The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

22 January 2020
by skzb
15 Comments

On Due Process

Re-posted here from Facebook, by request.

I would love to see Dick Cheney arrested. I would love to see him put on trial for war crimes. And Bush, and Obama, and Trump. And Kissinger, for a thousand reasons. And, yeah, Hillary Clinton for what she did to the Libyans (not to mention the Haitian women, though I don’t think that was illegal by international law). And let’s not forget the Wall Street bankers who caused the 2008 crash, and destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of innocent people. I’d love to see them all arrested.

But if there is one individual who, to me, represents all that is most foul and revolting and who deserves to face judgement for his actions, it’s Dick Cheney. Like Trump, but with intelligence and self-control. Yeah, I would love to see him put on trial.

But here’s the thing: if I had the power, I would want him to have a fair trial, with due process, the right to confront witnesses, the right to counsel, the rules of evidence, and, as much as humanly possible, without a poisoned jury pool.

Because if you take the most loathsome human being in the world (and Cheney is at least a good candidate), and demand, and insist, that he get a fair trial and due process, you are doing the best you can to insure that, should it ever come up, YOU will get a fair trial. Remember that trial by jury, presumption of innocence, and all the rest were not gifts of a magnanimous ruling class, they were fought for, and won, by the most oppressed layers of society, and with good reason.

If we let the courts get away with–if, god help us, we encourage–anything less in the case of someone we despise, it is not ultimately the powerful who will suffer.

19 December 2019
by skzb
18 Comments

A Christmas Memory

I posted this on Facebook, but, on reflection, I kinda like the story, so I’m going to post it here as well.

One year when I was, I don’t know, about 12 I guess, someone outside the family gave Mom and Dad a game—one of those, “Read the question from the card and guess how the other person will answer” games. We played it, I think, Christmas afternoon. The question came up between Mom and Dad (I don’t even remember of whom it was originally asked) “How important is your job in making you happy?” and whoever did the guessing got it wrong, and was very surprised, and, it being a batch of Brusts, discussion ensued.

In the end, it came out that Dad’s position was that a person shouldn’t have to devote hours every day to something hateful and oppressive, but rather everyone should be able to do work that was rewarding and personally satisfying, and that was one reason he was a socialist.

Mom, on the other hand, thought that the job you held was unimportant, what mattered was the fight for socialism; being a revolutionary socialist was her profession, and her day job didn’t matter at all while that work was still to be carried out.

Just a matter of perspective.

That was Christmas in the Brust household. Merry Christmas, and long live the Fourth International.

4 October 2019
by skzb
15 Comments

Progress report

Staring at the screen went pretty well today. I squinted a couple of times, and cocked my head once at the last sentence. I thought about changing it, but then decided against it.

My eyes seem to be working well–I can see the last thing I typed, and exactly where the next word should go. As it will be a new paragraph, I have the indentation for it, and I checked that several times.

Also feel pretty good about rolling my shoulders as I looked at the spot where the next word will go, and about standing up and walking around, opening the fridge, closing the fridge, and sitting again. Sometimes getting up and moving can be a very important part of staring at the screen. I know it feels like, when you move around, you aren’t properly staring, but after a bit of motion, you can come back and stare in a more relaxed state.

I know for beginning writers, it can be difficult to know just how to stare at a screen. I wish I could help you on that, but everyone is so different. For me, sitting back and scowling works really well, but others need to crack their knuckles, and some have to pound on the desk for the stare to be really effective. You just need to find what works for you.

Okay, this was a little break for me; now that screen is waiting, and it won’t stare at itself!

1 October 2019
by skzb
23 Comments

A Cautionary Tale for New Writers

This is directed at those of you who are, or who are about to be, in the process of publishing your first novel, especially if it’s with a major publisher.  I’m going to tell you about something I screwed up with the idea that maybe you won’t, all right?

My first novel, Jar-head, or whatever it’s called, has this big, ugly blotch in it that makes me cringe every time I think about it.  It’s the line (quoting from memory because looking it up would be painful), “All of our Houses are named after one of our native animals.”  It doesn’t belong there, it sticks out, it is terrible exposition.

It wasn’t in the novel as I submitted it, I added it to editorial specification.  Except, and here’s the thing, when my editor (the amazing Terri Windling) suggested it, she specifically stated, or rephrase in your own words.

I was a newbie writer, dying with the excitement that I was actually having a book published, utterly lacking in anything that could be considered self-confidence, and the very idea of disagreeing with an editor was, well, how could I do that?  Who could do that?  I couldn’t do that.

Now, let’s be clear: this is on me, not on her.  She wanted a bit more exposition, which was not unreasonable.  I could have disagreed with the need for it, saying, “Hey, you figured it out, let’s assume the reader will too,” or I could have agreed and done what she told me to—found an elegant way to get that information across.  She would have been perfectly comfortable with either of those.  But I was new, intimidated, nervous, so I just copied what she said, even though I kinda knew at the time it wasn’t right.

So, okay, here’s my point: It’s your first book, and maybe you’re as intimidated as I was, but it is still your book, and your editor knows that.  We don’t  go into the editorial process with an Attitude, with a feeling of, “Don’t you dare touch my sacred prose!” but it is also wrong to be so subservient as to not even question anything.  You don’t want that, the reader doesn’t want that, and the editor doesn’t want that.

Here endeth the lesson.

 

28 August 2019
by skzb
19 Comments

Who Gets To Say?

I’ve been thinking about this one for a while now, trying to come up with an approach that won’t instantly shut down the ears of those it’s directed to. I’m pretty sure I’ve failed.

But a while ago I saw, again, the bald statement, “if you aren’t a Jew, you don’t get to say something isn’t antisemitic.” Of course, I’ve seen the same thing countless times regarding racism, sexism, &c.

There are a few problems with this approach. Here are the two biggest.

First is that, for anything worth paying attention to, it makes understanding impossible. One Jew says Ilhan Omar’s criticism of Israel is antisemitic, another says it isn’t (because, news flash, there’s going to be disagreement on anything but the most obvious cases) and who do you believe? If our only way of deciding is to listen to the unsupported pronouncement of various individuals, we cannot understand. If we cannot understand, we cannot act.

But more important is that, like so very much, like almost everything in this sort of middle class ideology, it denies any objective content and builds everything around personal feelings.

Making people feel bad is never desirable; but when you build your entire political ideology around how people feel, you’re maybe missing a few things.  For example, we are facing a climate crisis; that is objectively the case.  We feel worried about it because the polar ice caps are melting; the polar ice caps are not melting because we’re worried about it, and if someone isn’t worried about it, or if hearing about it makes someone feel bad, that will not slow down the rate of thaw.

The fundamental issues around antisemitism are not how it makes someone feel, but when it is used to whip up hatred that puts people in actual physical danger. The fundamental issue with migrants is that they are being killed, that children are being actively harmed, and, in a broader sense, that nationalism is being used to attempt to convince native-born workers that migrants or foreign workers are their enemy, not the capitalist who is exploiting both. What a migrant happens to feel about this at any given moment is pretty far down the list of concerns.

In our effort to understand, and fight, antisemitism, racial and sexual oppression, and the other forms of backwardness, we must, in my opinion, concentrate on changing the objective conditions that use and produce them. This requires understanding the objective conditions, which means for one thing, thinking things through (just how are accusations of antisemitism used to stifle opposition to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians?), and, for another, fighting to grasp the real-world forces, the class interests, that are in play.

Because when it comes down to it, our feelings, our emotions, are the product of our interactions with the world, the sum total of all we’ve experienced. And what we’ve experienced is living in a class society. One may be conscious of this, or unconscious of this; one may draw correct conclusions, or incorrect conclusions; but in the last analysis, class interests are the source of our feelings on antisemitism, racism, open borders, and everything else.

TL;DR:
1. Objective conditions can explain subjective feelings; the reverse is not true.
2. Identifying actual cases of bigotry is everyone’s responsibility, which means that if you disagree with my stand on whether something expresses antisemitism, one thing I am not going to do is ask your religion.