I don’t reflexively think ill of all cops, and in my 27 years in New York City I’ve had some interactions with local cops who seemed impressively decent, grounded, and on-the-ball.
But I would really like someone to convince me that this demonstrates anything other than widespread and deeply-felt contempt, by the NYPD, for the law and for the everyday citizens of this city.
It’s not the fact that 16 police officers were indicted in the Bronx for ticket-fixing and other chicanery, it’s the fact that their arraignment was greeted by over 100 off-duty officers swarming the courthouse and physically blocking reporters from covering the event:
The assembled police officers blocked cameras from filming their colleagues, in one instance grabbing lenses and shoving television camera operators backward.This is far worse than anything any of the Occupy groups have done. Where are the helicopters, the tear gas, the tasers, the rubber bullets being deployed to pacify this threat to public safety? Oh yeah. They’re in the hands of these guys.
It’s almost like they’re incapable of self-governance and unable to maintain the place in a safe condition.
As you may or may not be aware, at 4 AM yesterday morning, local time, several hundred police officers from the Oakland, California police department and a large number of police from surrounding jurisdictions turned up at the Occupy site in downtown Oakland and proceeded to deploy massive force, destroying the camp and arresting over half of its inhabitants. This was accomplished with rubber bullets, flash grenades, tear gas, and overwhelming numerical superiority.
From the San Jose Mercury-News: “A spokeswoman for the mayor, Karen Boyd, said Friday that the protesters had shown themselves incapable of self-governance. ‘As a collective, they cannot maintain the plaza in a safe condition,’ she said.” One presumes the municipal government of Oakland knows a lot about being unable to maintain public space in a safe condition, having notably failed to do so itself for many decades now. Indeed, such failure is endemic among exactly the institutions and classes that the Occupiers are criticizing: failure to safeguard the environment, to resist being bought by the super-rich, to provide employment for those willing to work, to even muster a whisper of response to the growing danger that sometime in the next several decades we’re all going to be boiled alive. The entire story of our modern elites is a story of such failures.
In the wake of yesterday morning’s eviction, there have been further protests, and at this point it appears that the city government and police department of Oakland are in a series of continuing pitched battles with their citizens. This will of course end well, with the protestors cured of their unfortunate cynicism about the police and convinced that the authorities are interested only in improving public health. A a new day of trust and understanding will dawn between the governors and the governed. Because that’s always how this stuff works out.
I do not do well on my own.
I don’t mean that I can’t stand my own company, though I do tend to disappear into myself when left really alone for a few days. But even before that, I find that I get these…ideas. It’s a classic crafter’s problem: unoccupied days and evenings stretch before me in empty perfection, and that little voice starts up. You could go back to naalbinding, it says into the echoing silence of the dining room. At night, as the house sits all too still with only me breathing inside, it murmurs, You could figure out cuir ciselé book covers. The leather is right there under your workbench, getting no closer to returning to the cows and goats. And there’s no one around to walk into the room where I’m puttering and say, “What, exactly, are you doing with those eggshells and sandpaper?”
The thing is, Martin and the kids have formed the habit of going to Scotland for the school’s autumn break, leaving me behind to work and get some space in my head. And I do, until the voice starts, and then I find myself making stuff, usually in the kitchen. Last year, it was spiced vodka, infused with cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice, and crushed bits of nutmeg.1
This year, the little voice was whispering about the pears in Martin’s study. Wicked little voice.
You see, we have a pear tree in the back garden. Our first year here, it produced a solitary pear, which fell to the ground during an autumn windstorm and rotted in place. In our second year, it grew a good dozen, raining them down on the plants in its bed like meteors on hapless dinosaurs. In the third, it used a score or so to bombard my poor dripping, mildewing green tomatoes. This year, though, it’s finally hit its stride and has produced basketfuls. But these are not soft, sweet pears, rosy-skinned and slightly grainy on the tongue. Oh, no: these are green rocks, each as big as a softball, hard and astringent as a long-term cynic in a casino.
So we decided to try ripening them indoors. But after nearly a month, they had simply changed from being hard and astringent to soft and astringent. Leaving them longer was going to invite rot. So, because Martin has been making Indian food lately, the word the little voice murmured in my ear was chutney.
But what kind of chutney? I replied. The little voice, probably startled that its own personal abyss was staring back at it, fell silent, leaving me to Google up recipes. Because chutney is like soup: it can be anything, from a sweet jam-like substance with mangoes all the way to limes in the kind of super-spicy oil that I can’t even touch a finger to. In this case, I wanted something more like the former than the latter.
So I experimented, butchering one pear a night for a week. I tried onion (fail) and mango (win), powdered spices (boring) and fresh ones (yum), and started making my own candied ginger2. And by the end of the week, I had the following recipe.10 pears
Peel the pears and mangoes, then chop them into cubes of a size you’re willing to eat in a chutney. Toss everything into a pot and stir until it’s mixed up (don’t let the turmeric clump). Cook over a high heat until it boils, stirring constantly. Turn the stove down and simmer gently for a couple of hours, until the pear is soft and flavorful. If the liquid starts to taste chalky or grainy, add a bit more apple juice or water and call yourself done; it’s getting too concentrated. If the liquid all boils away, add a bit more apple juice or water and again call yourself done; burned chutney is not in anyone’s tradition.
Use a pierced spoon to put the chutney into sterilized canning jars. You may have delicious liquid left over, which invites more cleverness than I had left by this point. (Tell me what you do with it!) Put lids on3 and immerse in a boiling water bath. I left them in for about 20 minutes, which was certainly more than they needed to seal. Remove jars from water and allow to cool, testing seals afterward. Since badly preserved food is a lovely source of botulism, whatever you’re not sure is well-sealed should be treated like any other open jar of food, and eaten in a reasonable span of time. Sealed jars should last a good year.
This recipe yields about 10 cups of chutney. I made two batches,4 and am consequently drowning in the stuff.
The little voice doesn’t talk to me any more. It could be that Martin and the kids got back yesterday to marvel at the jars on the counter. It could be that it’s run out of things to say. Or it could just be that its little mouth is full of pear and mango chutney.
Wicked little voice. What will it murmur next?
The execution may get complicated, but the basic maneuvers are simple:
1. Move and keep moving. Tell the story you want to tell without shilly-shallying around. Move your characters out onto the board, get them into interesting situations, and have them do big, consequential things as early as you can. Then, continue making situations interesting, and keep the big, consequential actions coming.
Note: Strong characters who assess, decide, and react quickly are especially good for holding the reader’s attention. Our eyes are naturally drawn to objects in motion.
2. Make it consequential. To the greatest extent possible, have later events be caused or motivated or shaped by earlier ones. Every causal or consequential link you can build into the story is a steel cable holding your narrative together. When you can’t find any way to link an event via consequence, see whether you can link it thematically to what has gone before.
3. Recycle your characters. Give preference to characters already used in earlier episodes, or to characters connected with them, when you’re peopling later events. Characters are made more interesting by being reused, and it increases the overall consequentiality of the story. One-time single-purpose characters are occasionally necessary, but they don’t support as much weight.
Cherish your good secondary characters. They’re infinitely useful.
4. See if you already have one. Whenever you need something new — prop, plot thread, setting, minor character — go back through the parts of the story you’ve already written and see whether you can find it there. It’s surprising how often the exact thing you need is already sitting there in plain sight.
And that’s the lot. Nos. 1 & 2 are slightly more important than nos. 3 & 4, but they’re all important. The more you can lard on the consequence and connection, the tighter your fiction will feel. It’s a much better way to create structure than by nailing some shopworn hugger-mugger plot onto the side. A story can be arbitrary when you first make it up, as long as it pleases you; but when you turn it into fiction, the arbitrariness has to go away, because it’s the great enemy of reader interest.
Which brings us to the invisible fifth item: cool stuff now, more cool stuff later, even cooler stuff at the end. You love the story because it’s yours, and because you know there’s cool stuff coming. However, the reader doesn’t know that, so lay on the cool stuff now. Don’t be stingy. You can always make more.
Today, October 17, 2011, is both Boss’ Day (observed) in the US and The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
A complex and interesting conjunction. I’m not sure I can do it justice.
Continued from Open thread 164
Continued in Open thread 166
If the Transnistrian Infundibulator is supposed to be a power source, but when turned on, creates a black hole which threatens the world, until the inventor’s assistant works out that modifying the backup to use a toroidal core instead of a spherical one creates a wormhole generator which can be used to a) trash the original device and b) travel faster than light across the universe, that would be cool.To knit an infundibulum:
Using a US #10 circular needle and waster yarn, cast on 96 stitches (25 x 3) and knit in the round for half an inch or so until it feels comfortable.
Switch to nicer yarn and continue knitting. This should eventually produce a tube that fits comfortably around your head, as measured along the ear-to-ear axis. If the tube is very loose or unpleasantly snug, adjust the number of stitches accordingly. Keep knitting until the tube is roughly the length of your head. Bind off in waster yarn.
(Why not just knit end-to-end? Because infundibula are good for using up a sub-sweater quantity of nifty yarn. Starting in the middle and working outward in both directions makes it easier to match the size of the infundibulum to the available yarn, especially if you wind up using a different yarn for the ribbing.)
Remove the first batch of waster yarn, transferring the stitches to your needle. Work several rounds in the nicer yarn.
Set markers: Arbitrarily designate some stitch as the first in its row and mark it. (K8, place marker) to the end of the row. Your stitches are now divided into twelve groups, so it’s time to discuss increase rates and the length of the shoulder cape. An infundibulum is a funnel-shaped object, but funnels vary.
If you increase fairly rapidly starting here (say, one increase per twelve stitches every four rows), end the shoulder cape at the point of your shoulder, and finish the top edge with a few rows of ribbing, you’ll have a splashy little circular shoulder scarf and neckwarmer.
If you increase more slowly (say, once per group of twelve per six rows, especially if you’re working in a light worsted or sport yarn), end the shoulder cape about halfway between your shoulder and elbow, and add a substantial five or six inches at the top end of the tube, you’ll have a considerably warmer garment that’s much like the one Abi’s wearing. Its topmost section can double as a hat. Just pull the infundibulum over your head until the top ribbing stretches from the point of your chin to the crown of your head, and hey presto, you’ll look like a marginal illustration from the Luttrell Psalter.
(Naturally, this also means that if you take that same infundibulum, roll up the tube starting at the top, stick your head through the doughnut thus formed, and flip the shoulder cape over to one side, you’ll look like Vogue Knitting Meets the Très Riches Heures du Duc du Berry. Alas, it’s not a joke that many people will get.)
If you continue slowly increasing until the shoulder cape reaches your elbow, then add on to the top of the tube until you double its length, you’ll have a very warm garment indeed, which, if worn over a long plain dress or skirt, has the power to make you look like a Byzantine illustration. All you need by way of accessories are a saintly attribute and a sign saying HAGIA YOURNAMEHERE.
Handle the increases as you please, in an invisible or utilitarian or decorative fashion. It’s your infundibulum.
Working the lower ribbing: End on a number divisible by four. Decrease your needle size — this detail is not negotiable. Work in 2/2 ribbing to the length desired, then bind off loosely in rib. There are a zillion clever alternate ways to finish off the edges, so if you’re feeling clever, go ahead and use one.
Finishing the upper end: Remove the waster yarn and pick your stitches back up again. If you want to lengthen the tube before you get to the ribbing, do so. Then switch to smaller needles and work in 2/2 rib. If you want the ribbing to hug tighter at the end, reduce your needle size still further for the last inch or two. You’ll still want to bind off loosely in rib, though.
Either weave in ends, wash gently, and block, or don’t.
[Photos to come—posting in the interest of timeliness.]
Teresa and I just got back from today’s Occupy Wall Street event, a march from Foley Square down to the “occupation” at Liberty Square. We were accompanied by our current house guests, the Two Steves, Brust and Gould. (On Friday we will all pile into a rented car and drive to Martha’s Vineyard, where we’ll be teaching our annual writing workshop along with fellow instructors Jim Macdonald, Debra Doyle, Elizabeth Bear, and Sherwood Smith.)
It was an impressive event. Signs and sentiments ranged from mild-mannered demands like “Tax Wall Street” to hardcore observations like “No War But Class War.” (As I observed to BrustSteve, who was raised by Trotskyist union organizers, “I’ve been a moderate liberal for much of my life, but you know something, there really is a class war going on, and the other son-of-a-bitches shot first.”) The NYPD did a fine job of making sure everyone who persisted in marching all the way to Liberty Square was made as miserable as possible, because you know, if demonstrating one’s dissatisfaction with this screwed-up world were easy, who knows what might happen? Best to discipline and punish everyone involved. We escaped the semi-kettling when Teresa shamed a cop into letting her past the fence behind which they’d channelled the demonstraters. Then we walked down to Liberty Square itself, paralleling the main demo but not fenced in along with it. My guess is that “Liberty Square”—actually a privately owned open space called “Zuccotti Park”—is named in nostalgia for a time when Americans didn’t automatically accept that police get to define when and where “free speech” may be exercised.
Escaping on the R train from Rector Street, we got home to discover that Steve Jobs died. And that my Twitter feed is full of people wanting to wag their finger in my face for caring too much, in the wrong way.
He was complicit in many of the sins I just got home from marching against. He gamed the inequities between labor in the First World and labor in the Third. He was probably a lot of people’s boss-from-hell.
He also made a world in which people like me and Teresa—computer users since 1988, when we got our first Mac SE—are technologists rather than passive victims of someone else’s vision of technology. Selfish though it may be, I have to acknowledge that this means a very great deal to us.
The world is complicated. Late capitalism sucks. Our systems don’t work. Our futures are controlled by people who don’t give a crap for anything we care about.
Steven Jobs cared about something. Without him, our lives would have been different, and probably worse. We’ll miss him. Anyone who wants to take this as the occasion to wag a reproving finger is invited—not entirely cordially—to comprehensively plobz the frap off. You may quote me, in this life or the next.
…that the Mageworlds books are returning to e-print.
Volumes 1, 3, and 5 have already come out. I expect the others will be along soon.
|The Price of the Stars|
|By Honor Betray’d|
|The Long Hunt|
We had a great deal of fun writing these books. Nor is the series entirely finished; I’m working (in among other projects) on the direct sequel to By Honor Betray’d. The working title for that is Commodore Gil in the Mageworlds. The long-beleaguered commodore has to contend with (among other things) pirates flying solar sails, all while dealing with local politics and his own increasingly-complicated love life. That’ll be volume 8. Then volume 9 will be the Grand Wrap Up and the Completion of the Great Working begun in the prequels (The Stars Asunder and A Working of Stars).
We started The Price of the Stars way back when we were in Panamá and were so unclear on the concept that we were still calling it “The Short Story” when it had topped 200 pages with no end in sight.
All of these books were edited by Patrick and Teresa. They were Locus bestsellers in their day. The Price of the Stars went to seven printings. I’m happy to see them available again.
[Updated to add: Book 4]
|The Gathering Flame|
[Updated to add: Book 2]
Compared to his usual, that is.