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December, 2007

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto today is bad news for all of us, but it is especially bad news for Pakistan. Violence follows like night after the sun sets.

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Pencil case. A cartuchera is a pencil case. My translator just needs eight hours of sleep to work properly.

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I got a new camera for Christmas, and it makes it look like I know what I’m doing when I take pictures. It’s AMAZING.

Sophia Profile, Christmas 2007Kurt Profile, Christmas Day 2007Sophia Runs, Christmas 2007Sophia on monkeybars, Christmas 2007Sophia laughs, Christmas 2007

Additional good things: calls from various family members (even the ones in South America!), delicious dinner fixed by spouse, many cups of tea, a splendid sunny walk in the afternoon, a refurb ipod nano (refurb because I am holding a hateful grudge against the video nanos and this is the only way to not get video), some very awesome books (happy shape! happy shape!), a handmade sewing kit and placemat (from Sophia), a lovely tea box, as well as oranges and chocolates and nuts as is proper in a stocking. But the mindblowing thing is the camera. Expect new stuff in the photo database very soon (consider this post a sneak preview)!

The spouse got the way cool guitar hero III (and his family searched the world for it, because we love him so) and a bike helmet (we care about your safety!) as well as handmade stuff from Sophia, a vest from his parents and popcorn from the inlaws. Sophia got more things than she could name (she told her cousins,”Can I just tell you about two things?”) including the desperately longed for “Crystal Princess Lily Lightly”. The successes seem to be the Polly Pocket jet plane, the My Little Pony Teapot Palace and the aforementioned Crystal Princess. Though near as I can tell, nothing is a disappointment. Even the embroidered with her name ‘cartuchera’ (grrrr, the English word escapes me at the moment) got oohs of appreciation and a generous,”I have been wanting one of these.”

A couple of photos of loot:
Guitar Hero WeaponryTeapot Palace

We are blessed, that much is clear. Hope you are feeling blessed as well.

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Periodically, every 1.5 to 2 years, I take the Political Compass test. I’ve considered blogging about it before, because I find it a very useful tool for examining my own politics, and figure others would find it useful for examining theirs. Then I let the negative arguments in my head tell me no one really cares to examine their own politics, and it’s just this oddball habit that only I have because of my weird ex-patriate upbringing. Any one who cares has surely already seen it, right? I decide I should be blogging about cute kittens instead. Or parfaits (“You know what else everybody likes? Parfaits. Have you ever met a person, you say, ‘Let’s get some parfait,’ they say, ‘Hell no, I don’t like no parfait’? Parfaits are delicious.”). Or, you know, one of a thousand petty annoyances of my day. But not politics, no one wants to hear it.

But truly, the political compass is smart work. They’ve set out a grid instead of a spectrum for classification. And the test is a bunch of ethical statements, and if at least one of them doesn’t make you pause and wish you had some third alternative that wasn’t agreeing or disagreeing, I declare you a replicant. Their grid, with social and economic axes, makes sense to me in ways that left/right doesn’t. Well, I don’t recall if I’ve ever posted my results before, but I’m sure it will surprise no one to know I’ve always come up in the lower left quadrant: I’m an individualist (thank you, Heinlein and Rosseau and evangelical protestant upbringing!) who subscribes to libertarian social views and I’m also an economic socialist (yes, I believe the state should regulate the economy. I know this declaration is making you free-marketers foam at the mouth. Deal with it.) I’m into voluntary. I’m into collectivism.

So there I’ve always been, hanging out in the lower left quadrant, pretty much alone in American politics. I’ve copied a graph of the current 2008 primary candidates from the site. As you can see, all except Gravel and Kucinich are upper right quadranters. It’s not a question of whether the bulk of the candidates are socially authoritarian, it’s a question of how authoritarian they are. Apparently, Alan Keyes is going to be in your bedroom telling you when to turn out the lights every night, whereas, Ron Paul, the least authoritarian of the bunch, is probably not going to bust into your bedroom but once a year or so and apologize on his way out.

Political Compass US Primaries 2008

Have I mentioned that I love Kucinich? Possibly not by name, but he’s the mystery “candidate I would have voted for with a skip in my step” in this rant about Democrats and third parties, from 2004. Sadly, I don’t know who Gravel is, but I’m going to look him up after I’m done here.

At any rate, the reason I went back and took the political compass test again recently was because my friend John just took the test and blogged about it. And lo and behold, he is on the lower left quadrant, just as I am. What do John and I have in common? Well, we’re friends, but we’ve had very few political conversations. We’re in the same writer’s group but he tends to write poetry and I tend not to. We are both spiritually oriented people who think a lot about theology and religion, but he’s Jewish and I’m Christian. We both live in St. Louis (maybe it’s something in the water?).

I took the test again. I’ve moved even further to the left since I last took it, a couple of years ago. I am now, according to the test, practically a communist.
Your political compass
Economic Left/Right: -8.62
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.10
Moving, moving to the leftI can’t say I wasn’t a little shocked. I am comfortable with being socialist, sure. Socialism makes sense. It’s practical and Scandinavian, like Ikea is practical and Scandinavian. But communism? Isn’t that the territory of extremists? As I told my friend John, if I were any further to the left, they’d have to add squares on, just for me. I don’t know if this is reactionary on my part but I suppose I can be grateful not to be living during the McCarthyist era. I’ll cop to a contrarian bent. The spectrum of American politics is so narrow it chafes.

I’m interested in tracking my own political changes over time. I have noticed shifts in myself and in others, but I sometimes find that people think their current political position is the only logical one, and therefore one they’ve always held. This can apply to stuff other than politics of course. Everyone has experienced someone saying they’ve always liked something you know they didn’t or that they’ve never liked something you shared together. My guess is that it’s a fiction of the cognitive self, who seeks to unify the instances of self through time by constructing a narrative, a permanence. If my guess is right (and it’s just that, a guess) then this peculiar short-sightedness is part of the human condition. We all do it. It’s a beam in your own eye issue.

Helps to lay everything out, though. To self examine. Keeps one honest.

As you probably guessed from my regularly used online nickname (Anarkey), I once leaned strongly toward anarchy as a political philosophy, particularly as a teen and in college. Then I lost some naiveté regarding other people. I say some, because I suspect a large number of people I interact with see me as fundamentally naive. I’m actually ok with that, so long as people respect that naive != stupid and give me the benefit of the unaffected and natural bent of the word as opposed to the lack of wisdom bent. So I realized people are a – idiots and b – evil and so alas anarchy remains a utopian ideal like unto the kingdom of heaven…not of this earth, in other words. I still hew strongly to individualistic ideals and personal liberty drawn from the anarchic tradition, but I believe the greater social circle (the economy, for example) should be rigorously controlled.

I think what caused the big shift leftward for me in the last couple of years is that, in general, I increasingly have trouble with American held notions about property. Katrina shed a lot of light into the dark corner of property as notationally of higher value than human life in our society, particularly if that human life is black and/or poor. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to stand up and declare all property is theft. Nor, for that matter, that all life is sacred. I don’t object to ownership of land (or other physical objects) for their own sake. I’m fine with people owning land, it just doesn’t seem to be intrinsically logical or necessary. One of the interesting statistics that has taken up a lot of my imagining and thinking time lately (both for future fiction and for geopolitics) is the U.N. estimate that by 2030 half of the world’s population will be living in slums. How does bargaining for pieces of territory make sense when fully half the world cannot hope to participate in the exchange? That disenfranchisement seems enormous to me. And dangerous. You have to have participation in the system for it to work. I did not believe Neuwirth’s 1 in 7 people are squatters stat when I first heard it a couple of years ago, but if it’s true (and I haven’t found the counter to it), then clearly the system we’ve set up to demarcate property does not work, and it’s pointless to pretend it does.

Conventional wisdom says that as people gain property, or a stake, then they become more fiscally conservative and more entrenched in the status quo. Usually this corresponds with aging. Nothing like your parents dying and willing you the farm to make you against the estate tax, right? So it’s interesting to me that I seem to be going in the opposite direction. I haven’t run out and sold my house or anything, but I do feel increasingly less strongly that property is an inviolate right. I wonder if, in reaction to future events, I will change my mind again, and whether I’ll turn more socially authoritarian or slide back to the right economically (though I’d have to slide a long, long way to ever be a free-marketeer). I find it a curious notion that, in general, American voters seem to view someone with a long congressional record which shifts on issues over time suspect. I would view such a candidate as intrinsically more trustworthy. It shows they are involved in their moment. Geopolitical situations change. I expect politicians, especially if they’ve had long careers, to change their mind about stuff as they live and experience and learn new things. If they don’t ever shift on any issue, isn’t that more scary than if they do? Doesn’t that mean they approach every problem with a prior notion of what the solution is based on their views instead of examining the issue and its various angles?

Meanwhile, there I am, all alone on the left, entertaining crazy ideas like the redistribution of property. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the tale of how I turned into a communist while I wasn’t looking.

So here’s my challenge to you. Go take the test. Report your scores, here in the comments, or on your own blog and put the url in your link here (please remember, more than two urls gets you discarded as spam, and the comment function urlifies anything starting with http://). Reflect and react to the results; let me know if you’ve seen a shift in recent years if you’ve taken the test before. And for bonus points, see if you can find someone out there that’s further to the left on the economic scale than I am. Then I’ll feel less like one lone voice crying in the wilderness.

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So it’s Hannukah. I like Hannukah, and I like Yom Kippur and I like Rosh Hashanah and I like Passover. I’m not Jewish, so I don’t celebrate them, but I do admire them, that sort of admiration just a footstep away from envy. I admire how focused Jewish holidays are on the history of their occasion. Now I know that ostensibly Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, and that Easter represents His death and resurrection, but I always get the impression Christian celebrations are more about cycle than about past. We relive it instead of remembering it. Not so with Jewish holidays. The context of the re-told stories as history is inviolable. No one is pretending, not even on a spiritual level, that they’re breaking free from slavery in Egypt at Passover.

When I was little, I lived in a city with a sizable Jewish population. I have been told the concentration of Jews in Buenos Aires is second only to New York, but I don’t know whether this is true. At any rate, today Buenos Aires boasts the only kosher McDonald’s outside Israel, so that should give you some idea.Koshermcdsophia01 20070328 It was not uncommon for me to see men with the black hats and the sideburn curls or women with their heads covered as well as the less orthodox yarmulke wearers. Sometimes when I’m in Clayton or U. City and I see people wearing yarmulkes and walking, I swallow a little homesick yearning for that place that is not mine but I lived in for so long. I feel both an affinity and an exclusion, a recognition of something familiar but not mine. My not being Jewish but identifying with their holidays is like my not being Argentine but having lived there for nearly two decades, or being American yet stripped of the cultural signifiers that allow me to feel American.

When I was in grade school, I was friends with a Jewish girl named Analía Goldstein. In honor of Hannukah, I’m going to go into my history and remember her today.

I think we may have become friends by virtue of sharing the first and second spots in line. Our teachers arranged our lines (two, one for boys and one for girls) by height. I was short and usually first, but when Analía arrived she turned out to be even shorter. Finally, I had a companion in diminutiveness. Though I usually deny having had any nicknames when asked, I will (one time only!) confess to having been called, as a child, “Campanita” (Tinkerbell) and “Hormiga Atómica” (google images says the translation for this is “Atom Ant”, not “Atomic Ant” which I would have guessed). Both namesake figures are notable for their lilliputian qualities. Analía was not only smaller than I was, she was cuter too. She had a button nose to rival mine, and beautiful dark curly hair and sparkling brown eyes and a great big smile. I liked her a lot. I also liked not being the littlest, cutest thing in sight for a change. I liked having someone my size around. I liked being second in line instead of first. She was a smart girl who got good grades, same as I was. With Analía around, we could be a pair.

I don’t remember what games we played together, or whether we ever fought or how many years we remained close. What I remember, vividly, is how lonesome I was on the days when she had excused absences for religious holidays. There seemed to be two or three of these every other week. I’m sure, looking back now, that couldn’t possibly have been the case, but at the time it felt constant and interminable. I asked her once why she was absent so often and she told me it was religious. Since I spent a lot of time at church, I understood, but never once had I gotten out of school for it. That didn’t seem fair. Why did all my religious holidays coincide with the school being closed? Would I ever get a day off the other kids stayed in school for? Many years later, in high school, I skipped school for a while with an Israeli friend of mine and we watched movies downtown. Though that was a joyous time all its own, it didn’t quite fulfill that empty spot of having a holiday while everyone else worked.

Since leaving Argentina, I have heard humorous skits and read essays by Jewish Americans who felt overrun by the ubiquitousness of Christmas (most recently from Amy Klein on NPR). They speak of resentment, isolation, envy. I understand that. I’m not in elementary school anymore, but when I was, lack of my own special holy day made me jealous. I can still see my uniformed girl self, sitting at her desk with her feet crossed underneath, thinking of the long, lonely day ahead without Analía’s smile. What was she doing while I was completing one of a thousand indistinguishable workbook sheets? I remain convinced she was having more fun than I was. So to everyone celebrating Hannukah instead of Christmas I say, you are not the only one who sometimes feels left out. And to Analía Goldstein, wherever you may now be, I say, Happy Hannukah.

Bonus Spanish Hannukah trivia: a dreidel is called a perinola, but this is a generic term for four-sided tops. To have the specificity that dreidel connotes, you would have to say ‘la perinola de Janucá’. Isn’t perinola an awesome word?

Super Bonus Hannukah blog postings: My hardcore gaming friend Dave plays Dreidel for the first time and loves it! My Jewish friend John blogs “The Eight Days of Hannukah“. It’s like the “12 Days of Christmas” only with YouTube!

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I owe a state of the writing entry at some point, but this is not that. This is notekeeping about short pieces.

Things subbed to markets:

  • Another Boot (flash)
  • Stranger’s Child
  • Three Second Memory
  • Peeling Off The Pale

That’s the most things I’ve ever had out at one time, though I’ve had four things out at various points during 2007, but this time around none of those four things is “Hindsight”, which after more than two years of being almost the only thing I sent out and ten markets has officially been retired. I’m getting better at sending things out. Tea-leaf market reading at Duotrope says both “Stranger’s Child” and “Three Second Memory” have been at their markets longer than the average time for a rejection but ehhh, that doesn’t mean much, does it? I’m probably in for a couple of those “almost bought this” rejections that my stuff seems to be accruing lately.

Things that need to be polished and sent out:

  • Easier Next Time
  • Would Be Super (flash)
  • Lie Down With Dogs
  • How I Lost My Nissan 350Z

I pulled out “Easier Next Time” yesterday and realized with dismay it isn’t flash, as I believed, and also guh, it’s not speculative but is somewhat fluffy (as opposed to serious and significant) and I have no idea where to send it. Still, fixes first, markets second. It would be awesome if I got these four things out before the end of 2007. If I do all four of these, I can potentially double the items I am, as a friend says, “sending away for rejection letters.”

Things that are setting a while before edits which I believe I’m capable of:

  • Adding to Naught
  • El Vientre
  • The Genocide Hotel (temp title)

Things that are broken and I’d like to fix, but I’m not sure how:

  • Far From The Tree
  • Nine-Tenths
  • Found Objects
  • Loyal Companion

Things that are unfinished, but I mean to complete, soon as I figure out what goes next:

  • the bleak angel story
  • both failed slushbombs, the first one and the cooperative one
  • the one about the messages in the margins, so long as it isn’t “Found Objects” again (and I can’t tell yet)
  • the one about the camp kid building the voodoo doll
  • the one in the file called tattoocode.txt
  • the Chelia backstory one
  • a testing waters story in the new world I’m harboring, probably about carnaval
  • the post-apocalyptic segregated gender story
  • the one about the kid who reads the dying stars

There’s a lot left to write, even without digging into the idea file, which is itself voluminous. I suppose I can stop thinking of myself as someone who doesn’t have a lot of ideas. None of these sort of started stories are entered into the database. Key them in with “Started”, willya? Also, this is not exhaustive of the drabbles on the hard drive (or in paper! Ignore the paper!). I just mentally checked whether I was engaged with the idea represented in the file right this second, and left the others unlisted.

Things I mean to write but have not actually started:

  • the story about the ponies for Sophia (needs to be about 300 words, full plot and girl arc)
  • linked 55 word stories, a half a dozen or so (for Sophia)
  • standalone 55 word stories, another half dozen, YA slant
  • the VP Evil Overlord story, because really, it was an assignment, wasn’t it?

Things that are broken and shelved for now:

  • Egghead Kingdom
  • Ennui (suitable for mining, I think, together with Hindsight into some new monstrous whole)

Things that are shelved:

  • How Does Your Garden Grow (it’s not a strong enough story…I’m not happy enough with it)
  • Hindsight (also not a strong enough story, plus it’s been to ten markets! I will dismantle it and steal the good bits)
  • Olympus (aka the speculative version of Adding to Naught. I’m going to mine this at some point but it will never see light as it is)
  • My Viable Paradise Titanic story (it’s not very good, and that’s being kind)

Things that have sold:

  • The Way Before (flash)

Stories on the various lists which I wrote this year: Stranger’s Child, Three Second Memory, Would Be Super, Adding to Naught, El Vientre, The Genocide Hotel, The Way Before. There are no stories I wrote this year that are not represented. This inventory tells me that my stories are coming out less broken than they used to…so I must have internalized some author toolbox stuff, though I wouldn’t have known that from the writing itself. I’ve felt much less productive this year than last, and though I made less novelistic progress, I do appear to be regularly writing short stories so maybe I shall be less hard on myself about wordcount. Fewer words but the right words has greater value than the raw number of words, at least to me. I long to write brief anyway, so why tell myself I need to put in more words? (Amusing aside, I was given a very stern crit on “The Genocide Hotel” about not being afraid to add in more words. I always prefer winnowing to fattening. I wrote the recommendation down, so I would take it seriously). Examining the list(s) also tells me that I need stories to sit about six to nine months between writing and polishing. That’s a huge lag time and I’m going to have to figure out a way to shorten it (“Stranger’s Child” and “Three Second Memory” did not seem to need that long to steep, but “Three Second Memory” had been in my head a long time, and I cribbed plot for “Stranger’s Child” – uh, I mean it’s an homage). I think I will use wordcount tracking for novel progress and completion tracking for short pieces. Thus, I started and finished seven things this year. That’s fewer than I would like (but more than I expected). Also, if this exercise has been reliable, less of what I write needs to be discarded than I thought, and most of what does need to be discarded is stuff from my first year writing. Note to self, it’s easier to see progress when you make a list (or series of lists).

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