seen print came from writing prompts or other suggestions I picked up there.

"Ugly Fat" is different from many of my stories, but similar to a lot of them, too.

Like many of my stories, it has a female protagonist. I worked theater with strong, organized, creative stage managers for thirty years, and most of them were women. My wife is smarter than I am, too (Yes, I grant you, that's no big deal). My novels feature strong women like Valerie Karr, Megan Traine, "Shoobie" Dube, and Svetlana Melanova. Weak or dumb women don't do it for me, and that bias shows up in my writing.

Connie, the protagonist in "Ugly Fat," has been dumped by her cop boyfriend and is now visiting the gym to get back in fighting trim. She stops at a tag sale and finds that her problems are nothing compared to the woman running the sale. Molly's husband dumped her for his secretary and they eloped to Mexico. Now Molly is selling all the guy's clothes, books, and sports gear. She divorced his sorry ass and refers to it as a great diet, in which she lost 170 pounds of ugly fat in one day. Connie sympathizes, but figures out there's more to the story than meets the eye.

The story has dark humor, which I like, and a few music references, also a staple. Telling more would spoil it.

Now, you ask, how is it different from my other stories?

If you don't ask that, you missed your cue.

Well, it's only 2400 words long, one of my shortest published stories. My comfort zone seems to be about 3500--or, if you include my two novellas--about 4300. Excluding the novellas, my two longest stories are roughly 6000 words.

I've always been a process kind of guy, maybe because I taught for so long. More often than not, I know when, where, why, and how I got the idea for a story. I've discussed that before. I try to help people in my workshops realize that ideas come from anywhere and everywhere, sometimes several places and ideas at once.

I remember nothing about when or where this story came to me. The draft I sent for the anthology is "Version S," which would be the 19th version. That's far more than usual, and I don't know why there were so many. I usually do five or six drafts over a span of three or four months. Since I sent the story out the first time around Thanksgiving 2008, I probably wrote the first draft in July, most likely after seeing a tag sale or ten within walking distance of my condo any given weekend.

Who knows? Who cares?

Connie's found a home. And she's in good company.

14 June 2020

Please Don't Upset Racially Mixed Children


The protests in the United States has people in many countries including Canada asking, “What can I do to help end racism?” My approach has been to listen to the stories from south of our border and within our borders: this is the birthplace of the solutions we need. However, I’ve realized that these stories weren’t addressing my concerns about my children and that’s a story I want to write.

My husband is white and our son and daughter are mixed race. I would say bi-racial but that isn’t true. My parents were from Sri Lanka—my mother’s grandfather was French, somewhere in my father’s family there was someone African but we suspect other ancestors as well, including a Chinese one. My husband has roots in Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

There is absolutely no doubt that people are suffering in the United States and—to a lesser extent in Canada—from racism. I have no interest in diminishing this suffering—we should all be amplifying those stories. However, the way we discuss these stories are adversely impacting children of mixed marriages and that is where I want to focus: I want you to imagine being one of those mixed children while you read.

The research on implicit racial biases, often based on the Implicit Association Test (IAT), has provoked some people to state—with puzzling confidence—that all whites harbour implicit racist attitudes. To be clear: for my children, this is their father that we are talking about. When our children have their feet in at least two worlds, sometimes many worlds, telling them one of their parents could dislike them because of their race is not merely the height of cruelty, it is also untrue.

But the IAT, that measures beliefs and attitudes people may be unwilling or unable to report, has numerous problems. For a test to be relevant it has to be replicable—give the same result each time you take it—and valid so measuring what it purports to measure: “Greg Mitchell, a law professor at the University of Virginia (stated) the replicability of the IAT is extremely poor. If the test suggests that you have a strong implicit bias against African Americans, then ‘if you take it even an hour or so later you’ll probably get a very different score’. . . . More fundamentally, there appears to a very tenuous relationship between the IAT and behaviour. That is to say, if your colleague, Person A, does worse in the IAT than another colleague, Person B, it would be far too hasty to conclude that Person A will exhibit more discriminatory behaviour in the workplace. In so far as there is a link between the IAT and behaviour generally, it is shaky.”

If we ignore the fact that IAT is neither reliable nor valid and look at the results—even they do not show that all whites have implicit biases: 18% don’t. Since there are serious methodological questions about this test in the first place, it shouldn’t be used as a justification for saying stuff that would upset mixed race children.

Like most mixed race children, my children have a wide range of looks: they get very dark in the sun and by the end of a long Canadian winter, they look almost white. Once my son and I were grocery shopping at the end of a long winter and we encountered one of his high school classmates. My son told me that this young man asked him afterwards what race he was. My son cheerfully listed my husband’s European roots and my Asian and African ones. When he was finished his classmate said, “No wonder you’re an alpha male in our school. You’re seriously the master race.” Never before had I heard this horrible term being used in this way and it tells you a great deal about the hope I have for this new generation.

This young man—who is white—might go on and have racially mixed children. I can guarantee you that many of this generation will do the same.

For them, and for my children, I have a simple ask: don’t tell racially mixed children that one of their parents is biased against them. It’s cruel.

What my children know, to the core of their being, is that their father would lay down his life for them without a second thought. His love for them is unconditional, deep and one of the most important truths of his life.

Please don’t make generalizations that mess with the family we have created and the children whom both my husband and I love. You can’t stop the damage of racism by ignoring the reality of mixed race children. Keep them close to your heart and don’t say anything to suggest that both their parents have anything but deep, unconditional love for them.

13 June 2020

No Zombies Here


Clickbait Secret Tips

I was reading the news online the other day, and a well-known writer used the word “zombie” in his headline. I figured if it was good enough for him, it was good enough for me (see above), although it was probably his editor who made up the headline. The author himself might hate it.

Then I decided to gather some of the information I’ve found over the last couple of years about using SEO (Search Engine Optimization) keywords to entice readers to click on articles in newspapers, blogs, and every other platform writers use nowadays. I was amazed to realize when I keyed SEO in this paragraph, I actually knew what the letters stand for without looking it up. I looked it up anyway, to be sure.

I’m no expert. Before I wrote this, I’ve never intentionally used clickbait. I’ve read about how to use it, why to use it, and why not to use it, though. And how to find it.

So, what is clickbait and SEO? In case you don’t know, they are words or short phrases that computer people use to entice people to click on an article. Or better yet for them, an ad.

You may have heard of algorithms, too. Those are the computer programs used to figure out which words are clicked the most. And other things.

You will find lists of these words all over the internet.

But before I continue with that, there’s this part of an ad:

“7 reasons why your dream pant is here” with a picture of trousers

Wait, what? Do you wear a pant? Or do you wear pants? Personally, I prefer two legged pants. And I have never dreamed of pants before, let alone a dream pant. What am I missing, besides a pant leg?

You may be, or not, surprised that I found this ad in the same publication where the author wanted to discuss zombies.

Next I found an ad for “one short, every sport.” Picture of a man running in a short, I mean in shorts.

Anyway, the question is, are some of the words in these ads clickbait? Did the writers figure out that pant and short worked better as bait then when the “s” is added? Inquiring minds (well, mine) want to know.

You know what the most common word for Twitter used as clickbait is… Twitter?

Or did you at least guess that?

Here are some examples of clickbait. Have fun filling in the blanks:
  • “How to Get Results Using this…”
  • “You’ll never believe…”
  • “This happened, then this happened.”
 Suggestions
  • Ask a question
  • Use a number
  • Be brief
  • Go ahead, be negative
Secret Tips
  • The Ultimate Guide to…
  • How to…
  • # of the Best…
  • # of the Worst…

My eyes just widened. I realized that by listing all these clickbait words and phrases, this article, when published, should show up near or at the top of many Google searches.

Or maybe not.

You can be sure I’m going to click to check it out. When I stop thinking about pant and short. I suspect that’s going to be hard to do now.

12 June 2020

Where Have You Gone, Edgar Sengier?


Edgar Sengier was a Belgian engineer who operated a mine in the then-named Belgian Congo at the early 20th century. His employers, the Union Minière du Haut Katanga, initially mined copper, but at some point the firm discovered a vein in a settlement called Shinkolobwe that yielded two substances of astonishing purity. One was radium, a radioactive element which was so infamously used in the dials of wristwatches, with horrifying results. The other? Well, let’s just say that when Sengier’s people informed him how Substance #2 could be used, the world was on the brink of World War II. French scientists wanted Sengier’s ore, but then France was swallowed by Germany. Sengier quietly packed half his stock—about 1,000 tons of this mysterious ore—in barrels and had them shipped to a warehouse in Staten Island, New York. The barrels sat idle for two years. Nine months after Pearl Harbor, Col. Kenneth Nichols—No. 2 in command of the Manhattan Project—paid a visit to Sengier’s New York office, asking if it was true the firm had located ore that could be processed into U-235. The Belgian engineer smiled. “I’ve been waiting a long time for your visit!”

"Where can I get U?" — Actual text message from Col. Kenneth D. Nichols, circa 1940.
(Atomic Energy Commission file image)
That, in a nutshell, is how the US and not Hitler ended up with a critical stockpile that ensured its success in the race for the bomb. Sengier, a man who went down in history simply by waiting for others to catch up to his foresight, popped into my head this week when I interviewed someone about the US’s medical preparedness for our protracted Covid future.

The fellow on the phone was an exec at a major international firm that manufactures medical supplies. (Yes, I am intentionally being vague.) Not ventilators. Not masks or gowns. But nearly everything else a medical office or hospital needs to do its job. By one estimate, this firm produces more than half of a specific medical tool used on the planet.

The corporate headquarters are based in the US, but operates factories over the globe. The execs have been largely quarantined at home for the last three months, but the firm has been running their assembly lines the whole time, tweaking how they do business to keep employees safe and the endless stream of supplies coming. In some cases, they have actually re-routed employees from areas of the business with low demand—making, say, kits for various types of elective surgeries—to areas with high demand.

Moving employees like this is easier said than done. For example, they arranged visas for employees to travel 100 miles from their homes and places of work in one Asian nation to another nation across a border. “ Commuting” was deemed impractical, so the firm is putting these folks up in hotels in the second nation so they can work in shifts. Anything to meet demand.

“First, every hospital in the world needed supplies,” the exec told me. “So we ramped up production to meet that demand. And when we caught up with that, then the federal governments of various countries started contracting with us directly to beef up their national stockpiles. So now we’re doing that.”

For another writing project, ages ago, I interviewed a former military doc who told me that most military stockpiles he’d seen were always in need of upgrading or replacement. Supplies expire and go bad. Medical tech, especially, becomes obsolete or deteriorates sitting unserviced in warehouses, waiting for a use date that never comes. No one wants to have product sitting around in a warehouse. But it’s what you do if you want to be prepared. You rotate in, you rotate out. If you're organized, that is.

But what was troubling our biotech executive the day we talked?

“There’s one country that hasn’t asked us to stock their national stockpile yet,” he told me, his voice dropping. “A big one. Can you guess which one that is?”

I didn’t have to guess. Both of us are Americans, and we both chuckled awkwardly at the same time. And then the naive little man inside me piped up: “Couldn’t you do it on your own? Just make ‘em and store ‘em somewhere?” Even before the words were out of my mouth, I felt stupid. This is why I’ll never be a businessperson; I cling too much to hope.

“Can’t,” the exec said. “We have enough trouble keeping up with demand as it is. And we’re sure as hell not gonna do it for free.”

Duh. Logical me understood that completely. But naive me, writer me, fought against it. And my brain kindly coughed up the name of that Belgian engineer.

To be sure, Sengier’s firm was paid. So far as I’ve been able to determined, they supplied the US with 4,200 tons of uranium, and plutonium as well. (The price for the uranium was $1 a pound. I have not located a price for the plutonium, enriched at Hanford.) After the war, Sengier received the Medal of Merit from the US, its highest civilian honor, and other accolades—Honorary Knight Commander, OBE, from the UK, the Legion of Honour from France, five distinct medals from Belgium alone—from nations grateful that he’d kept that uranium out of the hands of the Nazis.

Sengier (center) receives his medal from Manhattan Project director General Leslie Groves (right).
(Atomic Energy Commission file image)

And yes, we can spend days debating the wisdom of creating those first nuclear weapons. I have had those conversations. My wife spent seven years writing a nonfiction book about the Manhattan Project, and for seven years the faces and voices of the few surviving chemists, engineers, and rank-and-file workers she interviewed were in my mind nearly every day. We can also spend an equal amount of time talking about the exploitation of Africa’s natural resources and its people by centuries of colonizers.

But...

Those bombs, and the ones that followed them, were tools of death, but medical supplies are tools of life. Call me crazy, but US stockpiles have been known to dwindle. And it dismays me to learn that Sengiers are apparently in short supply.

11 June 2020

Some Thoughts on Monuments


Art certainly doesn’t need to be pure. But public statues invite public admiration, and if we can no longer admire them, it’s right to wonder if they should remain.

— Bendor Grosvenor, PhD, art historian, and presenter, The Art Detectives, on BBC4

So monuments have been having their moment in the news this week. Well, to be honest, they've been having their decade.

And not in a good way.

More in this kind of way:


Yep, that's a pic of a statue of Iraqi "strongman" Saddam Hussein toppling, shortly after Hussein himself was toppled from power way back in 2003. But in reality it could have been any of hundreds of "great" men (and it's nearly always men, the likes of Evita Peron notwithstanding.) whose day of reckoning eventually came: Nicolae Ceaușescu of Romania, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. Hitler. Mussolini. The list of the leaders of failed regimes, brought low by their own hubris and overreach.

And close on their heels: the monuments they erected, testaments of their enduring power. So many of the iconic moments surrounding the end of a regime involve the destruction of the talismanic physical testaments of that regime's power. It's a cycle as old as human history, and has been memorialized time and again by great artists, such as the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, in his immortal poem Ozymandias:

Percy Bysshe Shelley
  I met a traveller from an antique land,
  Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
  Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
  Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
  And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
  Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
  Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
  The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
  And on the pedestal, these words appear:
  My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
  Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
  Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
  Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
  The lone and level sands stretch far away.



The point, of course, being, that all such sacrifices on the altar of human vanity are doomed to eventually come crashing down.
Of course it goes without saying that where there's a rule, there's an exception. And not surprisingly, with the way Americans tend to view themselves as an exceptional people, the exception I'm thinking of to this particular rule is definitely an American one.

So let's talk about all of these Confederate monuments arrayed throughout (but not limited to) the American South. You know, the ones we've seen recently being pulled from their pediments by protesters, when they're not being removed by public workers at the order of local municipalities or state governments.

The ones that were mass-produced for profit not in the South, but in New England. Heads special ordered and matched to a previously cast body, either standing, or mounted on horseback. Losers of a brutal war which left over half-a-million Americans dead, memorialized over a thirty year period, beginning a generation after the end of that war. And all as part of a largely successful, long-running attempt to stave off many of the long-term impacts of that war: a movement romanticized as preserving the memory of a glorious "Lost Cause."

...and Ron Reagan too!?!
Whoever said, "The winners write the history,"never read anything by the likes of two-time Pulitzer Prize winning Historian Douglas Southall Freeman. The defeated secessionists of the American South might have lost the war, but for over a century afterward, they and their spiritual descendants worked diligently at winning the peace. And they got terrific press for it.

Think Gone With The Wind, or Hollywood heartthrob Errol Flynn playing future Confederate cavalry leader J.E.B. Stuart, in the top-grossing 1940 western, Santa Fe Trail. Or go back further, to (Southerner) D.W. Griffith's ground-breaking 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation, the first film shown in the White House for President Woodrow Wilson: Southern-born and raised, progressive in most things save race relations, single-handedly responsible for reversing the racial integration of the federal bureaucracy which had been carried out by his predecessors.

Not like they were trying to hide anything.
The film was truly innovative in its approach (first use of close-ups, a musical soundtrack, and "a cast of thousands") and utterly antediluvian in its subject matter. Based on a novel called The Clansman: a Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan (And you can guess how the Klan comes across in that one.) by a former Baptist minister and life-long bigot named Thomas Dixon, Jr., the film paints the Klan as the Good Guys, preserving the virtue of their swooning (and utterly helpless) women by wresting them from the clutches of a number of ridiculously drawn racial stereotypes of underintelligent, overly sexual blacks played by white actors in black face.

So, you know. Pretty much an early example of spin-doctoring, in service of white-washing (pun very much intended) the despicable practice of lynching.

This is the background against which the statues currently being pulled down or placed in storage across this country were financed, constructed, shipped, mounted, raised and dedicated. Art as propaganda, in service of a monstrous composite lie: the notion that the Civil War wasn't fought over slavery (it was), that the South didn't really lose (it did), and that society did not need to change in order to reflect the status of newly-freed former slaves.

As a nation we are still wrestling with that last part. And the conversations being sparked by the current round of protests are long overdue. Either we as a people will address the wounds inflicted by the vile practice of slavery and the on-going systemic oppression which sprung up in its wake, or we may well find ourselves in the same position as the great and powerful Ozymandias.

Feet of the Colossus of Ramesses II, Ramesseum, Luxor (Thebes) Egypt, the Ozymandias of Shelley's poem.

10 June 2020

The Popular Delusion


Charles Mackay's Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds was first published in 1841, and hasn't been out of print since.  He begins with an account of the Tulip Mania in 1637 and the South Sea Bubble of 1720, which were investments inflated by speculators - get-rich-quick schemes fueled by hysteria. For example, the South Sea Bubble was essentially a futures contract: it was a grant of monopoly for trade, but the expected trade itself never materialized. Mackay's thesis is essentially that people can be persuaded of damn near anything, when they want to believe it. Like a honey drop, say, or a Ponzi scheme, but Mackay tales it further.

Let's admit the lure of easy money. But how to explain what Mackay calls the Love of the Marvelous? In other words, the embrace of the clearly nutty. Mackay counts among these the Crusades, witch trials, dueling, alchemy, fortune telling, and mesmerism, to name a few. "The cup of life is not bitter enough," he says, contemptuously.

What got me thinking about this was an essay in The Atlantic by Anne Applebaum called "History Will Judge the Complicit," which is about collaboration. Somebody else recently suggested we should say collaborations, in the plural, meaning that there are a lot of different ways of accommodating ourselves to betrayal. It often succeeds by taking very small steps, and resolves, in the end, with what Czeslaw Milosz characterizes as relief. Your anxiety has lifted, you have a sudden lightness of heart, you're no longer at war with yourself. Conforming rewards you.

Trump's America is not Vichy France. But as Applebaum points out, the language of Trump's enablers echoes older historical excuses. We can use this to advance our agenda, is one. Or as George Will put it, scathingly: Gorsuch, seriously? We can protect the country from him. This is the "grown-ups in the room" argument. I'll personally profit from it. Okay, this makes a little more sense, and the last and most destructive. I get a hard-on being close to power.

Let's not forget raw fear. People surrendered to Hitler's terror, and Stalin's, because they were simply scared to death. Not only for themselves, but because the Nazis, or KGB, would kill your parents and your children, anybody who was infected with your heresy. Could we somehow recover some of our self-respect? This isn't Occupied France. Why is so much of it about denial, or delusion? We plainly have grievance, and genuine complaint, on both sides, the Need to Believe crazily important, and the Grassy Knoll the least of it.  

I remember an exhibition at the New York Public Library some years back, about Vichy collaboration, but about writers and intellectuals specifically. You've got somebody like Celine, your basic scumbag: he wasn't a Nazi sympathizer out of opportunity, he agreed with them; he was all in favor of exterminating the Jews. Then you've got Marguerite Duras, who worked with Vichy during the day, and passed information to the Resistance after hours. And many others in between. The myth de Gaulle tried to sell after the war was that all the French were heroes, to avoid recrimination, but Henri-George Clouzot's famous wartime movie Le Corbeau puts the lie to that. First the Nazis banned it, and then the French. The embarrassment was just too much.

I don't think the Trump years will prove such a gold mine of tension and treachery. I don't see a Casablanca being written about this era. I think a lot of us are just going to hang our heads in shame. But what put our heads in the noose? Trump is clearly an empty suit. I'm not going to rehearse his failures. The thing is, how can people invest in a blank slate? Sure, there are the nut jobs of QAnon, but I mean intelligent, articulate people on the Right, who have seen their principles found guilty by association.

The narrative has gotten lost. If this were a conspiracy story, we'd want the guy behind the curtain exposed, but the guy isn't Dracula, or Ernst Stavro Blofeld, or even the Wizard of Oz. He turns out to be Howdy Doody.

The delusion is that we ever took it seriously. The box office is terrible. Somebody greenlighted this show back in the era of Bonanza, when color TV was a novelty, and we stayed tuned for the commercials. Trump is the 1960's, and already a trivia question.

How we shape the narrative is up to us.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/07/trumps-collaborators/612250/

09 June 2020

Some thoughts on the short-story-related Anthony Award nominations


While we talk about many things that are writing related here at SleuthSayers (and many things that aren't), our primary focus is crime short fiction. So it's wonderful timing that today, a few hours before I sat down to write this column, the Anthony Award nominations were announced, including for best short story and best anthology/collection published last year.

I'm not going to write long today because I'd rather you take some time to read one of the nominated anthologies or short stories. But I do want to say a few things:

First, thank you to all of the authors who heard about my crazy idea to do a cross-genre anthology, mashing crime with time travel, and submitted stories for Crime Travel back in 2018. (Crime Travel was among the nominated anthologies.) I could only accept fourteen stories (plus one of my own). I wish I could have taken more.

Thank you to everyone who has congratulated me today. I love the camaraderie of our industry. This nomination belongs to the authors in Crime Travel as much as it does to me, and I applaud them.

Congratulations to my fellow SleuthSayers Michael Bracken (whose The Eyes of Texas: Private Investigators from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods was nominated for best anthology) and Art Taylor, who is up twice (!) in the short-story category, once for "Better Days," which appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and once for "Hard Return," which I was proud to include in Crime Travel. I'm so proud of you both!

I'd edited anthologies before Crime Travel, but this was the first time I chose the stories. It was a daunting task. One thing I learned from doing it is that while stories about a theme can be wide-ranging, in different sub-genres with varying approaches to storytelling, the best stories--at least to me--are the ones that touch you. The ones that have heart. And I hope that the nomination for Crime Travel today means that the stories in this book touched a lot of readers just as they did me. Thank you to everyone who read it and nominated it.

So, without further ado, here are this year's nominees for the Anthony Award in the best short-story category and the best anthology category. I hope you'll pick up one of them (or all of them).

BEST SHORT STORY
“Turistas,” by Hector Acosta (appearing in ¡Pa’que Tu Lo Sepas!: Stories to Benefit the People of Puerto Rico)
“Unforgiven,” by Hilary Davidson (appearing in Murder a-Go-Gos: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of the Go-Gos)
“The Red Zone,” by Alex Segura (appearing in ¡Pa’que Tu Lo Sepas!: Stories to Benefit the People of Puerto Rico)
“Better Days,” by Art Taylor (appearing in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2019)
“Hard Return,” by Art Taylor (appearing in Crime Travel)

BEST ANTHOLOGY OR COLLECTION
The Eyes of Texas: Private Investigators from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods, edited by Michael Bracken (Down & Out Books)
¡Pa’que Tu Lo Sepas!: Stories to Benefit the People of Puerto Rico, edited by Angel Luis Colón (Down & Out Books)
Crime Travel, edited by Barb Goffman (Wildside Press)
Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible, edited by Verena Rose, Rita Owen, and Shawn Reilly Simmons (Wildside Press)
Murder a-Go-Go’s: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of the Go-Go’s, edited by Holly West (Down & Out Books)

Happy reading!