Sunday, September 8, 2019

Cruise Year, Vol. 2, or: What I did on my summer vacation.

A couple of weeks ago, Kitty, Amy and I got on a cruise ship in Rome and got off about nine days later in Venice. In between, we toured a bunch of places. Some had been on my second-string bucket list (Rome! Venice! Greek islands!) and some had never been near any iteration of my bucket list (Turkey and Croatia). All of it turned out to be cool, and sometimes better than I'd expected. For instance, I was tickled to discover that some of the things we saw -- for lack of a better word -- rhymed.

Having never been to that part of the world before, I was struck by the way the cultures of so many countries on the Mediterranean Sea have intertwined. A lot of it is due to the spoils of war; the Greeks, the Romans, the Venetians, and the Ottoman Turks fought for control of the region for hundreds, even thousands of years, and so there's a certain amount of homogenization among the ancient sites. The mosaic floors at Pompeii in Italy, for instance, look a lot like the mosaic floors in the terrace houses at Ephesus in Turkey. And the frescoes adorning the walls of those Ephesian terrace houses look a lot like a wall I spotted in Museo Correr on the Piazza San Marco in Venice. Here, take a look:

Mosaic floor in Pompeii

Mosaic floor and frescoes in a terrace house in Ephesus

Wall - Museo Correr, Venice
I'm not sure, actually, whether that wall in Venice isn't a later-period homage to ancient Roman styles. Certainly artistic techniques go in and out of style -- like, say, black-on-black pottery. The ancient Etruscans made it, and so do potters from the San Ildefonso Pueblo here in the United States.

Etruscan pottery at the Museo Correr

Maria & Julian Martinez wedding vase | Wikimedia Commons |
CC 1.0

I could go on -- we saw so many wondrous places that I'm already forgetting some of the cool stuff we learned -- but I'll stop for now, if only to get some sleep.

These moments of bloggy comparative arts have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. (All photos in this post: Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019, unless noted otherwise.)

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Gone cruisin'.

Yup, I'm on vacation this week. Come on back next Sunday and I'll show you where I've been.

These moments of out-of-office blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. (Click my name to find some stuff to read while I'm away.)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Molten Trail: It's just one smoking hot crater after another.

Last week I sorta kinda promised you guys a sneak peek at Molten Trail, so here it is.

If you've read the first two Elemental Keys books, you'll know that our Elemental heroes -- Raney, Collum, Rufus, and Gail -- are chasing after Raney's father to find various Keys to a door that will unleash the Earth's destruction. They've already been to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where the Water Key was hidden, and to County Kilkenny, Ireland, where the Earth Key was kept. Book 3 takes them to the Big Island of Hawaii for the Fire Key. Fire is Rufus's Element, so he's pretty excited about it all.

One of the joys of writing this series is that I get to use places I've been as backdrops. So of course the gang stays near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which I visited in 2010. Here's a photo I took of the smokin' hot crater Rufus is so excited to see. The landscape is different now, though, after Kilauea's eruption earlier this year, and that's part of the story in Molten Trail, too.

Anyway. The photo, with the excerpt below it:

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2010
Gail sprang for our lodgings. I think she saw my face when I paid for the business class airline tickets. Or maybe it was when I suggested we stay in a hostel near the national park. Anyway, she went online and booked a place, and then told us about it.

“You didn’t need to do that,” I’d said.

“Look, Raney,” she said. “I may be on a fixed income, but you’re unemployed. Let someone else do the heavy lifting for this trip. Okay?”

“Okay,” I said. Secretly, though, I was relieved.

So anyway, what we got were rooms in a renovated historic hotel just inside the boundary of Volcanoes National Park. The dining room overlooked the smoking hot Halema’uma’u Crater – and when I say smoking hot, I mean the crater was actually smoking.

Rufus was beside himself. His room overlooked the crater, too. “I’ve never been this close to a volcano before,” he said, beaming. “This is awesome!” He dropped his stuff in his room and immediately ran outside to goggle at the blasted landscape.

“Don’t get so close that your shoes melt,” Gail called after him. Then she shook her head in amusement. “He’s like a big kid.”

“That’s our Madman,” Collum said. He’d regained what equilibrium he’d lost on the flight over, and now looked like the fierce mountain gnome I’d grown to love.

We had some time before lunch, so we dragged a reluctant Rufus away from his contemplation of the crater and trekked over to the visitor center. There I found an arresting sight of my own: a painting of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes.

“That’s her home out there,” Rufus said, startling me. He pointed out the windows behind us.

“What, the crater?”

“Yep. According to Hawaiian mythology, Kilauea is where she lives.”

I turned my gaze to the blasted landscape, and back to him. “Has She spoken to you?”

“Not so far. But there’s time.” He grinned at me.

“Hey, where do your relatives live, anyway? You never said.”

“Not here,” he said with a laugh. “They’re all up on the North Shore of Oahu. And before you ask, they’re not Elementals.”

“Are they Native Hawaiians?”

“Nope. As far as I know, they’re haole, like all of us.” He twirled a finger to include me and the other team members. “That branch of the family came here in the ‘60s for the surfing and never left.”

“Sounds like the sort of people you’d be related to,” I said with a smirk.

“Yep, we’re all lazy jerks,” he replied cheerfully. “But seriously, I think that’s why my mother didn’t keep in touch with them. They were a little too counter-culture for her taste.”

“Gotcha. So you’re Elemental on your dad’s side?”

“Exactly. We’re Pennsylvania coal miners from way back. Fire is a great talent to have for that – setting charges to blow new seams open and that kind of thing.” His gaze drifted to the window. “Volcanoes are several magnitudes greater, though. This is real, raw firepower.” He focused on me again. “Hey, let’s get going. I’d like to get out into the park. There’s a road that circles the crater – we should have time to do that before lunch.”

“You’re kidding,” Gail said as she joined us. “Rufus, putting off a meal? Are you feeling okay?”

“He’s jonesing for Pele,” Collum said.

“You guys are all assholes. You know that?” Rufus said, but he was smiling. “Come on, let’s go. I’ll drive.”
Pele, Goddess of Fire by Herb Kawainui Kane
Photo copyright 2010 Lynne Cantwell
Speaking of traveling, I'll be on vacation next week. Enjoy your Labor Day! See you in September.

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

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Did someone say "knitting?"

I know you're all here for the knitting, but first: I finished the first draft of Molten Trail, the third book in the Elemental Keys series, earlier this week. It's shortish -- just over 41,000 words. But I'm confident I'll be able to add another 5,000 or 6,000 words in my next pass, which will be happening here presently. In any case, we're still on track for a late September-ish release. More news as it happens -- maybe even next week.

In the meantime, I offer you a post filled with lovely knitted things.

Time sure flies when you're having fun. My last kniting post was in March, and here it is, late August. Summer isn't the best time to knit, and certainly not to knit with wool. But that's why the gods invented air conditioning, right?

These last five months have been all about shawls. I already have about 30 shawls and shawlettes, which is a little embarrassing to admit. I keep thinking I should stop making them. But then some lovely new skein of yarn catches my eye, or I see an intriguing pattern, and I'm off.

Speaking of intriguing patterns: Last time, I showed you the Level in progress. Here's what mine looks like, now that it's finished:

Copyright 2019 Lynne Cantwell
In this project, I learned the importance of using yarns with more or less the same heft. The copper yarn, it turns out, is a DK; the blue is fingering weight; and the speckled yarn is single-ply that's more of a light fingering. I found I had to duplicate-stitch over some of the places where the yarns met, as the slanted ends of the lines weren't as obvious as they were meant to be. The colors go well together, at least. (And isn't it impressive how this shawl coordinates with our circular rug?)

The next project falls into the "lovely skein of yarn caught my eye" category. There I was at my local yarn store, minding my own business, and this skein of fingering-weight yarn nailed me at the door. So I brought it home and looked for something to make with it. The Hitchhiker Beyond pattern won.

Copyright 2019 Lynne Cantwell
Unlike most shawl patterns where the detail is at the lower edge, this has straight lower edges and a sawtooth design along the top. It was fun and quick to knit -- all good things.

The pattern for the next one is called the Ridgeline. The designer is in British Columbia, and had the Canadian Rockies in mind when she created the pattern. But I had yarn in my stash in Southwestern colors, and the Rockies stretch into New Mexico, so I thought my color choice was justified. And I love the way it turned out.

Copyright 2019 Lynne Cantwell
Finally, we come to the Amulet. Now, alert hearth/myth readers know that I'm not a lace knitter. And I also never knit with black, except under extreme duress -- it's hard to see the stitches and makes what's supposed to be a fun hobby way less fun. But then I realized I could use a black shawl. Then somehow the black yarn I found (the colorway is called Raven - I can't imagine how that caught my eye) got paired with a skein of red yarn. And as long as I was going there, I figured I might as well go completely nuts and add beads, too. 

I finished knitting it a couple of weeks ago. But thanks to Molten Trail and life in general, I didn't get around to blocking it until yesterday. It doesn't go as well with the rug as the Level, but you win some, you lose some.

Copyright 2019 Lynne Cantwell
Earlier today, I pulled out the blocking wires and pins and put it on. Instantly, I was in love. I'm sure I'll find somewhere to wear it.

The more I think about it, I think I may post an excerpt from the new book next week. 

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

Sunday, August 11, 2019

On the "r" word.

I expect I'll get in trouble for this post.

This past week, Toni Morrison died at the age of 88. She was one of my favorite authors. When I was in grad school, I wrote a paper about her -- which in no way makes me an expert, but it did give me an enduring appreciation for her work. 

Morrison was a major voice in American literature. The power of her prose was strongest when describing and explaining what we might call the black experience -- including the effects on blacks of racism, as in The Bluest Eye, and of the institution of slavery, as in Beloved.

I was reading a whole bunch of hyphenated-American literature back then: among them, Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits, Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine, and Sherman Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (which he later adapted into the screenplay for Smoke Signals, a movie I highly recommmend). All of these books are magic realism, and so too is Beloved. And in all of them except Allende's book, racism plays a role.

I grew up with the classical definition of racism -- which, according to Merriam-Webster, is:
1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
2a : a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles
b : a political or social system founded on racism
3 : racial prejudice or discrimination
But the "r" word has gotten thrown around a lot in recent years, to the point where it almost means anything the writer or speaker wants it to mean. I know English is a living language and the meanings of words change -- but too often, over the years, racism as a term has been co-opted and redefined to benefit a particular political agenda. 

Ten or twenty years ago, I was running into conservatives who would call me out for my support of things like diversity policies in the college admissions process and accuse me of reverse racism -- of favoring other races over my own, to the point of advocating discrimination against whites. At the time, I filed their opinions under Things that make you go "Huh?" Nowadays, it appears conservatives have shortened the term to just racism, which is really confusing to those of us who are used to hewing to the dictionary definition of the word. Of course, for folks who like to keep people they think of as smartass liberals off-balance, that obfuscation is part of the charm.

Lately I've been seeing a similar but opposite co-opting of the word on the left. Many African-Americans correctly maintain that many white people don't understand or acknowledge the privilege their pale skin affords them in our society. But then some make a sweeping generalization and say all whites fall into that category -- that is, no white person anywhere understands or acknowledges their white privilege. And then some black folks go even further and say all whites, by definition, are racists.

That seems like an unfair generalization -- particularly when racist has, for years, been an insult. But pointing that out opens me to a charge of trying to move the focus back to me and my experience as a white person, which is not my aim at all. And let me make it explicitly clear that I am not equating this usage of racism with the pretzel logic conservatives employ when they use the word.

But we can all agree, I think, that sweeping generalizations are almost always wrong. I think we can all agree as well that the word racist has historically been considered an insult. If you want to keep your allies on your side, insulting them is not a winning strategy.

Certainly, there are racist white people out there who Just Don't Get It, like the interviewer in this video of Toni Morrison that went viral in the days following her death. But not all of us are like that woman. We get where you're coming from. We support you. Please don't run us off.

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

Sunday, August 4, 2019

On peak retirement age.

My head is full of Elementals and my Facebook feed is full of the mass shootings over the past couple of days, neither of which I want to talk about right now. So for this week's post, I'm going back to an idea that I threatened to write about a few weeks ago.

Gerd Altmann | CC0 | Pixabay
What piqued my interest was an article in The Atlantic about how long people should plan to keep working. The article is not about finances. If you talk to any financial planner, they will tell you to keep working and saving 'til you have a million dollars in your retirement account. Right? And how realistic is that when the average amount people ages 55 to 64 have in savings is $107,000? (Even the article at the link is on this train; it says people in their 60s need to have saved eight times their annual salary. Yeah, right.) The longer you listen to these folks, the more depressing it gets. You may end up feeling like you'll never have enough money to retire.

That's not realistic, either. Most American workers retire at 62, which is not-so-coincidentally the age at which Americans are first eligible to collect Social Security. Often, people intend to work longer, but they underestimate how long they'll stay healthy enough to keep their jobs. The most realistic approach, then, would be to figure out what your retirement income will be, given where you are right now, and rearrange your lifestyle to make that work.

But that's not what the Atlantic article is about, either. In a sense, it's about people who work too long -- folks who try to keep up the pace they sustained when they were younger.

The author is Arthur C. Brooks, a former president of the American Enterprise Institute. He says in many fields, people do their best work in middle age.
Looking at major inventors and Nobel winners going back more than a century, [Benjamin Jones, a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management,] has found that the most common age for producing a magnum opus is the late 30s. He has shown that the likelihood of a major discovery increases steadily through one’s 20s and 30s and then declines through one’s 40s, 50s, and 60s. Are there outliers? Of course. But the likelihood of producing a major innovation at age 70 is approximately what it was at age 20—almost nonexistent.
The outlook isn't much better for writers, according to Brooks: "When Martin Hill Ortiz, a poet and novelist, collected data on New York Times fiction best sellers from 1960 to 2015, he found that authors were likeliest to reach the No. 1 spot in their 40s and 50s. Despite the famous productivity of a few novelists well into old age, Ortiz shows a steep drop-off in the chance of writing a best seller after the age of 70." (So maybe don't leave writing your Great American Novel to after I retire.)

It's a long article and has a lot of interesting ideas in it. But Brooks does finally get down to a prescription for coping with this earlier-than-you-want-it-to-be decline: walk away from the hard-driving career world while you're still at your peak; take time to think about your spirituality and what you'd like for folks to say about you in a eulogy; and connect with others, and not just your friends and family. He suggests older folks should serve as mentors or teachers, and thereby pass their hard-earned wisdom along.

I'm not suggesting all of us old farts take up teaching. But if you feel yourself slowing down at work earlier than you thought you would, know that you're pretty typical -- and that there may be life after whatever job you have right now.

These moments of encouraging blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell (who's still contemplating whether to write a Great American Novel, and what it would be about if she did).

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Notching another Camp NaNo win.

I know, I know -- I was supposed to do a blog post on Sunday. Sorry, but I didn't have time -- I foolishly put off starting work on Book 3 of the Elemental Keys series, and then dawdled some more, and... The point is that I've just now validated the project.

The working title is Molten Trail, and thanks again to those of you who helped me brainstorm a title for a novel featuring a volcano that didn't make it sound like porn.

Camp NaNoWriMo lets you set your own goal -- unlike the November event, it doesn't have to be a whole 50,000-word novel -- and so my goal for July (after I futzed around for the first part of the month) became 25,000 words. I expect I'm about half done with the first draft. I have at least 20,000 words of plot left, and then the final scene or two. But for now, I can hit pause. And maybe sleep.

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

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Bread and circuses and trashy TV.

Image by Christian Dorn from Pixabay
It's common knowledge by now that television programming has less to do with entertaining viewers than it does with making money. Programming is a vehicle for the ads, pure and simple. The more viewers a show can attract, the more eyeballs that will be exposed to the commercials aired along with the show.

This is why TV executives went nuts a few years ago when viewers started to figure out ways to skip over the ads. We've always had the random viewer who would leave the room to get a sandwich or use the bathroom during a show -- but now that technology has evolved to the point where viewers could record programming to watch later or watch shows online, and miss the ads altogether, it may reach a point where it becomes prohibitively expensive to produce any new programming at all.

But that's a side issue. What I wanted to talk about was the quality of the programming that's shown to all those eyeballs.

The Washington Post ran a story yesterday about a study done in Italy. It found a correlation between the trashy programming on one of the country's two channels and viewers' belief in simplistic political thought. Beginning in the 1980s, viewers could choose light entertainment provided by Mediaset instead of the more educational programming offered by public broadcaster RAI. The researchers correlated people's viewing choices with political believes, and discovered that "more exposure to Mediaset’s vapid programming was followed by an enduring boost in support for populist candidates peddling simple messages and easy answers."

This effect was seen most starkly in kids who were under 10 and people who were over 55 in 1985. The kids have since grown up, and a lot of them became supporters of Italian populist politician Silvio Berlusconi.

How did it happen? The Post says, "In Italy, it’s not that television made voters more conservative. Instead ... it seems to have made them more vulnerable to the anti-establishment stances favored by the country’s populist leaders of all persuasions." In other words, viewers who opted for trash TV instead of more challenging entertainment -- reading a book, say, or watching the news -- lost the ability to think skeptically and to reason effectively. Or never developed it, in the case of the kids.

Feel free to extrapolate from this the current situation in the US, where adult-oriented cartoons, reality TV, and Fox News became popular during roughly the same time period as Mediaset did in Italy.

And then step away from all your screens and exercise your mind. Read a book or something. Please.

These moments of commercial-free blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell -- who, by the way, writes books.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The future of housing, maybe.

Alert hearth/myth readers know I'm a big fan of tiny houses and I'd love to own one myself as a retirement place. The problem I keep running into is where to put it. City officials and urban planners see the words "tiny house" and envision a bunch of little boxes as a solution to homelessness. Which is a step up from their initial opinion, which put them in the same class as RVs -- which means they're illegal to live in full-time, and too mobile to be considered housing at all, really. 

You could put a tiny house out in the middle of nowhere, but that makes them impractical for older folks who want to age in place. At some point you'll be too old to drive, and then how are you going to get to town to do your shopping and see the doctor?

But designers keep playing with the concept. And this past week I toured one* that might finally put paid to the notion that tiny houses have no place in urban America. It's called FutureHAUS, and it was developed by students at Virginia Tech University. For the next few weeks, it's on display in Alexandria, Virginia, just down the street from La Casa Cantwell and, not-so-coincidentally, only a few blocks from the future site of Virginia Tech's Innovation Campus.

FutureHAUS Dubai | Flickr
I borrowed the exterior photo from the project's Flickr account, since I forgot to take one when I was there. The rest of these are mine. (If you'd like to see better ones, check out the Flickr link.)

The house is designed as several modules. Here in Alexandria, they literally put up the whole thing in two or three days. But it's no unfinished shack. The interior is a tech gadget lover's dream, from the solar panels on the roof (the house generates more electricity than it can use), to the special Amazon delivery closet just inside the front door for your drone deliveries, to the induction range top that only heats up where you put your magnetic pot. The wall behind the range and sink is a giant monitor that can show anything from a video chat to a TV show to the recipe you're using. 

Induction cooktop and backsplash-sized monitor.
The living room and office are split by a movable wall, so you can adjust the size of each room depending on what you're using them for. 

The bedroom has a drop-down Murphy bed; when it's closed, the bottom of the bed features a full-length mirror that can not only suggest outfits for the day based on the weather and your calendar, but can also tell you where in the closet you can find your choices.

The magic mirror.
And then we have the bathroom. This is a either a technological marvel or a privacy nightmare, depending on how you look at it. 

The toilet raises and lowers (as do the countertops and cabinets all over the house) as a way to encourage aging in place. The sink has three spigots, and has another smart mirror on the wall above it. The bathtub and shower are separate, which is kind of nice. But the tub -- ah, the tub. Not only is there another monitor built into the glass wall between the shower and tub, but you can program either one to have your bath or shower ready at a specific time with the water at a specific temperature -- no waiting! And the tub itself has whirlpool jets. And it's self-cleaning. 

"Self-cleaning?" I said to the student conducting our tour. "I want one of those."

"You can get one right now," he assured me. "It's a Kohler."

"For a mere several thousand dollars, I'm sure," I muttered. And I was right -- I looked it up. They're in the neighborhood of $5000 each.

Which begs the question: How much would one of these pop-up houses cost? Our tour guide said this particular model would retail for about $900,000. But the team is studying ways to bring the price down to as low as $100,000, depending on the features a buyer would be willing to pay for.

Still -- 900 square feet, $900,000. And the design won the Solar Decathlon Middle East 2018 in Dubai. Maybe eventually, city planners will get the message that tiny houses are more than just boxes for the homeless.

* To be clear, at 900 square feet, FutureHAUS is a "small house." Tiny houses are typically 400 square feet or less. I can't find a definitive upper limit for a small house, but I seem to recall it's somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 square feet. By comparison, the average size of a new house built in the US today is 2,600 square feet.

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

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Adventure awaits.

Oh hey -- before I get any further, I should let you know that Treacherous Ground is now available in paperback.

And now, this week's post.


We're wrapping up an extra-long holiday weekend here at hearth/myth; the day job shut down (as much as a law firm ever shuts down) on both Thursday and Friday for the Independence Day holiday. I was off so long that I was losing track of which day of the week it was. Pretty sure today is Sunday, which means I owe y'all a blog post.

I have to tell you that it's been really, really nice, having this string of days off -- which is either a preview of how great it will be when I retire in about a year, or a rotten tease because it's Not. Here. Yet.

To beat back the "rotten tease" part, I'm creating a sort of hybrid calendar/journal. You can buy these as blank books -- they're called planners. And as it turns out, planners are where the paper crafters went after scrapbooking went digital. All the pretty papers, stickers, diecut shapes, and so on work as well in a planner as they do on a scrapbook page (although everything needs to be downsized from 12" x 12" to 1.5 inches square, give or take). A number of companies have created blank journals, with Staples' Arc brand being perhaps the least twee.

My problem with a lot of the preprinted planner stuff is the same problem I had with a bunch of the scrapbooking stuff: It's not me. Anything with a Bible verse on it is a non-starter for this Pagan -- but that's not my only issue. A lot of the offerings are either aimed at young women (pastel narwhals! cute sushi!) or busy mothers (little stickers featuring washing machines, school buses, vacuum cleaners, coffee cups, and for the really bad days, martini glasses and suitcases). Then there are the words in various fonts that are supposed to be encouraging, but are basically nagging you: "Gym," "Laundry," and so on. (I saw one sticker that said, "Do your damn laundry." Even though I'd be the one putting it on the page, if I ran across that in the wrong mood, I'd throw the planner across the room.)

It just seems like all this stuff is aimed at people who are trying to keep up, when here I am, trying to wind down. Oh, I've seen some retirement-related stuff, but most of it looks like it's for a scrapbook page for a retirement party. Or it's meant for what comes after -- the Winnebago, the Adirondack chair, and the joke about what you call the person who's happy on Monday.

So I'm falling back on different images: dream catchers; dragonflies, which symbolize transformation at a mature, permanent level; and this Death Tarot card, which for me encapsulates the true meaning of what's often seen as a scary card: killing off that which has outlived its usefulness in order for new, healthy growth to occur.

Although there's room for fun stuff in my planner, too. I've laid in a supply of llama stickers. And if you're looking for stickers for the days when you just want to throw your computer out the window, here you go.

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

Sunday, June 30, 2019

"That ceiling, though": Treacherous Ground is live.

I wanted you guys to be the first to know: the ebook edition of Treacherous Ground, the second book in the Elemental Keys series, is live on Amazon as of right now. And yes, that's Collum, Raney's favorite gnome, on the cover.

For this book, the action has moved to Ireland. Our Elemental superheroes -- Raney, Collum, Rufus and Gail -- are helping to return some of Collum's dead brother's things to his parents, who live in County Kilkenny. But they're also trying to beat Raney's father, Damien Jones, to... uh, a magical thing. I don't want to give away any big plot points, so let's just say the thing Damien is looking for is not what the team members think it is.

Anyway, Ireland is an amazing place, and I am stoked because I get to tell readers all about the cool stuff I saw when I was there three years ago. Well, not all the cool stuff I saw. That would take more than a blog post, or a book, even. It would certainly take more than a novel, because you've got to work in some kind of plot or else it would be a travelogue.

I did, as it happens, blog about the trip, but that post only highlights one small portion of it. One of the things I left out was my visit to Kilkenny Castle, so in Treacherous Ground, I let Raney and the gang take a tour. And one of the coolest things about the castle -- other than, you know, it's a castle -- is the portrait gallery. Here's Raney's description, but sometimes words don't do a thing justice, so I'm including a photo, too.


Portraits aren’t really my thing, but it turned out the paintings weren’t the main draw. Gail and Rufus were standing in the center of the room, craning their necks to look up. So I did, too – and was gobsmacked again. The whole ceiling – rafters, braces, and walls – was painted with beautiful designs, including Celtic knotwork, and the ends of the cross-beams were capped with gargoyles. It was as if someone had taken the illustrations in an illuminated manuscript and transferred them to the ceiling.

I managed to do the polite thing and give a little attention to all the old Butlers hanging on the walls. That ceiling, though.


Gobsmacked, she was. So was I. And when I was there in 2016, I snapped a photo of the informational sign at the door to the gallery:

If you're ever in Kilkenny, I recommend the castle tour -- as well as a stop at the Kilkenny Design Centre across the street, where you can find lots of Irish souvenirs, including yarn. Not that I would have bought any yarn in Ireland.

Anyway, Treacherous Ground is available now -- and in the nick of time, too, as Camp NaNoWriMo starts again tomorrow and I was planning to draft Book 3 then. I'll get a late start on that, as I still need to format the paperback edition of the second book. I can catch up over Fourth of July weekend, though, right?

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

Sunday, June 23, 2019

When crafting gets political.

b0red | CC0 | Pixabay
Some weeks I'm scraping for a blog post subject, and some weeks I'm spoiled for choice.

Take this week, for example. We're getting close to the release of Treacherous Ground, book 2 in the Elemental Keys series, so I could talk about that again. I could also talk about planning for book 3 (assuming I'd gotten started on it, which I kind of have, but not really).

Or I could talk about an article I read a couple of days ago about the ages at which people begin to experience a performance decline at work. In fact, that's what I intended to write about this week -- but I'll keep the idea in my back pocket for another week or two, because just today, I got a better one.

Alert hearth/myth readers know that among the websites where I'm active, if sporadically, is Ravelry. It's a free website, privately owned, where eight million fiber artists from around the world get together to talk shop. Mostly I'm there to post photos of my completed knitting projects -- partly for the kudos, but mainly so I can keep track of which yarn I used for what so I don't machine wash something that isn't machine washable.

The Ravelry logo, sporting a rainbow flag for Pride Month.
The site includes message boards, and of course people go off-topic. And just like on every social media site, sometimes people start talking politics, and sometimes things get ugly.

Now for those of you who still think knitters and crocheters are all little old ladies who sit in their rocking chairs, sipping tea, while their G-rated work flies off their needles or hooks, let me point you toward the graphic up top. It's a pussy hat. Knitters around the country made thousands of them to protest the election of President Trump. I made several of them myself -- and I found the pattern on Ravelry.

Today Ravelry posted a new policy, effective immediately:
We are banning support of Donald Trump and his administration on Ravelry.
This includes support in the form of forum posts, projects, patterns, profiles, and all other content...  We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy. Support of the Trump administration is undeniably support for white supremacy.
  • You can still participate if you do in fact support the administration, you just can’t talk about it here.
  • We are not endorsing the Democrats nor banning Republicans.
  • We are definitely not banning conservative politics. Hate groups and intolerance are different from other types of political positions.
  • We are not banning people for past support.
  • Do not try to weaponize this policy by entrapping people who do support the Trump administration into voicing their support.
  • Similarly, antagonizing conservative members for their unstated positions is not acceptable.
In their announcement, the moderators at Rav reference a similar policy enacted last October by, an online gaming community. That site posted a list of Trump-related links supporting their decision. If you need anything more, I'd refer you to the most recent coverage of the way this country is treating migrant children at our southern border: separating them from their parents and putting them into #Trumpcamps where the kids aren't even allowed access to soap or toothbrushes. This isn't a political issue anymore. It's a moral issue.

For anyone complaining that these sorts of policies violate the First Amendment, let me take this opportunity to remind them that the First Amendment protects your right to speak freely without being censored or sanctioned by the government. Private enterprises like Ravelry -- and for that matter, Facebook and Twitter -- are free to set any rules they like.

That is, until their rules allow foreign governments to illegally influence our elections. But that's a whole 'nother topic, and anyway I doubt very much Rav has attracted many Russian bots.

Anyway, kudos to Ravelry for their new policy. And let's make sure the migrant camps become known far and wide as #Trumpcamps. I can't take credit for the term, but I'm happy to do my part to popularize it. After all, he loves seeing his name on stuff.

Sorry -- I still don't have a firm release date for Treacherous Ground. Stay tuned.

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

Sunday, June 16, 2019

An Elemental Father's Day.

Annalise Batista | CC0 | Pixabay
In our last exciting post, I promised that this week I'd talk about Treacherous Ground. It's Father's Day here in the US, so I might as well talk about the fathers in the book.

I feel like I haven't said a whole lot about the Elemental Keys series at all, and here we are, nearly ready to shoo the second book out the door. So here's a quick recap.

In Rivers Run we were introduced to the four major characters: Raney Meadows, Collum Barth, Rufus McKay, and Gail Oleander. All of them are half-human and half-magical-Elemental-creature. So Raney is half undine, a Water Elemental; Collum is half gnome, an Earth Elemental; Rufus is half magical salamander, a Fire Elemental; and Gail is half sylph, an Air Elemental. They all meet in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and there they also run into another major character: Damien Jones, a wealthy sociopath who happens to be Raney's father.

Damien would never win a Greatest Dad contest. He had captured Raney's mother and held her prisoner as one of his collection of singular things. When she tried to escape by disappearing into water, he moved her to his home in the desert. But when the monsoons came, someone left a window open and Ondine departed among the raindrops, knowing she was carrying Damien's child and vowing he would never find out.

And then Raney went and blew it by calling him "father" the first time she came face-to-face with him.

The thing is, Damien's been possessed by an ancient evil creature, and this creature intends to destroy the Earth. First it must collect a series of Elemental Keys from where they've been hidden around the world; then it must use them to unlock the door that the Doomsday device is behind. And Raney, Collum, Rufus and Gail are tasked with stopping Damien...while Raney is trying to hide from him.

For all that Raney, as an undine, feels emotions deeply, she doesn't react to her father as a daughter might. She feels him pulling her to him, but she can tell there's no love behind it. And too, he gives off an unmistakable aura of evil. Suffice it to say that he won't be getting a Father's Day card from her, let alone a gift.

There's another father in this saga: Collum's. Part of Niall Barth's job as an Elemental gnome is to guard certain magical places. Right now, he's keeping an eye on one in County Kilkenny, Ireland -- and in decamping for Ireland, Niall left Collum in charge of guard duty in Harpers Ferry. As your typical stoic gnome, Collum is not one to let his feelings show. But Niall's been gone a long time, and Collum has build up plenty of anger and resentment. The Barth family dynamics come to something of a head in Treacherous Ground. Let's just say Niall would be lucky to get a tie from Collum on this Father's Day.

All that, and golems in a bog, too. Treacherous Ground will be a fun ride...

I was originally aiming for publication this coming week, but the schedule has been pushed back slightly. I'm now hoping to get it out the door the following week -- June 26th or so.

I do need to publish it soonish, because I've been planning to write Book 3 during Camp NaNo in July. Time's a-wastin'!

I'll have more info on all that next week.

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

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Journalism isn't going to save us.

Tama66 | CC0 | Pixabay
Brace yourselves: This post is going to be political.

When the movie All the President's Men came out in 1976, I was in college, majoring in journalism. I admit that I came away a bit starry-eyed about the profession I was aiming for.

In the movie, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman play Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whose work went a long way toward bringing down President Richard Nixon and his corrupt administration. The movie opens with Redford, as Woodward, sitting through a routine court arraignment -- the sort of thing a young reporter might be relegated to by an editor looking to fill a few column-inches with details of local burglaries. Woodward comes to attention, though, when he realizes the prisoners are charged with breaking into the Democratic National Committee's headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. And they have ties to the CIA.

Woodward is teamed up with Bernstein, and together they follow the trail to the highest reaches of government. Everything you know about Watergate -- from the Plumbers to Deep Throat to Nixon's resignation -- all of it began in June 1972 with Woodward paying attention at a nothing arraignment of crooks involved in a third-rate burglary attempt. Two years later, Nixon resigned.

As a journalist, Woodward and Bernstein were, if not my idols, then certainly icons I looked up to. Investigative journalism seemed like a noble profession.

Oh, how times have changed. Here we are in 2019, increasingly aware that our current President is a crook. The Mueller Report has detailed ten counts of obstruction of justice against him, and strongly suggests, without coming right out and saying it, that the House of Representatives ought to begin an impeachment investigation.

But where has the press been? Where's our latter-day Woodward and Bernstein?

As it turns out, a lot of what Special Counsel Bob Mueller detailed in his 400-plus-page report had already been in the news. But as the Washington Post's media columnist, Margaret Sullivan, wrote in a column today, journalism is a different business now. In 1972, we had a very small number of national news outlets doing daily journalism: ABC, NBC, CBS, and a few national newspapers, mainly the Post and the New York Times. Cable news hadn't been invented yet, much less talk radio, podcasts, or blogs. If you watched the national news on television, you watched Harry Reasoner, John Chancellor, or Walter Cronkite. There wasn't anybody else.

Fewer choices made it easier to be a news consumer -- and to trust what you were being told. Now, as Sullivan says, we're subjected to "a polluted firehose blast of information mixed with disinformation." Sure, the TV networks sometimes toed the government-issued news line a little too closely back in the day (as one example, a lot of Americans today don't understand that the people who are coming here from Central America are fleeing political unrest that our foreign policy caused). But nowadays, it's hard to figure out who to believe. Especially when the President routinely calls the news media liars and "enemies of the people." (Not to put too fine a point on it, but dictators including Hitler, Stalin, and Mao have used the same phrase to undercut popular trust in news reporters.)

At the local level, newspapers are going under at an unprecedented rate. More than one in five closed up shop between 2004 and 2018, and those that remain often don't have the resources to cover their localities the way they should be covered. Investigative reporters like Woodward and Bernstein are usually among the first to get the ax.

The reasons for these changes are many; it would take a book, if not several, to detail them in-depth. The point is that journalists aren't going to play the same role in bringing down the current corrupt administration as they did during Watergate. Even impeachment looks dicey. Our best hope for justice is probably the ballot box next year.

Apologies for the political rant. I'll talk about Treacherous Ground next week -- it's politics-free, I promise.

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

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Book marketing 101: Why not to sell to other authors.

I'm a member of a bunch of indie author groups on Facebook, so I see this a lot: An author puts their book on sale and, with dreams of shooting up Amazon's bestseller list dancing in their head, immediately posts about the sale to every author group on Facebook to which they belong.

But a lot of these groups don't allow marketing posts at all. Or they limit the posts to certain days in threads specifically set aside for that purpose. Groups always, always post their rules -- either in a pinned post at the top of the discussion section, or in the About section, or (ideally) both. And still it happens.

I had to spike a buy-my-book post this weekend in a group where I'm an admin. I was in a good mood, so I tagged the author in a new post and explained what had happened to hers. Her reply was along the lines of: "But it's a free book! We can't post those in here, either?"

Well, no. You're still asking people to buy your book. It just so happens that the current price is $0.

Then it occurred to me that maybe folks don't understand why so many author groups ban buy-my-book posts. I'm sure a lot of folks think it's because the ads would clutter up the discussion, so that eventually, actual discussions would be lost. And yes, that's part of it. But the other part is that marketing to your fellow authors is not going to do your career much good.

What every author dreams of is a huge, dedicated fan base, made up of readers who will buy their newest book as soon as it comes out. Right? Well, the way to find these superfans is not to hit up a group of authors. Yes, authors are all readers (or we should be, which is a topic for another day) -- but we read, and write, in all sorts of genres. My books are mostly urban fantasy. Laurie Boris writes mostly literary fiction. Chris James writes sci-fi thrillers. K.S. Brooks writes both thrillers and children's books. Shawn Inmon writes speculative fiction and memoir. Leland Dirks writes contemporary fiction, often co-writing with his dog Angelo. J.D. Mader writes gritty urban thrillers. All of these folks are kickass writers, by the way, and if you haven't read their stuff, you should. But we'd have a tough go of it if, for example, we traded newsletter mailing lists to try to drum up more readers for our own work. Our fandoms might overlap, but not by a lot.

Even if you do make fans out of a bunch of fellow authors, it won't help you much at Amazon beyond that initial sale. Most indie authors are leery of writing a review for another author because the Zon has a habit of deleting such reviews -- especially if they can figure out the authors know one another. (You can still post a review of a pal's book at Goodreads, as far as I know, but getting involved at Goodreads opens another can of worms. I think a lot of authors are still steering clear of it, lest they say something that enrages somebody and cause their books to be showered with one-star reviews.)

And yes, putting your book on sale for free is still selling your book.

All that said, there are Facebook groups for readers looking for their next good book. Those groups would love to have you post there. There are also a host of websites and newsletters dedicated to book marketing; many of them cost money to advertise on, and some don't work as well as they might. The best way to find out what's working right now is to check out indie author groups on Facebook like 20 Books to 50K. Just don't post a buy-your-book ad there.

And as always, I recommend as the best website for indie authors.

These moments of bloggy advertising advice have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

A body image myth, debunked.

John Hain | CC0 | Pixabay
For the past several months, I've been working with a dietitian to get my eating back on track. Recently I had a revelation that I want to share with you.

I want to make it clear upfront that I'm not looking for dieting advice. I've been dieting off and on for 50 years. No kidding. At the age of eleven, tired of my brother teasing me about being fat, I went on my first diet. I lost 20 pounds that summer. Of course, later on, it all came back -- and then some.

By the time my kids were tweens, I'd yo-yo-dieted enough times to know that dieting doesn't work. And I told the girls that. Too bad I didn't follow my own advice.

Over five decades, I've counted calories and fat grams; I've done NutriSystem (800 pre-packaged calories a day!); I've done Weight Watchers a whole bunch of times. Almost always, I've lost weight. Often I would lose 30 or 40 or 50 lbs. in less than six months. I am really, really good at losing weight. I've had a lot of practice.

But then I'd plateau forever, and I'd get sick of eating so little with no results. So I'd drop the diet and the weight would come back.

It happened so many times that I ended up hating my metabolism. I'd joke about my Eastern European peasant genes that were so good at getting through my ancestors through famines. But really, I felt like my body was betraying me. I couldn't control it, and I hated it.

So anyway, the dietitian recommended to me this book called The F*ck It Diet: Eating Should Be Easy. The author is Caroline Dooner. It took her a lot less time to get fed up with diet culture, and to conclude that dieting doesn't work, than it took me. But she connected the dots in a way I hadn't thought about before, and it only took her repeating it 20 or 30 times before I finally got it.

Here is what I realized at last: My body hasn't been betraying me when it packs on pounds after I drop the latest diet. My body has been trying to keep me alive.

Dooner cites a World-War-II-era study on starvation. The aim was to learn how to rehabilitate starving people, once the war was over. So they recruited 36 mentally and physically healthy conscientious objectors. At first the men received about 3,200 calories per day -- which was considered normal for men back then. A few months later, the men's diets were cut in half, to about 1,600 calories per day. In those days, 1,600 calories a day was considered semi-starvation; today, we consider 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day to be adequate for people on a diet.

Think about that for a minute.

And then think about what happened to those semi-starved guys: They lost interest in everything except food. Their heart rates slowed down, they were cold all the time, and they had other physical ailments. All of them suffered from depression and anxiety. Their sex drives deserted them. And they experienced body dysmorphia -- in other words, they had wrong ideas about the size and shape of their own bodies and others'. When the experimenters began feeding them again, the guys who got a lot of food -- 5,000 or even 10,000 calories per day -- made the best recoveries. And even then, some of the subjects said they felt hungry for months or years after the experiment was over.

You can extrapolate a lot from this. I mean, just about everybody's been on a diet at some point, which means we've all practiced self-starvation. And a lot of us have yo-yo'd back to where we started, and then some. And most, if not all, of us have believed ourselves to be weak-willed and lazy when it happens -- not to mention judgmental of others.

Expand that to our national preoccupation with what we're eating and what everybody else is eating. And a diet industry that makes more money every time a dieter fails. And a medical establishment that thinks anyone overweight ought to be on a diet. And you might begin to wonder whether our obesity epidemic hasn't been caused by chronic dieting (among other factors, of course).

As for me, I've started by apologizing to my body. Instead of hating it, now I'm grateful to it for keeping me alive. And I'm never going to deliberately starve myself again.

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

Sunday, May 19, 2019

A travel post.

You would think a person who has been gone for two weeks on a European river cruise would come home rested and refreshed. And you might be right, if the person hadn't come home with a sinus infection -- which, to be fair, probably originated far in advance of her departure date, but achieved its full flowering on the trip home.

Several days later, pumped full of antibiotics and a full day's worth of sleep, I'm nearly ready to rejoin the human race. But first: pictures!

Our adventure began in Amsterdam, where we boarded the Monarch Countess and cruised down the Rhine River to Basel, Switzerland. From there we went on to Luzern by bus. I've posted some of these photos on Facebook already, but a couple of them are new. Hopefully I won't bore you.

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019
Amsterdam has gotten rid of nearly all of the iconic windmills within the city limits -- but they've left this one so tourists can get a shot of Rembrandt's statue with it.
Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019
One of our excursions was to Marksburg Castle, which has stood for 800 years overlooking Braubach, Germany. In olden times, the castle garden flourished partly because the privies were directly overhead. Thank goodness no one's sitting on those thrones these days.

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019
Also in Marksburg Castle. I'm sure the instrument on the left is a hurdy-gurdy and the wind instrument standing at the back is a recorder, but I'm stumped on the others. The one on the floor might be a vielle, and one of the two on the right bench could be a rebec. Anyone have a better guess?

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019
I really like the moodiness in this photo.

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019
It's not just Amsterdam -- a number of cities we visited had old towns crisscrossed with canals. This is in Colmar, Germany.

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019
This guy is an Alpine chough. We met at the top of Pilatus, near Luzern, Switzerland.

The trip wasn't all castles and churches -- we got some culture, too. I can heartily recommend a visit to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, if for no other reason than to see the his "Sunflowers."

On our last night in Luzern, we attended a concert with the Chamber Orchestra of Berlin and Vienna, with solo violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. They played an all-Mozart concert, which was very nice. But you can go here to for a clip of her in a new recording that might be more of a crowd-pleaser.

That's it. Back to real life tomorrow.

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

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Everything you know about haiku is wrong.

I know, I know -- the title is clickbait. I'll get to that in a minute. But first, some news:

  • Rivers Run got a lovely review this week at Big Al's Books and Pals. My favorite part is the reviewer's last line: "However, then she lays down a sentence like this, 'Her mournful rasp sounded like the barest trickle of moisture in a desert creek bed.' And minor imperfections are quite forgiven." Did I really write that? Huh. I guess I'm not half-bad, after all...
  • The first draft of Treacherous Ground, the next book in the Elemental Keys series, is very nearly in the can. I have fewer than 1,400 words to write in order to win Camp NaNoWriMo, and I'm pretty sure I'll wrap up the story line at that point, too. Hoping to do that tonight before I go to bed. We'll see how it goes.
And now, about that haiku thing.

Every year, the Golden Triangle Association in DC runs a haiku contest. The Golden Triangle is the designation for the part of downtown DC that the office for my day job happens to be in, and so every spring I see some of the winning entries posted around town. This year, I posted a photo of one of them on my Facebook timeline -- and several people complained that the poem wasn't really a haiku, because it didn't have the 5-7-5 syllable scheme we were all taught in school: five syllables for the first line, seven for the second, and five for the third.

Turns out we were taught wrong. That format is not what makes a haiku a haiku at all.

Just as fiction writers have National Novel Writing Month, haiku enthusiasts have National Haiku Writing Month, or NaHaiWriMo. And they have covered this very topic on their blog, because it comes up every year. It stems from a misunderstanding about the Japanese language -- which counts sounds, not syllables, when crafting a haiku. For example, as I learned at the link above, English speakers consider the word haiku as having two syllables. For a Japanese speaker, though, the word has three sounds -- ha-i-ku. In fact, most Japanese words have more sounds than we would count syllables. So a five-syllable line in English would have far more words than would a five-sound line in Japanese. 

Moreover, haiku's emphasizes the content of the poem, not simply its form. A proper haiku, or so the article says, includes a kigo -- a word indicating the season in which the poem occurs -- and a kiregi, or cutting word, that divides the poem into two parts. Ideally, one part of the poem will be a juxtaposition of the other, and both parts will focus on concrete images that allow the reader to feel what the poet felt when viewing the event.

Here's the photo I posted on Facebook earlier this week. It doesn't look like a haiku under the rules we were all taught, but with our new understanding of the process, I think it qualifies. And I think blackbird is the kigo and turn is the kiregi. What do you think?

One more bit of housekeeping: I'll be on vacation for the next couple of Sundays. Alert hearth/myth readers know two weeks is an unusually long hiatus for me. I'll try to put up a post on one or another of those days, but I can't promise, as wi-fi access is liable to be spotty.

And now I'm off to put a lid on Treacherous Ground. Wish me luck!

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

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The love of money.

New cars today have a lot more bling than they did when I bought my last car in 2008. Remote door locks were just becoming a thing, and you had to pay extra for high-end stuff like cruise control. Now, it seems, electronic keys and cruise control are pretty much standard.

Another thing that was brand new in 2008 was satellite radio. Back then, I thought it was a crazy idea -- why would anybody pay for radio when they could get it over the air for free? But then the radio business changed and stations seemed to switch formats all the time, and I couldn't find an oldies station that played more than the Beatles and a few other hits I'd heard a million times before. (This phenomenon is worse for people who worked in top-40 radio. Each radio station used to have its own music director -- an actual human who decided what songs to play. Now stations are programmed by consultants who use committees called focus groups. Members of focus groups always give high ratings to songs they recognize, and in the case of oldies, they recognize songs because they got a lot of airplay. But even now, the guy who gave them all that airplay is heartily sick and tired of them. Like retail-workers-at-Christmas-carol-season tired of them.)

Anyway, I had pretty much quit listening to the radio in the car, except for my own CDs. And then I got Eli, who came with a trial subscription to Sirius XM. Once I found the '60s and '70s channels, it was all over. I'm hearing songs I haven't heard in decades -- including this one by the O'Jays from 1974.

For a moment, let's leave aside the irony of hearing a song about the evils of money on a radio station I'm paying to listen to, when I first heard it over the air for free.

It did, however, get me thinking about morality and how things have changed. Wikipedia says what spawned the song was a Bible verse, specifically 1 Timothy 6:10. It's the one about how the love of money is the root of all evil. I've seen a few truncated versions of the verse -- most often, "Money is the root of all evil" (the Monkees had a sampler on the wall of their pad), but also the snarky "Money is the root of all."

But the original text is about the love of money, a.k.a. greed. I'm no biblical scholar, and maybe a Pagan shouldn't be sticking her nose into this at all -- but my understanding has always been that simply having money isn't the problem. Money is neutral -- neither good nor bad. What's problematic is grabbing and hoarding as much money as you can.

I find it interesting that back in the mid-'70s, this song got a lot of airplay. Not long after, though, we started to see wealth, and the pursuit of wealth, put on a pedestal -- and some of the biggest pushers of the idea were megachurch pastors who told their faithful to send money to fund their big church buildings in order to glorify of God. I guess their mansions and fat bank accounts were meant to glorify God, too.

This idea that wealth is okay as long as you're not a miser seems to have fallen by the wayside, though, in this new Gilded Age, where the top 1% of earners in the US make, on average, 26.3% more than the bottom 99% combined. That's higher than the income disparity in the last Gilded Age. In 1928, just before the Great Depression, top earners made 23.9% more than the rest of the work force. What's more, income inequality has risen in every state since 1975. That's right about the time the O'Jays were singing about the dangers of the love of money. What a coincidence, huh?

A certain faction of the American public talks about making America great again. I think going back to those mid-'70s values, when the top 1% of earners made just 8% of total US income (compared to 22% in 2015), would go a long way toward that goal. I'm not saying America was perfect in the '70s. It wasn't -- not by a long shot. But at least the middle class had a decent standard of living back then.

I'm moving right along with the first draft of Treacherous Ground. April has been a busy month, but I'm happy to say that I'm at 40,000 words as of tonight, so I should have no problem making it to 50,000 words by the end of the month. That puts the book on track for publication in mid to late June. As always, I'll let you know how it goes.

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

Sunday, April 14, 2019

On press freedom and Julian Assange.

And why the two are pretty much mutually exclusive. At least in this case.

Gerd Altman | Pixabay

Julian Assange founded WikiLeaks -- a shadowy organization that calls itself a publisher. He has been holed up in Ecuadorian Embassy in London since August 2012, avoiding extradition to Sweden to face sexual assault charges that have since been dropped. As you have probably heard, on Thursday Ecuador withdrew its protection of Assange, allowing the London Metropolitan Police in to arrest him. He faces trial on the bail-jumping charge in London -- but his biggest concern is whether England will extradite him to the United States, where an indictment was unsealed on the day of his arrest, charging him with conspiring with convicted spy Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer.

Ecuador has given a number of reasons for rescinding the sanctuary it extended to Assange for seven years -- among them that he didn't wash often enough and he didn't take care of his cat. (The cat, we are told, was relocated to friends of Assange's months ago.) Perhaps the biggest reason, however, was their claim that Assange continued to direct WikiLeaks' activities from inside the embassy, using a cell phone he wasn't allowed to have.

There has been quite a hue and cry amongst Assange's supporters and others, saying his arrest and potential prosecution in the U.S. will have a chilling effect on press freedom. The New York Times has gone so far as to say that "most of what he does at WikiLeaks is difficult to distinguish in a legally meaningful way from what traditional news organizations, like The New York Times, do every day: seek out and publish information that officials would prefer to be kept secret, including classified national security matters, and take steps to protect the confidentiality of sources." And these same people say that prosecuting Assange for that type of activity could lead, down the road, to charges against any journalist who publishes government secrets -- thereby weakening the press freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment.

But Assange isn't charged with publishing any government secrets. He's been charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion -- in other words, he's accused of helping Manning break into that computer at the Pentagon in March 2010. Manning, who was working as an Army intelligence analyst, had already given WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of classified documents, including information on conditions at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. According to Assange's indictment, Manning was having trouble cracking a password that would have helped her access more documents, and provided the partial password to Assange; Assange later told her in a private message that he was working on it.

It's true, as a number of news outlets have opined, that investigative journalists thrive on leaks of documents and information that they shouldn't otherwise have access to. The classic example is the Pentagon papers, in which Daniel Ellsberg got hold of classified documents indicating the Johnson Administration had ramped up the Vietnam War and lied to the American people about the extent of our involvement there. The New York Times began publishing the papers in 1971, but the Nixon Administration issued an injunction against the paper -- whereupon the Washington Post picked up the baton and began publishing its own series of articles. Nixon sought an injunction against the Post, too, but a D.C. judge -- and quickly thereafter, the Supreme Court -- ruled against the administration. The ruling was hailed as a victory for press freedom. (The 2017 movie The Post tells this story better than I ever could.)

So what's the difference between Julian Assange on one hand, and The New York Times and the Washington Post on the other?

Here's what it comes down to for me: In 1971, the newspapers didn't actively help the whistleblower. Assange did. If the charges against him are true, he actively assisted Manning with attempting to break into a Pentagon computer. He didn't just publish the stuff Manning handed him -- he tried to help her get more. That has nothing to do with the First Amendment. That's not investigative journalism. That's espionage.

WikiLeaks has published secret documents that have blown the lid off of a number of questionable incidents. In some cases, it has been a force for good; in others, its motives have been iffy. But in no case should WikiLeaks be disseminating documents it broke the law to get hold of -- and if it has, then whoever was involved in breaking the law should go to jail.

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