S.M.E.s and Cultural Conservative Hysteria

At my day job we have people whom we refer to as S.M.E.s for Subject Matter Experts. When you have a tricky question about an arcane rule or regulation these people are generally the ones with the answer you need. (Never would I have I thought that playing StarFleet Battles would be good job training, but it make this particular day job so much easier to learn.)

Writers often consult SMEs for their works. Need to know how a morgue handles dead bodies for your zombie story, go ask them? Need some legal double speak to dazzle the characters, consult with a lawyer. The same for sciences, the military, and uncountable other areas. No one can be an expert in all things that’s why writers dedicate their books to those who helped illuminate the way while taking the blame for the errors.

All this should sound pretty dull, but the whole thing explodes the moment you venture in cultural issues.

Recently conservative columnist Rod Dreher posted an article on-line decrying the use of sensitivity readers. In reality sensitivity readers are simply SME for under-represented groups. If I am writing a story about an physicist not only should I consult with a physicist about the science but a person of the Islamic faith to make sure I get both parts rght. This goes for all sorts of people because in reality we humans come in a blinding and beautiful array of styles, colors, and cultures.

Mr. Dreher seems to think that this is surrendering creative control. That this is ‘pc’ run amok. That is utter bull.

I know a number of writers. They cover a vast swath of political and cultural attitudes and I can’t think of a single one that would surrender control of their manuscript. Yes we seek input and opinion, particularly when we are writing outside of our direct experience, but we also hold the final cut. No beta reader, SME, or sensitivity reader controls the words on the page.

In my opinion Mr. Dreher has always been one of the more hysterical voices when it comes to religious and sexual issues. It seems he holds an idealized and utterly realistic vision of what American and humanity has been in the past and longs for a return to that comfortable, for him and his people, fantasy

Well, I am not here to make people comfortable …


Sunday Night Movie: The Caine Mutiny

Last night’s movie served a dual purpose, it functioned both as entertainment and as research. Entertainment because The Caine Mutiny has always been one of my favorite films. I dare say that I watch my Blu-ray of it more often than I do ether Casablanca or The Maltese Falcon. Research because my current work in progress is on one level about a dysfunctional wardroom and how that undermines the ship’s commanding officer. Now the specifics are very different in my WIP than in the classic movie. My WIP is not about a duplicitous officer and hopefully my captain is more relatable and heroic than the poor broken Queeg.

The Caine Mutiny is one of those rare film that I find difficult to watch only a portion. Many movie I can start and stop, or back in the days of channel surfing, watch a brief bit in the middle before moving on, but that has never been the case with this movie. When I had a lasrdisc player it was one of my first purchases, and when I moved to DVDs I acquired a copy in that format as well. For several years I’ve had my Blu-ray version and the film has never looked better. (Though I have yet to see a properly projected version in an actual theater.)

Based on the fantastic novel, The Caine Mutiny is the story of the officers if the DMS Caine. (Destroyer Mine Sweeper) It is World War II and Willis Seward Keith an immature offspring of a rich family has become a newly commissioned ensign in the U.S. Navy. Assigned to the Caine, a duty station he views as a bitter disappointment, Willie discovers that the junkyard navy falls far below his expectations. Too young and too inexperienced to understand the nature of the Caine, Willie rejoices when the captain is replaced with hard-nosed, by-the-book, Captain Phillip Francis Queeg.

A change of command turns out to be the spark that lights a fire culminating in the ship nearly sinking and Willie along with another officer finding himself standing before a court-martial on charges of mutiny.

Truly one of the best films to come out of classic Hollywood, The Caine Mutiny not only is faithful for the original work, but where is seriously diverges from the text of the book serves the different medium without undercutting the themes and point of the source material.

If you have not seen this film, waste no time in finding a copy, it will be well worth your effort.


A Strange Sight

So today my sweetie-wife and I were taking out usual Balboa Park walk when we came across oan interesting scene. Picture this;

A man with a brilliant green mustache dressed in a white suit and matching Panama hat clutching an over sized ruby running through the tress as he is chased a man in sun glasses and cat-suited women wearing domino masks and wielding katanas.

It was a film production. Looked like a student project. We stopped, watched for a few moments and exchanged a few words.

Man, I miss my own amateur film production days.



Demons of Doubt

I think all writers wrestled with doubt, about themselves, their work, and their talent. Doubts like these plague me as fiercely as they do most authors. On one hand it sees silly and kind of strange. After all I have very rarely been bothered by rejections. I’d submit stories and novels only to get some form rejections and 99% percent of the time I’d simply turn the piece around and send it to a new market.

Despite this seemingly invulnerability to an aspect of the business that wounds so many other writers doubts still dogged by footsteps. Even as my writing improved the not silent inner voice would occasionally raise the charge that everything I produced was at best second rate, lacking style, imagination, or voice. Hell in the last few weeks that voice has tried to suggest that at any moment I’d going to get an email from my agency announcing that they are no longer m agency, having moved one to a more talent writer. That’s not happening, it is the irrational doubt that suggests that nothing from reality supports it.

So how do you handle that voice?

As far as I can tell there is only one way to deal with the doubt, write anyway. If you don’t write the doubt will be there still and strengthened by your inactivity. If you write the doubt will remain, but every time you put words in a row, every time you complete a piece, every time you submit you resist the voice, you defy the doubt, you win one more battle.

Note, winning is not publication. Winning is not payment. Those are things outside of your control and if you rely upon those as your victory conditions you are empowering the Demon of Doubt. Keep your goals and your victories within your controls. Write. Write often, those are your victories.


Our National Wound

Trump has lost two senior advisers, one who had been placed National Security Advisor, due to improper ties and communication with Russia, a country that many in our intelligence community believes worked to not only disrupt our presidential election but whose preferred outcome was the election of an untested narcissist.

I do find it ironic that many of those who have repeated allegations as fact that Edward Kennedy sought Soviet help in stopping Reagan’s election are suddenly so silent and insistent upon airtight evidence in the Trump allegations. It always depends on whose ox is getting gored.

I have also heard people on the liberal side calling for some sort of special election; in effect a presidential do over. People, that is not going to happen. To the best of my knowledge there is no provision whatsoever in our constitution for a special presidential election. If you truly want to remove all of the Russian tainted personnel from the executive branch there is only one way to get that done before 2020. I am not saying it is something that can be achieved, too many people have tied themselves to the wheel of the Sailing ship Trump and they are hoping that the storm doesn’t sink them.

Step One: VP Pence steps down. No so far nothing his tied him directly to any of the Russian issues but he’s Trump’s pick ad that alone is a taint.

Step Two: The truly impossible step – Trump names someone as the new VP that is a Republican who is acceptable to the Democrats in the Congress. No Tea Party, Freedom Caucus, is going to make it but it would have to be someone most conservative would call a ‘RINO.’ It has to be that way because the fact of the matter is that the GOP controls Congress and no one is going to be approved except a Republican.

Step Three: The new VP leads the Cabinet in removing Trump as president under the 25th amendment and both houses of Congress approve.

Step Three: The newly minted President fires everyone hired by the last one and we reboot the Administration.

All of this is within the constitution but it is not going to happen. Trump would not play ball, Pence may not, and with the current enmity in congress even the possibility of a foreign power holding influence over the white house will not spur the left and right to work together.

No, we are stuck with Trump until Pence and the Cabinet remove him or he is impeached but both options require the GOP to possess a spine.


It’s Not a Dumpster Fire It’s a Meltdown

Recently on twitter I called the Trump administration a dumpster-fire, but now, as the title of this post suggest, I am revising it upward to a core melt-down. The control rods are stuck, the reactor temp is rising quickly, and no one know how to operate the scram systems.

The level of leaking, backstabbing, lying, and defenestration currently exhibited by the White House is the sort of thing you would expect a few years into an administration that has been fighting a long running scandal. It has been less than a month since Trump took office and the future looks long and bleak.

It does not help that the GOP, having sold their souls for thirty electoral votes, now find themselves chained to a drowning man who insists that they are in fact on dry land. Plugging their fingers into their ears and screaming ‘I can’t hear you!’ they studiously ignore the growing scandal that is their president. I think the best hope for the GOP is if they could find a quick way to remove 45 from office, but that is not going to happen. Impeachment takes time and a spine, something congressional Republicans have in short supply. Invoking the 25th amendment could have him out in less than a month but that requires VP Pence to lead the charge and convince more than half of the Cabinet to back him up and Trump’s Cabinet appears to have been picked for loyalty to him and not the nation has a whole. No, it looks like the GOP and the nation are stuck with Trump on one side and the ‘Freedom’ Caucus on the other. If this maintains throughout 2017 and into the next year the mid-term election could be interesting.


It is Written. Or is it?


In the classic film Lawrence of Arabia When Lawrence returns with the man lost upon God’s Anvil and presumed beyond hope of saving he tells Ali that ‘Nothing is written.’ His meaning is that nothing is predetermined by Allah or God but that our fates are our own. The question about what is or is not predetermined is not one that is restricted to matters of gods and theology but is strikingly relevant to science-fiction. No where is this more on point than in the sub-genre of science-fiction, time travel.

A common conceit in time travel stories is that the past is fixed but that the future is open to change, however that view is one that upon closer inspection, at least to me, falls apart

Let’s consider a person we shall we refer to Character Delta-0, he or she is a person living in their ‘present. Delta-0 can look back at their past and perceive their earlier selves but under the ‘past if fixed’ perspective nothing about that history can be changed. Every earlier version, lets call them Character Delta-minus, is stuck on a fixed path that leads to Delta-0. Looking forward in time Delta-0 can see innumerable possible paths, each containing different versions of their future selves that we’ll call Delta-Plus. Which Delta-Plus Delta-0 become depends on Delta-0’s choices, there is no fixed path.

So far this is a very classic time travel interpretation, but it is fixed upon a single point of reference.

The truth of the matter is that all of them are Delta-0, Delta-minus, and Delta-plus from each other’s viewpoints. If we step back and center on Delta-Minus, the two other Delta are both Delta-pluses to this character and there are an endless number of paths forward through time and one some lead to those particular Delta-Pluses. If we center our focus on Delta-Plus, both of the other characters are Delta-Minuses and there is an immutable path leading through their histories to that particular Delta-Plus who of course sees himself as a Delta-0.

This the essential contradiction in moving forward and backward in time. The future is merely someone else’s past and the past cannot be fixed without also fixing the future because of its nature are an even more distant future’s past.

If we simply unfix everything, then the past becomes a fog of possibilities and any particular past hold no essential prominence as true ‘history.’ The history I know is just that what I know and no more valued than any other. There can be no time police ensuring a stable past without that same unit enforcing an unchanging future.


Sunday Night Movie: The Shallows

I had an interest in seeing this film during its theatrical run but finding the time proved difficult and the film vanished before managed to get out to my local multiplex. The previews looked mildly interesting and a YouTube reviewer, MovieBob, gave it a decent review.

If you missed the trailed the set-up for The Shallows is fairly simple and direct. Nancy played by Blake Lively, is surfing off an isolated beach when a killer shark arrives, wounds her, and she ends up trapped on a spit of rock that is only above the ocean’s surface during low tide. Right there we have all the elements of dramatic story; a likeable, relatable protagonist; immanent, deadly threat, and a hard deadline preventing our hero from simply trying to wait out the danger.

There are the requisite emotional complications, Nancy is dealing with the loss of her mother making her estranged from her father and undercutting her sense that life has a purpose and value. A wounded seagull gives the character someone to speak to and a chance to display compassion that to heighten her likability.

Naturally with a set-up like this everyone come down the try and fail cycles of story telling. Blake has several plans to escape but they fail leaving her situation more dire with each failure.

Overall the movie was competently made and displays a few inventive techniques for handling the usually decidedly non-visual issue of telephone calls. On the whole I enjoyed watching it and on home video the film played out just fine, but this movie is not without flaws.

Shark Behavior: okay just as with Jaws, this one is a gimmie. Real sharks don’t do what sharks in movies do, but you gotta let them have it so they can have their movie.

Vision Underwater: With a device, facemask or such, to keep the eye clear of water you can not seen well under water. Certainly not enough to do the things she does. This one could have been fixed and it annoyed me.

In the ocean things do not stay put: This keep tossing me right out of the story. In the film there is a large whale carcass that draws the shark into the area. Okay that’s fine, but it stays in place throughout the entire movie. It is not beached, it is free floating. Sorry, it either goes out to sea on the currents or it washes up on the beach. It will not maintain station as a fixed point of reference.

Still, even with the flaws the movie worked on a home video level and if you like this sort of suspense this will likely work for you.


Slow Sunday

Today turned out to be a very pleasant day. I spent it, as I do most Sundays, in the company of my sweetie-wife. We took a trip to the San Diego Zoo, we both hold memberships so visiting to Zoo is free. The weather was fine; the animals were active. When we came up on the enclosure for the Fishing Cat we got a small surprise. This animal is most often asleep, and usually on a back high ledge where if you can spot the point of an ear you’re having a lucky viewing day, but this morning he was down and pacing near the front of the habitat. We all witnesses some small deer like animals, they were Dik Diks but looked related, charging around and racing each other around their paddock.

For lunch we stopped at the Waypoint Public House where I experimented and got rewarded with a warm happy lunch. I have no memory of every trying a grilled cheese sandwich and so today I ordered one. I had them add avocado to at least help with with a few healthy fats. The sandwich was hot, gooey, and delicious.

At home we relaxed with computers games, Dominion online, and a round of Star Trek: The Original Series; The Deck Building Game. (She won the Star Trek game but it was a tight thing.)

All in all a very relaxing time leaving me quite contented.


Don’t Make Your Period Characters Future-Smart

One of the things that has always bugged me in novels, short stories, and film set in a historical period is when those character of the past are so smart about things of the future.

I don’t mean time travelers and others who have knowledge of how things will unfold, I am speaking of characters that are supposed to be born, raised, and educated by their historical surroundings.

For example look at Rose and Cal in James Cameron’s Titanic. Rose is spot on in seeing that the ship has too few lifeboats, a clumsy bit of exposition in a film full of clumsy dialog, but the problem goes deeper than that for me. When she and Cal first get to their cabins one of the things we see is art work by Monet. Rose refers to it like being lost in a dream while Cal thinks its lousy but at least it was cheap.

Our ‘good’ character can see the master artist not yet recognized, she’s future-smart, while Cal is presented as exactly the opposite, future-stupid. He’s the villain of the piece and he is not allowed the be right with a single thing that comes out of his mouth. Even his love for her is false, making him hate the future art master simply solidifies his position.

You can see this effect over and over again in films set in the past. Often our ‘hero’ characters are more race aware than people of the era generally are, projecting our morality on the past peoples. This is bad writing and when done as heavy handed as in Titanic it is lazy writing too.

As a counter example look at the movie L.A. Confidential. While racism plays an important part of the story, no one gives two moments notice of the injustice being played against the African-American characters as they are being set up for robbery and murder. The injustice is plain to the audience without us having to endure a lecture. This is much stronger writing in a film that should have taken the Best Picture award that year.


Literary Saboteur

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