Monthly Archives: November 2020

“I Understand”

I had thought to do a little compare-and-contrast between the Thanksgiving address delivered by President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday and the comments made by the outgoing president yesterday, but I’ve reconsidered. Trump’s petulant outbursts already get more than their fair share of media attention, and I personally can’t wait to never have to hear from him again, so I’m going to focus on someone who knows how to be presidential.

As I’ve said before, Biden isn’t always the greatest of speakers. There were times in his Thanksgiving speech when it sounded like he needed a drink of water; his voice had a thick, dry-mouthed hesitation. And there were times when the words were even a bit slurred. (Before anyone starts, I do not believe this is a symptom of any mental impairment; I think he’s just an old man whose voice isn’t what it used to be, and who has to focus hard on suppressing his stutter. I see no sign that he’s any less competent than anyone else, certainly no less so than the current occupant of the White House and, in my opinion, a damn sight better.) But there were also moments when he seemed to catch fire and say exactly what needs to be said in exactly the way it needs to be said.

I know the Republican-held Senate is going to be a huge impediment for him, but I also believe he’s going to try his damnedest to make this country a better place for everyone. Even those who already despise him.

Here are what I consider to be the highlights:

Looking back over our history, you’ll see that it’s been in the most difficult of circumstances that the soul of our nation has been forged.

Now, we find ourselves again facing a long, hard winter. We have fought a nearly year-long battle with a virus in this nation. It’s brought us pain and loss and frustration, and it has cost so many lives. 260,000 Americans — and counting.

It has divided us. Angered us. And set us against one another. I know the country has grown weary of the fight. But we need to remember we’re at a war with a virus — not with each other.

This is the moment where we need to steel our spines, redouble our efforts, and recommit ourselves to the fight. Let’s remember — we are all in this together.

For so many of us, it’s hard to hear that this fight isn’t over, that we still have months of this battle ahead of us. And for those who have lost loved ones, I know this time of year is especially difficult. Believe me, I know. I remember that first Thanksgiving. The empty chair, the silence. It takes your breath away. It’s hard to care. It’s hard to give thanks. It’s hard to look forward. And it’s so hard to hope.

I understand.

Our country is in the middle of a dramatic spike in cases. We’re now averaging over 160,000 new cases a day. And no one will be surprised if we hit 200,000 cases in a single day. Many local health systems are at risk of being overwhelmed. That is the plain and simple truth, and I believe you deserve to always hear the truth from your president.

We have to try to slow the growth of the virus. We owe that to the doctors, the nurses, and the other front-line health care workers who have risked so much and heroically battled this virus for so long. We owe that to our fellow citizens who will need access to hospital beds and the care to fight this disease. And we owe it to one another — it’s our patriotic duty as Americans.

That means wearing masks, keeping social distancing, and limiting the size of any groups we’re in. Until we have a vaccine, these are our most effective tools to combat the virus. Starting on Day One of my presidency, we will take steps that will change the course of the disease.

The federal government has vast powers to combat this virus. And I commit to you I will use all those powers to lead a national coordinated response. But the federal government can’t do it alone. Each of us has a responsibility in our own lives to do what we can to slow the virus. Every decision we make matters. Every decision we make can save a life.

None of these steps we’re asking people to take are political statements. Every one of them is based in science.

The good news is that there has been significant, record-breaking progress made recently in developing a vaccine. Several of these vaccines look to be extraordinarily effective. And it appears that we are on track for the first immunizations to begin by late December or early January. Then, we will need to put in place a distribution plan to get the entire country immunized as soon as possible, which we will do.

But it’s going to take time.

I’m hoping the news of a vaccine will serve as an incentive to every American to take these simple steps to get control of this virus. There is real hope, tangible hope. So hang on. Don’t let yourself surrender to the fatigue. I know we can and we will beat this virus. America is not going to lose this war. You will get your lives back. Life is going to return to normal. That will happen.

This will not last forever.

I’ve said it many times: This is a great country and we are a good people. This is the United States of America. And there has never been anything we haven’t been able to do when we’ve done it together.

Think of what we’ve come through: centuries of human enslavement; a cataclysmic Civil War; the exclusion of women from the ballot box; World Wars; Jim Crow; a long twilight struggle against Soviet tyranny that could have ended not with the fall of the Berlin Wall, but in nuclear Armageddon.

I’m not naïve. I know that history is just that: history. But to know what’s come before can help arm us against despair. Knowing the previous generations got through the same universal human challenges that we face: the tension between selfishness and generosity, between fear and hope, between division and unity.

Americans dream big.

And, as hard as it may seem this Thanksgiving, we are going to dream big again. Our future is bright. In fact, I have never been more optimistic about the future of America than I am right now. I believe the 21st Century is going to be an American Century.

We are going to build an economy that leads the world. We are going to lead the world by the power of our example — not the example of our power. We are going to lead the world on climate and save the planet. We are going to find cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s and diabetes. And we are going to finally root out systemic racism in our country.

On this Thanksgiving, and in anticipation of all the Thanksgivings to come, let us dream again. Let us commit ourselves to thinking not only of ourselves but of others. For if we care for one another — if we open our arms rather than brandish our fists — we can, with God’s help, heal.

[Bolded emphasis mine.]

That’s how a president should speak. Not spitting out nuggets of sarcasm that drip with contempt for one’s political opponents. And definitely not displaying tone-deaf indifference for the suffering of American citizens. “I understand” are the two most powerful words in this seven-minute speech. And I believe that he does understand, I believe his empathy for ordinary people is real. And I believe that that matters, and that it’s what we need right now. Not only because of the virus, but because of the corrosive partisanship that has been consuming our society for decades.

I’ll confess that I’m dubious about Biden’s ability to do much about that. I know the Republicans aren’t interested in playing nice, and I think one of Obama’s biggest failings was continuing to believe that they would someday come around and be willing to work with him. And I’ll further confess that I am angry right now, every damn day, and that I want to see some real consequences for the havoc and chaos of the last four years. I want the Trump administration, the Trump organization, the Trump family, and every single Republican congressperson and bureaucrat who enabled them investigated to within an inch of their lives, and then I want them indicted and punished for any and every transgression that can be made to stick. I want the Republicans punished. I want payback for how they treated Obama and Merrick Garland, and for all their gloating and smug triumphalism and the constant mewling that they’re somehow being persecuted when they’ve effectively held the reins of power for years, regardless of who was sitting in the Oval Office. I know that what I’m saying here isn’t very high-minded or intellectual, and I know it’s not conducive to healing anything. But I’m not the president-elect, now, am I? We’ll see what actually happens once his administration gets going; I have a hunch that Biden is smart enough to be the diplomat while letting others be the bulldogs.

Of course, I’m always a sucker for the stuff about how people are essentially good and all the problems we’re going to fix, even though it’s pretty hard to still believe in my Star Trek-ian ideals after the last 12 years of tribal rancor. But I still like to hear it, even if it’s just a nice fantasy.

The moment in this speech that really grabbed me, though, was his exhortation to not lose hope about the damn virus. To hang on just a little longer, because we will win the war against the coronavirus. That his administration will win the battle. This struck me as very good politics, selling his goals and reminding people that the current guy has utterly failed, while also doing what the best presidents, from Obama to JFK to FDR to Abraham Lincoln, have always done in times of turmoil and fear: to give the tired and anxious people of the nation a life raft to cling to. His words made me feel better. They provided me at least with badly needed comfort.

He’s already a better leader than the thin-skinned, belligerent fool he’s replacing.


In Foster’s Own Words…

As promised last night, I am continuing to follow that story about Disney refusing to pay Alan Dean Foster the royalties he is contractually owed for several novelizations of popular films, including Star Wars. Here is the text of the letter that Foster wrote to the corporate overlords (addressed with tongue in cheek to “Mickey” — as in Mickey Mouse — because he’s been unable to even learn the name of someone he could speak with):

Dear Mickey,

We have a lot in common, you and I. We share a birthday: November 18. My dad’s nickname was Mickey. There’s more.

When you purchased Lucasfilm, you acquired the rights to some books I wrote. STAR WARS, the novelization of the very first film. SPLINTER OF THE MIND’S EYE, the first sequel novel. You owe me royalties on these books. You stopped paying them.

When you purchased 20th Century Fox, you eventually acquired the rights to other books I had written. The novelizations of ALIEN, ALIENS, and ALIEN 3. You’ve never paid royalties on any of these, or even issued royalty statements for them.

All these books are all still very much in print. They still earn money. For you. When one company buys another, they acquire its liabilities as well as its assets. You’re certainly reaping the benefits of the assets. I’d very much like my minuscule (though it’s not small to me) share.

You want me to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) before even talking. I’ve signed a lot of NDAs in my 50-year career. Never once did anyone ever ask me to sign one prior to negotiations. For the obvious reason that once you sign, you can no longer talk about the matter at hand. Every one of my representatives in this matter, with many, many decades of experience in such business, echo my bewilderment.

You continue to ignore requests from my agents. You continue to ignore queries from SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. You continue to ignore my legal representatives. I know this is what gargantuan corporations often do. Ignore requests and inquiries hoping the petitioner will simply go away. Or possibly die. But I’m still here, and I am still entitled to what you owe me. Including not to be ignored, just because I’m only one lone writer. How many other writers and artists out there are you similarly ignoring?

My wife has serious medical issues and, in 2016, I was diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer. We could use the money. Not charity: just what I’m owed. I’ve always loved Disney. The films, the parks, growing up with the Disneyland TV show. I don’t think Unca Walt would approve of how you are currently treating me. Maybe someone in the right position just hasn’t received the word, though after all these months of ignored requests and queries, that’s hard to countenance. Or as a guy named Bob Iger said….

“The way you do anything is the way you do everything.”

I’m not feeling it.

Alan Dean Foster

Prescott, AZ

Disney is evidently hoping to outlast him and anyone else who has a complaint. They have nearly infinite resources to pay for lawyers, whereas a working writer or artist… does not. So they figure they can just stonewall until the plaintiff runs out of cash, loses interest… or in Foster’s case, quite possibly, dies. It’s the same tactic Donald Trump has historically employed to screw over honest contractors who were dumb enough to take jobs for him. It’s appalling, it’s immoral, it’s sleazy… let’s be frank, it’s evil.

And Mary Robinette Kowal, the president of SFWA, has pointed out that there’s a much larger concern here beyond one artist getting screwed:

If we let this stand, it could set precedent to fundamentally alter the way copyright and contracts operate in the United States. All a publisher would have to do to break a contract would be to sell it to a sibling company.

There does seem to be a growing outcry over this, from Star Wars fans and other authors alike, including heavyweights like Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi. Will it be enough to sway the evil Mouse empire? Who knows… but this is not a good look for them.

You know, I’ve had a lot of long dark nights of the soul over how my life turned out… my failure to make my dream of becoming a novelist come true. There are a lot of reasons why it didn’t happen, some within my control, some without. The biggest one is that I just… got busy. As lame and unsatisfying as that sounds, it’s true. Life happened. And I have flagellated myself endlessly over it, just certain that my failure was the result of a character flaw… that I was too lazy, too easily distracted, too… I don’t know… too weak to put my nose to the grindstone. I have imagined that there’s an alternate-universe me who somehow got it right and lives that fabulous life I’ve always dreamed of, who writes and does book tours for six or eight months of the year and then travels the rest of the time. (Something like I’ve always imagined Alan Dean Foster, a well-known world traveler, does.) I still long to live that life, or at least to write a single book, just to say I did it.

Except… in recent years, as the relentless march of digital technology has gutted traditional publishing and I’ve gotten to know some real writers and seen just how damn hard it really is… I don’t know anymore that I want to write as a career. The writing part, the actual work of putting words to paper, is the easy bit. The rest is marketing, and the industry around that is cutthroat and only getting worse, and the odds of any actually making a living as a writer are getting smaller all the time. Maybe I’m only telling myself that to console myself; maybe it’s a classic case of sour grapes. But I don’t think so. I do still hope to write that novel, at least one novel, some day. But an industry that functions like publishing apparently does today, where a massive conglomerate like Disney that has more money than god can nevertheless contrive to pinch pennies owed to a man with 50 years of success under his belt, pennies that they wouldn’t even freaking miss… do I really want to be part of that? Why would anybody want to be part of that?

Source for the quotations above.


The Mouse Is Evil

I doubt my Loyal Readers will be surprised to learn that the first “grown-up” book I ever read was Star Wars, the novelization of the movie that was ostensibly written by George Lucas, but actually was ghost written by a dude named Alan Dean Foster.

The second grown-up book I ever read was Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, a sequel to Star Wars written by that same Alan Dean Foster, and the first of what has now become known as the “Star Wars Expanded Universe” of tie-in novels, comics and games… an empire that rivals Palpatine’s in its reach and wealth.

I think it’s fair to say that Foster was my favorite author when I was a kid, both for his original works and for his novelizations of popular films. He was the king of them during the ’70s and ’80s, adapting everything from the aforementioned Star Wars to  Clash of the Titans. I read all of them over and over again because for me, especially in the pre-home-video era, they were the best way to recapture the experience of those beloved movies. In fact, at one point, I probably read more novelizations — and in particular the novelizations of Alan Dean Foster, because he was the best in this category — than anything else.

So when I heard earlier today that Foster would be delivering a virtual press conference along with the president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America about something important, my antenna went up. The virtual conference was livestreamed on Facebook and is still there on SFWA’s page, if you want watch it, but the short version is this: When Disney acquired Lucasfilm, it also acquired Foster’s Star Wars books. And when Disney acquired Fox, it acquired his novelizations of Alien, Aliens and Alien 3. All of these books are still in print and still making money for their owner, which is now, of course, Disney.

And Disney has stopped paying Foster the royalties he’s owed.

Moreover, they refuse to even speak with Foster, his agents, or SFWA about the matter, apparently believing that they acquired the rights to those contracts but not the obligations thereof.

As a fan of Foster, a fan of Star Wars and Alien, as a would-be novelist myself who once thought the coolest thing in the world would be to have Foster’s job, I am infuriated. This is absolute bullshit, the apotheosis of corporate evil and of unfair, 800-pound-gorilla behavior. And here’s the thing: If the Mouse is screwing over Alan Dean Freaking Foster, a hugely successful novelist with a 50-year track record, what are they doing to other writers who don’t have his name or professional savvy?

I’ll be following this story…


“It’s Easier to Be a Parent This Morning”

It’s done. Thanks to the Great State of Pennsylvania, Joseph R Biden is the president-elect of the United States of America, and Kamala Harris will be the first woman and the first person of color to become vice president. (And, I predict, the 47th president after Biden! That’s right, folks, you read it here first, right here on Simple Tricks and Nonsense!)

Donald J Trump is finished. He hasn’t accepted it, of course. He’s raging petulantly on Twitter that no, in fact, he won. He did, he did, he did! He won! Bad things happened… illegal votes (whatever the hell those are!), stolen election! He WON! Classy to the end, Don. But it doesn’t matter. Whether he can pull it together enough to walk out of the White House on January 20 with a modicum of dignity or will need to be carried out by men with butterfly nets, his time is done. I’m seeing videos of cheering throngs in New York and San Francisco. The mayor of Paris has tweeted “Welcome back, America,” and I’ve seen reports that church bells are ringing in Munich. I remember a lot of jubilation when Obama won, and Bill Clinton before him, but this… this feels different, doesn’t it? It feels something like I imagine V-E day must have. Maybe because we know, on some level, that we dodged the same authoritarian horror that was put to rest that day.

I’m not going to gloat, though, or let the celebrating get too far out of hand. For one thing, like I wrote the other day, I know that the next few years are going to be an uphill battle for President Biden to get anything of substance done. And Trump is still going to be around for two more months and who knows what kind of rat-fuckery he might get up to in that time? He will, without a doubt, call for recounts or attempt some kind of lawsuit. I don’t believe either of those efforts will change anything… but at the very least, the rhetoric is going to be brutal for the next couple months. I hope he doesn’t try anything crazier than those last-ditch gambits. Maybe someone should consider taking the Nuclear Football away from him?

But that’s something to think about later, perhaps. For now, I’m going to leave with this clip of CNN correspondent Van Jones. I think he says everything that needs to be said on this historic morning. This morning isn’t a victory so much as a relief for a hell of a lot of people. As bad as the last four years have been for me, they’ve been a genuine nightmare for people of color, immigrants, homosexuals… basically anyone not-white and male. I raise my glass to you people. You’re still here. You made it. We all made it.


The View from the Other Side

As of this moment — 7:30 PM on Thursday night, November Fifth in the accursed Year of the Plague Two Thousand and Twenty — I am reasonably confident that Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States of America. Votes are still being counted in a handful of states and everyone in the nation — hell, everyone in the world — is chewing their fingernails to the quick waiting for the final tallies, but the numbers are all trending solidly in that direction. My candidate appears to have won. The long, exhausting reign of Donald J Trump will soon be over.

But I have to be honest, I’m not feeling very triumphant right now. This is probably going to seem a bit silly, but… do you remember the scene in Return of the Jedi when the Super Star Destroyer, aka Vader’s command ship, the Executor, is destroyed? It’s a turning point in the big space battle at the film’s climax; a Rebel fighter plows through the Executor‘s bridge and the out-of-control juggernaut heels over and pierces into the Death Star below, exploding in a gargantuan fireball. On the bridge of the opposing Rebel cruiser, a cheer goes up from the officers in the backgrounds… but Admiral Ackbar doesn’t join in. Instead, he looks downward and then slowly leans back in his seat. His expression — as much as you can read the expression of a latex space-salmon — is curiously somber. Even a bit sad. I’ve always interpreted this as Ackbar mourning the waste of the hundreds of thousands of lives that were surely aboard that destroyer, sailors not unlike his own crew, just doing their jobs for their service and their government. They may have been enemies, but Ackbar is an empathetic creature in my view and takes no pleasure in the things the war demands of him. And of course, the battle isn’t over yet.

Do you understand where I’m going with this? I am Admiral Ackbar in this scenario. I’m watching the Executor go down but there’s no pleasure in it for me because I know the cost of this victory, all the wasted lives lost to COVID and god knows what else, and the war is going to rage on. Perhaps literally, if Trump manages to entice the Proud Boys or other, shall we say, low-information types to violence. At the very least, he’s not going to concede and extracting him from the White House will be… frustrating. As will be a Biden presidency with Mitch McConnell still in charge of the Senate. My liberal dreams of quick action on healthcare, climate change, voting reform, and a thousand other things all slammed into a brick wall when the Democrats failed to crack the Republican majority. And even with Trump himself gone, Trumpism isn’t going anywhere. His base will make him a martyr, and I don’t expect their awful behavior is going to be shamed back into the shadows anytime soon. These hardheaded loudmouths will be spewing their conspiracy theory garbage and making life difficult for anyone they perceive as different from them for a long time to come.

So yeah, my guy won, but it’s something of a Pyrrhic victory.

Still… Trump will soon be gone, or at least out of the spotlight. And what a relief that will be, just to have a respite from the daily outrage and the constant, constant nattering…

The Destruction of the Executor on Disney Video


Election Day

It’s here at last. The Day of Reckoning. We’ll either save democracy today, wrest the levers of power away from the rapscallions and scoundrels and, yes, the fascists… or we won’t.

I find myself thinking of Bill Murray’s character at the climax of Ghostbusters, when the Stay-Puft marshmallow man is marauding through New York and the boys decide the only chance of defeating him is to cross the streams of their proton blasts — the one thing they’d been warned never to do because of the danger that entails. Facing near-certain doom, Venkman gets an almost beatific look on his face as he says to his friend and colleague, “See you on the other side, Ray,” before pulling his trigger.

Yeah. That’s where I am right now. Come what may, see you on the other side…




Reclaim the Country

Bruce Springsteen recently asked us during his SiriusXM Radio show to consider what’s gone missing in the last four years:

“There’s no art in this White House. There’s no literature, no poetry, no music. There are no pets in this White House. No loyal man’s best friend, no Socks the family cat. There are no images of the first family enjoying themselves together in a moment of relaxation: no Obamas on the beach in Hawaii moments, or the Bushes fishing in Kennebunkport, no Reagans on horseback, no Kennedys playing touch football on the Cape.

Where’d that country go? Where did all the fun, the joy and the expression of love and happiness go? We used to have a president who calmed and soothed a nation, instead of dividing it. We are now rudderless and joyless.

We have lost the cultural aspects of society that have always made America great. We have lost our mojo, our fun, our happiness, our cheering on of others— the shared experience of humanity that makes it all worth it. We need to reclaim that country once again.”

“Rudderless and joyless” so perfectly describes the last four years, doesn’t it?

To be fair, this bleak hellscape we find ourselves enduring isn’t really the doing of any one individual. This didn’t just happen suddenly, much as it may seem like it. It’s taken a lot of people, a lot of enablers and dirty-tricks artists, and frankly a lot of apathetic and just plain stupid voters, across a span of 40 years to push the United State of America to this point of near total breakdown. But all that negative karma, all that mean-spiritedness and hard-headedness and emptiness of soul that has washed over our land since 2016, although it’s been building for a long time, was finally instantiated in and catalyzed by one man. One man who, like an abscess, has provided a center for all that horrible inflammation to accrete around and, finally, to erupt through.

I have often theorized that there’s an alternate universe someplace where another Donald J. Trump, born without money but otherwise suffering the exact same pathologies, ekes out a shabby living by dealing a penny-ante game of three-card monte on a folding table down at the very end of the Atlantic City boardwalk, the end that only the most gullible and wide-eyed hayseed tourists ever reach. He’s a con artist through and through, right down at the molecular level, no matter which universe we encounter him in. Unfortunately, we live in the universe where this vulgar, ignorant, greedy, hateful man somehow got himself into a position where he could poison the whole country — the whole world, really, as everything is interconnected — with his sociopathic, insatiable narcissism.

But tomorrow we have a chance to lance the boil and hopefully drain some of that pus out of our system. We can toss out that immoral, sexist, racist bully with the ridiculous combover and the strange orange makeup and the too-long tie and the schlubby suit, that wanna-be mobster, the Con Man in Chief and his whole damn Trump Crime Family. We can be rid of coke-fiend Don Jr and moron Eric, both so desperate for daddy’s love, both so confused that no amount of cocaine or endangered-animal heads on the walls seems to fill the hole in their souls. We can be rid of Steven Miller, the reptilian neo-Nazi Wormtongue who’s been whispering in Trump’s ear, and Bill Barr, who will give you that jowly hang-dog expression and tell you that he is the one being persecuted even as he guts the justice system. And we can be rid of the princess Ivanka and her dead-eyed, greasy-haired consort. Boot them all to the curb, and take their power-hungry bootlicking enablers in Congress with them. If there is any justice at all in this universe, the whole damn Republican party is about to be massively repudiated and sent to the metaphorical desert to think on their sins for the next 40 years or so.

At least that’s my hope. I have a hunch that it just might happen. I don’t think the GOP understands how righteously pissed the left, as well as a whole lot of moderates and even members of their own party, really are about the travesty of the last four years, how tired we all are of the neverending psychodrama shitshow chaos that surrounds and emanates from this White House.

We’ll see, of course. We’ll see.