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The Woman in White Marble

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                   Café Talk

Tuesday
Jan302018

I Hate Editing but Love Editors

If you’ve read more than a couple of my blogs in Café Talk, you know that I make mistakes when I write and don’t find them all when I edit. I just don’t see them all when I reread what I’ve written. The other day someone commented on my piece called Dinosaur Footprints and Alternative Facts and it motivated me to go back and see what I had written. There are several mistakes in the blog: typos, missing commas, and a whole missing word (more mistakes than usual). It’s embarrassing, but I’m hardly unique in lacking the ability to edit my own work. The writer who can accurately edit their own work is very rare, and most writers who claim they can are sadly mistaken. And with a weekly blog I simply don’t have the time and money to have each one professionally edited. So, I live with the embarrassment and hope readers come back (to date most do!).

But living with my embarrassment is not acceptable with my books. A book full of errors is really not a good thing. Editing is crucial.

My editing process goes something like this: When I’m done with the first draft I read it on the screen making changes. I then print it out and read the hard copy making changes. When I’m done with that I make the corrections on screen and print out another copy. That copy goes to my wife. She comments and corrects on the hard copy. Inevitably at this point I become defensive and angry. She ignores me. I make her changes on the screen and print out another copy. We read this one aloud, making changes as we go along. Then it’s back to the screen. I am now on the fourth draft and that’s the draft that goes to a professional editor. It’s at this point the real fun begins.

In The Woman in White Marble the editor, of course, found and fixed all those typos, misspellings, grammar screwups, but she also found a huge whole in my plot. The fix took a long time, structural changes, and obviously a fifth draft. That fifth draft went back to the editor and we started again.

The Girl in the Silver Mask went through the same procedure, but with this book the editor and I really had a tug of war. Close to 10,000 words went. The book is only 67,000 words long, so 10,000 was a lot! Some of them were easy to delete, I knew they would go when I was writing them (so why did I write them?!). But some were precious to me. Nonetheless, she was right. They had to go. But more importantly we disagreed on the flow of the action! I agonized over the restructuring—some of my best humorous episodes died in the process! When I was making further significant changes to the sixth draft I said, out loud!, if I make any more big changes the book will no longer be my book. Some of her grammatical changes actually changed the personality of my protagonist. I fought back. I compromised. I negotiated. Thankfully, eventually the editor and I came to a common mind, but I have to say, the first draft and the sixth are very different books.

I loathe the editing process. Once I hand that second draft to my wife I really want to be done with the book and move on to the next project. But here’s the thing. Both books are significantly better because a professional editor had her way with them. That’s why I didn’t just tell the editor to stuff it. Obviously, I didn’t make all the changes she recommended, but believe you me, I made most of them.

So why am I going on about this? Here’s why: I joined an author’s group I access through Facebook. The group is not for plugging our books and if you do, the moderator will remind you about the rules. Instead it is group where writers share ideas and mostly ask questions of each other. I’d say the vast majority of people in the group are self-published independent authors, using a number of different methods. One of the of the most frequent questions is about editing—should I or should I not employ a professional editor to edit my book? I’m surprised by the number of people who think it is not necessary. I don’t often comment on people’s questions, but always do about editing.

One of the downsides of self-publishing is the lack of professional editing. If a book published by a traditional publishing house has a few mistakes in it, people don’t damn the whole of traditional publishing. However, when a self-published book contains errors it is not uncommon to hear people condemn the entire self-publishing industry. It may not be fair, but I’d say people just have to suck it up. That’s the way it is. I always tell writers that if they publish a poorly edited book it reflects and hurts other self-published authors. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to have your book edited.

Here’s what I think needs to be addressed in an edit:

  • Title and Cover Copy;
  • Opening;
  • Basic Premise and Tone;
  • Point of View;
  • Structure, Plot and Pace;
  • Setting;
  • Characterization;
  • Dialogue;
  • Punctuation and Grammar.

And when all that is completed, the book should be proofread one last time before you sign off on it and it goes to print.

Apparently, Kurt Vonnegut, Toni Morrison, Philip Roth, Margaret Atwood, and so on thought it was a good idea to have their books professionally edited. It seems a bit much to think my books don’t.

So to all you authors out there, please have your books edited. If you don’t, it makes me look bad. And to all you editors out there, you people are great. I hate working with you, and I’ll argue and fuss, but thanks.

Copyright © 2018 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Jan242018

On Being an Award Winning Author ~ How Do I Cope?

I’m an award winning author. An obscure journal concentrating on issues not terribly interesting to the general public with a readership of—well, I guess no one has every counted, but it can’t be a lot—held an essay writing contest. I won joint third place. The essays that won first, second, and the other third place were all published in the journal. Mine was not. When I enquired why not, I was told my essay was too controversial, would cause conflict, and would offend some readers. No one said it would be easy being an award winning author.

Regarding the offending people thing: If I hadn’t offended people during my life than I wouldn’t have lived much of a life. Being offended is one of the most common experiences human beings have. I can’t hardly get through a day without being offended. To which the most appropriate response is: So what? Big deal. My award winning essay that would have caused conflict and offence if anyone had read it, was about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer, intersex, and asexual rights. And if I’ve left someone out, please don’t be offended. As I’ve often said, while offending people is not the purpose, nonetheless, if you can’t bring yourself to offend anyone then don’t even pretend to fight for justice or stand in solidarity with another person, and certainly not with a group of people.    

My Twitter profile reads as follows: Writer, Blogger, and creator of the website The Back Road Cafe. Avid reader. I always follow back. For the enjoyment of it all. It used to say “creator of The Back Road Café,” but people thought I had an actual café here in Seattle with one of those magic coffee machines. I got a message from one person saying he definitely was going to visit my café when he came to Seattle in the coming weeks. I toyed with the idea of not setting him straight, but figured he’d be pretty damn offended if I didn’t. I also have in the profile “I always follow back.” I need to change that because I don’t always follow back. I don’t follow Trump enthusiasts, gun nuts, fascists, Nazis and Neo-Nazis, LGBTQIA bigots, racists, xenophobes, and KKK members. They all offend me to no end. And to be honest, I also have trouble with people who throw their cigarette butts on the sidewalk. If I’ve missed anyone else, don’t be offended.

However, I’m sure you noticed that my Twitter profile doesn’t indicate, indeed proclaim, that I’m an award winning author. I tend to follow all kinds of writers on Twitter: bloggers, poets, essayists, short story and book authors. Some of them are excellent writers and some of them are terrible writers. The excellent writers I love, though I do have pangs of jealousy sometimes. The terrible writers don’t offend me, and at times lift my spirits. What amazes me, however, is the staggering number of award winning writers I follow. Profile after profile announce awards have been won. Often the awards are listed. More than not I’ve never heard of the organizations granting the awards, but it matters not a jot. I’m still impressed. And I never google the organizations to find out who the hell they and what they do.

So, I was thinking, what if I write something like this for my profile: I’m an award winning author, the Peabody Institute having awarded my award winning novel The Girl in the Silver Mask, an award for excellence in literature and for being a cracking good tale. I made up the Peabody Institute, but just googled it to make sure it doesn’t actually exist. My bad luck, it does. The Peabody Institute is part of The Johns Hopkins University and is a conservatory and university preparatory school in the Mount Vernon-Belvedere neighborhood of northern Baltimore, Maryland, the United States of American. Who would have thought? I wonder if it gives awards to authors. To all the good people at the Peabody Institute, I meant no offence, and if I have offended anyone, I beg your forgiveness, but if you can’t forgive me and instead complain as you retreat to some safe place, I say: So what? Big deal. 

So, I have to think of another fictitious award granting organization that no one will ever google. Once people read that I’m an awarding winning author, my book sales will skyrocket, visits to my website will go through the roof, and I’ll offend any number of people. So, to get you started:

I’ve got other books, but they are not award winning worthy, so I’ll keep them under wraps. But regarding the other two—White Marble and Silver Mask—it seems given the number of award winning writers and authors I follow on Twitter there must be some club, or organization, or institution, or association, or society, or guild that could see its way to giving me an award.

You can reach me through The Back Road Café. I look forward to hearing from you.

Copyright © 2018 Dale Rominger

Award Winning Author

Wednesday
Jan172018

Fatuous and Arrogant Google Home ~ What Were They Thinking?

Imagine every time you want to turn on your car engine you have to say, “Okay, Chevrolets, start my engine.” Or, “Okay Ford, turn on my car.” Or every time you go into a Starbucks you have to say, “Okay Starbucks, I’d like a…” before you get your favorite coffee and muffin. It’s ridiculous, of course. It would be embarrassing for both the customer and the company. Even worse, it would smell of pretentiousness. It would reek of corporate arrogance.  

Welcome to Google Home.

Roberta, my wife, and I spent Christmas day with her mother, Janet, and brother, Rich. Rich gave Janet an Amazon Echo for Christmas. Rich and I set it up and we all had a fun time asking Alexa this and that. It was an interesting experience. The activation command was a simple “Alexa.”  In no time at all we were thanking Alexa, not Amazon Echo, for her help. She responded with things like, “That’s what I’m here for,” and “No problem,” as well as the more formal “You’re welcome.” I was fascinated how fast we began to approach her as almost human-like. We wanted to form a relationship her. We used the pronoun “her.” It was enjoyable and interesting.

Over the next few days Roberta and I talked about getting a home AI as well. We had briefly thought about it months ago, but the experience at Janet’s sealed the deal. The two big players in the home AI assistant market are Amazon and Google. After a bit of research we came to the conclusion that all things being fairly even (price, speakers, mic, etc.), if we wanted the AI for buying stuff Amazon was the way to go. If we wanted the AI to primarily retrieve information, Google was the best bet.  

We bought Google Home for two reasons. First, our primary purpose for purchasing a home AI assistant was for retrieving information and Google Home is connected to Google’s search engine. Second, I googled if and how we could change the activation command for Google Home and discovered that indeed it was possible. Let me explain.

Amazingly, Google has done something that none of the other big companies have done. They decided not to personalize their AI. Microsoft named its AI assistant Cortana. Apple named its Siri. Amazon, Alexa. If you want to communicate with any of these AI’s you simply have to say their name. But not Google. Google’s AI does not have a name. If you want to activate Google Home you have to say either “Okay Google” or “Hey Google. In other words, to use Google Home you have to say the corporate name over and over each day.

I told Roberta, that if I couldn’t change the activation command I would not agree to buy Google Home. But I was thrilled when  I found a website explaining precisely how I could do just that. We agreed that we would use “Zuri” [1] as the activation command, thus dropping the “Okay” and “Hey.” I understand that Google added “Okay” and “Hey” to prevent the accidental activation of the AI assistant while conversing with others. However, I feel stupid saying them so I decided to leave them out.

I made a huge mistake. After purchasing Google Home, setting it up, installing the app on my phone, creating two accounts, and activating voice recognition, I discovered that the ability to change the activation command is only possible on cell phones or tablets. You cannot change the command on Google Home. I can’t tell you how pissed I was. Nay, I was devastated.

Google HomeGoogle Home is an advertising scheme. When you ask Alexa to play the Beatles, she plays the Beatles. If you ask Okay Google to play the Beatles, it tells you it will turn to Google Play Radio Mix. The key word is Google. If you ask Alexa to play a specific Beatles song like Hey Jude, she plays Hey Jude. If you ask Okay Google to play Hey Jude it instructs you to subscribe to Google Play. The key word is Google. Google, Google, Google, Google, Google, Google, Google, Google, Google, Google, Google!

Every day, over and over, I have to say “Okay Google” or “Hey Google” to use the damn thing. I feel foolish and angry. As if I don’t know I bought a Google product and am using a Google service. I know that I drive a Chevy and Chevy has no great need to remind me. I know that it’s Starbucks when I walk into a Starbucks. I don’t have to say their damn corporate names repeatedly and Starbucks seems okay with that. But not Google.  

There’s something arrogant about a company making you say its name constantly in order to use its service. I’m assuming that Google made a conscious decision to discourage people from forming a relationship with their AI assistant. I don’t feel at all compelled to thank “Okay Google” for its assistance. But if you do, you will find that it will only say “You’re welcome” in reply. The Google AI has less personality than Alexa. It is less whimsical. It is less fun. Why Google? Why did you do this? Why have you depersonalized your service? I don’t understand.

What’s more, it’s stupid. If you read articles about AI assistants, while Google Home is obviously discussed, it is not used when the writer is talking about how the assistant is actually used. For example, in an article about this year’s Consumer Electronics Show the following sentence can be found:

“If you’re lying in bed and want to get into a hot shower you can either use an app or talk to Alexa and have your shower start up at your favorite temperature…"

They author didn’t write “…or talk to Okay Google.” How stupid would that be? You don’t ask a multinational corporation to run your shower for you! You ask Alexa, and maybe someday Siri or Cortana. But not friggin Google. You're not going to use Okay Google to demonstrate how cool and hip is a AI home assistant.

Another article is titled, “Do we want Alexa to have an opinion over what we should watch?” It’s not “Do we want Amazon Echo”. It’s Alexa. We are talking to Alexa, not the big impersonal corporation of Amazon. And I’m willing to bet if the article was about Google having an opinion over what we should watch, the title would have been “Do we want Google to…” You would never have been “Do we want Hey Google to…” Again, stupid. What the hell is “Hey Google”?

I’m a sci fi enthusiast and was looking forward to forming a “relationship” with my AI assistant, pretending things were further along than they actually are. I anticipated, “Zuri, what’s the meaning of life?” and sharing a little banter back and forth. I bet Alexa banters. Not Okay friggin Google.

What can I say? I’ve got a bad case of buyer’s remorse. If I were single, I’d probable drop Google Home and buy myself an Amazon Echo, though I would regret losing out on that great Google search engine. So now every day I feel like an idiot saying “Hey Google” and “Okay Google.” If I were speaking to Alexa, I’d thank her. I never thank Okay Google. It’s an it and you don’t thank its.

Just to get back at that big arrogant impersonal multinational corporation, I’ve started saying “Hey Voogle” and “Okay Voogle.” It works. I bet if you said “Vlexa” she wouldn’t answer. Of course she wouldn’t. She’s got a name, after all. But Google answers. It answers because it’s an it without a name. 

Copyright © 2018 Dale Rominger


[1] Zuri is the name of one of the main characters in my books The Woman in White Marble and The Girl in the Silver Mask. I love Zuri and thought it would be cool using her name. 

Wednesday
Jan102018

Dinosaur Footprints and Alternative Facts 

When I was growing up I spent a lot of summers with my cousin Jeff Hildebrand. Jeff was a few years older than me, but we still got along well. Friends more than cousins. I remember one summer when my family was staying at the Hildebrand’s. There was a lot of road development in their area, which meant there were numerous bulldozed mountains of earth (to us anyway)  all over the place. These were great, of course, and served many purposes. One was hiding behind while throwing large hunks of dirt or rocks at passing cars. But what I really remember were the search for dinosaur footprints.

Image from wikipedia.orgLike a lot of children, we were into dinosaurs, but for some reason that particular summer we studied dinosaur tracks and somewhere we got a hold of a book which had pictures of dinosaur footprints. Jeff reasoned, given the fact that there had been so much bulldozing and digging up of the ground in the area, that dinosaur footprints must surely had been exposed. So we made a plan. After dinner we would study the pictures of dinosaur footprints and the next day head to the mountains of overturned.

In the morning we decided that given the nature of our expedition we would first need to make snake killers. A snake killer is a simple device made of two pieces of wood: one long board that functioned as the handle; the other a shorter cross board to be nailed to the handle. We first drove large nails through and along the cross board and then nailed it to the handle. A snake killer was simple but elegant. We went to the garden to test the snake killers effectiveness. We knew what we would find there. Small garden, or garter, snakes, inoffensive and of no harm to anyone. Nonetheless, our snake killers proved lethal. We were pleased and so set out on our quest to find dinosaur footprints.

Jeff wisely decided we should split up to optimize our chances of finding dinosaur tracks. With clear pictures in my head of dinosaur footprints, I went off on my own climbing over one mountain of earth after another. I can’t remember how long I looked, but I do remember feeling a bit skeptical that we would find tracks on top of bulldozed mountains of dirt. Nevertheless, Jeff thought we would so I looked and in short order I heard Jeff calling excitedly that he had found a dinosaur track! I followed the sound of his voice and on the top of a mountain I found Jeff, his snake killer in his right hand, standing over a dinosaur footprint. I got on my knees for a closer look. There was no doubt about it. The footprint Jeff had found looked just like ones we had seen in the book. I congratulated him and reached for a marker. We had tied small pieces of cloth to twigs and tucked them into our jeans. One of these twigs was stuck in the ground next to the dinosaur footprint so we could find it later. We continued our search.

To my surprise not long after his first discovery Jeff was calling out again. And as sure as the sun was hot that day, he had found another dinosaur footprint and this time from a different species. I was very impressed with Jeff’s ability to find dinosaur tracks, but as I walked away to continue my search, thoughts refused to be silenced. For one thing, the footprints Jeff had found seemed awfully fresh and fragile. The pictures in the book were indentations in hard rock. Jeff’s tracks were of soil. And for another thing, given the footprints were so fresh-like, I wondered how they survived the bulldozing and the turning over of the earth?

I pondered these questions as I climbed to the top of a mountain by the side of the road. I stopped at the top, put down my snake killer, and fashioned out of the soil a dinosaur footprint. I pulled a twig with a small piece of red cloth tied to the end from my jeans and marked my find. I then called to Jeff that I had indeed found a dinosaur footprint. In no time at all, Jeff was at my side praising my find. I have to say, it felt damn good. And that was only the beginning. I became quite accomplished in finding dinosaur tracks that day.

Apparently playing make believe is fairly universal in children and that was what Jeff and I were doing. It’s important to note that when children make believe, or pretend play, they do know the difference between play and reality. Jeff and I certainly did. And it would be false humility if I did not also say that children who “have better pretense and fantasy abilities also show better social competence, cognitive capabilities, and ability to take the perspective of others.” If that is true, and who am I to argue, Jeff and I were amazingly socially competent, cerebral, and thoroughly embracing each other’s perspectives that day.

Of course we knew it was all pretend, but what fascinates me is that at no time during our hunt for dinosaur footprints, or any time afterwards, did we blow each other’s cover. The first rule of dinosaur footprint hunting is: you do not talk about dinosaur footprints. We pretended that each of our discoveries were real. No smirks, no giggles, no challenges. At the moment Jeff called me over to look at his first discovery and I accepted the find as authentic we, “agreed,” without words, to play. If I had challenged him, pointing at the footprint was so fresh and that it was simply impossible that it could have survived a bulldozer digging up the ground, we would have dropped our snake killers and gone home. Game over. Instead we marked the find with a twig and moved on. Crucially, however, we never found a dinosaur footprint together. To do so would pushed our willing suspense of disbelief beyond tolerance. I mean we were willing to dig footprints in the dirt, but certainly not in front of each other.

At some point in our lives, however, the willingness, and perhaps ability, to participate in a mutually agreed pretenses ended. As we got older, but before we became adults, we stopped claiming our alternative facts actually corresponded to reality. We would never have agreed, for example, that the sun was shining while we stood in the rain. We never would had said that thousands of people came to watch us discover dinosaur footprint when none did. We would never have declared that we were stable geniuses when it was plan to everyone we were not. We had just become too grown up before we were fully grown up. At some point the pretenses would have been an indication of some psychological dislocation from reality, or mendacity, or both. And if that had become the case, our lives would have gone nowhere.

Copyright © 2018 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Jan032018

How to Make Something Wrong Right or Early Lessons in Ethical Bullshitting

For reasons unknown to me I’ve been thinking recently about my cousin Jeff Hildebrand. I’ve forgotten vast amounts of my life and Jeff and I knew each other a long time ago. Fortunately, the things I do remember fascinate me. So, for the next few weeks it’s story time.

Jeff died of a peripheral primitive neuroectodermal tumor, or pPNET, at the young age of 49.  

My mother’s name was Betty. She had two sisters: Virginia, or Ginny, and Barbara, sometimes called Barb. Betty married Charles Rominger, known as Charlie by all my cousins. Ginny married Fredrick Hildebrand, called Fred or Freddie. Barbara married Douglas Theiler, or Doug or Dougie. I never used aunt and uncle, even as a small child. It was never Aunt Ginny or Uncle Doug. It was always Ginny, Barbara, Fred, and Doug. I’m sure it was the same for my sisters and I’m assuming my cousins simply called my parents Betty and Charlie.

I am the fruitful union between Betty and Charlie. Jeff was the child of Ginny and Fred. The Romingers, Hildebrands, and Theilers were certainly not part of the 1% in those days, so our vacations were often visiting one of the sister’s glans or at times both (as an aside, the Romingers, Hildebrands, and Theilers are still not part of the 1%, or at least if any of the Hildebrands or Theilers are, I haven’t heard about it). As a result, Jeff and I spent a lot of summers together as we grew up. He was a few years older than I, still we were more than cousins, we were friends. I know that Greg, the son of Barbara and Doug, would say the same of Jeff.

I remember one warm summer day when we were staying with the Hildebrands, Jeff and I were confronted with what was probably our first ethical dilemma. I can’t remember how old we were but we were quite young—I mean little guys. Here’s the thing: Jeff and I wanted money, for what I can’t remember. We probably wanted to buy soda or candy bars or both. If that were the case, I would have favored Pepsi and a Three Musketeer or Milky Way bar back then. I have no idea what Jeff’s preferences would have been.

We walked into the kitchen where Ginny was preparing, let’s say, a cup of coffee. We asked her for money and without even asking us why we wanted it she said no. She then cut us off before we could even begin pleading for her to reconsider her decision and walked out of the kitchen. At that moment three things came together.

First, we really wanted the money. I mean we really wanted some money. Second, Ginny had left her purse on the kitchen table. Third, we knew it would be wrong to open Ginny’s purse, find her wallet, and take some money. Our hesitation about taking the money was not based simply on the fear of punishment if we got caught, though punishment there would have been. We also knew at some level that it would be wrong to take the money without permission, though at that age we could never have articulated the ethical arguments, what our specific moral responsibilities were to others nor what the possible impact of the act would have been on our characters. We had no idea what ethical prima facie duties, consequences, and virtues were in play.

We sat at the kitchen table with Ginny’s purse between us and discussed options. I must say, it didn’t take us long to find a solution, probably the only solution, to our dilemma.

We did indeed retrieve Ginny’s wallet from her purse, which I remember was a big black bag more than a small purse. We took one dollar from her wallet, left the kitchen, and walked to the front of the house. We turned right on the sidewalk and walked to the corner of the block. Jeff dropped the dollar on the sidewalk and we began to walk around the entire block at a normal pace. Two things here are vitally important. First, we agreed we had to walk around the entire block, not just down the street a ways and then turn around. Second, it was imperative that we walked at a normal pace. We forbade ourselves from running or even walking fast.

When we had walked completely around the block and had returned to our starting point, we “found” a dollar on the sidewalk—not the dollar, but a dollar. Jeff picked it up and we went to the store. Problem solved.  

 Ethics, while necessary for nurturing a good life, living morally, and resolving ethical dilemmas, is almost always messy work. We can never get out of it completely clean, and it is an illusion to think we can. There is no universal principle, or theoretical abstraction, or even methodological nicety that will keep us completely free from life's conflicts and contradictions. There is nowhere to go to escape ethics. No one can spare us of its difficulties. If we want to participate in life, we cannot avoid getting our hands dirty. And that’s exactly what Jeff and I did. We got our metaphorical hands dirty.

I’m quite confident that if after we had returned to the corner and found the dollar gone, we would have dropped the whole thing. The only way we could justify taking the money was by finding the money. Quite elegant, and I suspect many a financier and politician have reasoned the same. Finding money on the street is not stealing. And through some convoluted mental and moral maneuver we assumed that the act of finding would negate any harm to Ginny. Finding negated stealing which negated doing harm to another, as well as to ourselves. To our very young minds it was a somewhat sophisticated solution.

It’s all bullshit, of course. By bullshit I mean that our decision and act were indifferent to the way things really are. That’s not to say we didn’t care about what was true, but rather that we had come up with a strategy that we believed was true. As Harry G. Frankfurt said in On Bullshit: “[T]he essence of bullshit is not that it is false, but that it is phony.”[1] We played the truth to our benefit. In reality we stole a dollar from Ginny, but by conflating “to steal” and “to find” in our minds, we could put aside how things really were and buy the candy bars.

Of course I’ve often wondered if Ginny left her purse on the kitchen table on purpose, and not as an oversight or because she assumed that we would never steal from her. Now as an adult, I think she left it there on purpose. However, she never questioned us about it, so who knows. If she had, and we had told her what we had done, I suspect she would have found it humorous and perhaps ingenious, before punishing us.

There is one last thing. If you are going to try and game the ethical system there is always a moment when you are morally exposed, and that’s usually at the beginning of the con. The only way we could morally justify taking a dollar out of Ginny’s wallet was by finding the dollar on the sidewalk. The finding cleansed us of immorality. The problem was, of course, we couldn’t find the dollar before we stole it. The timing was not just difficult, it was unavoidable. Our moment of exposure was the actual taking of the dollar out of the wallet. So, when we walked out of the kitchen, to the front of the house, and down to the corner, was the dollar stolen, barrowed, or nonexistent?

Copyright © 2018 Dale Rominger


[1] Frankfurt, Harry G. On Bullshit. Princeton: Princeton University Press,  2005, p. 47.

Tuesday
Dec192017

What Would Women Do Without Christmas Mansplaining?

On July 12, 2016 I posted a blog called Dancing Alone at 3 A.M. It was a kind of confession that late at night, or rather early in the morning, I can become a somewhat sentimental jerk. I wrote:

"If I’m watching TV I’m more susceptible to sentimentality. I abhor sentimentality, except when it’s 3 a.m. I can be reduced to tears by a sentimental sugar coated film that I would not even contemplate watching at 9 p.m. Indeed, I would mock it without mercy at 9 p.m. Is this detour into schmaltziness good for me? I don’t really know. I’ve learned to accept it, however, in my defense this acceptance took years. I would never watch these horrible cheap morality plays created to manipulate my emotions and not nourish my mind and spirit if I knew someone could see me watching."

I’m afraid that during the Christmas season things get even worse. I seek out romantic Christmas stories that inspire me to take up heavy drinking, really heavy drinking. These are Christmas morality plays guaranteed to help us learn the true meaning of Christmas, at least if you’re a woman. If you’re a man, then not. According to many of these films, if you are a man you already know the true meaning of Christmas, which is to teach some poor sod of a woman the true meaning of Christmas. Simply really.

Many of these Christmas gems center around a female character. She is often wealthy and materialistic. She always lives in a big city like New York. Often she has a good, if not powerful job. She is often in a relationship with a shit of a man of whom we learn fairly quickly is selfish, obsesses over his job, is dismissive of her desires, and sometimes cheats. And for some reason, most likely business, our leading lady has to leave the big city and go to a small town. Oh, and she is always young, beautiful, intelligent, and, despite first indicators, a decent human being.

It is in the small town that we meet our leading man. He is the salt of the earth. Often he works in a simply but noble job—he manages a country in, or is trying to establish a catering business, or is an architect who teaches hockey to trouble boys in his spare time, or he struggles to make ends meet in his community center where he feeds homeless people. He is well known, liked, and respected in the town. If he is wealthy and in a powerful job, he is the most decent of men and only wants to use his wealth to help others. Often he wants to experience Christmas as it is meant to be experienced, as it was when he was a small boy, before he took on the burdens of the world, not to mention all that money. And while he may appear standoffish when we first meet him, which is usually when he first meets our leading lady, he has a good reason. It’s usually a broken heart or anxiety about his desire to save the world, or at least the small town.

The town is the true America. It has struggles, of course, but overcomes them all. It has its poor, but they are treated decently and with respect. (Poverty isn’t ever eliminated, however, for reason that are self-explanatorily American.) Everyone helps everyone else. They all know the true meaning of being an American and of Christmas, which is, of course, the same thing.

Our leading lady enters this town with some hesitation and judgement. She doesn’t really want to be there. She either has no time for Christmas or only embraces Christmas materialism. But, thank God, she meets our leading man who introduces her to—through love—the virtues of small town America and the true meaning of Christmas. She learns both by observing our leading man as he helps people in the town. It’s best if there is some kind of crisis in town. A blizzard that threatens the people and necessitates they pull together. Or a threatened factory closure. Or a threatened business take over from an evil big city corporation. Our leading lady observes all these simply but pure people helping each other and eventually engages in an unprompted act of giving or helpfulness that symbolizes here transformation. We see by her facial expression she is proud of herself! The leading man is more than likely pleasantly surprised, indeed moved, by her selfless act and realizes that he has actually fallen in love with her, as she has with him.

It’s doubtful the leading lady would have realized her transformation without first falling in love. Romantic love becomes necessary for epiphany and transformation. While the man is not transformed, he is healed—his broken heart beats again with love.

So, what do we learn at 3 a.m. watching Christmas schmaltz?:

  • The real America is found in small towns, not big cities. If you want to find the true meaning of Christmas you better high-tale it to some small town and fast.
  • Women have a lot to learn about the meaning of Christmas. Thanks God there are men to do a little mansplaining and manmonstrating.
  • You are doomed to failure in your quest for the true spirit of America and Christmas if you don’t fall into romantic love. Pretty much the kiss seals the deal.

Last night I was watching one of these gems and I kept assuming all the members of the town voted for Trump. It ruined the whole damn thing. Going down on them like a bitch and grabbing them by the pussy doesn’t quite seem like the appropriate way to teach the little lady the true meaning of Christmas. But, I could be wrong. After all 53% of women did vote for him.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Tuesday
Dec052017

A Christmas Carol for Billionaires

{Each year I reflect on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Given that a billionaire occupies the White House and seems to be leaving behind the left behind, and that the Republican Party members of or owned by the American oligarchy has just passed a tax bill that, well, leaves behind millions of Americans, it seems more than appropriate to again read about A Christmas Carol. Dickens did not write the sweet tale that made it to our movie screens: This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!"}

Scrooge had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, Every One!

One of the saddest events in popular culture is the continual distortion of a great literary character through the romanticizing of Tiny Tim, transforming him into a sentimental, sweet character, whom we can first pity and then exploit, using him like a sponge to soak up our spilt Christian goodness. In fact, Tiny Tim is one key to "Keeping Christmas well”.

Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843, the first of five "Christmas Books" written from 1843 to 1848. In each book a central character suffers from a loss of faith in human dignity, but is eventually brought to realize the value of human spirit. The transformation each character goes through, and we must call it a transformation and not simply a change of mind or even heart, is accomplished through spirit intervention, or in other words, by spiritual means. In the preface to A Christmas Carol, Dickens wrote he hoped the story would "Awake some loving and forbearing thoughts, never out of season in a Christian land." In fact, he wrote the story because, in his opinion, "Keeping Christmas well" was out of season all the time. Dickens' ultimate hope was, of course, that through the power of his narratives the reader would, like the main characters, be transformed as well.

A Christmas Carol is not about a sweet little crippled boy, but instead is about the social conditions of Dickens' Britain. The story had (and still has) a strong social message. In and through the story, Dickens was appealing in general to the people of Britain to lead less selfish lives, and in particular to the rich to take seriously their duty of care for those less fortunate. He had visited Cornish tin mines early in 1843 and saw children laborers at work. He visited the Field Lane Ragged School in London, one of several institutions trying to educate hungry and illiterate children. After these experiences, he wrote A Christmas Carol in six weeks. During the writing of the "hymn" he said in a letter that he "wept and laughed and wept again...and in thinking walked the black streets of London...when all sober folks had gone to bed". In fact, the magic and mystery of his literary hymn exhibited a "strange mastery" over him, but a mastery of joy and love which he was impatient to return to each working day.

Dickens had a lot to weep and laugh about. For years the poor had not only been neglected by society, but also lived under the burden of a social philosophy and political policies that actually justified that neglect. In 1803 Thomas Malthus wrote the essay entitled Principle of Population. In it Malthus argued that any human being that could not be supported by his or her parents, and could not provide labor that was useful and required by society, had "no claim or right to the smallest portion of food." He went on to say that such people also had "no business" even being in society and that their death would "decrease the surplus population."

When society refuses people food, shelter, and work, there is only one place for them to go, or to be, and Scrooge, the character representing the Malthusian position, had no difficulty in saying precisely where or what that place was -- death. Scrooge, of course, had no time for the celebration of the child of salvation. For him Tiny Tim, whose parents could not support him and whose ill health made it impossible for him to become a good laborer for society, could simply die. When just before Christmas Scrooge was asked to make a contribution to help provide for the "Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present," people in the thousands lacking common necessities and in the hundreds of thousands wanting common comforts, he responded:

"Are there no prisons?"
"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman laying down his pen again.
”And the Union Workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. Are they still in operation?"
"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."
"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then? said Scrooge.
"Both very busy. sir."
"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Scrooge. "I'm very glad to hear it."

The gentlemen, not giving up, explained to Scrooge that such provisions hardly "furnished Christmas cheer of mind or body to the multitudes" and that they were collecting funds to give the poor "meat and drink, and a means of warmth." But again Scrooge refused to give saying he wished to be left along. He then said, in full Malthusian passion:

"I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned--they coast enough; and those who are badly off must go there."
"Many can't go there; and many would rather die."
"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

Hope and warning are powerfully told when Scrooge met the Spirit of Christmas Present. As the evening passed the Spirit took Scrooge to homes where they stood beside the bedsides of the sick who, nonetheless, were cheerful. They visited those who struggled and were still living in great hope. They visited those who lived in poverty and were rich in spirit. And they visited the almshouses, hospitals, prisons where people experienced misery but had not "made fast the door and barred the Spirit out" thus allowing him to enter their misery and give the gift of blessing.

As the long night unfolded before him, time and space seemed to lose meaning for Scrooge, except that he noticed the Spirit was growing visibly older. He asked if life was so short for all spirits and the Spirit replied that his life would end that very night at midnight. As the chimes rang three quarters past eleven, with death approaching, hope turned to warning. Scrooge saw something in the folds of the Spirits clothing...

"Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask," said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit's robe, "but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?"

"It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it," was the Spirit's sorrowful reply. "Look here!" exclaimed the Ghost. "They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.”

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

"Spirit! are they yours?" Scrooge could say no more.

"They are Man's," said the Spirit, looking down upon them. "And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!" cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand toward the city. "Slander those who tell it ye! Admit if for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end! “Have they no refuge or resource?" cried Scrooge.” Are there no prisons?" said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. "Are there no work-houses?"
The bell struck twelve.

Dickens speaks with passion and power about the Spirit of Salvation. He sings the Spirit's blessings, for where he visits there is health, joy, home, and hope. Where the Spirit smiles, needs are met and comforts are offered. Dickens does not, however, sentimentalize the vision, for wrapped within the very clothing of the Spirit is the misery caused by human thought and deed. We shutter when we realize that the grotesque monsters revealed are the results of human exploits. We reel at the devils before us are in fact human beings and, once again, children. We desperately reach for a self-defense, any self-defense, when we are reminded that such human suffering belongs not to God but to us. We ache when we see how the suffering cling to the Spirit and look upon us with fear.

Perhaps it is time we re-read Dickens. If we were to "keep Christmas well" we would experience the wholeness of salvation's blessings. We would be filled with joy and pierced through the heart. In this world, both must be ours.

A Christmas Carol Scrooge ends with these words:

Scrooge had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, Every one!

 Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Tuesday
Nov282017

My Moment with Charles Manson

Manson at Corcoran State Prison, August 2017Charles Manson is dead. He died on November 17, 2017 of natural causes at the age of 83. I suspect for the vast number of people who remember him the, reaction upon hearing the news was “good riddance.” Having said that, he did, or does, have a cult following. The underground debated whether or not he was just a sick bastard or Christ returned. The Weather Underground positively loved the killings. Vincent Bugliosi in a prologue to the 1994 edition of his book Helter Skelter, a book about the murders and the Manson Family, quoted a BBC staff member claiming a neo-Manson cult exits in Europe, including seventy bands that play songs by Manson and songs in support of the killer. There are half a dozen popular songs written about Manson, including Revolution Blues by Neil Young, Look at Your Game, Girl by Guns N’ Roses. And there are at least seven works of fiction devoted to Manson’s story, including: Helter Skelter a drama for TV; the film Manson Family Movies; the novel Dead Circus; and a Broadway musical called Assassins that focuses the Manson Family.

Manson lived a lot of his life in California State Prison at Corcoran, but on September 25, 1984 he was sent to the California Medical Facility at Vacaville, California. He needed medical care because a fellow inmate named Jan Holmstrom poured paint thinner on him and lit a match. Manson ended up with second and third-degree burns on 20 percent of this body. Apparently Mason had objected to Holmstrom’s Hare Krishna chants.

The medical facility at Vacaville is a prison. It was there that I met Manson. The inmates at Vacaville called it the Holiday Inn of Prisons. The hallways were painted much like my high school and many other institutional buildings. When I was visiting the prison most inmates could roam fairly freely for many hours of each day. I went to group therapy sessions, the chapel, the medical ward, and visited with individual inmates.  

In addition to the medical wing, I remember two other distinct wards. One was an honors ward where inmates with good behavioral records were housed. At the entrance of the ward was a painted line and an inmate seated at a small table. He greeted me and the guard who was giving me a tour of the prison. The guard explained that I was being shown the prison and stepped over the line. The inmate quickly got up, welcomed us, and said he would announce our presence in case any of the inmates were going to the toilet (the toilets in the cells, or houses as the inmates called them, were completely visible to anyone looking through the cell door window). The guard said that was not necessary because I could see whatever I wanted whenever I wanted and proceed down the ward. I hung back behind the line, nodded to the inmate, and let him check each cell before I entered.

The guard wasn’t a bad man. It’s just that he worked inside an organism with its own rules of conduct and decency. While he would never watch someone going to the toilet outside the prison, inside he lived by different and distorted rules. He was a guard and they were inmates. Not much more to say. I had not yet been in the organism long enough to be infected and thus for my understanding of proper conduct and decency to be challenged. I wondered if, suspected that, if I lived long enough inside the belly of this Holiday Inn beast I to would be compromised.

The section ward in the prison that remains vivid in my memory after all these years was the high security ward where serious offenders were kept and movement was more restricted. When Manson was not in the medical facility, he was in the high security ward. I can’t remember why I entered this ward, but at the time I was on my own.

Manson's booking photo for San Quentin State Prison in California on January 25, 1971.WikiMedia CommonsThere was a narrow circular steel staircase, I think painted green, leading up to the second level. I began walking up that staircase and about midway I realized someone was descending. Because the staircase was so narrow I stopped and squeezed myself against the railing to let the other person pass by. When the man coming down the staircase reached me, he stopped and faced me. It was Charles Manson. We stood face to face, nose to nose, looking in each other’s eyes. We were almost touching. We could smell each other. I wasn’t frightened, just surprised. I knew Manson was in the prison, but of course never thought I’d meet him. Nor did I want to meet him. We stood there staring at each other until he said hello and continued walking down the stairs. As he squeezed by I also said hello and then proceed up to the second level.

On the drive back down to the Bay Area I thought about this brief yet intense, almost intimate, encounter. His gaze was deeply concentrated, but wouldn’t that be so for most any inmate crammed up so close, belly to belly, to an outsider. I was not mesmerized. I was not impressed. I did not feel special or excited. Still, it was interesting being so close to someone so utterly brutal who had mesmeric influences over others. Is interesting the right word? Yes and no. The encounter was also something else, slightly beyond the intellectual. Something also visceral.

You’ll be happy to know that I didn’t become a cult member or seek out The Family. I didn’t read his writings, sing is songs, or write a book all about a grizzle murder conducted by a man with a swastika tattooed on his forehead. Still, I haven’t forgotten the encounter after all these years, and goodness knows I’ve forgotten most everything else.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

 

 

 

Wednesday
Nov152017

One Simple Question: Where are All the Massacres?

After each large mass shooting in the United States we are immediately told that the shooter is crazy and that the cause of the tragedy is not guns but mental illness. After the church massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Trump said:

This isn’t a guns situation. This is a mental health problem at the highest level. It’s a very, very said event. A very, very sad event, but that’s the way I view it. 

It may be that the Texas murderer is mentally ill. It may be that all mass killers are mentally ill. And it may be that the United States has a mental health problem. But so do other countries. There are people with mental problems in every country on earth.

Studies have shown that approximately 26.% of Americans suffer from some kind of mental disorder, ranging from anxiety to schizophrenia. Around 27% of Europeans exhibit a wide range of mental problems. In Australia about 20% of people suffer some form of mental problems. In New Zealand 16% of people were diagnosed with some sort of mental health issue. And approximately 20% of Canadians experience mental problems. 

So, I have a simple question to ask our elected officials and the NRA:

If mass killings are a mental health issue and not a weapon ownership issue, where are all the massacres in, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom Germany, France, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, etc.?  

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Tuesday
Nov072017

The American Drama: Mass Killing, Prayers, Mental Illness, and Nothing

There’s been another mass shooting in America, this time in Sutherland Springs, Texas. As I write, 26 people were killed and about 20 people wounded by, yet again, a white male killer with a big gun. The big gun was a AR-15.

AR-15The AR-15 was invented by Eugene Stoner for the Armalite company. The AR stands for Armalite, not assault rifle. The rifle is loaded by a magazine that can hold anywhere from 10 to 75 bullets that feed automatically into the rifle as it is fired. 10 rounds is the legal limit in eight states, but not in the other 42 states. 50 round magazine, produced by companies like TorkMag and X-Products, are not uncommon. The AR-15 was the weapon of choice at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut; in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado; at the business day party in San Bernardino, California. The Orlando shooter used the standard AR-15 magazines and bullets in his killing spree. And, of course, the killer in Las Vegas, who brought to his massacre 23 weapons, used an AR-15 with a bump stock, which turned his semiautomatic into an automatic killing machine allowing more than 500 shots per minute, and magazines holding between 50 and 75 rounds. (You may recall that legislation was suggested to outlaw the bump stock. To date that has not happened. Bump stocks went back on sales one month after 58 people were killed and numerous other wounded. Sales skyrocketed after the massacre.)

Though there is not an agreed definition of what a mass shooting is in America, the FBI identifies a mass shooting as one incident in which four or more people are shot or killed. On average one mass shooting occurs in the United States every 24 hours. Obviously, most of these shootings are not reported on the national news. There are just too many of them. They are too commonplace. However, the large mass shootings like the ones in Newtown, Orlando, Sutherland Springs, and Las Vegas are part of the national drama played out over and over again. What can we expect from this drama?

1) A Call for Thoughts and Prayers.

This is, of course, not unreasonable and from the vast majority of people the call for prayer comes from a place of genuine concern. However, there is a rising chorus of people frustrated by the “thoughts and prayers” response because that is where it ends. People are beginning to wonder if the call for prayers, particularly from the men and women who make our laws and could do something about this American drama, might function more as a distraction than a means of healing. If we’re all busy in the sacred duty of prayer we won’t be busy in the mundane, dirty business of talking about violence and weapons in American society.

There is also a theological issue at play here. Presumably Americans who pray believe in a god that intervenes in human affairs and individual lives. If so, what exactly do they want their god to do? Support? Heal? Stop the carnage?

President Obama’s two tweets after Sutherland Springs were interesting:

We grieve with all the families in Sutherland Springs harmed by this act of hatred, and we’ll stand with the survivors as they recover... May God also grant all of us the wisdom to ask what concrete steps we can take to reduce the violence and weaponry in our midst.

The second tweet is instructive. Obama at least wants his god to grant us wisdom to at least ask about how we might reduce the killing. Bottom line: Whatever god Americans believe in, by whatever name they use to identify their god, that god will not stop the killing. Only we can do that, and I guess asking questions would be a start. But to date, our leaders have been unwilling to even do that. The price of even commonsense gun legislation is too high. The killing therefore will continue.

2) The Killer is Mentally Ill.

Well before any motive of why a person, usually a white male, decided to massacre people has been established, the person will be declared crazy, insane, unhinged, mentally ill by politicians. Trump made it clear that a man walking into a church armed with a AR-15 is a mental health issue, not a gun issue. As he pointed out that the US, like other countries, has a mental health problem. But arming mentally ill people with war-like weapons is not part of the problem.

3) Do Not Politicize the Tragedy.

Both GOP politicians and the conservative media demand that each mass shooting not be politicized in honor of the dead, the wounded, and the grieving. Any attempt to address gun violence in America is criticized and shut down. There is a suggestion that a time will come for such discussions, but somehow that time never arrives. This rule holds fast if the killer is a white male. It does not apply if the killer is a Muslim. If Muslim kills Americans, we talk politics immediately.

4) Arm the Citizenry.

Immediately after a mass killing there will be a call to arm everyone. Political leaders in Texas are urging churches to arm their members or at least hire security guards to protect them from fellow citizens. When it is suggested that a semiautomatic weapon like the AR-15 should once again be outlawed, the suggestion is called naïve, the point being that it is simply too late to outlaw the weapon. American society is so saturated with weapons legislation would only deny a lawful citizen the right to protect himself or herself. And so we have the image of a worship service with the congregation cradling their AR-15s, locked and loaded, because we know, as sure as we know the sun will rise, that another Sutherland Springs will occur.

5) Nothing.

We will mourn. We will pray. We will pontificate. And we will do nothing.

I have begun to wonder if the point that it is simply too late to deweaponize America is correct. There are just too many weapons. The Second Amendment has been so thoroughly reified. The ownership of weapons has been so completely linked to the concepts of freedom, liberty and the great American myth. And the weapons themselves have been deified beyond any point of reason and return. Killing each other is acceptable. We know it will happen. We play out our American drama with theatrical precision. We seek a bizarre realty where everyone carries weapons everywhere with the open acceptance that the killing will continue.

Death, at least in part, defines us. We embrace it in our ongoing dystopian American drama.

You, an individual among billions of individuals, will most likely not die do to gun violence. But if you want to increase your odds, I know where you should live.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Saturday
Oct282017

My Book is Not an Airplane Book

I was in the New Orleans Art Center and two people who bought my book said something like, “This is great. I have a flight coming up.” To which I said, “That’s great. It’s a good airplane book.”

Now that some time has passed, I don’t think it’s a good idea to tell people my new book is an airplane book. To me an airplane book is a book that demands nothing of you, particularly the demand to think about what you’re reading. Read Chapter 3 and then tell me that I’m wrong. I tell people it’s a fun book with a dark side. But it isn’t an airplane book. Or I hope it isn’t.

The title of the book is The Girl in the Silver Mask. I’m not comfortable with the title for the simple reason that there is no girl in the story. There are women, but no girls. So, I have my protagonist, Drake Ramsey, an author like me, only successful, unable to develop the plot of his new book because he’s fixated on coming up with title with the word “girl” in it. Drake says,

I don’t actually have a plot idea yet, because I can’t stop thinking about the title. I know. Little bit of horse-before-the-cart stuff, but have you noticed how many successful books out there have the word girl in the title? Years ago it was horse. Awhile back, it was wife. Now it’s girl. I think that Larsson fella got it started...

You see my problem. How can I figure out a plot, when I’m going crazy trying to think of a title with the word girl in it? It’s important. I’m sure you see my point. And how many first-time best-selling authors’ second books have flopped? A lot! Well, not mine. I’m covering my ass on this.

Drake then lists over fifty books with the word “girl” in the title. To be clear, I found the titles on Amazon and in bookstores. For a while every time I walked into a bookstore I carried a pad to jot down titles with the “girl” in them. I’m sure my fifty plus titles listed on page 4 of the paperback edition are just the tip of the where-have-all-of-the-feminist-gone iceberg. My editor wanted me to delete the whole lot saying no one would read them. Of course people won’t read them. The impact is visual. If I had found fifty more titles with the word “girl” in them, I would have included them as well.

I was walking past a bookstore on Decatur Street and through the large front window I saw a customer looking through a copy of The Girl in the Silver Mask. I almost stopped to watch, then thought Philip Roth would never do that. So, I moved on never knowing if she actually bought the book. It was an odd feeling, I think mostly because the odds of passing a bookstore that actually has a copy of The Girl in the Silver Mask on display at the very moment a customer is looking it over must be breathtakingly enormous. Still, if she actually did buy the book there is a good chance she will enjoy it. And I do hope she would enjoy the inside joke about the word “girl.”  

As I write this, there are three bookstores in New Orleans displaying my book. I should have taken photos of the books on the shelves to show you, to relieve you of the burden of having to trust me. But I figured that Chuck Palahniuk doesn’t walk into bookstores and take pictures of his books so I put my cell back in my pocket.

I had three humble “author events” while in New Orleans. The first was at the New Orleans Art Center, which you should definitely visit if you are in NOLA. The cover image of The Girl in the Silver Mask was designed by Alan Zakem of ZakemArt.com. Tina and Herman, who own and run the Art Center, displayed some of Alan’s work and set up a table with my books. Alan talked about his art, me about my book. I sold some books, though admittedly not many.  

The second event was also at the Art Center and I filled the artist talking about their work spot. I found this interesting though we didn’t need police for crowd control. Still, I sold some books. I wonder if Roberto Bolaño every sold any of his books in an art gallery.

The third event was in the Treme Coffeehouse. The book opens in the Treme Coffeehouse with these words: “A few days before Halloween, I was sitting in the Treme Coffeehouse, counting my heartbeats.” It was a good idea to have a reading at the café. The Coffeehouse and I provided free coffee, cookies, and cake, as a bribe, and I did a short reading. Problem was, I was terrible! So embarrassing. I bet Cormac McCarthy never humiliated himself like that. Amazingly, I sold some books, and ate some cake. Once again, crowd control was not a problem.

Now that I’m back from New Orleans I’m waiting for The Girl in the Silver Mask to go viral. When it does, I’m going to give a bucket load of money to the New Orleans Art Center and the Treme Coffeehouse, anonymously of course. Given that I am not Roth, Bolaño, or McCarthy, Herman and Tina in the Center and Tracy in the Coffeehouse took a chance on me. Yes, they made a little money too, but I need to emphasize the world “little.”

So, if you want a fun book with a dark side, give The Girl in the Silver Mask a try. Your purchase could be the one to get the viral ball rolling, or more accurately, clicking. And I would suggest that you hold judgement on the whole airplane thing until you’re done with Chapter 3. I bet Milan Kundera never said that.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Thursday
Oct052017

The American Marriage of Freedom and Death

Since the Las Vegas mass shooting I’ve heard it said that the 59 deaths and the 527 injuries are the price we pay for our freedom. I’m assuming that by extension the one mass shooting every day* and the 90 deaths and 200 injuries due to one-on-one weapon violence every day are also the price of freedom. Death and injury by weapon violence in the United States is so commonplace it is taken for granted by the citizenry. Killing each other is as American as apply pie.

It is an interesting and disturbing concept that to be a patriotic American you must suport weapon ownwership  and accept the link between killing and freedom. I am not saying that people after Las Vegas were claiming freedom is maintained through the killing of our fellow citizens. Of course they were not. I am saying that many defenders of the 2nd Amendment insist that the killing is an acceptable cost of maintaining the right to own weapons and thus our freedom. It's almost as though there is a kind of organic link between the two. Take away the primary source of the killing, our weapons, and our freedom dissolves.

It might surprise many in the United States that there are countries around the world where people are just as free as Americans and do not associate the safeguarding of their freedom with weapon ownership and the killing of fellow citizens. The link between maintaining freedom and citizen on citizen killing is incomprehensible to them. The notion that death is some kind of unavoidable byproduct of having freedom is nonsensical. The claim that enduring the continual killing of citizens by citizens is an unfortunate requirement of a free people is insanity.

When I lived in Great Britain, after every mass shooting in the United States people would ask me to explain why Americans continue to kill each other when steps could be taken to at least reduce the slaughter. They would explain that after the massacre of sixteen children and one teacher in Dunblane in 1996 the British government, with the support of the people, enacted gun control. Since Dunblane there has only been one mass shooting and death by gun violence has gradually gone down. They would point out that after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, when thirty-five people died and twenty-three others were injured, the Australian government legislated for gun control which resulted in a dramatic fall in gun violence and no more mass shootings. 

Of course I talked about the 2nd Amendment and did my best to explain the importance of the US Constitution. I spoke about the incredible power and wealth of the National Rifle Association and its influence on our elected state and federal officials. But it didn’t really help. When I said that the right to own weapons is more important than the lives of our children, people just stare in disbelief. And why should they understand the outlandish reality that in the United States the concept of freedom is intimately married to the killing of citizens?

Ironically, those of us advocating for at least anemic gun control would never suggest the United States consider the measures taken by Britain and Australia to protect its citizens. We would not be so naïve and foolish. This is America, after all. No, we are simply pleading for at least humble beginnings to stop the carnage. Make it illegal for mentally disturbed people to buy weapons. Make it illegal for potential terrorist to buy weapons. Make it illegal for everyone to buy weapons that are more suited for warfare then hunting and home protection. But even these commonsense restrictions are unacceptable. The NRA fought for and won the right of people on the no fly list, that is people the FBI suspect might be terrorist, to purchase weapons. Why? Apparently to protect our freedom. (There is more to say here since the vast majority of mass shootings are done by “normal” American white males.)  

For a society to marry freedom to death in such a visceral and pseudo religious way is an indication of a serious social pathology. While we accept regulation in other areas of our lives, absolutely no regulation is allowed when it comes to our sacred weapons. We have a zillion regulations and laws protecting citizens from dangerous cars and kitchen stoves, flammable furniture fabric and scolding hot coffee, dangerous toys and dangerous medication. If a fire in a high rise kills residents, we learn what happened and take steps to prevent it from happening again. If a car proves to be dangerous, it is recalled. Our safety culture is alive and well. But when it comes to weapons, that harm and kill people every day, absolutely no regulations are allowed. No adjustments to make the weapons less dangerous are allowed. No restrictions on who can purchase a weapon are allowed. No restrictions on what kinds of weapons can be sold are allowed. The government is not even allowed to study the impact of gun violence on the nation.

This kind of societal behavior is simply bizarre and sick. To accept that one cost of our freedom is killing each other each and every day is a sign of a corporate social illness. And note. We are not talking about the killing of a common outside enemy threatening our freedom. We are talking about the killing of fellow citizens. We are killing each other. Only a violent and pathological society could accept such a reality.

People have been saying that self-imposed death is the cost of freedom. What they should be saying is that self-imposed death is the cost of freedom in the United States. It is a uniquely American pathology.  For only in America have people reified an ancient clause and thus accept a philosophical, pseudo theological, political, and psychological fusing of freedom and death.

* The FBI defines a mass shooting as four or more people killed and/or injured during a single shooting incident.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Tuesday
Oct032017

A Book, a Website, and a Film

This past week I’ve been introduced to a book, a website and a film project and I think all three are with sharing with you.

The Book

First up is a book of short stories edited by M LeMont called As Fate Would Have It, a collection of eclectic stories you might like. From the book’s blurb:

This is the new genre of FEARLESS writers– Six Authors with Eight compelling short stories that are a heady mix of adrenaline, suspense, and adventure. Some of these stories will make you laugh out loud. Some will make you cry. Others will shock you. However, you feel, they all will evoke emotions and make you think. As an avid reader & passionate writer, I’m always on the lookout for ideas and collaborations that enhance the pleasures of writing and reading. What started out as a casual conversation with one author turned out to be an exciting collaboration venture; the idea of bringing together my favorite authors who each had a distinct style of writing and riveting, thought provoking stories to share, into a single compilation was both refreshing and invigorating.

The book has just been released as an eBook and so far the reviews are pretty good. But  I need to come clean. I have a story in the book entitled The Poetry of Being Human. One review said this about my story:

The story that I immediately connected to was, The Poetry of Being Human. Literary voice with a message about unrequited love, lost connections and a perspective into the perils of daily life in El Salvador and Nicaragua during a revolution. The rumination of how women were treated within the culture was yet another layer I appreciated. This was an exceptionally written story and I was thrilled to discover it. This is the sort of text I can read again and again.

So if you want to read The Poetry of Being Human you can find it in As Fate Would Have It. However, the story is also in one of my books, Notes from 39,000 Feet which is a collection of thoughts, reflections, essays, and two fictitious short stories.

The Website

My Sister, Our DeathSecond on my round of things that might interest you is a new website. The site is simply called Elizabeth Gray-King. Elizabeth is an unusual and interesting person. She says on her About Me page:

I'm a strange combination of person. When I describe myself on days I teach project management, I explain that each day, I wear three hats. One is that I'm an ordained minister in the United Reformed Church. Ordained since 1988, my work moved from local ministry to broader ministry, mostly giving project support to the work of the Education & Learning Committee, but also to Safeguarding and Mission. Another hat is that I'm a project manager in my marrow, and with collegues in our company, Gray-King & Gray, I've been interim manager, research manager, mentor, organisational development supporter and much more. Now, it's mostly teaching project Management for charities via the Directory of Social Change.

The third hat, and the one most visible on my website, is that of artist. I'm known as an artist theologian, using my artwork to illustrate complex concepts and to explain some of my own theological thinking about who God may be and how we may relate to God.  

Elizabeth’s website focuses on her art work, though it also includes her blog. I have admired her paintings for years, but her drawings were new to me. I loved them and share one here.

Elizabeth is a fascinating person, talented and intelligent. I very much encourage you to visit her site and do communicate with her if you wish too.

 

The Film

Finally, on my roundup is a film project. The film is called Nēar. The film touches an entire spectrum of inclusion. It follows seventeen year old Julian, played by Skylan Brooks (Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete, Southpaw, Netflix' The Get Down, Crown Heights).

Julian is a shroom dealing orphan who has moved out of the group home and is living on his own in Stockton, California. In the film, Julian has been hospitalized because he is suffering from a disease called “Danon, ” a heart condition that kills boys between the ages of 7 to 17 within months. He escapes from a hospital deciding to find his estranged father, his only remaining relative.

Nēar is a project in the making. It will be the first American feature film shot in one take. As the film’s publicity says: “Yes, one take, not Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman, not Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, and not last year's indie one-take German breakout Victoria, but Nēar.” 

Click on the above link and have a closer look at the details.  

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Sep272017

That Uncomfortable American Flag Code

Millions of Americans are once again having seizures because they think others are disrespecting the United State flag. We seem to go through this from time to time, the last infliction being in the 1960’s. This time it started with Colin Kaepernick kneeling on one knee during the national anthem at a San Francisco 49ers football game. He said the following concerning his protest:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

To be honest, other than the good folks at Fox News there wasn’t an overwhelming response to Kaepernick’s actions or his statement. Only a few players followed his example and after a brief storm things quieted down. However, things changed when Trump essentially called the protesters sons of bitches and said they should be fired. A small protest morphed into a huge protest migrating into baseball, basketball, and entertainment.

While Kaepernick did say he did not want to “show pride” in the flag, his stated reason for protesting was and is about the oppression and the killing of “black people and people of color.” Though white people find it difficult to understand, people of color are under assault. Depending on who you are and where you stand, the protest remains a nonviolent action against oppression or is instead an act that disrespect the flag, national anthem, and military.

I have never revered flags or songs but I do recognize that others do, so a quick few thoughts for those who see the protection of the Stars and Stripes paramount.

On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution which stated: "Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation." Today we hold Flag Day on June 14 of each year. The design of the flag has been modified officially 26 times since 1777.  

What I suspect few Americans know is that there actually is a Flag Code. On June 14, 1923 the National Flag Conference adopted the National Flag Code. Some minor changes were made at the Flag Conference in 1924. Congress became involved on June 22, 1942 when it passed a joint resolution which was amended on December 22, 1942 to become Public Law 829; Chapter 806, 77th Congress, 2nd session. If you do indeed revere the flag, you might want to read the Flag Code found in United States Code Title 36 Chapter 10. You will find it interesting.

According to my computer it is 4,515 words long. You will find the following topics:

  • National anthem; Star-Spangled Banner.
  • Conduct during playing
  • Pledge of allegiance to the flag; manner of delivery
  • Display and use of flag by civilians; codification of rules and customs; definition
  • Time and occasions for display
  • Position and manner of display
  • Respect for flag
  • Conduct during hoisting, lowering or passing of flag;
  • Modification of rules and customs by President;
  • Design for service flag; persons entitled to display flag;
  • Design for service lapel button; persons entitled to wear button;
  • Approval of designs by Secretary of Defense; license to manufacture and sell; penalties;
  • Rules and regulations;

Basically, the code is more than you every wanted to know about a flag. And as it turns out, knowing everything about the flag is rather inconvenient for those who condemn others for there alleged disrespect.

Since the current unrest centers on disrespect of the flag I want to draw your attention to the Respect for flag section. It begins:

No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.

The section includes the things we are familiar with: the flag should not touch the ground; it should not be displayed with the union down (upside down); etc. But there are some prohibitions that may surprise you:

  • The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery;
  • The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling;
  • The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature;
  • The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown;
  • No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.

Now, let’s let a few pictures  do the talking.

The flag should not be used on clothing!
The flags should not be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever!


 

 

It’s obvious that millions of Americans and numerous companies and corporations disrespect the United States flag each and every day according to the Flag Code. Country Western singer see no problem wearing the flag on their clothing. Budweiser thought using the flag was a good way to sell beer. What is fascinating is that putting the revered flag on a can of beer or on women’s underpants is fine, but kneeling during the national anthem while the flag flies on high is deemed unpardonable. Wearing the flag is patriotic. Using the flag to sell products is capitalism. Kneeling to protest the assaults on and murder of African Americans is unforgivable.  

One last thought. What is more disrespecting of the American flag, which is, of course, just a symbol for what the country is and strives to be, kneeling or racism? Rosa Parks was not protesting buses. The NFL players are not protesting the flag. I suspect Kaepernick and the other protesters would be okay with the flag if police would stop shooting and killing unarmed African Americans, racist oppression would cease, justice was truly colorblind, and there actually was equality in these United States.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Sep202017

Three Bangkok Cafés I’ll Never See Again

Café First ~ Walley House Restaurant

In Bangkok I stay in a small but pleasant hotel on the Chin River, a tributary of the Chao Phraya River. It’s called Hotel Mystic Place. It was my first day in Bangkok and I couldn’t sleep so at about 11:45 pm I left he hotel looking for a place to get something to eat. What I found was the Walley House Restaurant.

As far as I could see, the Walley House was simply a number of small tables, all for two people, hugging the walls of a narrow alley. The alley walls were dirty yellow. Plants hung from green posts located every six feet or so. Strung from pipes running along the walls, also painted green, were bells ringing in the breeze. There was corn hanging from the rafters. Outside the alley entrance were tuk tuks raced by and filthy beaten down dogs stood, no doubt smelling he food. One dog walked up to my table, looked at me, then curled up by my feet. It didn’t ask for anything. The Walley House was down and dirty, but the food was good, the Singha beer was cold, and I couldn’t sleep.


Café Second ~ Tha Tien Pier Café

I hopped on a Chao Phraya Express Boat running a watery taxi service on the Chao Phraya River. I alighted at Tha Tien Pier because I was told there was a large reclining Buddha in the area. And indeed there was. From my reckoning, a huge reclining Buddha. The temple was being worked on and there were colourful broken tiles in numerous piles. I took what looked like a green leaf as a souvenir.

As you walk up the dock at Tha Tien Pier immediately to your right is, what I called, the Tha Tien Pier Café. It was constructed of a potpourri of wood, corrugated steel, old signs, and was built over the water. I sat at table for two on the riverside and watched three young boys swimming in the river, which was filthy. There was a latter built onto the dock which they eventually used to escape the trash and plastic bottles floating on the water. Still, the looked happy enough.

All the tables were old worn wood with Formica surfaces chipped and peeling. In front of me were three drunk Thais sharing a bottle of whisky. Across the river was the Wat Arun temple and as I sat there numerous monks came across the river, walked up the dock, past the café, and continued, presumably, to the temple the reclining Buddha. One, however, stopped and took a seat in the café not far from me. He was dressed in the traditional saffron civara and sat quietly drinking a Lipovitan-D. The waiter completely ignored him and he seemed quite contented just sitting staring at the dock. He was an elderly man with a dignified profile. When he had finished his Lipovitan-D, he placed the small bottle on the table, signalled the waiter, and whispered in his ear. The waiter nodded and the old monk got up and walked away.

Floating quietly below and to my left, its huge car engine and long tiller system at rest, was a long-tail boat. Long-tail boats are used as a river taxis pausing at designated stops and people’s homes along Klong Man Canal. A few days later, the owner of the café told me not to rent a boat on my own, as tourists often did. It was not uncommon to take tourists out into the middle of the Chao Phraya River, turn off the engine, and ask for more money. Instead the owner of the café made arrangements for me to ride on a long-tail up the Klong Man Canal with the locals and back again to Tha Tien Pier.

The Tha Tien Pier Restaurant was run by one family. The son cooked the meals. A young girl who brought me my beer then sat and did her homework. The mother and daughter cleaned and bought supplies. The father sat, always with a happy surprised look on his face, not judgmental or mocking, just good natured, as if life was always a wonder to him. Behind and slightly to my right were stairs leading up to the family’s living quarters. The youngest, a beautiful little girl with a bright smile, was forever running up and down those stairs.

As I sat at my table I could watch my meal being cooked in large woks heated with gas cylinders right in front of me. I never saw those woks cleaned, and I ate at the café over several days. The water that was heated to cook meats, vegetables, rice and noodles was never dumped and replaced, just replenished. Small fish swam below the cooking area where they threw food over the railing. Sitting there I could smell the food cooking, constantly surrounded by a mixing of aromas. The air was hot but the Singha beer was cold.


Café Third ~ Blade Runner Café

Walking through sections of Bangkok it often seemed to me that people occupied concrete space on large roads or boulevards between large concrete buildings and built homes and small business out of wood, corrugated metals, cardboard, whatever they could lay their hands on. As a result I often walked down very narrow roads, alleyways really, sometimes in the shadows of the high city buildings. One evening well after dark, I walked down such an alleyway. People were out along the way, both working and simply doing what people do – living. I walked past a young woman cleaning dishes in a large plastic bowl in front of four hotplates. No doubt her small business. Children, doing what children do all around the world, were playing. Men sat smoking. Most of them looked at me as I walked by.

I eventually came to a small café with two large doors open to the alleyway. I could see no name, neither outside above the doors or inside. Inside the café was dark. It was like walking into a cave. Low burning feeble lightbulbs hung from the ceiling, which was quite low. The place was humble, to say the least.

To my right on the wall was a television showing the movie Terminator. I claimed a table and watched Arnold do his thing. In the back of the room was a red neon sign advertising international telephone calls. Under the sign were half a dozen booths with, you guessed it, telephones. Today no doubt, if that small café still exists, there will be monitors with internet connections. Sitting there in a run down less then clean café, drinking my beer, the clash of poverty and technology struck me. And as if on cue, it started to rain outside, the rain pounding down into the alleyway between high rises, splashing in through the open door. If felt like I had just stepped into the film Blade Runner.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger