The Waiting Room

In recent weeks, I've been finding myself less inclined to peruse or comment on political threads, a habit I'd been moderately prolific at the last several years.

I think I've entered the "waiting-room" phase of political interest. It's as if your loved one (in this case, your country) has been battling a life-threatening disease for several years. You've tried to understand the cause of the disease, tried to mitigate its symptoms and progress, tried to live as normal a life as possible under its everpresence, and now the high-risk surgery has been scheduled.

And you're in the surgical waiting room as your loved one is going thru all the pre-surgical preparation, and it's out of your hands, and you can't do anything, and you WAIT, and WAIT, with hope and dread cycling and cycling through your mind, and you WAIT some more not knowing if your loved one will be returned to you whole again, or still alive but crippled and handicapped by the past ravages of the disease, or if you'll be approached by a surgeon who will tell you "We could not save her. I'm sorry."

(There are still five weeks until the election, and I could still take some [minor] actions to try and influence other people's votes. But it's hard, very hard, to feel that, at this point, anything I could do would make a difference. If there are actually any "undecided" voters out there, I sure don't know any. It feels, in essence, that except for the actual vote-casting and vote-counting, everything about the election except the results has already been decided.)

[this post was originally written as a comment on Patrick Nielsen Hayden's Electrolite]


Compare and Contrast

From Smirking Chimp

By Donna Marsh O'Connor

An open letter to Dick Cheney on the anniversary of my daughter's murder:

Thank you for warning me about my vote for John Kerry. In this version of America, the one you all have crafted, clarity is very difficult to come by. Let me make myself perfectly clear: my daughter was murdered on 9/11/2001, on an absolutely clear, late summer morning. She was four months pregnant and, that morning, five minutes after the first of two planes hit the World Trade Center, she was told she was "safe." She was told to "stay at her desk." She was found whole and intact ten feet from an alley between Towers IV and V. I cannot tell you how I would have appreciated such a clear warning before September 11th, or even on September 11th. Before that day, there were warnings, clear warnings, but they only reached the desk of George W. Bush. And I note he did nothing to stop the events of 9/11.


There were other warnings during Clinton's tenure in the White House (many I'm sure you don't need me to innumerate)--some, though they were perhaps more coded than your recent missive, came in the form of Ken Starr's investigation of Clinton. As a mother or a citizen of this country, did I read this as a warning then? No. I did not. Was this money well spent by the Republicans? Many of my Republican friends at the time did not think so. Could we Americans afford this kind of investigation, knowing now how much we needed Clinton to be free to pursue more pressing issues? No. Should I have read in my lack of understanding of the import of the Ken Starr investigation that there was something you people wanted to have occur? Was this a deliberate distraction? Has anyone in the media since, or, in fact, has anyone in any office of power in this nation asked any of you to, perhaps, answer for that?


I ask these questions now because the Bush/Cheney administration and all of your followers are the greatest beneficiaries of the events post-9/11, and I take your warning as an indication of what you guys will bring to America if Kerry wins. Get this clear, Mr. Cheney, what you guys will bring to America. I fear you, believe it or not, more than I fear another bin Laden attack and that is why I am asking you these questions now.

Because I take your warning as an admission of your ties to that event. Even, no especially, if that admission is not what you intended.

So thank you, once again. And, understand how truly thankful I am to hear you articulate what only I seem willing to articulate: That if Kerry wins, you will come back at us.

We are forewarned.

But know this: I will never again watch my values, and the values of my fellow Americans be trampled on by so much corruption, so much duplicity and so much unadulterated hate without speaking out. You are not a Republican. You have shamed Republicans. And many of them, I pray, will be voting with me, in hope as well as fear, for John Forbes Kerry.

Donna Marsh O'Connor
Mother of Vanessa Lang Langer, WTC, Tower II, 93rd floor

- - - - -

And this is the response posted by "American Patriot":

My condolences for your loss however I cannot help feeling your comments are the manifestation of a deeper hatred rooted in the failings of your own party.

I didn't see the part where you lashed out at the Clinton regime for its failings in dealing with the terrorists. I did notice how you somehow focused on George W Bush for failing to stop terror in seven months when Clinton had failed miserably for eight years to do so. Let's try to be fair ok. Your daughters death, tragic as it might have been, was but one life needlessly lost on 9/11. The 9/11 commission makes it quite clear that Clintons efforts to engage terror were not fruitful because the military and CIA and FBI all thought it nothing but a diversion from the topic at hand at that time, you know and remember that don't you, the President receiving oral sex in the White House instead of PROTECTING AMERICANS.

I find it repulsive that you choose to point the finger of blame at a man who has attempted to rid the world of terror while you sit muted when it comes to the root cause of 9/11, a complete and utter failureof Clinton as President to keep his penis in his pants and do the job of President.

Your commentary is the typical Democratic finger pointing that leads many to say go fuck yourself. you in your hatred find it easy to assign blame while looking blindly at the real culprit.Your daughter was one of many and many of those killed that same day were Republicans, Democrats, blacks, whites, Hispanics yet you only chose to attack the people who are actually DOING SOMETHING. I'm sorry for your loss but your comments deserve a large,"GO FUCK YOURSELF" you're a disgrace using your daughters death as smear material for the party who truly let you down. DISGRACEFUL

ADDENDUM, 10/2/04: Avedon Carol takes me to the woodshed in comments for only providing a link back to the Smirking Chimp home page, rather than to the article itself.

Since I quoted both O'Connor's article and "American Patriot"'s response in full, I didn't see the need for a link back. The article generated over 150 comments on SC, the majority of them responding to "American Patriot", some politely, some in language similar to his own. The comments also didn't add much to the mix, I thought. If you want to judge for yourself, you can look here.

But Avedon is absolutely right that I should have included a link back to the original source of O'Connor's open letter. Unfortunately... there wasn't one. While Smirking Chimp articles are usually reprinted from other sources, occasionally head honcho Smirky Chimpster gets writing submitted directly to him. And if it's particularly powerful or well-written, he might post it on SC. O'Connor's letter appears to be such a piece.


"Bob, These Are The Strangest People I've Ever Seen."
A Bubonicon Report

Bubonicon had a new hotel this year, the Wyndham Airport close by the Albuquerque airport. Larger facilities, a more upscale ambience than the Howard Johnson East where the con had been for years, and with still-reasonable room rates ($69/night).

Hilde and I drove up from Phoenix on Thursday. Even though we no longer have the extra hassles of packing along goods and equipment for a dealer’s table, it’s still a long drive, especially with only one driver. (Kay, who usually goes with us, had to stay home to take care of her new granddaughter.) And a full night’s sleep before a con is an added benefit.

We also wanted a bit of an opportunity to act like normal tourists. So Friday morning we got up and went off the the Albuquerque Biopark, which includes large botanical gardens with a very nice aquarium.

The aquarium has a number of smaller tanks with various fresh- and salt-water fish, including many brightly-colored tropicals. In the first of the larger tanks we saw were . . . manta rays.

Ooh! Ooh! Mantas! Neat! Seriously cool!

(Can you tell I sorta like manta rays?)

Then there was an impressive display of jellyfish, in shaded tanks with spot lighting that highlighted the jellyfishs’ delicate structure. Really lovely creatures.

(Though I did wonder a bit about the plush toy jellyfish in the gift shop. Is it really a good idea to teach kids to cuddle jellyfish?)

Then, the shark tank, which also featured numerous other large fish, moray eels, a sea tortoise, more mantas (yay!), an artificial reef, and several scuba drivers dispensing food to the non-sharks. (One assumes the sharks are fed-well at other times.)

The botanical gardens area held, besides some extensive, nicely-designed gardens and greenhouses, a Children’s Fantasy Garden, with immense concrete versions of fruits and veggies and a big dragon guarding the entrance, and a butterfly pavilion with numerous species fluttering about inside the big mesh enclosure.

Between the aquarium and the gardens, I took about ninety shots with my Sony digital camera, the one that uses mini-CDs as a storage medium. Unfortunately, right after the butterfly pavilion, when we were leaving the Biopark, the camera started flashing error messages: the disk had gone bad, and would no longer write. Worse, it would also no longer go through the finalization procedure, which readies the disk for removal and insertion into a computer’s disk drive. No finalization, no pictures.

Bummersville. (I still had a spare disk in the camera’s carrying case, so I was able to take some photos at Bubonicon itself later that weekend. But damn, I had some good shots of those jellyfish!)

The con had already started registration by the time we got back to the hotel. I was scheduled to be on a couple of panels, and give a reading, that weekend, but nothing on that Friday. So it was a fairly laid-back evening, saying hi to people we knew, perusing the dealers room, and attending Jim Moore’s very interesting talk on “The Science Of Archaeology.”

There was also an interesting panel on the future of space exploration – manned or unmanned? that turned out to have an unexpected consequence for me:

I was scheduled Saturday for a panel on what aliens would look like. Thinking about what to say on that forthcoming panel mixed in with some of what had been said on the space exploration panel, and in Jim’s talk about archaeology. And Saturday morning, while Hilde was still asleep, I found myself with pen and notepad, and actually writing a complete short (1100 words) story in one sitting.

(Two completed stories in four months? For me, a definite Wow!)

Back to Friday for one more note: At the panel on shared and media worlds, Melinda Snodgrass made the announcement that the WILD CARDS shared-world series was being developed as a television series by Sci Fi Channel, and she had just turned in the script for the pilot episode. Since I’ve always enjoyed the WC books, I consider this cool news, and hope the concept transfers to television smoothly and well.

Saturday started fairly late. Hilde slept in while I worked on the story, and then were the usual start-of-day routines like Hilde’s twice a-day exercises, washing, medications, and breakfast out of the cooler we’d brought with us. So it was early afternoon by the time we actually got out of our room.

At the Mass Autographing Session, I took the opportunity to have George RR Martin sign my copy of his big fiction collection from last year’s Worldcon, GRRM: A RRetrospective. I hadn’t heard about the book until Locus’ post-Worldcon issue. The publisher, Subterranean Press, hadn’t made that large a print run – they recently announced there’ll finally be a second printing – and it was a bitch trying to find a dealer who still had copies of the $40 trade edition. The first couple of dealers I tried had copies, but they were asking, two months after publication, the same price for the trade edition as for the still available-from-publisher $125 deluxe edition. Finally found Clarkeworld Books, who were still selling the trade for the initial price.

Also got some books signed by Connie Willis and Walter Jon Williams. (And would have liked to have had Steve Stirling’s new book, Dies The Fire, with me, but my copy hadn’t arrived from Science Fiction Book Club yet.)

A few more panels: “Pulp Fiction: The Importance of SF & The Short Story” which seemed to mostly conclude that publishing overall is in a state of flux right now, which leaves markets for short stories in a similar flux. The traditional magazines may end up continuing, but with reduced print runs and circulation. Webzines may eventually flourish, but not until a successful business model is found that allows actual profits. Gardner Dozois pointed to Fictionwise.com as the only fiction (mostly reprint) site that seems to actually come close to finding that business model.

Then my panel on “BEMs or Grays: The Look of Aliens.” I raised what I hoped was an interesting point: Eventually, either humanity, going out, or aliens, coming in, may have the ability, with gene-engineering and other technology, to send an unmanned vessel that will probe and study a target planet, then custom-tailor and build an organism maximized for survival in the planet’s environment. Add in a capability for downloading intelligence into the tailored body, and space-travelers will be able to go just about anywhere. So, if such a spacecraft ever arrives on Earth, we’ll most likely find ourselves shaking hands with cockroaches.

Hilde and I went to dinner after that, in the hotel restaurant. My order, a Grilled Portobello Mushroom With Spinach Hummus turned out to sound better on the menu than actually was on the plate. The “Spinach Hummus” was more like a lightly creamed chopped spinach (with, I think, some of the mushroom liquer used in the cream sauce); if chickpeas had ever been near it, I couldn’t tell. I think this is something I may try fiddling with at home. (A Spinach Hummus certainly sounds like it has potential.)

We skipped the Costume Contest. Sorry, but costume contests and masquerades are generally hot, crowded, go on for far too long, and lack sufficient reward for the time and energy expended.

Spent some time in the Con Suite with various nice folks likewise ducking out on the costumes. Then I tucked Hilde into bed, and I went to see The Stink of Flesh.

TSOF is a movie produced and directed in Albuquerque by a fellow named Scott Phillips. A couple of years ago, he presented a short film, Science Bastard, at Bubonicon. That presentation was hilarious, in the “so bad, it’s good” tradition. So I was looking forward to more of the same.

Alas, TSOF wasn’t that bad. The premise is, in the usual world where almost everyone has been killed and come back as flesh-eating zombies (don’t you hate when that happens?), an “alternative-lifestyle” couple has to find some of the few survivors so the husband can watch them have sex with his wife. (Okay, it sounds that bad, but it wasn’t. Not that bad.)

Sunday morning was spent packing and taking stuff out to the car. Then my reading at 12:30.

I’m grateful when anybody shows up for one of my readings. Had two people there when I began reading, and a few others come in within a few minutes. And got a nice compliment from James van Pelt for “The Shining Boy” at the end of the reading.

At 1:30 was an Authors Afternoon High Tea in the Con Suite. Yep a real high tea, with multiple teapots and cucumber sandwiches, presented by local author Pati Nagle and assistants. Crowded and noisy, but much fun. An award was given for the Best Hat & Gloves, and attendees got to take home their tea mugs. (White coffee mugs printed with a drawing of a tall pile of papers, a hand and forearm poking from the top, and the caption “I can handle it!) If Pati holds High Tea again next year, I’ll have to remember to pack along my fancy cowboy hat from the back of the closet.

We had several bids on pieces in the art show. Pickup was at 3:00 for winning bids, but my last panel was at 3:20, so I left Hilde in line with the checkbook and went off to do the panel.

The panel was “Send In The Clones” and wandered over the subject as panels are wont to do. At one point, Connie Willis brought up that recent studies show stresses in the womb itself, not just initial genetics and upbringing, may play a major part in determining a person’s personality and characteristics. I responded that this might actually make a selling point for artificial wombs; by raising an embryo in a strictly controlled environment, you might be able to get a kid that comes with a guarantee!

Hilde came into the room partway thru the panel, with a box on her lap. We’d won two of the three pieces we’d bid on in the Art Show: a painting of a winged cat (I collect winged cats), and a highly dramatic half-figure sculpture of an archer by a guy named Jim Humble. (The guy is good!)

And at that point we skipped the closing ceremonies, went out to the van, and began the long drive home.

I’ve been going to Bubonicons for over thirty years now. I like the size (I think they hit a new record this year with just over 400 attendees), I like the people who attend, I like the people who put it on, and I like Albuquerque. (I even considered moving there, back about 1976.) I think it’s safe to say Bubonicon is, and has been for a long time, my favorite convention.

And I knew it had been a good con overall when I was taking some of the last boxes out to the van, and went by an older, mundane-looking couple standing by the front entrance. And heard the wife say to her husband, “Bob, these are the strangest people I’ve ever seen.


Marvels and Miracles

Ive been going thru a period of a lot of introspection, and thinking about Life So Far and some of the things that have happened during it.

I think I’ve decided that the Big Question isn’t “Why was I so incredibly screwed up as a kid?”, but “How did I manage to end up so [relatively] normal?”

I don’t like miracles. I don’t want to believe in them. It’s why I’ve never been able to be a Christian; if God performs miracles, then God is a cheat.

But I look back at over a quarter-century with Hilde, and I marvel. I marvel that when I finally realized that Hilde had an interest in me as more than a casual friend, that – in a life that had, up to that point, been close to emotionally comatose – I found the courage to take the risk of opening up to someone, of sharing myself with someone. (And I came so close to deciding the other way.)

And the other marvel: That the person I opened up to was the right person, maybe the only person who could have, in the simplest words, put up with me, to stand by me, and teach me during that long steep learning curve of how to be capable of love.

That’s definitely a marvel. And maybe it’s a miracle too.