Sunday, January 31, 2021

A little road trip.

I've mentioned before, I believe, that I'm working a temp job right now, as a proofreader for the New Mexico State Legislature. This year's session started January 18th and will wrap up March 20th, and I'm scheduled to work every day while the legislature is in session. So the hours are pretty crazy. In that respect, it's kind of like being back in radio.

On the other hand, thanks to the pandemic I'm spending all day, every day, in my apartment -- and for the majority of my waking hours, I'm sitting at the same spot at my dinette table. I have a desk, but I like to keeping my writing space separate from my work-from-home space. In Virginia, that meant rolling my desk chair out of my bedroom to a TV tray table next to the balcony doors. Here in Santa Fe, it means swapping out my desk chair for the dinette chair I sit in to eat my meals. The view doesn't change much, to be honest. So I've begun feeling a little stir crazy.

Still, I was all set to power through -- Sixty! Days! Straight! Booyah! -- but then our supervisor said she would give us three random days off. We don't get to pick which days, and if it looks like things will be too busy we might have to work anyway. On the other hand, we can opt not to take the day and get paid overtime instead.

My first opportunity was this past Friday, and I seized it. I knew I had to get out and look at something new and different. So I hit the road for Los Alamos, about 45 minutes away. There's a writing-related reason for my destination that I'll explain eventually. But for now, let's talk about the drive. 

On the way up, I noticed an overlook that appeared to have a killer view, so on the way back, I stopped. I wasn't wrong. 

All photos in this post copyright Lynne Cantwell | 2021
We've had some snow, as you can see, and it helps to pick out the features on the horizon. There's a break in the mountains in the middle of the photo -- see it? To the right is the Santa Fe Ski Area, and to the left (merging wth the cloud cover) is Santa Fe Baldy. Both are over 12,000 high.

Looking in the opposite direction from the stunning view above, the road to Los Alamos seems to disappear. 

Later in the afternoon, as I headed back home, I had just enough time to stop at Camel Rock. It's a distinctive formation just off U.S. 84/285 on Tesuque Pueblo land. 

I walked up the short path to get a better shot of the camel's head. Plus the light was better up there.

So that was my big day out. It will be three weeks before I get another one. I expect I'll be ready to hit the road then, too, if only for a few hours.


These moments of stunningly scenic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. The vaccine's coming! Keep staying home and keep wearing a mask when you go out!

Sunday, January 24, 2021

One of the perks of retirement: never filling out another business visa application.

Gam Khoon Lay | Noun Project | CC3.0
A couple of days ago, I had a Facebook status from 2010 pop up as a memory. It was a single sentence that said I was "getting kind of tired of being the Indian visa 'expert.' (sigh)" When I shared it, I said, "It didn't get any better over the next ten years, either."

I should probably explain. In 2009, one of the partners I worked for began doing a fair amount of work in India, and so it fell to me to fill out the paperwork for his business visa.  For most countries, procuring a business visa is a complex process. You can fill out the form online, which is harrowing enough when you're doing it for someone else ("Hey, what's your mother's maiden name and where were your parents born?"). But it also involves a lot of other moving parts: a passport photo or two; your passport, because the consulate puts the visa in it; a copy of your passport, and it had better be photo quality; a letter from your employer saying you are, in fact, an employee, and you will have sufficient funds to cover your stay; a letter from your client saying you are, in fact, coming there to do business for them; and usually one or two other things. Some countries require a copy of your birth certificate. Some want a photo ID with the same address as the one on your application. Occasionally you'll be asked to provide a copy of your travel itinerary (which means booking refundable airline tickets that you're probably going to have to cancel because the visa won't be ready in time). At one point, Russia required proof of a negative HIV test. One country -- I don't remember which one -- insisted on proof that the applicant had graduated from law school; I recall that involved juggling an associate's massive, framed diploma onto a copier.

Countries also change their requirements from time to time. India, for example, went from accepting regular business letters from employer and client to a bizarre short-answer form that had to be to printed on company letterhead and signed by the big boss, with the company seal affixed. The Indian government issues company seals to Indian companies. Since we weren't an Indian company, we didn't have a company seal -- but the Indian government required us to provide one anyway. So our accounting folks made up something that kind of looked like a seal and turned it into a graphic, and I had to put that on the letters. (Why our accounting folks? Because they also had to affix the thing to the firm's Indian tax forms.)

Also, the Indian government decides whether to issue the length of visa you request. Several times, we asked for a five-year visa and got back a two-year visa -- with, of course, no refund of the additional fee we'd paid for the longer visa.

So it's a major hassle and involves a lot of herding cats ("Did you get your passport photo taken yet? Did you remember to bring in your passport today?") and often some back-and-forth with the visa processing firm. A few years ago, India changed their preferred visa processing firm; I hated calling them -- it was even odds whether I'd get a customer service rep with an accent I could understand. (I admit that was a "me" problem, but still.)

It's bad enough doing one application; if your legal team is five or ten or twenty people and they all need help getting their applications together, it gets old fast. But because I'd done so many, whenever any attorney at the firm had to go to India for the first time, their secretary would end up calling me for help.

Finally -- finally -- we asked for a ten-year visa for the partner I worked for, and the Indian government gave it to him. I was ecstatic. I knew I would be retiring well before he needed the thing renewed. I was finally done with Indian visa applications!

And then he got a new matter that would be staffed by a whole new bunch of lawyers -- including the other partner I worked for. I almost had a panic attack. That is not a euphemism; I came very close to breaking down at my desk. 

Thankfully, that was the last time I had to fill out a visa application for anybody. And now I'm retired and I never have to do another one. Someone else will have to become the firm's Indian visa expert once business travel overseas resumes, and that is just fine with me.

These moments of relaxed, retired blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay home when you can and mask up when you go out!

Sunday, January 17, 2021

When the broken people see the light.


Gerd Altmann | Pixabay
Now that we've had a week and a half or so to settle our thoughts after the debacle at the US Capitol on January 6th, I'm starting to see some anecdotal evidence that some people -- particularly some of the folks who fell for the QAnon conspiracy mess -- are beginning to come around. 

Maybe it's not a lot of people yet. But at least a few folks who fell down the rabbit hole into Trumplandia or the QAnon insanity saw the anarchy on TV that day, learned that people died because of it, and realized what they'd gotten themselves into.

Getting themselves into it was easier than you might think. A game developer wrote a very interesting Medium post that explains how QAnon appeals to people. He says it follows the basic structure of an alternate-reality game: a mysterious stranger hands a player a clue in the form of a puzzle; solving that puzzle gives the player another puzzle; and on and on through the game. Players have to free-associate to solve the puzzles (the author says there's a term for that: apophenia, or seeing a meaningful pattern in random thoughts or ideas). Sometimes players band together in groups to discuss possible solutions. 

The difference is that in an alternate-reality game, the players know it's just a game. With QAnon, people were led to believe it was real. In the author's words, QAnon is "[a] game that plays people. (cue ominous music)"

I'm not a gamer, but I do write fiction, and I'm confident I've used the trope of the mysterious stranger a time or two. But I'm making stuff up. I'm not sending readers off on a real-life snipe hunt -- certainly not one that could get anybody killed.

So let's go back to the QAnon believers who watched the storming of the Capitol on January 6th and woke up to what they were involved in. What should be done about them?

I vote for compassion.

That's not to say that everybody involved in the riot should get a pass. Those who broke the law -- by breaking windows, ignoring law enforcement orders to stop, beating cops with flagpoles, stealing from congressional offices, defecating in the halls of Congress, and all the rest -- should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Any members of Congress who assisted the anarchists should also be prosecuted, and it would be really swell if they also lost their jobs. And those at the top who encouraged this -- up to and including President Trump -- should pay a price for what they've done. Trump has already been impeached a second time for encouraging his followers to storm the Capitol; I hope this time the Senate convicts him and makes sure he can never hold office again.

But what about Mom and Pop at home? They've seen the results of all the stuff they've been led to believe, and maybe it's not sitting too well with them now. What should we do? 

I suggest giving them space to grieve. They were all-in on a common cause. They probably made friends -- and I am here to tell you that online friendships are every bit as real as in-person friendships, and it hurts just as badly when they fall apart. Losing all of that is going to be tough. Give them room to process it, but be there if they want to talk about it, and be kind to them when they do. 

Because just like the people who were killed and injured at the Capitol on the 6th, these folks are victims. They were taken in by accomplished liars. They're already going to be kicking themselves. Don't make it worse by making fun of them or practicing some kind of tough love. Because that will drive them away at the precise moment when we want to bring them home to reality.

This, my friends, is how we're going to heal our country: by granting forgiveness to those who have seen the light, one broken person at a time.


In other news: I should have mentioned this earlier, but my Facebook author page is kaput. After I fought so hard to get the page back from the scammers in November, I thought maybe I'd keep it around. But the final straw was when I got a couple of requests to join the Woo-Woo Team from folks with seriously sketchy Facebook profiles. (One said she was from New York, Florida; then she changed her location to Botswana. Uh-huh.) It felt to me like the scammers were trying to get into the back end of my page via the group, which is not a thing I would ever allow and I'm not sure how it would even work. In any case, the author page is now gone for good. But the Woo-Woo Team still exists - yay! And we're still taking members -- double yay! 

In still more news: I need to get busy on editing the NaNo novel, which still doesn't have a title. I expect it will be slow going, now that I'm working as a proofreader for the New Mexico Legislature. This year's session starts Tuesday and I'll be working seven days a week (remotely, thank the gods) until it's over on March 20th -- which also happens to be Ostara. Normally I'd release a new book around that date, but this time I'm going to shoot for Beltane or thereabouts, and we can all be pleasantly surprised if it's done sooner.


These moments of compassionate blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. You know the drill -- mask up, social distance, and wash your hands!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

In which I propose a way to bring America together again.

I had to tempt the Universe with last week's post, didn't I? "Keep calm until there's real news," I said. Should have kept my mouth shut.

Not that I'm taking responsibility for the insurrection at the US Capitol on Wednesday. A crowd of President Trump's supporters, egged on by Trump himself, marched on the Capitol building as members of Congress and Senators inside were validating the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Hundreds of them broke into the building itself, and some of them went on a hunt through the building for lawmakers. Among their targets, reportedly, was Vice President Pence, because he would not acquiesce to Trump's demand that he figure out a way -- legal or not -- to invalidate the election returns and declare Trump president for another four years.

No, the blame for this, as far as I'm concerned, is all on Trump. He's responsible for the deaths of five people, including a Capitol Police officer (and possibly another Capitol Police officer who died yesterday, reportedly by suicide). He's responsible for the physical damage his supporters caused to the historic building during their rampage. He's responsible for the emotional trauma he caused the members of Congress who were locked down for hours while the building was cleared -- and who then had to go back to work and finish their job. And if anyone who works at the Capitol -- lawmakers and staff -- catches the virus due to the maskless yahoos who forced their way into the building, I'm holding him responsible for that, too.

And he's leaving an even bigger mess for Biden once he takes office. Not only must he get a handle on the spread of the virus, oversee distribution of the vaccines, and turn the economy around, but now he needs to consider whether to direct the Justice Department to go after his predecessor for his crimes.

Biden promised to unify Americans, and Trump's not interested in making it easy for him.

But it's this idea of unity that interests me tonight, and what it would take to get us there. 

Some commentators have called Trump's hardcore followers a cult. If that's true -- and I think there's a lot to recommend that view -- then it follows that to truly bring the nation back together, deprogramming is in order. But where to start?

I believe we may have to go back to the very founding of our nation. 

I shared this post on Facebook earlier today, and it got me thinking. The post is about four years old, but the author describes himself as poor Mexican who grew up in a rural town in Oklahoma. He observes that poor, white Americans don't see themselves as poor, but as "temporarily embarrassed millionaires." "It is shameful to be poor," he says. "Most men, especially, think they could be Trump were it not for the unfair obstacles put in their way." And when people like Trump point fingers at immigrants or Blacks or Muslims as undeserving, poor folks go along with it because "it takes all the shame and blame away."

"If these people saw themselves as an exploited class of people, if American culture didn't stigmatize poverty so much, it might be different," he says. "To fail to transcend poverty, and to admit you are poor, is to admit you are neither hardworking (n)or clever. It's cultural brainwashing."

Wikipedia | Public Domain
Where does this belief come from? From the very first immigrants to our shores. In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, German sociologist Max Weber proposed the idea that Protestantism, and in particular Calvinism, created the seeds of capitalism by praising hard work and discipline as virtues. Of course, many of America's earliest settlers were Protestants fleeing religious persecution in Europe. Unfortunately, they brought their own brand of religious persecution with them; it's a short step from "hard work is a virtue" to judging people who can't get ahead as lazy. And that brings on the kind of self-loathing that the Facebook post above describes -- as well as a desire to find someone, anyone, to blame one's perceived failure on.

Moreover, in recent decades, certain Protestant preachers have made a lot of money touting prosperity theology -- the idea that God wants you to be rich, and therefore happy. Not only is it okay to want to be rich, they proclaim, but if you're not -- well. It's a personal failing. You need to believe harder. And sliding the preacher some cash couldn't hurt.

When I shared that Facebook post, I said, "Just think: If our culture (including the allegedly Christian preachers who tout their 'prosperity gospel') had never made poverty a moral failing, Trump wouldn't have been able to gain a toehold in the first place." Because what he did was to hand poor folks a whole host of targets to transfer their self-loathing to -- immigrants, Blacks, Muslims, and "Mexicans."

It's a sickness, for sure. And it's ingrained so deeply in American culture that it may well take something like deprogramming to root out.

A friend asked me what I thought it would take to get it done. I replied that we'd need "a repudiation of the disinformation by those who've been spreading it, for starters -- not shutting down Fox News/OANN/whoever, but convincing them to admit it's all been a hoax. But the churches that have been preaching damnation for the lazy poor, and the ones preaching that Jesus favors the rich, need to admit their part in it, too.

"And then we need to have a big ol' program in place to help folks sort through the cognitive dissonance when everything they've been led to believe has been cut out from under them."

And I said doing what needed to be done to get the right-wing media and the prosperity-gospel peddlers on board would probably be unconstitutional. It's clear to me they wouldn't do it willingly -- they're making too much money by fleecing these folks.

The likelihood of any of this happening is vanishingly small. But as I said to my friend, "I can dream, can't I?"


These moments of dreamy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Keep those masks on and keep staying home!

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Keep calm until there's real news.

I had a topic for this post all picked out and researched and everything, and then this afternoon the Washington Post threw a monkey wrench into my plans. Well, phooey on them. I'm gonna write this post anyway -- and I'll work in their bombshell, too. 


Best Graphics dot com | CC0 | Pixabay

It was Wednesday, November 25, 1987 - the day before Thanksgiving. I was at my brother's house in a northwest suburb of Chicago, baby Kitty in tow. (Her father was in the Navy, and I think he must have been on deployment in the Mediterranean Sea.) At the time I was working for WTAR-AM in Norfolk, VA. I'd been a news anchor and reporter for about nine years.

We had the TV on, and the noon news featured a breaking story: Chicago Mayor Harold Washington had collapsed at his desk at City Hall. He was transported to a hospital, where he died that afternoon.

The early evening news ran the story at the top of the show. The story topped the 10:00pm show, too. 

When it was still leading the next morning, Thanksgiving Day, my mother complained aloud: "Are we going to have to listen to this same story all weekend?"

To which I replied, "Of course. It's a holiday weekend and this is an honest-to-goodness news story. The only other things they have to talk about are the holiday traffic death toll and Toys for Tots."

I mean, I don't recall my exact words, but I'm sure that was the gist of it. I had worked enough holidays by then to know the feeling of desperation a newsperson gets when you have to put together a newscast but you have nothing but evergreen stories and wire copy to fill it with. However people might have felt about Harold Washington as Chicago's mayor, his death was a blessing for every reporter and anchor in town who had to work that weekend.

Now, 1987 was toward the beginning of the phenomenon known as the 24-hour news cycle. If we had trouble filling a five-minute radio newscast on a holiday in those days, imagine what it's like for a producer at a cable news network today, looking down the gaping maw of a news-free holiday weekend. What do you do? Well, you have your reporters record a bunch of evergreen stories ahead of time and parcel them out over the next several days. You also have your reporters do what are called pre-writes, or the "this is what's coming up next week, once everybody gets back to work" stories.

Right now today, we are at the tail end of the holidays, the grimmest two-week period for anybody in news anywhere. So many people with regular jobs are on vacation that even when it's not Christmas Day or New Year's Day, reporters have trouble getting hold of sources. So especially now, right after New Year's Day, news organizations run a lot of pre-writes. 

And what's coming up? Big political stuff! Two Georgia Senate elections on Tuesday! Congress meeting to certify the presidential election results on Wednesday! So we're getting a lot of "news" stories about these two events. I've put "news" in quotes because a lot of what we're getting is actually speculation -- and a lot of the speculation sounds scary. 

Here's an example: The Proud Boys are coming to DC on Wednesday, but they're going to wear black so no one can tell them from Antifa! We don't know how many will come, but still! Scary!!!

And then there's all the political theater surrounding the joint session of Congress on Wednesday. Do the Republicans challenging the results have enough votes to keep Joe Biden from winning? (Nope.) Can Vice President Pence refuse to certify the Electoral College results because other electors in certain states want their votes counted instead? (Again, nope.) But what about that lawyer in Georgia who tweeted that Pence should be executed by firing squad if he doesn't declare Trump the winner? It's all so scary!!!

Yes, it is. It's meant to be. That's how 24-hour news operations keep hold of your eyeballs so their advertisers can sell you stuff. 


I was going to end this post by advising us all to use our heads over the next few days -- to carefully consider the likelihood of certain things happening, and to spend time, if at all possible, looking for a news story with a calmer point of view. I was going to close by saying we'd all know a real bombshell when we saw it.

And then WaPo went and proved my point. They got hold of tape of a phone call President Trump made yesterday to Georgia's secretary of state, pleading with and badgering the guy into "finding" enough ballots to overturn the state's election results and give the win to Trump. I listened to excerpts this afternoon. I'm no lawyer, but it sure sounded to me like Trump is trying to get Brad Raffensparger to throw the election. 

That's illegal. Someone found guilty of that crime could face a sentence of up to five years in federal prison.

So my original advice still stands: Don't let the scaremongering distract you from real news.


These moments of calming blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Keep masking up and keep social distancing!