Tragic events that many have feared has been going on the last couple of days. It is the logical culmination of the “political correctness” movement we have been contending with for years. It has been brewing for months with the “fake news” scares that spawned a fetid nest of self-appointed arbiters of truth. Now we have misguided and misleading social media “fact-checkers”. There is also the widespread practice of suspending and banning people and organizations from social media sites such as Twitter when their utterances are proscribed by our wiser masters, Jack Dorsey at Twitter and Zuckerburg at Facebook.
The most recent outrage is the apparent purge of conservative voices, including a ban on the President of the United States by Twitter and reports of disappearing followers among his supporters. It is not just attacks on MAGA supporters either. There have been attempts to suppress dissenting opinions on everything from voter fraud and climate change to Covid-19. Powerful forces in the media and Big Tech are silencing people with significant and compelling points of view.
Free speech in America is circling the drain.
Sometimes it is going beyond silencing and extends to ruining careers and lives. The conclave of hypocrites and scoundrels that make up the badly misnamed “Lincoln Project” is a pathetic example. They just announced that they would be making up a blacklist of those who worked for the Trump administration, intending to keep them from finding employment in the private sector.
It is chilling. Free speech in America is circling the drain. For those of you nodding your approval and politely applauding from the sidelines because you disagree with those who are being silenced, keep in mind that we have the 1st Amendment right to free speech to avoid the necessity of shooting each other.
The holidays were great. Three kids made it to our house for Christmas, including the oldest, who made it back from a deployment to Europe just in time. The fourth is in South Carolina and could not travel due to Navy Covid restrictions, but stayed connected through the magic of technology. It was a great family time, but now it’s time to get back to work, and here are my six writing goals for 2021.
Write 1,000 words per working day. There are 260 working days per year, so 260,000 words total for the year. Writing that counts for this goal includes new novels, short stories, and blog posts.
Read 75 books I have not read before. I usually read a couple of books a week, but some are re-reads.
Write a short story every two months–6 total for the year.
Lovingly embrace failure.
Lovingly embrace failure. Collect 20 rejection letters from submissions for publication or from literary agents this year.
Finish the first draft of a new novel this year. I have two that I started and abandoned. It’s time to dust one of them off, re-think it, re-plan it, re-plot it, populate it with some fascinating characters, and then write the first draft.
Finish the rewrites of two novels I have languishing in the lonely desk drawer of stalled projects. I made pretty good progress on one of them in November and December but got distracted by the holidays and a sudden interest in Python programming. My hope is to get it in shape for publishing by the end of February. The other one is a bigger, messier project that will have to wait until later in the year.
That is my writing plan for the year. One thing I learned from NaNoWriMo is the importance of tracking my daily progress. For that, I have a little notebook. Thanks to this post, I have added 331 words to my total for the day, and I am off to write the other 669.
I want to take note of the death of two American heroes this month. Both were World War 2 fighter pilots.
The first is General Chuck Yeager, who died on December 7 at age 97. He was most famous for being the test pilot that broke the sound barrier on October 14, 1947, flying a Bell X-1 he named Glamorous Glennis, after his wife, at Mach 1.05. He also had a fantastic career as an Air Force combat pilot in three wars and was notable for downing five enemy aircraft in one mission and being the first pilot to shoot down a jet fighter. He ended his career as a Brigadier General.
The other hero, also a World War 2 P-51 pilot, was my Uncle Linwood “Lindy” Genung. He died late last week. His experiences flying close air support for Patton’s Third Army are pretty impressive. This site has a video (click here) of Lindy telling the story of his war-time exploits.
After the war, he did what many veterans did. He returned home, got married to my Aunt Lela. They adopted two kids, Scott and Patty. Lindy went to work for AT&T and spent his whole career with them. He was working for them in Tehran, Iran, in 1978, when the Islamic Revolution, which eventually ousted the Shah, began.
Who will take their place in the fight to preserve freedom?
His great love seemed to be traveling. He owned numerous travel trailers and motorhomes in his life, and he and his family spent a great deal of time wandering the continent. As a young boy, I had the good fortune to travel with them on a couple of trips. The first covered the Northeast US and parts of Canada and included a visit to the New York World’s Fair. The second, a couple of years later, covered most of the Western United States. Thanks to Lindy and Lela, I visited about 41 different states and Canada before I was twelve. Also, thanks to Lindy, I survived the trips. I was a bit accident-prone in those days, and whenever I would see him in recent years, he would remind me that he saved my life on at least a couple of occasions.
Yeager and Genung were two guys who epitomized that American generation that many consider the greatest. They were real men who stepped up when their country needed them and faced the danger of war with courage and purpose. They were real anti-fascists who fought real fascists, not the spoiled, drug-addled soy boy version of “anti-fascist” engaging in temper tantrums we see in the streets today.
We are in crazy times when some are traumatized by red MAGA hats and statues of old white guys, and government officials are permitted to lock down entire populations and to destroy economies based on bad science. There is a real assault on American freedoms. One wonders how we will replace men like Yeager and Genung. Who will take their place in the fight to preserve freedom? If a younger generation will not take up the challenge, American greatness is at an end.
Field-Marshal Sir William Slim wrote that “…risk is danger multiplied by time”. The implication here is that risk increases the longer danger persists. If you want to reduce risk, either mitigate the danger or reduce the time of exposure to the danger. How does this bit of wisdom apply to the current Covid-19 pandemic?
The pandemic has spawned all sorts of unprecedented government actions, mostly by Democratic officials, such as Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. These measures have included the closures of businesses they deem “non-essential”, limits on the sizes of gatherings, mandatory mask requirements, and enforcement actions with agencies such as OSHA and Public Health Departments.
It may be that the dire expert predictions of a public health disaster at the beginning of the pandemic justified the draconian measures implemented by officials. We are now past that point. Most of the predictions have proven wrong. Infection rates and death rates have proven to be far below what the experts predicted.
“…risk is danger multiplied by time”
What are the “dangers” which public officials are trying to prevent? Here two of them:
The danger of the virus making us sick.
The danger of the virus killing us.
These dangers are serious concerns, but you have to ask, are they really a more significant threat than most of us usually face? For most people, the answer is no. Most of the deaths attributed to Covid have been those in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. Most of the deaths involved other underlying medical conditions. There is considerable doubt whether Covid is even the cause of many of the deaths attributed to it. The point here is that many people have little risk from the pandemic because the danger to them is small. Others, we know now, are at considerable risk because of their age and health. Why are we allowing officials to treat everyone the same?
The intelligent approach would help individuals assess the risks they face, provide information on how to mitigate the risks, and then leave them alone to act appropriately. Beyond that and standard public health measures, there is now no reason for the ridiculous and often arbitrary restrictions imposed in places like Oregon. If we apply Slim’s risk formula, we can see that most people’s risk is small because the danger is small. To use the coercive force of government to impose unnecessary restrictions on them is an act of tyranny, not mercy.
Check out my book, “Trail to Peril”.
It’s available from Amazon in Kindle and paperback.
I usually try to post a blog article twice a week. Last week we took a non-essential flight to San Jose for a completely unauthorized early Thanksgiving dinner with my daughter and son-in-law. The week prior I was engrossed in finishing a short story. This week I plan to get back in the blogging groove. I have been doing some thinking about the Covid-19 fiasco and hope to do a couple of pieces on it.
…it is a great time to fly…
PS One thing I learned on the trip is that it is a great time to fly, if you don’t mind wearing a mask. There was lots of parking, no lines at the TSA checkpoint, and the airports and the plane was nearly empty. You could even get a cup of coffee in San Jose without waiting in a long line.
“Defeat Into Victory” is the World War II memoir written by Field-Marshal Sir William Slim. He commanded an allied corps of Indian, British, and Burmese troops as part of the force that attempted to resist the Japanese invasion and conquest of Burma in 1942. The allied forces were beaten and forced to retreat to India. After the retreat, he retrained and reorganized the allied forces to deal with Burma’s unique battlespace. Then he was appointed to command the 14th Army, which led the successful effort to defeat the Japanese forces and drive them from Burma.
Slim’s account is a masterpiece among the historical accounts of WW2 campaigns. He faced a stunning array of challenges, including everything from the logistics of feeding and supplying his 14th Army, in a country with few roads and rail systems, to dealing with abrasive personalities such as American General ‘Vinegar’ Joe Stillwell. The biggest challenge was the Japanese Army with their never retreat, never surrender fighting spirit. Slim’s men eventually outfought the Japanese, and he outthought and outgeneraled their generals and finally drove their armies from Burma.
Slim’s account is a masterpiece among the historical accounts of WW2 campaigns.
Read the book slowly. (I recommend with a detailed topographical map of Burma close at hand.) He buries many gems of wisdom throughout the text. These include concepts like the critical importance of morale and the effectiveness of close cooperation between ground and air forces. His brilliant campaign demonstrated how training, initiative at the small unit level, and strategic and tactical flexibility are all elements that lead to battlefield victory.
The book is a portrait of excellence in military leadership and command and a very entertaining read.
Literary Arts in Portland, Oregon is running a livestream event called the 2020 Portland Book Festival. It runs from November 5 to November 21, and features hundreds of free events that you can tap into on their website.
A week or so ago, I wrote this blog post entitled, “Joe Biden is a Plot Goldmine”. The piece discusses using current events a fodder for creating plots for novels and stories. One of the examples I use the continuing saga of the Biden family. I proposed what I think are three good plot lines that could be developed from the sordid story of Hunter Biden and his father, Joe. Seems I wasn’t the only one thinking along these lines.
…2020 is the year of reality being stranger than fiction.
Drama and comedy spring from the collision of the needs, desires, and emotions of characters in a story. This is called conflict, and conflict is a prerequisite for all engaging storytelling.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a scene about a late-middle age man who is laid off from his job, and he drives to downtown Portland for an appointment with an employment agency. A writer could pen this scene in a couple of ways.
In the first version, the man drives to his meeting in sunny, dry weather and light traffic. He finds a parking space close to his destination. He arrives at the appointment early, meets with the headhunter. The meeting goes well, and he leaves it encouraged and convinced that he will have a new, higher-paying position by the end of the week. He returns to his car, drives home, and arrives safely to deliver the good news to his loving and supportive wife.
The worst thing you can do to your characters is to make them boring.
In the second version, the man, believing he has job security, buys an expensive car that he will be making hefty payments on for the next seven years. The next day, he gets fired. He finds a head hunter who will talk to him and sets up an appointment. He drives his new car to downtown Portland in a steady drizzle and heavy traffic. He manages to find a parking spot, but it has a 15-minute limit. He parks there anyway and rushes through the now pouring rain to his meeting. He has trouble finding the place but finally arrives twenty minutes late and soaked to the skin. He goes into the meeting confident that his knowledge and experience will net him a good position, but the meeting does not go well. The head hunter, a young woman in her twenties, tells him she might be able to find him a job, but it will probably pay only about 2/3 of what he was making in his old job. In frustration, he argues with her and finally storms out of the meeting. It is still raining as he walks back to his car, and as he approaches, he sees a meter maid shoving a ticket under his wiper blade. He grabs the ticket as he passes the car and confronts the meter maid. As they argue, he hears a terrible crash behind him. He turns and sees that a person who jumped from the adjacent building has landed on his brand new car.
Which version is more likely to hold a reader’s interest?
The second version works better than the first. In the first, everything goes right for the character. There may be a concern with losing his job, but he is confident of getting another one. Everything goes as planned. He has smooth, safe trips to the appointment and back. He finds a parking spot. The interview goes well. He can share the good news with his wife.
The second version is much more enjoyable. It’s got the inner turmoil of the man, caused by his predicament. This includes anger over being fired, uncertainty about the future, the frustration of being late for the meeting, and looking like a drowned rat when he arrives. Then there are the arguments with the head hunter and the meter maid. Finally, he is the victim of a seemingly random mishap that destroys his car.
The second version has what the first does not–conflict. The whole universe seems to be conspiring to frustrate this flawed character’s goals and aspirations, including his own thoughts and emotions. This conflict delivers a character with whom a reader can identify. It triggers emotions, such as pity or amusement in the reader and engages them in the story.
When you create a character, give them conflicts. The worst thing you can do to your characters is to make them boring. Let them be at war with themselves and the world around them.
Who would have thought that trekking poles are controversial? I almost always use them, particularly when backpacking. Being a flat-lander and in my sixties, I am not good on uphill stretches of trail, and I find that poles distribute the load from my legs to my arms and make it easier. I do much better going downhill but still use the poles to absorb a bit of the impact and help with balance.
Who would have thought that trekking poles are controversial?
The article does not cover one potentially useful application of trekking poles. In my book, Trail to Peril, trekking poles figure prominently as weapons in two scenes. Check it out. It’s available on Amazon.