21
Jan 17

Transformative Meteorology

14 inches of snow fell on this little suburb in Vancouver Washington…When we lost power during the snowstorm, I went outside–whole area was blacked out entirely. But there was a suffused glow, kind of very soft purple, on everything, lighting the low clouds and houses. No shadows. Ambient light is there, faintly, all the time–except maybe in a deep cavern. It’s partly from “Airglow (also called nightglow) … a faint emission of light by a planetary atmosphere”–it shows up when there’s a great deal of snow over everything, the snow reflecting it back…It’s subtle, beautiful, but eerie.

You’ve probably noticed that when snow is falling, if you pick out a snowflake and try to follow it down, it seems to slow a little, because of the way you’re perceiving it, and then suddenly you see the general fall of snow more three-dimensionally. If you do it over and over, it makes time seem to lightly put on the brakes. At a time like that you may notice that each snowflake, in a lighted place, has a shadow. If you look at snow in the light, up close it seems iridescent; that’s from light going through billions of little prisms in ice crystals.

The sky was turquoise today, cloudless, sunny. I hired a scruffy but likable local kid–maybe 19–to clear the thick snow out of the driveway. After he did it I walked down the sloped driveway, and suddenly imitated a bumbler in an old comedy slipping on a banana. I went over backwards, and landed flat on my back. After I sat up, I saw there was a very attenuated, hard to see slick of ice remaining on the concrete. The snow had been melting, hiding its melt at the bottom. (My back is a bit achy but okay.) The snow coating the trees was melting at the top and that would start a cascade, more and more all the way to the bottom and there’d be a thin avalanche of snow under the trees, one every thirty seconds or so, up and down the street.

Snow has weight, as avalanche victims know; it’s quite amazing how heavy an accumulation of mere snowflakes can be: our magnolia tree collapsed. Fell over…The front yard tree I’d hung ornaments from for Christmas…


16
Jan 17

“YOU CAUSED THAT MAYHEM!”

Someone hand-wrote commentary all through a 3 day old newspaper I was looking at in a waiting room. The handwriting and certain hints make me picture an older lady, but one can’t know for sure. On an article about a woman who stabbed someone outside a bar, the commentator wrote “WHAT A CRAZY BITCH” with an arrow pointing to the picture of the accused. On an article about killer Dylan Roof was written: “EXECUTE THIS SCUM NOW” with a big arrow pointing at his picture; over an article about the Death Penalty in Washington state: “BRING ON THE DEATH PENALTY NOW AND START EXECUTING!” Over an article about Amazon plans to hire 100,000: “& ALL THE SHOPPING MALLS CLOSE THEN WHAT”. Over an article about a crazy guy who stabbed several people in his home: “& YOU CAN ROT IN JAIL” with an arrow pointing to his picture; over an article about a crazy lady who was fighting with sheriff’s deputies: “YOU BITCH ROT IN JAIL OR…WHEREVER! YOU CAUSED THAT MAYHEM!” Again, the helpful arrow. Over an article about a man accused of vehicular assault: “THIS SOB IS AT FAULT AND CAN ROT IN PRISON” with a helpful arrow pointing to a circled paragraph over which was: “GUILTY!” All the articles about violence were circled, along with a piece saying cigarette smoking costs the world one trillion annually (which makes mad at the cigarette companies too)…Amusing extremes, crazy person calling people crazy…and yet…

As I went on looking for these impromptu newspaper cliff notes, I started to find things like this: over a picture of Jeff Sessions the words “PISS ON HIM, RACIST LIAR”; and stuff about Trump “MAKE TRUMP PAY FOR THAT WALL” and on an article about the Wells Fargo scandal: “THEY SUCK”…and I started thinking, hey this lady, agrees with ME, she isn’t so crazy after all…And as far as I’m concerned they can execute Dylan Roof right away…

Anyway, perhaps what she’s doing is healthier than bringing YOU BITCH ROT IN HELL to social media…


06
Jan 17

Is the Internet an Engine of Information–or Destruction?

I’ve been inwardly debating, as many likely have since the election, as to whether the internet is a “win” for the world; whether it’s more positive than negative. What’s the net of the internet? What’s the ultimate sum of its value? Yes, I can think of many, many positives. For me, a great one is its value to science as an information sharing tool; its instantaneity helps spread scientific data, ideas, so that research is rocketing ahead. This is enormously helpful to medicine, of course–it will accelerate the arrival of treatments and cures. It’s hugely useful in all the sciences. . .Then there’s its social value. The Web helped Obama get elected President and yes that was a *good* thing–no President is ideal for everyone (if any President ever seems that they are, stop taking the government issued Soma). It’s useful in quickly exposing corruption; it’s useful on the street level for organizing resistance to oppression….The internet is useful to artists, to writers, at times. It’s useful to business. It’s useful to isolated people who need help, or just contact.

But the negatives are *powerful*. If anything, lies spread more easily than truths–since lies appeal to something in a way that is as primeval as internet porn’s appeal. Internet media is designed–almost instinctively, perhaps unconsciously–to exploit the set up of the human brain. Our reward wiring, our hormones. Fake news is more exciting, usually, than the contextual complexity of real news…People who are frustrated, scared, find it pleasurable to engage in the release of simple explanations, the outre but exciting explanations of conspiracy theory…or racism. Racist imagery can be addictive, for those people. It provides the embattled a reinforcement that stimulates internal pleasure, a pleasure released by the illusion of belonging. The internet can provide that over and over and over. It’s free drugs. The internet was supposed to bring us together; it seems to bring at least as much divisiveness as unity. Human beings are what they are– in any medium. Do not underestimate the bestiality and malleability of the human mind.

The internet has evolved (or devolved) into a mind control tool. And since social media itself massages our narcissism, social media is addictive–it can be good but one needs self control to indulge in it–and in order to avoid the hard work of going back to my novel, I’m spending too much time online. So…later on.


16
Dec 16

I have Laid a Cloak Over Your World

I have Laid a Cloak Over Your World

It snowed here, in southern Washington state, and I took this iphone pic of a small tree in our yard–of course it does not convey what a good camera, a good photographer would convey, the traceries of snow on the tree that bring its branchings into relief, that accentuate them. Undistinguished shrubs are wearing ermine, suddenly looking royal and distinctive. I’ve lived most of the last 30 years in California, and when I was a boy in Oregon it rarely snowed…The snow comes down in slanted whorls here…

The psychological effect on those of us raised with Christmas card imagery, the illusory cleansing effect, sets off an inward reverberation of cultural imprinting. Not unpleasant. Even without Christmas cards and Christmas movies, the transformation of the surface of the world, (usually without much damage, if any) impresses people. “Look!” Something says. “I have laid a cloak over your world, so that you feel mine.”


13
Dec 16

I Saw a Shoplifter Today Oh Boy

When I was in the Fred Meyer supermarket today, a big supermarket like Safeway, I saw a lady shoplifting. She was a middle aged black lady, and she had a shopping cart, a purse, and a big cloth bag of the sort people use when they don’t want to use the plastic or paper bags. But she was filling it up in the aisle with groceries,like instant noodles with cheese, and when she saw me turn the corner to enter the aisle she was in, she looked at me in something close to terror. The look on her face told me she was stealing.

I kept going, past her, and around the corner, but kept an eye on the area. I saw that she’d picked an aisle that was relatively near the exit. There was a path there that didn’t go through the cashier area, that skirted the customer service area. Only a couple people in the store *might* have seen her leaving–but they’d have seen the sort of bag that people use, for environmental reasons, as an alternative, and if they hadn’t watched her closely they’d have assumed she’d come from a cashier. I watched and saw her slip out the exit with the goods.

Of course I did not snitch on her. She might have children or grandchildren, or a sick husband, or, for that matter, herself, to feed. She didn’t seem like a shoplifter who was cheaping out, avoiding responsibility, who did it a lot–it was her look of near-terror, when I glanced at her, stuffing her bag, that told me that this was unusual, unpracticed, thus probably necessary.

I was interested mostly in her planning, her thoughtful logistics, her determination despite her fear. She may turn up in a short story sometime.


10
Dec 16

Where is the Sleeping Giant Now?

Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto supposedly said–in a diary, probably–after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, ” I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

Since December 7, anniversary of the attack, I’ve thought about the quote, and wondered where that sleeping giant is now. In my opinion, the election of the Absurdity in the Presidential election of November 8 is as dangerously significant event as the bombing of Pearl Harbor. One has only to look at The Absurdity’s cabinet appointments, and consider his ability to stack the Supreme Court; we have only to consider that those who might oppose him in congress appear to have no genuine *resolve*. The only myth-scale awakening happened on the day of the election–the awakening of hunched trolls, and cognitive dwarfs.

The true “sleeping giant” of America has not been roused. There has been no real rousing, and certainly no resolve. Easier to become united against an external enemy. But still…this enemy is just as potent.

And–politically, historically–we should be on a war footing. Most of us have not realized it yet.


09
Dec 16

When a Bear Swallowed my Dog Whole

The other night I had a dream that struck me so strongly, when I woke, I still remember it. In the dream I was outside somewhere with my little dog Rosie, a Yorkshire terrier we had. (She actually died some time back. We were great pals. She followed me anywhere, in real life. And she was quite fierce when some bigger dog tried to back her down.) So in the dream, a bear comes at us out of nowhere–the wilderness– and swallows Rosie whole. Yelling for my wife to come and help me hold the bear down, I grab it around the neck and decide–I remember distinctly thinking this–”No way is that bear going to digest my Rosie, I’m getting her out!” And I shove my hand down the bear’s throat, my whole arm, clear in to the shoulder. I feel around in its stomach as it tries to pull away; feel something furry–pull out…it is a live rabbit. Annoyed I throw the wiggling rabbit aside, and force my arm into the bear’s throat again, and pull out the next thing I could grab, thinking it might be part of Rosie’s collar. It is several items of kitchen cutlery, spoons and such. I throw them aside and reach in again, find Rosie, wriggling, and pull her out by the nape of her neck. She is fine, and she barks at the bear. I pick her up…

That sounds like a made up dream perhaps. But it’s what I dreamt exactly. I’m not a great one for interpreting dreams–sometimes they’re just the noise of the brain doing a bit of memory organization, or prioritizing–but on occasion they seem to mean something. They have psychological import.

What might this one mean? Does the bear represent chaos? Does it represent me struggling with the difficulties of the maintenance of living, trying to protect loved ones from entropy, chaos, from their simply being consumed and dissolved within the universe?


05
Dec 16

MEANWHILE UNDER THE BELL JAR

[I wrote the following in 1986. It seems strangely up to date.]

by John Shirley
[REM:3, January 1986]

“The time of the doomsayers is past,” the famous science-fiction writer said blandly, stubbing out his cigarette. He was speaking on a panel at a science-fiction convention. He reached for his coffee—spiked with Irish whiskey—and his booze-shaky fingers struck the Styrofoam cup, causing it to rock, some of the coffee slopping onto his lap. He frowned down at the stain, in the process pressing one of his double chins into his collar, and allowed a young fannish female shaped like an acorn squash to dab at his crotch with a wet hanky, as he went on: “Those who predicted ecological disaster have been discredited. There are now fish in Lake Erie…”

At that moment, in another part of the North American continent, Professor Bellweather was giving a news conference to report on his EPA-funded study of acid raid. “…acid rain is potentially the most destructive meteorological force the world has ever known. Its effects are more gradual than a hurricane’s, but in the long run it will make a hundred hurricanes together look like a gentle summer breeze. We’ve been dumping thousands of tons of poisons into the atmosphere, and telling ourselves it’s safe to do so because the wind blows the poisons away. But the atmosphere is all one system. To put it crudely, if you pee into one corner of the aquarium, eventually the whole aquarium will turn yellow… Acid rain is eating away the ground covering, the forestation, vegetation, topsoil, and water life in hundreds of square miles of American, Canadian, and European land; if we don’t act quickly hundreds of square miles will become thousands… a massive world famine could result….”

Meanwhile, at the science-fiction convention, the famous science-fiction writer was asked what political system would evolve in the future. “Ah yes,” he chuckled, and those in the audience who knew how he loved to express his political opinions chuckled companionably along. “There are still those who vilify corporate America, but those people ignore the fact that thanks to the administration’s policy of deregulating the major American corporations, we are more economically healthy than we have been in years…”

At that moment, in New York, the city morgue called the commissioner of police to inform him that there was no more room in the morgue for the bodies of the homeless who had been found frozen in the streets. There had been simply too many deaths this year. Now that the number of homeless in the New York area has risen to 40,000, something else will have to be done with the bodies.

Meanwhile, at the science-fiction convention, the famous writer continued: “Tomorrow’s society will be a glowing ferment of free enterprise—” (he paused to sip his whiskeyed coffee, shuddered, and went on, his voice slurring only very slightly) “—growing upon the framework established by today’s corporate America. Are the big corporations taking over? You bet they are, and rightfully so! Their cost-effective mode of operation has shown itself again and again to be the most promising and practical method of dealing with, well, just about anything.”

At that moment, in another part of the city, a 45-year-old man, after receiving a phone call informing him that he had been laid off due to automation, was loading a gun. He was thinking about the special clause in his contract with the large corporation that employed him for 25 years, a clause buried by the corporation’s lawyers in legalese he couldn’t understand, a clause which said—so he had just been informed—he would receive no pension. He was thinking also of his realization that he had been trained for a job which no longer existed anywhere, and his feeling that he was too old to be trained for another. He couldn’t bear the humiliation of starting at the bottom again.
So he put the gun to his head—
Meanwhile, at the science-fiction convention, the famous writer continued: “We must protect the cradle of this new economic freedom, which means fighting communist totalitarianism wherever it rears its head, by whatever means necessary. If the communists take over in Central and South America we’ll be denied access to the resources our economy depends on. The revolutionaries in El Salvador are part of a disease that must be checked at all costs.”

At that moment, in El Salvador, the human rights organization announced: “In the war between insurgents and the US-backed government, 55,000 people have died since 1979. As a result of the policies of the US-backed Salvadoran administration, 50 percent of the population is malnourished, unemployment figures are 81 percent, 600,000 Salvadorans have a vitamin A deficiency severe enough to affect their vision, only 15 percent of the population have running water or sanitary facilities….”

And a 50-year-old woman gave the following testimony: “In our village on January 7, about 80 people were blown apart by bombs. That same day upon finding some people the soldiers separated some and the rest they lined up in a single file and shouted as they opened fire, ‘You’re all guerrillas.’ They sprayed them with machine guns and everyone went down. The majority were children, old men, and old women. That’s how on this day they killed seven of my children…. My little mother also died on the same day. She was 107 years old, a domestic worker. Her name was Josefa Mejia. The soldiers came where she was and I saw her getting killed because I was getting her some mangos to eat. We had been on the run, and I could hardly walk, so the rest left us behind, when they saw her, they said they were going to kill her because she was a guerrilla…. I was hiding under some cover and I heard her screaming, ‘Don’t tear off my breasts!’ They gouged out her eyes…. Then I heard two shots. They shot her in the head and chest. I did not have time to bury her. The dogs and buzzards ate her body….”

Meanwhile, at the science-fiction convention, the panel adjourned, everyone warm with the glow of reassurance. They all went upstairs to the parties that were sure to go on all night….


04
Dec 16

That Ambulance Again

a short-short story by john shirley

“It’s that ambulance again, same one following me, night after night, Allie, and maybe you’re right, he’s just crazy, I’m going to ask what the hell he’s doing!…Hey you, creep, why you following my car?”
“I’m followin’, mister, because something bad’s coming and you’re gonna need me, whatever it is–maybe a meteor, maybe a truck…”
“You were right, Allie, he’s crazy and there he is again!”
“Don’t stare into the rear view at this speed, Slim, you’re going to hit that truck–”


17
Nov 16

The Reason The Absurdity was elected

Cognitive dissonance well describes what I experienced last week when The Absurdity was elected (I won’t use his name)…Every day I have to remind myself, “Yes, it really happened.”

Maybe the vote was tampered with–especially in the sense of denying people voting at all, or discounting their vote because “they didn’t qualify”, later. But that wouldn’t have worked if it wasn’t close. And why was it close? A lot of people are saying it’s because we don’t understand the frustrated poor (along with the socially conservative well-to-do). But I don’t believe that. I believe it’s simpler than that. I am going with Occam’s Razor here.

I think that while many factors converged–third party snobs, occluded voters–the *main* reason The Absurdity was elected was because there are far more stupid people in America than anyone realized.

I, for one, was in denial about how many stupid people there are in America.