Guest Post: Wearing the Uniform

Today’s guest post comes from Melissa Mathieu, and I’m posting it in honor of her six-week anniversary at Round Table Pizza in Morro Bay. Happy Bastille Day, everyone!

So, almost 6 weeks ago I started delivering pizzas part-time for Round Table. I have to say that it’s a much more fun job than the pressure-filed corporate office jobs I’m used to, and I’m not surprised that people treat me differently because I have a service job, but I was awed at how much.

Let me just say now that I recognize my privilege: I have two degrees, and I have the privilege that this is more a tour of this life than a final destination. Nevertheless, my experiences working for minimum wage has developed my empathy for those who don’t have a choice in jobs.

People react strongly to my uniform: to the people I deliver pizzas to I’m the slightly inconvenient, but ultimately benevolent angel that brings food; to the people, especially men, ordering food at the counter I’m a delay in getting their food and not human enough to warrant much more than civil politeness, open contempt or sometimes blatant sexual objectification; and to the people who witness me running errands-to the bank or to Albertsons for the soda run- I receive confused and obtrusive stares, as if they are not sure whether I am an alien or an apparition.

I don’t miss the glaring fluorescent lights and minimal windows, being glued to a desk from dark morning to dark night unable to move except to the bathroom, the necessity of corporate obeisance and the frequent use of corporate catch phrases *with a smile. I don’t miss turning a blind eye to open nepotism, the worship of title and rank, and the sickening frequency of bad birthday cake. I don’t know that I particularly miss that my bosses at these office jobs often acknowledged my over qualification and tried to cater to my pride without offering me a promotion.

I like people I’ve worked with at all my jobs and have been treated mostly like an equal even by management. I’ve worked retail before, even worked at the county where all the customers were hostile or on drugs. The difference I guess is that in the past the difficulties of the job were acknowledged as challenges, not my own fault. But in this new job, customers treat me like it is my fault, that I deserve their contempt for not having the good taste to get a job that pays enough in money and prestige to be snobby and condescending to hardworking service workers everywhere. I could also assume that the person who serves my coffee or rings up my groceries is a loser, but how could I possibly know their experience?

Despite my ranting, I like the job and still think people are basically good. I am sleeping better, eat good pizza all the time despite it’s effect on my weight, have the satisfaction of hard, clean work, and some tips in my pocket at the end of the night. And my co-workers aren’t bad, either 🙂 Perhaps someday humanity will outgrow the tired notion that some groups of people are inherently superior. I look forward to that day. That and remember to tip well!

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Star Trek and Solarpunk

Sometimes, Melissa and I are completely lazy. We’ll curl up on the bed with wine and pretzels and set out her old brick of a laptop, and we’ll watch Star Trek: The Next Generation. I grew up on the adventures of Picard and Data and Worf and Geordi and Deanna Troi, and Next Generation came to her at a pivotal turn in her life. Hey, what the hell, this month I sold four TVs in one day, served as Central Coast’s representative to Pacific Yearly Meeting, and threw an excellent chanty-sing/seafood boil. Sometimes I need to slip into the warm waters of Next Generation, and so does she.

There’s a lot about Next Generation that’s dated: the Romulans’ giant “eighties business suit” uniforms, the therapist on the command staff, the inexplicable cardio class that Troi and Dr. Crusher do in the hallway.

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You thought I was joking.

A lot of people claim the show’s “simplicity” or “naivete” date it, but I like the theatrical writing and setting, and when it works (“Measure of a Man,” “The Inner Light,” “The First Duty,” “The Drumhead,” “Chain of Command,” “Darmok,” “Family,” “Ship in a Bottle,” “Lower Decks,” “Remember Me”) it works amazingly well. The theatricality worked for Twilight Zone, both Outer Limits, and the original series. It works here.

But still, there is a certain something about Next Generation that pins it directly to the 1990s. And I think what that is is its liberalism.

No, I don’t mean Captain Picard confiscating all the guns while delivering abortions to illegal Bajoran immigrants, I mean the “liberal world order” in international relations theory. As Foreign Policy puts it,

“Once upon a time — that is, back in the 1990s — a lot of smart and serious people believed liberal political orders were the wave of the future and would inevitably encompass most of the globe. The United States and its democratic allies had defeated fascism and then communism, supposedly leaving humankind at ‘the end of history.’”

Mr. Walt goes on to describe some of the ways liberals themselves destroyed this dream, how the product was oversold…

“We were told that if dictators kept falling and more states held free elections, defended free speech, implemented the rule of law, and adopted competitive markets, and joined the EU and/or NATO, then a vast “zone of peace” would be created, prosperity would spread, and any lingering political disagreements would be easily addressed within the framework of a liberal order.”

How liberals underestimated tribal instincts…

“[P]ost-Cold War liberals underestimated the role of nationalism and other forms of local identity, including sectarianism, ethnicity, tribal bonds, and the like. They assumed that such atavistic attachments would gradually die out, be confined to apolitical, cultural expressions, or be adroitly balanced and managed within well-designed democratic institutions.”

And, finally, how the snake is already within our midst.

“Most important of all, liberal societies are in trouble today because they are vulnerable to being hijacked by groups or individuals who take advantage of the very freedoms upon which liberal societies are based. […] [L]eaders or movements whose commitment to liberal principles is at best skin-deep can take advantage of the principles of open society and use it to rally a popular following. And there is nothing about a democratic order that ensures such efforts will invariably fail.”

The Federation of Picard’s age is a benevolent European Union writ large, forging treaties and securing rule of law and sternly warning Cardassians that if Bajorans are not allowed their planet and their ways, there will be Hell to pay. Worf practices his bat’leth, but his Klingon heritage never gets in the way of his dedication to the Federation and its principles of universal freedom and liberty. The biggest issue Ro Laren has is her earring and what my old man would call “being seriously in need of an attitude adjustment.” “Conspiracy” aside, the Federation does not suffer from demogagues or Vulcan sovereigntists. Picard never need worry that some twenty-fourth century Le Pen will take power in Paris.

Next Generation is absolutely steeped in the post-Cold War liberalism Walt describes. It is a liberal future, in more ways than just your one friend on Facebook smugly pointing out that Picard’s a socialist. That vision of international relations, of the future, died a thousand deaths in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and its repercussions, counter-repercussions, vendettas and countervendettas. We saw a chilly realist world creeping in, exemplified in science fiction by Battlestar Galactica on television and the monotonous march of apocalypses in print. And, as much as I long for the Federation, I recognize that Worf might one day feel more Klingon than Starfleet officer, that Ro Laren could betray even Picard if she felt it would free her people, that the Federation treaties that Picard arranges give millions or even billions the short end of the stick.

If the world does unite, it will not look like the EU writ large that Next Generation envisioned.

But that’s no reason to despair. That’s reason to build new futures.

The other thing I’ve done this month is write and submit a story to Ecopunk. Before June 15, I didn’t even know it existed, or Sunvault or such a thing as solarpunk. These are people who look to the last solid decade of apocalypse, and tell it to go to Hell. These are people who dream of a brighter future – a future of decentralized solar cells, of mighty windjammers built from the husks of oil tankers, of curling green cities and the gastronomical delight of all the undiscovered sea vegetables which will grace our plates. They reject the smug, Silicon Valley utopianism of transhumanist and Singulatarian(TM) visions. Ecopunk cries out for stories of solutions to global problems: the mired bureaucracy and fracturing of liberal orders, bold human responses to climate change, hatred and division leading to violence and destruction.

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And visions like this. No joke, dear God that’s beautiful and I want to live there.

Why –punk? Because these are the first literary SF authors and editors in seemingly ten years that realize that, in a time of despair, hope itself is a subversive act.

I wrote a story of an Indian auntie in the ghost town of Surat, which will slide beneath the advancing waves in the next century. She uses biorock technology, that I first read about in the Kids’ Whole Future Catalog, tapping into the neighborhood solar system to feed power to the iron bones and chicken wire strung beneath the placid waves of the expanded Cambay Gulf. And, slowly, they turn chalk-white before bursting into color, corals expanding and breathing on the ruins of sunken Surat. They clean the waters and draw in fish, and are beautiful enough for a rich farmer from Uttar Pradesh to look upon the city’s bones and weep tears of joy. Ladli brings artha and kama into the world, and thereby fulfills dharma and touches moksha.

“The City Sunk, the City Risen.” What can be more solarpunk than that?

And to think, I was worried that the drumbeat of apocalypse and singularity had withered my ability to imagine possible futures.

Last night, Melissa told me a dream she had, years ago, of a Japanese house in the woods, but the walls were not paper – they were made of leaf. Last week, this happened. I saw cities of chalk from greenhouse gasses, an Eastern pagoda planted of eight intertwined laurels, roving city-farms of coral that graze their schools of fish where the weather is fine and the markets ready, a fissure in solarpunk thought that rejects the city for the village and kibbutz, the crows sitting around telling epic poetry, and a moon-viewing platform behind the living green paper that makes the moon an emerald in a darkened sky. Not quite the Doctor’s “worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea is asleep, and the rivers dream, people made of smoke and cities made of song,” but still, something fresh and new on the surface of the Earth after sixteen years of Apocalypse or Singularity – a human future, a living future, free of the tragic liberal trappings of “The EU Writ Large.”

Who knows? We might see Ro Laren there, brokering a Bajoran peace and bringing fresh water to the refugees. We might see Worf leading a delegation of emigre Klingons. We might even see Jean-Luc Picard there, raising Atlantis or preaching Life and the best of his vineyard to the stars and planets beyond.


New Book Out! “Ian Brown and the Hand of Fatima!”

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Ian Brown and the Hand of Fatima

That’s right.

I have a new book out (under the name Jack Castle*), and it’s a two-fisted tale with all the hammiest purple prose you could smash a mook through.

Tucson, 2016. Mild-mannered business student Ian Brown pays a friend a visit one summer evening, only to find himself embroiled in a globe-spanning adventure, pitted against mad militiamen, wily human traffickers, and rampaging elephants, racing to warn the woman he loves that danger stalks her shadow. Will Ian succeed in saving the girl? Will he win …the Hand of Fatima?!

Yes I had glorious fun writing this story and all the copy why do you ask.

You can grab a copy off Amazon or Smashwords. Go forth, buy a book, leave reviews, and tell your friends!

*Because, seriously, Jack Castle. Doesn’t that guy sound like a dude who settled hash with three Chinese guys in Yunnan?


Roscoe’s Beef Stew

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Filling and melancholy.

Ingredients:

  • Three pounds of slow-cooked brisket, left over from the second-night Passover seder where you managed to fit fifteen people in one little room for dinner and your wife touched Jew and Gentile alike with her telling of the flight from Egypt.
  • The juices of the same, totaling about two cups, which you rescued by reboiling the shit out of it for about ten minutes.
  • Half a bottle of cheap merlot, because you drank the other half yourself.
  • Three potatoes.
  • Two shallots, the last, slightly wilted survivors of a whole haul of shallots it took both hands to carry inside when you got back from the Quaker New Year’s Gathering with her, laughing and smiling. You squeezed her hand as midnight struck in the middle of the mountains, and some distant bagpipes sounded “Auld Lang Syne.”
  • The last half of the celery she set out to dip in salt-water tears and people didn’t finish.
  • Three carrots, which forms the third of the Holy Trinity, the mirepoix.
  • A pack of white mushrooms, because you are the only one eating this, and no one will mind.
  • The whole contents of a full tea kettle, less the two cups you had with breakfast this morning. She had Mariage Freres, you had builder’s tea.
  • A spoonful of Old Bay from the dented tin that’s followed you to China and back twice.

Instructions:

  1. Put on folksongs of quiet desperation, to fill the silent house with music as you are about to fill the cold kitchen with warmth and the salon with light.
  2. Rescue the gravy of the brisket – boil the shit out of it while you take your boots off.
  3. Pour yourself a glass of that merlot. It’ll taste better as the evening wears on, the aromas mingle, and the sharp edge comes off experience.
  4. Tumble the desiccated brisket into the Dutch oven where you’re boiling the juices, add half the bottle of merlot and the contents of the kettle. Toss in some Old Bay. Cover.
  5. Stab the brisket every now and again with a meat fork, until it starts coming apart under the fork’s ministrations.
  6. Chop the vegetables rough, adding them in order of toughness: first the potatoes and the carrots, then the shallots, then the celery and the mushrooms.
  7. Cover again, turn the heat down to low, and leave it be until the meat comes apart if you look at it funny.
  8. Pour yourself a bowl of thick stew, knowing that no matter how far away she is, she loves you and misses you. Drink a glass of the cheap merlot with it, and toast once for her.
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I regret nothing.


If you’re voting for Bernie…

 

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If you’re voting for Bernie, good for you! I agree with you that Bernie Sanders is the best candidate running, both for the many accomplishments he’s got done in his time in Congress and because of his voting record of consistently voting in the interests of the American people, especially the worst-off Americans. I support him for his well-thought out tax plan, his willingness to confront race issues, and for letting the rest of us democratic socialists out of the red closet.

If you’re voting for Bernie, you’re probably stirred by his message of revolution: “not me, us.” You want to see a more democratic, more just America, where mothers don’t have to choose between nursing their newborns and getting a paycheck, where veterans aren’t begging for change on the street, where CEOs aren’t taking home millions while their workers count pennies. You’re passionate, you’re inspired, you want to change the world.

But if you’re voting for Bernie, voting for Bernie isn’t enough.

If you’re voting for Bernie, you’ve seen the same memes I have, telling you 469 seats in Congress are up for grabs this election. Socialist (or at least socialist-friendly) Senators and Representatives will make President Sanders’ term a lot easier. But do you know who your current Senator and Representative are? Here’s your answer. Do you know who’s running against them? Find out here. Do you know which candidates side with Bernie on issues like minimum wage, antitrust action, and campaign financing? Check their websites! (I’d also peek at their ranking with the Citizens’ Congress.) Now you know, and you can tell your friends and neighbors to vote for Bill Ostrander (or whomever) in the same breath you mention Bernie Sanders. You might even volunteer for those down-ticket campaigns, where every vote counts.

If you’re voting for Bernie, you care about your government and what it’s doing to you and to the rest of us. Get involved in local politics. Your state, county, and especially city governments have a much bigger impact on your life than the resident of the Oval Office – and vice versa. Look up your city council’s agenda for their next meeting, and go speak at public comment. Sign up for a city board or commission appointment, such as Public Works, Planning Commission, Recreation and Parks, or, erm, Citizens’ Finance Advisory Committee. Run for elected office! San Luis Obispo just became the first city in America to get money out of elections and clean up campaigns because of a small group of dedicated citizens. Start there.

If you’re voting for Bernie, you care about working people. Unionize your office  Half the reason we need Bernie in the first place is because capital convinced white-collar workers and service people that we didn’t need unions. But the same laws of economics apply to white-collar jobs as blue-collar: If all you working stiffs are on the same page about demanding a living wage or paternal leave or inclusionary hiring practices, you can win against management. You don’t have to strike, you just have to be willing to negotiate…and be willing to stand with your brothers and sisters when they need you.

If you’re voting for Bernie, you care about the downtrodden members of society. Volunteer a few hours or a few loaves of bread at your local homeless shelter. Organize a #BlackLivesMatter march. Join a campus or city social justice activist group. If you’re church-going, demand your congregation help. If you’re a frat boy or sorority girl, get your brothers/sisters behind you for community service. If you have five hundred Facebook friends, get a tenth of them to show up. Put your skills, time, and resources to making this country more just, more fair, and more equal, so that  we really do have liberty and justice for all.

If you’re voting for Bernie, you want a revolution. One man isn’t a revolution. It can’t just be him, it has to be us. We have to carry the revolution forward. And while it sometimes involves waving banners and shouting slogans, most of it is doing homework, sitting in meetings, speaking at podiums, and making agreements. It’s coalition-building and voting your conscience and doing a job. It’s keeping in mind the vision of a new America, and making your corner of America look more like that. Then, and only then, will we have a real revolution. Then, we’ll see body-cams on policemen and bankers in jail. Then, we’ll earn the right to say “we fought the revolution.” Until then, there’s work to do.

If you’re voting for Bernie, you don’t mind a little work to bring the revolution. If you’re voting for Bernie, you live for it.

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What Have You Done for Paris?

As Paris exploded, I was writing a book.

As the recriminations mounted, I read Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.

I’ve spent almost all of my free time since Friday the 13th either writing No Time, arguing on Facebook, or reading about physics.

It’s one Hell of a contrast.

Hawking, in a direct and engaging way, explains current ideas about how the universe came to be, the fundamental building blocks of matter and energy, the shape of galaxies and the fate of existence. He recounts a litany of human beings working together to understand the nature of the universe. He is calm, hopeful, and full of wonder. The world in A Brief History of Time is a place that can be understood through observation, cooperation, and rigor.

What a world of difference from the world where over 150 Parisians died in a bursts of gunfire and bombs, where le President orders random carpet-bombings, and where Americans of every political and cultural stripe grin at the opportunity to grandstand. Yes, France has stricter gun laws than the United States. Yes, Japan had an earthquake almost-but-not-quite-the-same-day. Yes, whatever political concerns you, personally, may have are far more important than Beirut or Paris. Yes, whatever points you want to score are appropriate in the wake of a horrific attack on sacré Paris.

It’s obvious by now that ISIS claims responsibility because of how it helps their recruitment effort. ISIS wants the refugees of the Middle East (and all Muslims) to see the world as a battle between East and West, between Right and Wrong, a clash of civilizations to tighten the trousers of Samuel Huntington and Richard Dawkins. The next day, Poland helped them immeasurably – they closed their doors to Syrian refugees. Rhetoric across the West is revving up again against the wicked mussulman and his swords and his bombs and his army of wives. If your enemies helped everybody see the world the way you do, wouldn’t you take the credit?

You know what’s not obvious? Who was actually responsible for the attacks. We’re going to have to trust les gendarmes to work that one out. Because right now, unless you read French, you probably know less about it than I do, and I know jack shit.

Some of you, and deep down you know who you are, are right now using Paris as a means of making your point. On Thursday the 12th, how many of you had heard about the attacks on Beirut? No, not ‘those people’ on your friendslist, you. You, the one sharing that clever meme about the Lebanese flag and that heartrending cartoon of all the tragedies that the media ignores. Did you know or care about Kenya on the 12th? Then why are you using Paris as a piggyback?

If you care about Beirut, show me where to give blood so it gets there. Show me where to send medical supplies. Fill my feed with that, the way I’ve been showing snide, cynical slacktivists how to actually do something to help the Parisians.

How about you? Yes, you, who went to Paris once in 1993 and hated it, but are now insisting we all #PrayforParis. Have you even read the Quran? How is it, then, you now are an expert at discerning the true intentions behind the words, and know that those intentions are murderdeathkill? Why are you worried about Islamist terrorists when study after study shows the most dangerous demographic in America is white males?

If you are eager enough to give blood to defend all we hold dear, why not give blood? You can save lives across the world, whether it’s for a specific attack or for the low-level violence and natural tragedies that make the cosmic background radiation of human life.

And you, eagerly consuming every thinkpiece on Atlantic, or FOX News, or Huffington Post, without even bothering to check the BBC or, mais non!, Le Monde? How can you possibly claim to be any better than your ideological enemies, the one you are using Paris as a cheap pipe-bomb to attack? How are you any better-informed, any better-acting, any less an asshole?

One such thinkpiece summed it up perfectly:

“Paris wasn’t just a massacre. It was a megaphone to be used for whatever you wanted to shout.”

Je m’appelle Mathieu, and it is not my Paris. It is not yours, either. I am sick and tired of the grief-shaming and the war-drum, and of everyone throwing Paris in the mud for their petty political battles. It is the City of Light, the City of #OuvrePorte, a city that is grieving and a city that is angry. It is a city in need of answers, in need of friends, and in need of peace.

I said on the 13th and I say today: Vive la France. Vive la paix. Vive le Paris.

If you can, donate to one of the aid organizations at work in Paris. Many of them also work in Beirut, which I can actually find on a map. If you can’t, sing La Marseillaise, or at least hum a few bars. Watch Mr. Rogers’ short comment about looking for the helpers, and look for the helpers next time you watch the news.

There are better things to do than argue on Facebook. Like reading Brief History of Time and looking up at the stars in wonder, or creating a new work of art, or donating a little money or blood to provide aid to Paris. One day, I’ll learn that. One day, I hope we’ll all learn that.


Veteran’s Day

“The Last of the Light Brigade,” by Rudyard Kipling

There were thirty million English who talked of England’s might,
There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.
They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;
They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.

They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,
That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.
They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;
And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four !

They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;
Keen were the Russian sabres, but want was keener than they;
And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered, “Let us go to the man who writes
The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites.”

They went without bands or colours, a regiment ten-file strong,
To look for the Master-singer who had crowned them all in his song;
And, waiting his servant’s order, by the garden gate they stayed,
A desolate little cluster, the last of the Light Brigade.

They strove to stand to attention, to straighen the toil-bowed back;
They drilled on an empty stomach, the loose-knit files fell slack;
With stooping of weary shoulders, in garments tattered and frayed,
They shambled into his presence, the last of the Light Brigade.

The old Troop-Sergeant was spokesman, and “Beggin’ your pardon,” he said,
“You wrote o’ the Light Brigade, sir. Here’s all that isn’t dead.
An’ it’s all come true what you wrote, sir, regardin’ the mouth of hell;
For we’re all of us nigh to the workhouse, an’ we thought we’d call an’ tell.

“No, thank you, we don’t want food, sir; but couldn’t you take an’ write
A sort of ‘to be continued’ and ‘see next page’ o’ the fight?
We think that someone has blundered, an’ couldn’t you tell ’em how?
You wrote we were heroes once, sir. Please, write we are starving now.”

The poor little army departed, limping and lean and forlorn.
And the heart of the Master-singer grew hot with “the scorn of scorn.”
And he wrote for them wonderful verses that swept the land like flame,
Till the fatted souls of the English were scourged with the thing called Shame.

O thirty million English that babble of England’s might,
Behold there are twenty heroes who lack their food to-night;
Our children’s children are lisping to “honour the charge they made – ”
And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade!