Books = virtual travel

I get pinged by Goodreads to write a review every time I finish a book. Being the lazy sort, I don’t often write one, but occasionally I do. But…why add content (and in theory, value) to someone else’s platform when I could include it right here?

Right now I’m reading Cory Doctorow’s Attack Surface and I’m not sure why I waited so long. Not to read this book in particular, but to read any of Doctorow’s books. His tech-heavy, reference-heavy, attitudinal style is one I like quite a bit. Reminds me of Neal Stephenson or Charles Stross. I’m only halfway through Attack Surface but I already love it. At least four stars, maybe five. It alternates timelines, something my writers’ group has excoriated me for, so…yeah. Have some of that.

The main character in Attack Surface is a now-familiar archetype – the female super-hacker, first (?) made famous in Steig Larson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo. This hacker, Masha, is delightfully complicated inside her head. The novel is written in first person so we get a lot of what Masha is thinking.

There’s the usual glossing over of computer hacking, where the hero does things in seconds that just aren’t possible. But hey, it’s fiction. And it’s entertaining. Attack Surface is the third in Doctorow’s Little Brother series of tech/social/political disruption books, so I’ll have to go back and read the other two.

Reading has helped keep me sane (OK that’s arguable, but…how would I know if I weren’t?) during the pandemic, and I’m always grateful to find a new author with a trove of books to consume. We can’t travel much in the real world right now, but we sure can travel in our minds.

Operation Big Lie

Just when you think the Trump administration couldn’t do any worse, they do. This news came out today and it’s terrible news for all Americans, including yours truly. From Rolling Stone:

“[Thursday] night, I received disturbing news, confirmed to me directly by General Perna of Operation Warp Speed: States will not be receiving increased shipments of vaccines from the national stockpile next week, because there is no federal reserve of doses,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown said on Twitter.

“I am demanding answers from the Trump Administration. I am shocked and appalled that they have set an expectation on which they could not deliver, with such grave consequences,” Brown added. “This is a deception on a national scale.”

Distribution of the vaccine has been plagued with issues. States have accused the federal government of not supplying the funds and resources to distribute the doses they have, and the federal government has blamed the states for not being ready to administer the vaccine to large amounts of people. So far around 9.7 million people have received the first dose of the vaccine, far short of the 20 million the administration promised by the end of 2020.

“Operation Warp Speed” becomes “Operation Lie to the American People About Something Incredibly Important”. There’s no reserve of vaccine, even though they talked about it frequently. Lying bastards.

Ill winds blowing

We’re having a dangerous weather day today. Hot, dry and windy. There’s a localized Santa Ana blowing in from the east as strong as I’ve seen it here since 2007. And that didn’t end well.

January here is normally cool and a bit wet. We should have received about 7.5 inches of rain so far, and we’ve only had 2, all in one storm back before Christmas.

Here’s our weather from the last week. This isn’t normal.

That was a look backward. Looking forward, it’s even worse.

I know a lot of people back east in cold and snowy weather would be happy for this, but too much of a good thing (heat, dry weather) causes big problems here. And I really miss the rain.

The state of things

Lot of introspection goin’ on lately. Not surprising, given the state of the world (see photo above, taken at the 2008 Miramar Air Show).

First, I’m giving up on any kind of social media (other than blogs) again. Social media is just not good for my mental health. I’ve been pretty active on NextDoor this year. I joined it as a way to get some near-real-time local wildfire information, but the platform has become a battle ground between those who support Trump and those who don’t. And those who believe the pandemic is real and those who don’t. The rhetoric is just so fucking discouraging. I’ve tried logic, sarcasm, kindness, storytelling…you name it. Nothing, and I mean nothing, changes the minds of those in the Trump cult. Not even after the attack on the Capitol and 390,000 dead Americans. Best I can tell, of the 70-ish million Trump voters, at least 20% of them are hard core cult members. They’re lost to any normal society or logic. That’s been a hard realization – after 60 years of believing most people are good and rational, learning that “nope, simply not true”. So rather than wallow in the mud with them on social media and wasting my time, I’m opting out again. I opted out of FaceBook years ago for similar reasons, I never liked or used Twitter, and now I’m closing the NextDoor.

I wonder if this is a direct correlation of what the framers of the Constitution decided when they made the US a democratic republic rather than a pure democracy. They didn’t trust the judgement of the common man. So they created a proxy system where regions (states) would elect representatives (elite, educated citizens) to govern them. As opposed to voting on everything directly. Social media gives today’s “common man” (apologies to other genders and identities) a platform to show what they truly think, and it’s depressing.

Next on the introspection list is writing. Having some trouble there. My writers’ group pretty much tore up my latest chapters – two chapters that I thought were pretty good. I noticed a big difference in the type of comments made on my work versus the other works we reviewed. People were trying to be nice, but…I felt like I got a pretty clear message: “try again, dude”. And so several thoughts have been rattling around in my underachieving brain:

  • Maybe writers’ read/critique groups aren’t for me.
  • Maybe I’m in the wrong group.
  • Maybe I’m just not very good at this creative writing stuff.
  • Maybe I started too late in life and can’t achieve the kind of excellence I expect with the runway I have left.
  • Maybe I should play more golf. Or take up bingo.

I know, these are negative, whiny thoughts that don’t help anyone. But they’re in there and I’m having a hard time ejecting them. I can take some heart in knowing that even best-selling writers are having trouble at this moment in time. John Scalzi just published an entertaining essay on that subject at Whatever. It’s hard to be creative in the midst of two or three simultaneous historic disasters. Here’s an excerpt from Scalzi’s essay, in which it’s clear that he and I have the same fondness for cursing.

Here’s my here’s how my January novel writing has gone so far:

January 1-3: Hey, it’s New Year’s weekend, maybe actually relax and get ready for the first work day of 2021 on January 4.

January 4: Here we go! Aaaaand: 250 words. Okay for the first day back!

January 5: Another 250 words. All right, but, gotta bump up those numbers, those are rookie numbers.

January 6: Well, fuck.

January 7 – 10: Seriously though what the actual fuck

January 11: Okay, focus! Sooooo here’s another 100 words plus moving some stuff around to see if it’s any better in a different configuration, okay, no, not really, fine, but still, you did something, that’s a victory, take it

January 12 (today): Gaaaaaaaaaaah fuck where is my brain

All that said, we’re now exactly one week away from formally showing Twitler and his crime family the door and welcoming in Biden/Harris. Scalzi and I have independently declared that 1/20/21 starts the “New Year” and I’ll stick to that thought. Hope and change are coming, to borrow a much-needed phrase from 2008.

Tough sledding ahead

I’d like to find something normal, something mundane to write about. But my mind keeps going back to the three simultaneous crises we find ourselves in, here in early January 2021.

  • The pandemic. 22 million US cases now and accelerating. Approaching 400K US citizens dead.
  • The economic disaster brought on by the pandemic. Tens of thousands of businesses bankrupt, millions of individuals nearly so.
  • The (wretched) state of US democracy. Half the country hates the other half, and quite a few are ready to turn that hate into civil war (see this week for an example). Congress is dysfunctional.

Any one of these crises would be enough to mark this time as significant in our personal lives and national history. But together, they’re…overwhelming. How do we extricate ourselves from this deep, deep hole?

Poor Joe Biden is inheriting the worst situation since Lincoln in the 1850s or Roosevelt in the 1930s. Post Civil War reconstruction was tough, but you can argue that this is tougher. I hope Biden is up to the task – he’s not exactly in the prime of his life. This makes every choice he has for leadership slots crucial – Cabinet Secretaries, White House staffers, task force leaders, etc. – every person is going to have to be superb at their job if we are to fix things. Or at least improve them.

Other than put the hate on hold, it’s hard to see what ordinary people can do to help. With the pandemic, the plea to mask up and stay distanced just hasn’t worked. And we may be past a point of no return anyway.

And for this ordinary person, I would enjoy being part of Biden’s team, developing strategies to address these three entwined problems. It’s the challenge of a lifetime, making the Manhattan Project or Apollo Project look like child’s play in comparison. Worth some thought.

I’m all in

I’ve been kind of “who cares?” with regard to the call to impeach Trump again in the final days of his Presidency cult leadership. Eleven days left; we have big problems to solve, so let’s allow the Asshat-in-Chief to slither away. But I just read something that changed my mind.

Turns out that if he is impeached AND convicted, he’ll lose all those juicy perks granted to ex-Presidents, including pension, paid healthcare, office allowances and Secret Service protection for life. That would be awesome – I would be very happy to know that my tax dollars are not being spent protecting this bag-of-shit-masquerading-as-a-human and aren’t going to be spent housing Secret Service members forever in Trump properties. So count me in…impeach!


Happy Friday, or at least relatively sane Friday. What a week!

The fallout from Wednesday’s MAGA mob attack on the Capital continues, and it appears that Trump has finally committed acts for which he will not be forgiven. Forgiven or not, he’ll be flushed down the toilet in 12 days.

His fascist army is also slowly being tracked down and in many cases, arrested. They gave the FBI and law enforcement in general plenty of evidence to work with, from phone locations to social media posts and pictures of themselves committing crimes, and in some cases DNA evidence – a few of them desecrated by defecation inside the building. Nice folks, those.

My favorite MAGA footsoldier story has to be the guy who accidentally tasered himself in the balls, repeatedly, until he had a heart attack and died. He was apparently trying to wrestle a portrait of Tip O’Neil off the wall and got tangled up with his own taser. He was a hard-core, gun-obsessed Trumpist. I feel bad for his family, but in my book he’s just a sad Darwin Award finalist.

I said it before, the real New Year doesn’t begin until January 20th. Hang on tight until then.

January 6th, another “day that will live in infamy”

OK, wow. Yesterday turned out to be a disastrous, historic day. In my life I’ve lived through some historic days (Nixon’s resignation, the Space Shuttle explosions, the first Moon landing (!), 911, the Kennedy assassination, the ongoing pandemic, etc.), but no single day as consequential as yesterday. It’s a weird feeling knowing that you’re watching history change in real time.

I’ll get to the democracy crisis. But first, yesterday was also consequential on the pandemic front. The US registered its all-time largest daily new cases (260,000) and daily deaths (4100). The numbers are staggering. We have the equivalent of all the deaths due to 2001’s 911 every day now, and we have for weeks. 360,000 dead US citizens so far, and no end in sight. I think most Americans are numbed to the numbers – we will only realize the full impact later, years from now when we can get some perspective.

And yesterday the Confederate flag flew in the Capitol building. The President incited violence, encouraged a mob to attack government buildings and their employees, guns were fired and four people died. The President even encouraged the mob via a Twitter video as they were ransacking the Capitol. The White House attorney advised staffers to stay away from the President lest they be included in charges for treason.

Clearly, POTUS 45 has committed treason and should be removed immediately via the 25th Amendment. If we had a functional Cabinet and Congress, that would be the expected result. But we don’t, so we have to allow a dangerous madman to occupy the most powerful office in the world for another two weeks. You really couldn’t make this stuff up.

There are silver linings, things to be thankful for. And indications that “this too shall pass”. But you can’t ignore the horrific nature of these twin crises. The worst events in my lifetime, happening in parallel right now.

2021 rocks!

OK, I’m liking this whole 2021 thing. Another UK basketball win last night, and this time a pretty solid game. And this morning, the news that Warnock has won his GA Senate race and Ossoff is likely to win. That’s…amazing. To think that we’ll get to wave goodbye to both Trump AND McConnell simultaneously – and to wave goodbye to all their Cabinet and appointee cronies. Much better than expected, better than hoped. Just amazing.

I hope I don’t jinx Ossoff by celebrating a little too early.

Update, 430pm. Well, I may have to backtrack on that whole “2021 rocks” thing. I left for an afternoon to play golf and the whole world caught fire. The scenes from DC are horrific. While I’m happy that the GA Senate races turned out well, this insurrection/coup that took place in DC, egged on by the soon-to-be-ex President, is at least as bad as the Vietnam era riots of the late 60s. Trump seems to have succeeded in breaking democracy. Jan 20th can’t come soon enough.