Thursday, May 25, 2006

Were You There?

In honor of May 25, some quotations from Terry Pratchett's Night Watch.

“Don’t put your trust in revolutions. They always come around again. That’s why they’re called revolutions. People die, and nothing changes.”

“When there’s a kid on the way, well, suddenly a man sees it different. He thinks: my kid’s going to have to grow up in this mess. Time to clean it up. Time to make it a Better World.”

The cemetery of Small Gods was for the people who didn’t know what happened next. They didn’t know what they believed in or if there was life after death and, often, they didn’t know what hit them. They’d gone through life being amiably uncertain, until the ultimate certainty had claimed them at the last. Among the city’s bone orchards the cemetery was the equivalent of the drawer marked Misc, where people were interred in the glorious expectation of nothing very much.

Two types of people laugh at the law: those that break it and those that make it.

Vimes had mixed memories of Captain Tilden. He had been a military man before being given this job as a kind of pension, and that was a bad thing in a senior copper. It meant he looked to Authority for orders and obeyed them, whereas Vimes found it better to look to Authority for orders and then filter those orders through a fine mesh of common sense, adding a generous scoop of creative misunderstanding and maybe even incipient deafness if circumstances demanded, because Authority rarely descended to street level.

“Well done,” said a voice somewhere behind him. “Consciousness to sarcasm in five seconds!” [Editor’s note: I would love an icon of this.]

When you got right down to the bottom of the ladder the rungs were very close together and, oh my, weren’t the women careful about them. In their own way, they were as haughty as any duchess. You might not have much, but you could have Standards. Clothes might be cheap and old but at least they could be scrubbed. There might be nothing behind the front door worth stealing but at least the doorstep could be clean enough to eat your dinner off, if you could’ve afforded dinner. And no one ever bought their clothes from the pawn shop. You’d hit bottom when you did that. No, you bought them from Mr Sun at the shonky shop, and you never asked where he got them from.

“Y’know,” he said, “it’s very hard to talk quantum using a language originally designed to tell other monkeys where the ripe fruit is.”

The safe had still been there when he made captain, and by then everyone knew the combination was 4-4-7-8 and that no one seemed to know how to change it. The only things worth keeping in it had been the tea and sugar and anything you particularly wanted Nobby to read.

“I comma square bracket recruit’s name square bracket comma do solemnly swear by square bracket recruit’s deity of choice square bracket to uphold the Laws and Ordinances of the city of Ankh-Morpork comma serve the public truft comma and defend the fubjects of His ftroke Her bracket delete whichever is inappropriate bracket Majefty bracket name of reigning monarch bracket without fear comma favour comma or thought of perfonal fafety semi-colon to purfue evildoers and protect the innocent comma laying down my life if necefsary in the caufe of said duty comma so help me bracket aforesaid deity bracket full stop Gods Save the King stroke Queen bracket delete whichever is inappropriate bracket full stop.” -- Ankh-Morpork Night Watch oath

And [Lord Winder] saw plots and spies everywhere throughout his waking hours, and had men root them out, and the thing about rooting out plots and spies everywhere is that, even if there are no real plots to begin with, there are plots and spies galore very soon.

They might be very bad at it but they were coppers, and coppers did not respond well to the Happy Families approach: “Hello, chaps, call me Christopher, my door is always open, I’m sure if we all pull together we shall get along splendidly like one big happy family.” They’d seen too many families to fall for that rubbish.

What was it Vetinari had said once? “Taxation is just a sophisticated way of demanding money with menaces”?

“And don’t you eyeball me. I’ve been eyeballed by experts, and you look as if you’re desperate for the privy.”

Sam: “Yeah, all right, but everyone knows they torture people.”
Vimes: “Then why doesn’t anyone do anything about it?’
Sam: “‘cos they torture people.”

“You’re an interesting man, sergeant. You make enemies like a craftsman.”

There was the People’s Republic of Treacle Mine Road (Truth! Justice! Freedom! Reasonably priced Love! And a Hard-Boiled Egg!)

He wondered if it was at all possible to give this idiot some lessons in basic politics. That was always the dream, wasn’t it? “I wish I’d known then what I know now”? But when you got older you found out that you now wasn’t you then. You then was a twerp. You then was what you had to be to start out on the rocky road of becoming you now, and one of the rocky patches on that road was being a twerp.

We who think we are about to die will laugh at anything.

Ninety per cent of most magic merely consists of knowing one extra fact.

He felt instinctively that if you were going to fondle a cat while discussing matters of intrigue, then it should be a long-haired white one. It shouldn’t be an elderly street tom with irregular bouts of flatulence.

“Winder is a madman, and that’s not good for business. His cronies are criminals, and that’s not good for business. A new Patrician will need new friends, far-sighted people who want to be part of a wonderful future. One that’s good for business. That’s how it goes. Meetings in rooms. A little diplomacy, a little give and take, a promise here, an understanding there. That’s how real revolutions happen. All that stuff in the streets is just froth...”

Madam: “The world does not deal well with those who don’t pick a side.”
Vimes: “I like the middle.”
Madam: “That gives you two enemies. I’m amazed that you can afford so many, on a sergeant’s pay.”

Coates: “What could you do, then? Arrest [Lord] Winder?”
Vimes: “Of course we can’t, but we ought to be able to. Maybe one day we will. If we can’t then the law isn’t the law, it’s just a way of keeping people down.”

As soon as you saw people as things to be measured, they didn’t measure up.

“Death to the Fascist Oppressors, Present Company Excepted! There, is everyone happy now?”

“You’re an officer of the law, not a soldier of the government.”

“Coppers were always outnumbered, so being a copper only worked when people let it work. If they refocused and realized you were just another standard idiot with a pennyworth of metal for a badge, you could end up a smear on the pavement.

He wanted to add: you’re a cell of one, Reg. The real revolutionaries are silent men with poker-player faces and probably don’t know or care if you live or die. You’ve got the shirt and the haircut and the sash and you know all the songs, but you’re no urban guerrilla. You’re an urban dreamer. You turn over rubbish bins and scrawl on walls in the name of The People, who’d clip you round the ear if they found you doing it.

Of course, he’d be expelled from the Guild if caught wearing such clothing. He’d reasoned that this was much better than being expelled from the land of the upright and breathing. He’d rather not be cool than be cold.

When he was a boy he’d read books about great military campaigns, and visited the museums and looked with patriotic pride at the paintings of famous cavalry charges, last stands and glorious victories. It had come as rather a shock, when he later began to participate in some of these, to find that the painters had unaccountably left out the intestines.

It’s a real soldiers’ song: sentimental, with dirty bits.

People said things like “quite possibly we shall never know the truth” which meant, in Vimes’s personal lexicon, “I know, or think I know what the truth is, and hope like hell it doesn’t come out, because things are all smoothed over now.”

He wanted to go home. He wanted it so much that he trembled at the thought. But if the price of that was selling good men to the night, if the price was filling those graves, if the price was not fighting with every trick he knew... then it was too high.

It was regrettable how many rulers of the city had been inhumed by the men in black because they didn’t recognize a chance when they saw it, didn’t know when they’d gone too far, didn’t read the signs, didn’t know when to walk away after embezzling a moderate and acceptable amount of cash. They didn’t realize it when the machine had stopped, when the world was ripe for change, when it was time, in fact, to spend more time with their family in case they ended up spending it with their ancestors.

Vetinari: “‘You know, it has often crossed my mind that those men deserve a proper memorial of some sort.”
Vimes: “Oh yes? In one of the main squares, perhaps?”
Vetinari: “Yes, that would be a good idea.”
Vimes: “Perhaps a tableau in bronze? All seven of them raising the flag, perhaps?”
Vetinari: “Bronze, yes.”
Vimes: “Really? And some sort of inspiring slogan?”
Vetinari: “Yes, indeed. Something like, perhaps, ‘They Did The Job They Had To Do’?”
Vimes: “No. How dare you? How dare you! At this time! In this place! They did the job they didn’t have to do, and they died doing it, and you can’t give them anything. Do you understand? They fought for those who’d been abandoned, they fought for one another, and they were betrayed. Men like them always are. What good would a statue be? It’d just inspire new fools to believe they’re going to be heroes. They wouldn’t want that. Just let them be. For ever.”

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

“You may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty.”

One of “America’s Twenty Worst Agents” has struck again.

Our story so far: Barbara Bauer was listed as one of twenty agents and agencies who have been the subject of the most complaints to Writer Beware. Sure, it’s a popularity contest, but this one has meaning. If someone has prompted that many complaints without ever selling a book, she has presumably done a fair bit of damage to a large number of writers. Not a competition most agents would want to win.

These agents and agencies generally offer big promises, charge big up-front fees, and then deliver little or nothing. They're the spiritual heirs of the Famous Writers School so entertainingly skewered by the late Jessica Mitford (author of the quotation that titles this entry). These predators feed on innocent people who dream of being published and have no idea how to go about it.

None of these agencies has a significant track record of sales to commercial (advance-paying) publishers, and most have virtually no documented and verified sales at all (book placements claimed by some of these agencies turn out to be "sales" to vanity publishers). All charge clients before a sale is made--whether directly, by levying fees such as reading or administrative fees, or indirectly, for editing or other adjunct services.

Naturally, writers picked up this list from the SFWA website and disseminated it, and Barbara Bauer started sending huffy cease-and-desist letters. She also tried to get Teresa Nielsen Hayden fired from her job as editor at Tor Books on the grounds that Teresa had reposted the list and posted about Bauer’s threats of taking legal action.

All this just encouraged more people to post the list. Also to make fun of her; there’s nothing more amusing than someone claiming righteous indignation over their unveiling as someone of dubious reputation.

As of today, Barbara Bauer has gone from a laughable would-be bully to temporarily successful Internet censor. According to the highly respected Teresa Nielsen Hayden, a top-flight New York editor and fearless crusader for Truth, Justice, and the American Way, Barbara Bauer has gotten the Absolute Write website taken down. This site, described by one reviewer as absolutely a fantastic resource for writers! (exclamation point in original), had posted the Twenty Worst Agents list So Barbara Bauer complained to the ISP responsible for hosting the site, who took it down.

It should be up again within a day or so, but it’s still a shame that a wonderful resource for writers can be whisked away by empty threats of legal action.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Travel Reservations

Dear New England:

I am sorry I am coming to visit, since you’re now getting the worst rains and flooding in seventy years. (Up to 17 inches of rain since last Friday? That’s impressive.) I had hoped Lynn’s Travel Curse was broken, since my last few trips east occurred without incident.

February 1993: My first visit to sunny southern California, where from 9 to 12 inches of rain fall in a couple of days and a mudslide closes Topanga Canyon 30 minutes after I drive through it. Debris flows and flooding are widespread, but not nearly so catastrophic as my appearance on Jeopardy!

Summer 1993: Disastrous floods inundate the Midwest when I attend the RWA Convention in St. Louis, a city even more humid than Philadelphia. While I am dressing for the awards banquet (where the table to which I am assigned turns out not to exist), I glance out the window and see a small tornado wandering down the street toward the river. According to NOAA, The 1993 midwest flood was one of the most significant and damaging natural disasters ever to hit the United States. Damages totaled $15 billion, 50 people died, hundreds of levees failed, and thousands of people were evacuated, some for months. The flood was unusual in the magnitude of the crests, the number of record crests, the large area impacted, and the length of the time the flood was an issue.

January 1996: A trip from Philadelphia to Albuquerque for a work conference is delayed by fog, lightning, rain, 60-mph winds, and freakishly warm temperatures that combine to melt the three feet of snow left by the great blizzard a few days before. My basement floods, my mother’s driveway is ripped out by torrents, and I arrive in Albuquerque 12 hours late to give my talk with the beginnings of laryngitis.

Christmas 2000: Arkansas suffers the worst natural disaster in its history when I come to spend Christmas with Michele’s family. Two inches of ice coated Little Rock and the surrounding areas. Half a million people were without power, many for more than a week. We were having Christmas dinner when we realized the ice storm was starting. Although we made a brave yet unbelievably stupid spirited attempt to drive back to the cabin where we were staying (where we had, of course, left our luggage, medicines, etc.), we were foiled by an inexperienced motorist who stopped driving halfway up a hill. We slid into a ditch and had to walk back a couple of miles through the freezing rain. Well, I say walk. We walked, fell, slid, skidded, and even rolled. Did I mention that none of us were really dressed for this activity? Or that there were three dogs, to which I am deathly allergic, at Michele’s father’s house? Or that his house was without electricity and therefore heat for the next several days? Or that, the airport closed for three days, delaying my flight home? Or that, when I did finally get home, I was flying into a huge Nor’easter that dumped large quantities of snow on my home state?

September 2001: I fly back to New York State to finish packing and moving to California. My original reservations to fly out of Logan Airport at 8AM on Tuesday, 9/11, are cancelled on the advice of my sensible older sister, who suggests I’ll need a few extra days in the east. (I don’t even need to link to this. If you do not know what happened that day, you can Google it.)

Perhaps now you see why I don’t travel much. But take heart, Massachusetts. By flooding now, you may be avoiding worse things later. Volcanoes, anyone?


Monday, May 01, 2006

Bring Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses

My recent book research has taken me back into the familiar and beloved culture of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century New England: day-long Sunday services and annual town meetings, schooners and clipper ships, towering elms and lilac bushes, and prim Federal houses with their fanlights and balanced facades. The combination of thrift, sobriety, hard work, personal modesty, and reverence for learning sounds austere, but there was also great joy and fun. I was especially tickled by the young ship’s captain who sometimes kept his logbook in verse.

These are my ancestors, and I love them. They went on to envision an ideal of democracy and equality that became a beacon to a world where education, justice, and opportunity had been the privilege of the wealthy and the well-connected. They founded a nation and a constitution that, despite flaws and bigotry, nevertheless became a model to the world.

They were also illegal immigrants. Not only that, they were illegal immigrants who were ignorant of the local language, in dire need of welfare services, and unable to survive without the support and help of the people who were there first. They destroyed the local economy, too. They even spread disease—sometimes by accident, on a few shameful occasions on purpose. Any of these accusations sound familiar?

Think about it: The Pequot Indians, rightful residents of the invaded territories, didn't want them in the first place and did their damnedest to eliminate the pesky immigrants, once they realized how destructive the invasion would be. The Pequots had to give food and job training to the helpless Pilgrims, who would have starved without that social support. Within a generation, the Pequot way of life was smashed.

That’s the other side of New England: the genocide against the natives who so kindly fed the starving Pilgrims and patiently taught the first white settlers how to plant and fertilize corn; the triangular trade in rum/molasses/slaves; the murderous religious persecutions and literal witch hunts where anyone who seemed different was sought out and destroyed; and the relentless, unquestioning self-righteousness that may be their worst legacy to the United States of 2006.

So which side are we on? Do we choose the idealism of the young colonies, the willingness to let everyone regardless of birth have a chance to work their own way with their own two hands? Or do we side with the prejudice and contempt that values inherited wealth and despises some people as three-fifths of a human being? I see our country, where my family has lived for four centuries, becoming more and more divided into the wealthy and the oppressed, where the rich exploit the workers with impunity and where government and corporations join forces to drain cash from the pockets of the hard-working majority.

What immigrants, legal or illegal, ask for is a chance to make a better life for themselves and their children. Like native-born American citizens, they need work, dignity, a chance at an education, and a little help adjusting. The pennies we spend on them will be repaid a millionfold by hard-working, loyal people. Unlike the vast sums we disburse to Halliburton and Enron, where billions sink without a trace into the pockets of corrupt and powerful rich men.

Maybe we need an infusion of people who still remember the ideals of America. Our current Administration certainly does not. Crowning a lifetime of incompetence cushioned by wealth and privilege, George W. Bush is now bent on gutting the Constitution he swore to uphold by claiming the president does not need to obey the laws. Who is the greater threat to the peace and security of the United States: a hard-working illegal immigrant picking lettuce to make ends meet, or a loose-cannon rich boy in the Oval Office with delusions that God put him there to enrich the wealthy, torture prisoners, trash the checks and balances of the three branches of government, and invade foreign countries?

I know which one scares me.