How will people 50 years from now view our approach to COVID?

My favorite Bette Davis movie is “Jezebel” made in 1938. It’s a love story set in New Orleans during one of the city’s horrible yellow fever epidemics.

The movie is set in a time when people thought yellow fever was caused by “miasma” in the air. To disrupt this miasma, people burnt tar in barrels and fired off a fever canon.

Jezebel (1938 film poster).jpgEven now there is no cure for yellow fever, though there is a vaccine that helps prevent it but doesn’t seem to impact people who already have it.

I’ve thought of this fever canon approach during the COVID epidemic because the whole miasma idea showed a lack of knowledge about diseases and how they were spread. Yellow fever is spread by mosqitoes.

The movie shows the fear the populace had of yellow fever, of those who got it, of how to combat it, and the need to isolate the victims. While we’re a bit more civilized now, we still have many of the same fears and we’ve been addressing them in multiple ways across the country.

As I think about that fever canon on the movie, I wonder which of our approaches is similar to that: i.e., totally wrong headed and ineffective. Perhaps one day we’ll know the answer to that. Or perhaps, as some say, we’ll never get rid of COVID altogether but will learn how to prevent most of it and treat it more effectively.

I think we’d all feel better about our chances of success if our approach nationally was more cohesive. As it is, mandates and mask ideas and vaccine notions come and go weekly. Those of us who were around during the polio epidemic saw some of the same kinds of fears and confusion until the Salk and Sabin vaccines became available.

I’m a cynic, so I can’t help but wonder which of the things we’re doing is really just a fever canon. I do think I’m more hopeful about a COVID solution than the residents of New Orleans were about yellow fever in 1905. Time will tell–perhaps.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of fantasy and magical realism novels and short stories. To learn more, click here

What if we’re just machine code?

Ever since the philosopher Nick Bostrom proposed in the Philosophical Quarterly that the universe and everything in it might be a simulation, there has been intense public speculation and debate about the nature of reality. Such public intellectuals as Tesla leader and prolific Twitter gadfly Elon Musk have opined about the statistical inevitability of our world being little more than cascading green code. Recent papers have built on the original hypothesis to further refine the statistical bounds of the hypothesis, arguing that the chance that we live in a simulation may be 50–50.” – from “Confirmed! We Live in a Simulation” in Scientific American

The Matrix Poster.jpgMy first question is this: “Whose computer is it?”

And then, I want to know if they’re running Windows 1.0, Windows 95, or Windows ME.

I haven’t read whether or not accepting the validity of this sumulation is a red pill/blue bill matter. I’d probably take the red pill if I got to have dinner with Trinity.

Then, too, I like the idea of downloading whatever information I need to do whatever I want to do as–in the movie–suddenly have the skills to fly a helicopter.

Perhaps the red pill will prove that the idea of a computer simulation world is just an illusion or, if it isn’t, that the whole shebang is running on Jerry Seinfeld’s computer. Or, worse yet, on Steven Wright’s computer.

I’ve always believed that seeing isn’t believing, that things are not what they seem to be. So, I have my doubts about the idea that everything is machine code or assembly language running on a Fugaku compter hidden in a nondescript barn in Peoria.

If it is, heaven help us if somebody accidentally hits crtl/alt/del.

I think the best we can do at this point is continue to live our lives as though we’re real and never say anything nasty about Jerry Seinfeld or Steven Wright.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

Voice and the need to fine tune it

In a recent Funds for Writers post, Hope Clark stresses the need for a writer to be unique. “The more someone else can write your piece, the less valuable it is,” she said.

That’s why writers need to establish and fine-tune their writer’s voice, the cadence and word usage that defines them just as surely as a friend’s voice on a telephone that your recognize before they say who they are.

Not you? Then don’t try to sound like her.

When I write a story, I am very much fact based. That’s my nature and research enhances it. I also hear the “song” of the words on the page, the songs that transforms the facts into magic and/or meanings that transform the facts into something more important than data.

As Clark suggests, anyone can write the piece your considering. But you don’t want to sound like just anyone. Careful research a a unique voice take you out of the “just anyone” category.

Personally, I don’t think voice and or should be faked. Like a bad spy who can’t keep his/her cover story straight, you’ll slip sooner ot later because the your voice isn’t you. It has to come from the way you think and see the world, how you tend to express yourself, and seeing the parts of the story or feature article that stand out as the most meaningful.

Obviously, voice gets out of hand from time too time. That is to say, you pushed the envelope too far. That’s probably why the rejection slip showed up! So, if your voice rides on the edge of insanity, you need to rein it in and not sound totally crazy. “Crazy” is for blogs like this one, not the Atlantic or Publishers Weekly.

So there it is. When you sing, stop trying to sound like Elvis or Emmylou Harris. Find out who you are, and be that person in your writing.

Malcolm

Feds outlaw smart people

Washington, D. C., January 18, 2022, Star-Gazer News Service: In an attempt to keep everyday citizens from knowing more than U.S. Senators and Representatives, the government announced here today that the country will no longer tolerate smart people.

No Longer Needed

Informed sources told reporters that the metrics are yet to be finalized, but the thinking–such as it is–will be that an average IQ is good enough, especially for government work. The White House has defined that average as a score between 85 and 115.

“We think that’s good enough,” said Jimmy Crack Corn, the newly appointed Boss Man of the newly created IQ Monitoring Service.

According to Crack Corn, the government spent the last 20 years analyzing the optimum IQ levels for government service and concluded that anything higher than 115 creates “the kind of mess we’re facing now.”

“Being too smart creates a clusterf_ck in the halls of Congress as well as the executive branch,” Crack Corn said.

According to the government study, smart people are too smart for their own good, much less the good of the country because they see at least fifty shades of grey in every question or idea and, therefore, are unable to create meaningful laws and policies.

The White House said that the government didn’t anticipate, at least not yet, actually killing smart people or placing them in prisons or asylums, but preferred to keep destroying the educational system and watering down the Bill of Rights so that a new “optimum IQ” evolves naturally.

Dr. Gerald Simpson, CEO of the America First Think Tank said, “Twenty years from now, most of us won’t even know what we’re talking about.”

The President signed the legislation creating the new “dumb down America rules” even though he didn’t understand it, the White House said.

-30-

Story by Jock Stewart, Special Investigative Reporter

Mostly, we got nothin’

  • As for yesterday’s post about the predicted snow, we got plenty of nothin’, rain, wind, and 90 minutes of light snow that didn’t stick. Roads may be icy in the morning though.
  • On the other hand, the snow-event stew came out well. I think it’s the port wine which makes it tasty. Plus, the eleven secret herbs and spices. Psst, one of them is basil.
  • And then, too, we’re keeping our old car and its feisty battery with both a trickle charger and a jump starter. The price of both was less than the cost of one visit from a tow truck with a generator.
  • And then, also, our indoor/outdoor cat, Robbie, who usually bugs me all day to come in and out multiple times, didn’t like the looks of the weather, even thogh it was plenty of nothin’, and stayed inside. I’m surprised, though I had imagined him racing out the door into a snow drift. <g>
  • The main character in my novel in progress runs a pack train, and the more I look into this, I’m glad that–while I enjoying riding–the gear involved with a pack train is more than I want to deal with: even the standard Decker saddle. Can you imagine putting this on a horse while: (a) you were half asleep, or (b) drunk? I feel like I’m drunk when I write passages in which my character is putting it on or taking it off a horse.
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January[2].jpgSince I enjoyed Alix E. Harrow’s The Once and Future Witches, I ordered her previous book, The Ten Thousand Doors of January from 2019. Does anyone following this blog read novels about witches? Being both old and old fashioned, I’m more into thre traditional craft than Wicca.
  • I know most of you are wondering by now whether we’ll be having leftover stew tonight since the snow event was pretty much nothingto write home about. The answer is “yes.

Malcolm

Book sale: see the latest post on my other blog.

waiting for snow or maybe nothing

Yes, we do get snow in Georgia, but usually we don’t–even when it’s predicted. Long-time Atlanta residents will remember “snow jam” in 1982 and an honest-to-goodness blizzard in 1993. Yes, I was there.

We understand, though, that if Izzy is as bad as some of the predictions, we can’t top what’s expected in the northeast. If we get several inches, we’ll have a mess mainly because we don’t have the infrastructer to deal with it. We do take offense when northeners poke fun at Georgia drivers trying to drive in snow when, at the same time, the national news is showing hundreds of wrecks up north where “people know how to drive in snow.” Ha.

We get freezing rain and black ice. I think that wintry mix can be worse than snow. As for Sunday’s possible snowfall, we just don’t know. I have beef stew in the Dutch oven. It will get us through the weekend whether Izzy shows up or not. And, our gas stove will heat it up nicely even if the power fails.

Whenn I lived in northern Illinois, we didn’t get the day off when several feet of snow showed up during the night. My Jeep with studded snow tires powered through the worst of as a I commuted from the Illinois-Wisconsin border to my office near O’Hare airport. I don’t have either a Jeep or snow tires now, so I’m less willing to drive in the stuff even though my front-wheel-drive Buick navigated snow jam with zero problems. Mostly, I worry about the other drivers and their lead feet and a tendency to jam on the brakes.

Snow in Georgia is always an adventure, from sold-out grocery stores to slippery roads to people telling stories about how bad that 1/4 inch was in their neighborhoods.

By the way, this would not be the best time to have a flight scheduled at Atlanta’s airport. You probably know that. You do, don’t you?

Malcolm

Mountain Song by [Malcolm R. Campbell]“Mountain Song” is free on Kindle January 18th through January 20th.

This story is set in Glacier National Park.

Endless curiosity kills a lot of time

In general, curiosity seems to be a good thing. It demonstrates an interest in the world, in new things, generates ideas for stories, and keeps the mind sharp. It can also be an excuse for avoiding what you should be doing by looking up something on the Internet. On the other hand, some of the most absurd searches sometimes lead to the best ideas while the most promising searches sometimes lead no where.

One never knows whether to fish or cut bait when it comes to deciding: “Am I goofing off or am I doing something that will turn me into an author who outsells James Patterson?” Perhaps a book called The Four-in-Hand Murders.

Speaking of Patterson, I was re-reading Criss Cross when the detectives went to a tie store while trying to identify a tie found at the scene of a crime. Now I wear flannel shirts in the winter and Tee shirts in the summer, and haven’t tied a tie in ten years. So, a tie store? You’ve got to be kidding.

I can’t imagine paying $500 for a tie or being so addicted to my tie collection that I know eighty-five ways to tie a tie. A character told detective Cross that he usually used a Pratt knot. Since I’d never heard of that, I went on an Internet search and found a site that told me how to tie a tie in ways most people have never heard of–including a Pratt knot.

My eyes glazed over as I looked at the knot-tying diagrams. They reminded me of either SAT or GRE tests where you’re presented with an unfolded cardboard something-or-other and have to pick what it turned into when folded back up. I never could figure those out. So I can safely say that if I ever tie a tie again it will be with a half Windsor knot because I grew up with that and that I will never use a Pratt or an Oriental or a Hanover.

So, was this online time worth it? Hmm, probably not. I really don’t care about ties, but the idea that there were prestigious ways of tying them caught my attention. Some day, somewhere, a character in one of my stories use a Pratt knot and wish he hadn’t.

Or, perhaps I’ll be in a bar and some drunk willshout, “I’ll give a hundred dollars to anyone who can tie a Pratt knot.” Well, there it is: curiostity paying off.

Malcolm

Out on a Limb

If you read and enjoyed Richard Powers’ 2018 Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Overstory, which I finally got around to and mentioned here in November, then you probably know by now that the Patricia Westerford character in the novel was inspired by British Columbia forest sciences expert Suzanne W. Simard.

Our understanding of soils, roots, and the communication and nutrient sharing of trees is based primarily on Simard’s lifelong work. She’s written papers, given TED talks, and worked as a leader with TerreWeb. Now, with her book Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest (May 2021), she brings her research to the public in a well documented and accessible book that will enhance our understanding of the forest society.

I really don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb when I saw that Finding the Mother Tree will win a Pulitzer Prize.

Considering he impact of forests on our lives, this is an essential book in the world’s library of resources in that it brings groundbreaking scientific studies to a world heretofore posited by mystices, philosophers, and the often-mocked tree huggers.

Excerpt from the Publisher’s Description

Suzanne Simard is a pioneer on the frontier of plant communication and intelligence; she’s been compared to Rachel Carson, hailed as a scientist who conveys complex, technical ideas in a way that is dazzling and profound. Her work has influenced filmmakers (the Tree of Souls of James Cameron’s Avatar) and her TED talks have been viewed by more than 10 million people worldwide.

Now, in her first book, Simard brings us into her world, the intimate world of the trees, in which she brilliantly illuminates the fascinating and vital truths–that trees are not simply the source of timber or pulp, but are a complicated, interdependent circle of life; that forests are social, cooperative creatures connected through underground networks by which trees communicate their vitality and vulnerabilities with communal lives not that different from our own.

Simard writes–in inspiring, illuminating, and accessible ways—how trees, living side by side for hundreds of years, have evolved, how they perceive one another, learn and adapt their behaviors, recognize neighbors, and remember the past; how they have agency about the future; elicit warnings and mount defenses, compete and cooperate with one another with sophistication, characteristics ascribed to human intelligence, traits that are the essence of civil societies–and at the center of it all, the Mother Trees: the mysterious, powerful forces that connect and sustain the others that surround them.

From the NYT Review

This book is a testament to Simard’s skill as a science communicator. Her research is clearly defined, the steps of her experiments articulated, her astonishing results explained and the implications laid bare: We ignore the complexity of forests at our peril. Simard began her career shy, as many who are called to study nature are. Those who seek solitude in mountains and under the shadows of pines often do not wish to command a room. She published her results and spoke at conferences, but did not often directly engage her detractors, the policy silverbacks who ridiculed this young woman and her ideas about trees cooperating rather than competing. – New York Times.

If you love forests, this book is a joy to read and, I would say, gospel.

Malcolm

Can you make a bad movie better?

Gigliposter.jpgWriting coaches and writers’ magazines often provide writing prompts to help people practice their craft. A writing teacher of mine had a different approach. Whenever he saw a “bad” movie, he had fun figuring out how make it better. While the probably stayed within the realm of the plot and the dialogue, my Radio/TV undergraduate major causes me to include acting and production values.

According to FilmDaft, “The key ingredients that make a movie ‘good’ are when the acting, directing, writing, cinematography, and overall production value all come together to tell one cohesive, entertaining, and impactful story. In essence, a good movie uses all these tools of filmmaking to tell a compelling story that makes you feel.”

True, but that’s a bit general, so when I consider what would make a bad movie better, I usually stick to the writer’s part of it.

Here I think we can say that if the premise and plot structure are flawed, the movie probably will also be flawed even though everyone and his/her brother probably had a hand in the rewrites before the film was finished.

To make this excercise work, we need to stay away from reviewers and critics and the flaws they see and use the flaws we see. Of course, even good movies may have flaws. For example, “Ladyhawke” is one of my favorite films, but I think the music chosen for it is an abomination and that Matthew Broderick’s character was too flip for the time when the film was set.

When a movie is bad, it’s often because it’s predictable, has unlikely plot twists, is based on a faulty premise, or is jokingly unrealistic within the time and place and subject area in which it was set. Doing this exercise as a writer, I think about:

  • How can I make it less predictable?
  • What are the worst plot twists?
  • Can the premise be altered without throwing out the film altogether?

Did you see the 2003 film “Gigli”? It was considered a failure, often due to general disorganization and a clumsy plot. Okay, these are problems a writer can work with while ignoring critics’ complaints that Affleck and Lopez lacked chemistry. So here the excerise becomes fixing the plot.

Never fear, if you play around with this exercise, you don’t have to re-write the script or even come up with a new treatment for the story. Nailing down what you might do to make it better will, I think, help you see how any story can be made workable.

Malcolm

National Human Trafficking Awareness Day

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, January 11, 2022

U.S. Attorney’s Office Commemorates National Human Trafficking Awareness Day–January 11, 2022

PORTLAND, Ore.—Today, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon commemorates National Human Trafficking Awareness Day—January 11, 2022—and joins its federal, state, local, and Tribal law enforcement partners in declaring a continued commitment to combating all forms of human trafficking.

“More than 150 years have passed since our nation ratified the 13th Amendment, abolishing the cruel and repugnant practice of enslaving humans. And yet, in its modern form of trafficking, this abhorrent crime persists here in the U.S. and across the globe. Combatting human trafficking is a top priority for the Justice Department and our office. Together with our law enforcement partners, we will do everything in our power to end this horrible crime,” said Scott Erik Asphaug, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.

“We are a country built on the promise of freedom and dignity for every person. Unfortunately, it’s a promise that we see broken all too often for the most vulnerable among us,” said Kieran L. Ramsey, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oregon. “Victims of labor trafficking and sex trafficking are not only exploited in the worst ways, they also live in constant fear. They wake every morning to threats of violence and outright abuse. Help us help them. If you have information about trafficking in your area, please call us.”

Human trafficking, sometimes referred to as trafficking in persons or modern slavery, is a serious federal crime involving the exploitation of individuals for labor, services, or commercial sex through force, fraud, or coercion. This coercion can be subtle or overt, physical or psychological. Exploitation of a minor for commercial sex is human trafficking, regardless of whether any form of force, fraud, or coercion was used.

Victims of human trafficking can be anyone regardless of race, color, national origin, disability, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, education level, or citizenship status. Although there is no defining characteristic that all human trafficking victims share, traffickers around the world frequently prey on individuals who are poor, vulnerable, living in unsafe or unstable environments, or are in search of a better life.

In the U.S., trafficking victims can be American or foreign citizens. Some of the most vulnerable populations for trafficking in the U.S. include American Indian and Alaska Native communities, LGBTQ individuals, individuals with disabilities, undocumented migrants, runaway and homeless youth, temporary guest-workers, and low-income individuals.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon is committed to continuing its victim-centered, trauma-informed approach to detecting hidden human trafficking crimes, holding perpetrators accountable, and helping to restore the lives of survivors, while strengthening strategic anti-trafficking partnerships.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 911.

If you believe you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking or may have information about a trafficking situation, please call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at 1-888-373-7888 or visit https://humantraffickinghotline.org. You can also text the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 233733.

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Every year since 2010, the President has dedicated the month to raising awareness about the different forms of human trafficking and educating people about this crime and how to spot it. To learn more, visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/12/30/a-proclamation-on-national-human-trafficking-prevention-month-2022/.