There is no blood around, see no sign of pain

16 12 2014

If you’re going to make an argument in favor of torture—and no, I will not be making an argument in favor of torture, even hypothetically—it seems the worst one is the one most often used: the ticking time bomb scenario.

What if you knew there was a nuclear bomb about to go off in New York City: wouldn’t you torture the suspect(s) in order to prevent the conflagration?

No. No no no no no no no.

Admittedly, I would neither torture nor approve of the torture of anyone under any circumstances—it’s one of the very few issues on which I’m an absolutist—but torture would seem to be least effective under these conditions.

Consider: the bomb is about (hours, days) to go off. If you are someone who is willing to die in order to kill hundreds of thousands of people, wouldn’t you be willing to outlast hours or days of torture? Or to lie repeatedly in order to forestall any efforts at finding and defusing the bomb?

The kind of person who’s willing and able to pull off the worst kind of terrorism is likely also the kind of person who’s willing and able to withstand hours and days of torture in order to make sure that bomb goes off.

I’ve spoken of my love for the mediocre movie The Peacemaker, but (and?) one of the things that makes no sense was Dušan Gavrić’s suicide. Here’s a man who went through all kinds of trouble in order to detonate a nuke in New York, and a couple of minutes before it detonates, he shoots himself.

Why not just talk until time expires? Mission accomplished.

Okay, so that’s a movie, but it seems like the assumptions beneath the ticking-time-bomb scenario are even less realistic than Nicole Kidman as a nuclear expert: that the bad guy who knows what the good guys need in order to stop the bad guy’s plans won’t just bullshit until time expires.

Give this to the psychopathic former vice president: at least he doesn’t bother with this particular bullshit scenario to justify the breaking of human beings.





Workin’ in the coal mine

12 11 2013

Ha ha ha, right: teaching and freelancing offer a plenitude of opportunities to bitch, but the most I have to worry about is a sore throat, maybe a sore back, not black lung and cave-ins.

Anyway, I’m jammed up with work, which, on the one (lazy) hand is bad, but on the other (money-grubbin’) hand is good. Mostly it’s good.

I should be able to catch up by this weekend, but in the meantime, this is my excuse for no/scrawny posts.

At least, that’s my story, and all that.





I won’t recall the names and places of each sad occasion

9 07 2013

Twenty five years, a quarter century, almost half of my life—so far away, in so many ways.

I’ve mentioned before that I no longer recognize the desperately self-destructive person I once was, that on those rare occasions I read journal entries from later in my career as a failed suicide I think Jesus, I wrote this? Who writes this?

For twenty years, a fifth of a century, almost half of my life, I berated myself for my life, and in the midst of that fifth I tried, again, and failed, again, to end it. It would be over a decade before I would, finally, leave it all behind.

It’s been over a decade since I left it all behind.

These swaths of time, overlapping and flapping against one another, floating back into and obscuring past versions of myself.

This is the story of everyone’s life, I have to remind myself. Does anyone recognize who they were, then? Who sustains the same line all the way through?

Still, some lines are sustained, if even fictionally. There are pieces of memory I pick up and thread on to the knotted string I call my life, but I can barely remember who I tried to erase and what remains are these odd hard bits that nonetheless are unsettlingly warm in my hand.

Over a decade since I left it all behind, I cannot hold these strange remains for long without fear I will string them all together and back to that long dissolve. And so before I am too warmed I shake my hand and scatter those remains.

And so there are some ways I cannot know today of who I was before.

This is not a tragedy; this may not even be a loss. I wish I could know, nonetheless.





A year has passed since I wrote my note

3 01 2013

You know that second novel? The one that needed just one, final, editorial swipe before I sent it out to. . . whom/wherever, never to be heard from again?

It’s been over a year since I began that one, final, editorial swipe.

Yeah.

I hauled it out of cold storage a coupla’ nights ago, and had to click around to make sure that I was working on the latest file because, y’know, it couldn’t have been since October 2011 that I last opened Home Away Home. Yeesh.

And it’s stupid, because while I’ve caught a few typos and made a few minor revisions here and there, there are only 2-4 spots where major revisions are required, and each of those 2-4 spots is maybe 1000, 1500 words long.

Now, those spots are crucial dialogues—the plausibility of the plot can be said to hang on believability that first dialogue, and the reader’s sense of the characters requires that the other dialogues sound like they’re coming from the characters and not from, well, me—but MAN, holding up a 152,000-word manuscript because I can’t shake loose 5000 good words?

Damn.

So that’s what I’ve been doing—not, y’know, panning for those 5000 words, but checking over the other 147,000 words to make sure that those, at least, are settled. Then I’ll hunker down with those last bits and sift and swirl and go round and round until I find the pieces that fit, until everything fits.

I’ll be damned if that takes me another year.





It’s gone, gone, gone, and it’s never coming back

15 11 2012

File this under “oh for fuck’s sake!”

All City University of New York campuses were closed that Monday-Thursday of the storm, and although weekend classes were held beginning that Friday, most of us didn’t return to work until the following week.

Fine.

The different campuses/CUNY had to decide what to do with that missing week, whether to adjust schedules, extend the semester, write off the time off, etc.

Again, fine. A missed week of instruction is a serious matter, so considering how to deal with it is reasonable.

However.

Not everything can be fixed. There have been suggestions about assigning students extra work, making up classes at another time, scheduling activities outside of the class, which again, while not unreasonable, lead me to that exasperated ohforfuck’ssake.

I put a lot of work into my syllabus, and losing that week matters to me, but it is precisely because I put a lot of thought into the semester’s schedule that I find the suggestions that I shoehorn something extra in just. . . y’know, to pretend that the lost week was not, in fact, lost, really crisps my nippers.

I’m being churlish, I know, and the suggestions offered are not necessarily bad ones, but honest to pete, do administrators really think that either instructors or students can somehow add hours to the week? Do they not understand that students (and their laaaaarrge contingent workforce) have other commitments that might just conflict with the make-up time? Do they in fact think that time is fungible, such that the hours not used during that lost week can somehow be plucked out and glued on to the weeks following?

*grumble mumble piss moan sniff*

The week is gone gone gone daddy gone, and unless my campus is willing to extend the semester a week, we should just say sayonara and be done with it. Anything else is mere Potemkin pedagogy.





All things weird and wonderful, 20

12 03 2012

Afar depression hot spring; photo by George Steinmetz/Nat Geo Photo of the Day

Fifteen or so years ago L. and her friend S. motored over from Wisconsin to pick up me and my friend J. on the way to Wyoming and the Tetons.

Our first day’s drive we made it to Devils Tower (bad name, cool feature) and celebrated by breaking out a six-pack on our way to the campsite. We toured the base the following morning, crabby on instant coffee, then broke camp and hied on over to Yellowstone.

Yellowstone is a massive park full of curious and foolish people. (An example: You are given brochures at the entrance to the park warning you to stay away from the bison. They are as large as a small Honda and can go as fast, one of them said. And probably something about them not being pets. So what do curious and foolish people do? Instead of using their telephoto lens, they crawl under or over the fence to approach the bison.)

(Another example: we decided to pass a  slow-moving RV on one of the few stretches of straight road. There were cars from the other direction heading for us. Our car was a small and old Honda without much pick-up. Nonetheless, we floored it, with all of us leaning forward screaming GoGoGoGoGoGoGoGoGoGoGoGoGooooooooooo! in an effort to give the little sedan a little oomph and scoot in front of the RV before we smashed into the oncoming cars.)

(No curiosity; just foolishness.)

Anyway, there’s a lot that’s cliched about Yellowstone and yeah, Old Faithful is cool and all but, y’know, the effect can be replicated by a machine.

What would be far harder to replicate, however, would be the sulfur pits (or, more accurately, the Artist Paint Pots). It looked like something out of a sci-fi flick or a recreation of what the earth might have looked like a million years ago. There was a crack in the planet and its history poured forth into the present.

Standing there, amidst the stench and steam and mud bubbles popping, I knew how small I was, how small this life was, and what a gift it was to witness the vastness of time stretched across the universe, catching us all up within it.

These hot springs, emerging out of the Afar depression gashed across east Africa, took me back to that moment, caught me back up in the yawn of time.

Make sure to read the story, by Virginia Morell, and click through the rest of Steinmetz’s photos.

Astonishing.





All things weird and wonderful, 6

13 10 2011

Of the contemplative sort:

Annie Dillard, For the Time Being








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