Sunday, March 26, 2017

Being paid for being there.

Kevin Phillips | | CC0
I guess last week's post about the hawk was a little too woo-woo for some folks. It happens.

Anyway, this week, let's talk about something less esoteric: money. Specifically, a universal basic income -- a guaranteed income for everybody.

The idea has been around for a long time -- since at least the late 18th century, according to the authors of Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy. This book by Phillippe van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght was originally published ten years ago, but the authors have recently released an updated version.

Anyway, back to this radical far-left idea of giving money to people who haven't worked for it -- you know, like the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute have suggested in recent years. (Hint: these two outfits are conservative think-tanks.)

As I said earlier, the idea has been kicking around for about 250 years, but it's come into focus lately because of the continuing problem of income inequality in the West. Futurists -- and I don't just mean people who write science fiction -- believe the disparity in income between rich and poor will only get worse in coming years, largely because of automation. We're already seeing the effects of automation on jobs here in the US, even if we're reluctant to admit it. Robotic machines are already commonplace in automobile factories and slaughterhouses, to name just two places that used to hire a lot of people for dangerous, repetitive work.

In another telling sign, online ordering and in-store kiosks are beginning to invade fast-food and fast-casual restaurants. There's a Panera Bread outpost down the block from my day job that has positioned ordering stations armed with tablets so that you have to dodge them to get to the counter. You can still place an order with a real, live person, but it's clear they'd rather you didn't.

In short, it's estimated that one-third of current US and UK jobs are liable to go away due to automation. Granted, those people won't all be out of work, necessarily; during the Industrial Revolution, people left farming to go to work in newfangled factory jobs. But not everyone did; some folks were left out, just as is happening today. And we're already seeing the effects of our economic paradigm shift. Middle-aged whites without college degrees -- the demographic most deeply affected by our shift away from heavy industry to a service economy -- are dying younger now, often from drugs, alcohol, or suicide. Some researchers are calling them "deaths of despair."

And here's another problem with widespread automation: If too many people are chronically out of work, fewer people will have enough money to buy the things our businesses sell. Shopping 'til you drop requires disposable income. The rich have it, but they tend to hoard their cash, as we saw during the Great Recession. Lower demand for goods and services means lower production, which means more layoffs -- and that's when the service economy will begin to circle the drain.

In this context, researchers like van Parijs and Vanderborght think it wouldn't be a bad idea to give everybody a little cash -- just enough to keep them out of poverty. Before you think this is a "free money" scam that would encourage people to sit home and be lazy, let me tell you that the authors are suggesting these payments equal one-quarter of the country's average personal income. Here in the US, that amounts to about $12,000 a year. I don't know of many people who could live rich on that kind of money. But it would keep people from worrying about paying their basic bills: rent, utilities, food.

I mentioned laziness a minute ago. Yes, Americans tend to be suspicious about giving people something for nothing. But van Parijz and Vanderborght suggest thinking of it not as welfare, but as a payment for our "social capital" -- the riches in natural resources and institutional know-how that has built up over centuries, and in which we all share without ever contributing to it. And the payment would go to every adult, not just those who are out of work.

I can see an advantage for artists and writers. I can't tell you how many indie authors I know who launched their writing careers after they retired. I haven't taken a poll, but I suspect many of them waited until they had an income stream they could count on -- from Social Security or a pension -- and were then free to pursue a career they would have embarked on sooner if money weren't an issue.

I expect we'll be hearing more about this idea in the months and years to come. Finland is beginning a multi-year experiment with a universal basic income this year. It will be interesting to see their results. I'll let you know what I hear.


Writing news: I'm just about ready to pull the trigger on Maggie in the Dark. Look for a newsletter about it this week. What's that you say? You're not subscribed? Then you should use the QR link below to sign up. I'd do it now. Just sayin'.

These moments of universally basic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Happy red-tailed spring!

Tomorrow is the spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, and it's also the day many Pagans observe Ostara.

I don't plan to be awake at 6:28 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time to welcome in spring on the dot. But we will be coloring eggs (I bought a set of dyes with glitter this year -- it'll be a glorious mess!) and munching on chocolate bunnies. (Eggs and bunnies are ancient symbols of fertility that the early Christian church co-opted to encourage pagans to convert, but I digress.)

Usually, here in DC, we welcome spring with daffodils and blooming trees -- pink magnolias and cherry blossoms. This year, however, we had a ridiculously warm February that sped up the blooming schedule, followed last week by a winter storm that featured snow, sleet, and freezing rain. That storm, together with too many nights in the 20s, put paid to the pink magnolias, as well as about half of the blossoms on the celebrated cherry trees that ring the Tidal Basin. We'll still have trees with flowers this year, but it won't be as pretty as usual.

skeeze | Pixabay
So I'm pinning my hopes for this spring on a different herald: the red-tailed hawk that I saw from our dining room window this morning. He (or she -- there's not much difference in their coloring) looked a lot like the one in this photo.

Our apartment is on the sixth floor, so we see a lot of birds. There's a flock of crows in the neighborhood, and some of them fly past our windows (even after dark! I think of them as juvenile delinquents with nothing better to do than cruise Shirlington in packs, looking for the tastiest offerings from the local restaurant dumpsters). And we have blue jays, robins, sparrows -- the usual feathered crowd. But I don't see a lot of hawks here. So this one caught my eye, with his typical raptor flight style -- soaring slowly with wings outstretched, eyeing the ground below for a little something for brunch. "That's a hawk," I said. And when he obligingly circled away from our building, I amended my statement: "That's a red-tailed hawk!"

Ted Andrews, who died in 2009, knew a thing or two about animals and their magical connections. He devoted four pages to hawks in his book Animal Speak: The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small, and two of those pages cover the red-tailed variety. It's fitting that I saw my new friend when I did; Andrews wrote that hawks' power is greatest at the spring and fall equinoxes. Like other high-flying birds such as crows and eagles, hawks are considered carriers of spiritual messages. But Andrews said the red-tail "has ties to the kundalini, the seat of the primal life force... It may pop up as a totem at that point in your life where you begin to move toward your soul purpose more dynamically."

Red-tailed hawks are fearless -- and deadly. Andrews said he once saw a red-tail attack a snake and carry it off, the snake's head hanging by only a shred of skin. He suggested those with a relationship to the red-tail should be careful in expressing themselves: "There will unfold within you the ability to tear off the heads of any snakes in your life, or anyone or anything seen as an enemy." (As some of you know, I've been in a lengthy struggle to sort out issues related to my mother's estate. In light of that whole mess, I found this part of red-tail's message very interesting.)

In any case, my new friend seems to be saying that delays and wheel-spinning are coming to an end for me. That's a much more positive message than dead cherry blossoms. I'll take it.

Speaking of progress: I'll be putting the finishing touches on Maggie in the Dark this week; look for publishing news next weekend. Which is good, because I'm hoping to draft book 2, Maggie on the Cusp, during CampNaNoWriMo in April. And I'm already thinking about writing some spin-off stories featuring two characters who only get a couple of scenes in this book.

In addition to that, I'm working on a sci-fi story for the next Five59 anthology, which should be published in mid-April.

Why, it's almost like a dam is breaking...

Happy spring!

These moments of red-tailed blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


You may recall, in my last knitting-related post, I made mention of a project called the Wrought Iron shawl, a.k.a. the Endless Colorwork Shawl of WTF Was I Thinking. I started working on it in October and had set it aside for NaNoWriMo and the holidays and pussy hats and, well, you get the idea. I knew it was going to take me a long time to finish. I even said so in that post in January.

Well, it's done.

To goad myself into finishing it, I signed up for a how-to-steek class with Ann Weaver at fibre space, our closest local yarn shop. Steeking is a technique that's used in colorwork -- i.e., knitting that incorporates two or more colors of yarn in the same row. Rather than cut the yarn every time you change colors, you carry the yarn you're not using on the back of the work, so it's right there when you're ready to start using it again. Now when you're making a regular old flat knitted fabric with just one color of yarn per row, you turn the work when you get to the end of a row and knit back with the wrong side facing you. But when you're doing colorwork, it's difficult to knit back -- the floats make it hard to see which color you're supposed to use next. So knitters devised a way to join the sides of the work with a panel of extra stitches, so you can knit the project in the round, with the right side always facing you. That panel is called a steek. And when you're done knitting the thing, you take a pair of scissors and cut down the center of the steek.

I am not even kidding.

The class I took was designed to introduce knitters to steeking by using it to remodel old sweaters. Ann brought in a bunch of sweaters she'd picked up at thrift stores, and most people practiced their steeking on these recycled sweaters. But I brought the ECSofWTFWIT.

The trick is to stabilize the steek on either side of where you're going to cut. In class, we learned how to stabilize the edges with both hand-sewing (backstitch, if you know embroidery stitches) and crochet. You can also use a sewing machine, which sounds like it would be quick, but it can be awkward -- bits of yarn will get hung up in the feed dogs or on the presser foot.

Anyway, I decided I liked hand-sewing best. In the first photo (which Ann took), you can see the ends of the light gray yarn I used to stabilize the edges. I took the second one after cutting the steek. You can see the ragged edge on the side at the front edge of the chair.

Ann is a terrific instructor and I learned a great deal in the class. I also met my goal -- I cut the steek on my shawl. Yay!

But I wasn't done yet. I still had to finish the edges by knitting a border -- and that meant picking up stitches all the way around all four sides of the shawl. It, um, took a while. The next photo shows what it looks like when you've got 800 stitches, give or take, on a 60-inch circular needle. They were packed on pretty tightly. As I knitted the border, I had to keep stopping to manually shove the stitches around the cable. Binding off all those stitches wasn't a boatload of fun, either.

But at long last, the ECSofWTFWIT is done. Here's what it looks like, border and all. It's beautiful. And I am never, ever doing one of these again.

I heard that: "But what about your writing, Lynne?" Yes, yes, I'm getting to that. Maggie in the Dark
is back from my editors, and with any luck, I'll have publishing news for you in the next week or so. Stay tuned...

These moments of hair-raising blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

In (questionable) honor of grammar trolls.
Alert hearth/myth readers will notice that I'm posting a day early this week. That's because today, March 4th, is National Grammar Day, and I promised the fine folks at Grammarly that I would give y'all a heads-up about it.

The topic for this year's observance is the grammar troll, as you can see by the graphic at the left.

If you've spent any time at all on social media, you've seen them: those all-knowing jerks who spring into action whenever they spot someone using to when they meant too. Or their when they meant they're. Or...well, you get the idea. It's embarrassing enough to be corrected in public, but the grammar troll kicks the correction up a notch by making sure you feel like an idiot.

The thing is, a lot of times trolls don't know grammar rules half as well as they think they do. For instance, there's no actual rule that prohibits a sentence from ending with a preposition. I know, I know -- you learned it in school, so it must be true. Except it's not. This so-called rule is a holdover from Latin grammar, and it doesn't really work in English. Consider this example:

Me (looking at the bottom of my shoe): "Eww!"
You (attempting to speak "correctly"): "In what did you step?"
Me (looking at you funnier than I just looked at the bottom of my shoe): ...

Yeah. Doesn't really work.

I attracted a grammar troll on Facebook a few years ago. Well, technically, I guess he was a punctuation troll. Another author had challenged me to post a few paragraphs from my current work-in-progress -- you know, one of those "turn to page 7 and post 7 lines starting on the 7th line down" exercises. I don't remember what the rules of the challenge were, and anyway, it doesn't matter for the purposes of this story. I duly went to my WIP -- a first draft which, as writers know, is often full of half-readable stuff that's pounded into shape during the editing process -- and copy-and-pasted the requisite number of lines to my Facebook page. And a fellow I barely knew took me to task for a misplaced comma. The sentence looked fine to me; it looked fine to a number of other authors, some of whom are professional editors (as am I, by the way); but this guy was sure he was right. He was, in fact, so sure he was right that he began insulting the people who disagreed with him -- especially when it became apparent that he had no professional writing or editing credentials and yet he kept arguing with us.

I ended up recasting the sentence in the final draft for other reasons. As for the troll, I booted him off my timeline. It's one thing to inquire politely after a perceived grammar or spelling infraction, and quite another to become insulting and abrasive in the process.

So a word to the wise on this National Grammar Day: If you're going to correct someone's grammar/punctuation/spelling, be kind. But first, make sure you're right.

These moments of imperfect blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.