Communion Of Dreams


“Your lot got the right idea, I say.”

I wrote the following for Chapter 12 of St Cybi’s Well some months back. It’s set near the visitor’s center at Stonehenge, and occurs just as the pandemic influenza* is getting started in the UK, when people aren’t quite sure yet what is happening. The main character, Darnell Sidwell, sees a group of protesting people, and finds out that they’re members of the ‘British Defense League’, my fictional version of this group.

Before he got to the front of the protest, he looked over the fence, saw something of a party going on. People drinking, dancing to music from a portable sound system, standing around smoking. A couple of young men were standing beside the fence, watching the crowd flow by, passing a bottle back and forth.

One of the men saw him looking at them. “Wotcha lookin’ at?”

Darnell walked over to them. He stopped a couple of paces before the fence. “Nothing, really. You?”

“Oh, a Yank, are ya?” The man seemed to relax a bit. His friend, who had been looking down the road, turned to look at Darnell as well. “Jus’ watchin’ this lot go by. Havin’ a bit of a laugh. You got any cigs?”

“No, sorry, I don’t smoke. Yeah, I’m a Yank.”

The friend spoke. “Your lot got the right idea, I say.”

“Howso?”

“‘Bout the illegals.” He turned to his mate. “We should do that.”

“Yeah, kick ‘em all out,” agreed the friend. “All the Pakis and Blackies. They the ones what got this flu goin’. ‘Cause they’s dirty.”

“Uncivilized,” added his friend, taking a long pull on the bottle, then handing it over to the other.

“Flu?” asked Darnell, feigning ignorance.

“Yeah, the flu. What’s got ever’one comin’ here.” He gestured towards Stonehenge. “All the nutters lookin’ like Druids or Harry Potter. Ain’ you heard of it?”

“Um, no, I was just coming over to visit Stonehenge. Isn’t it always like this?”

“Nah. There’s a flu goin’ ‘round. Bad one,” said the man.

“People dyin’,” said the other. “Gov’s tryin’ to hide it, but word’s out.”

“Me aunt’s a nurse o’er London. She tol’ me mum.” He gestured behind him, towards the party going on. “Others heard ‘bout it too. Then some heard th’ nutters were coimin’ here, thought that we’d have a chance to make th’ telly.”

“Ah.”

The first man tilted up the bottle, drained it. “Say, got anythin’ t’ drink in your bag, there?”

“Just water.” Darnell smiled. “It’s a bit early for me.”

“Yeah, well,” said the second man, “ain’ for me. Drink’ll keep the sickness out. Alcohol kills it. Ever’one knows that.”

“Sounds like good advice,” said Darnell, turning to walk away.

“Hey, Yank,” called one of the men.

“Yeah?” asked Darnell, pausing.

The two men exchanged glances. The first one said “You seem OK. Word to th’ wise: don’t stick around too long.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

From the news yesterday:

Yahoo News asked Trump whether his push for increased surveillance of American Muslims could include warrantless searches. He suggested he would consider a series of drastic measures.

“We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule,” Trump said. “And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”

Yahoo News asked Trump whether this level of tracking might require registering Muslims in a database or giving them a form of special identification that noted their religion. He wouldn’t rule it out.

“We’re going to have to — we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely,” Trump said when presented with the idea. “We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Following that news item, Bend the Arc Jewish Action issued the following statement:

“Registering everyone of a certain religion to a list? We’ve seen that. It doesn’t end well.

“There is no way American Jews will ever find it acceptable for anyone – anyone – to be registered, singled out, profiled, discriminated against, or in any way mistreated by the government on the basis of their religion in this country. Mr. Trump’s suggestion is as terrifying as it is abhorrent.

“This runs counter to everything we believe in as Americans and Jews and we will not stand idly by as fear and bigotry are used to dominate our politics.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

St Cybi’s Well is set in an alternate time-line to our own, where the United States has become a ‘Constitutional Theocracy’ in part as a response to the 9-11 attacks. It’s fiction.

At least, I intended for it to be fiction …

Jim Downey

*What is referred to as the ‘fire-flu’ in Communion of Dreams, set 40 years later.

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The power to forgive.

As I have said previously:

… I have tried my very best to forget him. It was that, or succumb to the hatred that threatened to define my life.

For a while I tried forgiveness, since that is supposed to be liberating. When I say “for a while,” I mean for years. But I failed. There are some things that cannot be forgiven, at least for me.

 

Others are, perhaps, better than I:

During an emotional courtroom scene, family members of some of the victims gave statements, many saying they forgave the shooter and calling on him to repent his sins.

“I just wanted everybody to know, to you, I forgive you,” a daughter of Ethel Lance, 70, one of the nine people killed at Emanuel AME church on Wednesday night said. “You took something very precious away from me.

“You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. But I forgive you. I forgive you,” she said.

 

That is a power which baffles me, bewilders me, but also leaves me in quiet awe. Good for them.

 

Jim Downey



It’s not about security. It’s about abuse and incompetence.

I know sometimes people think that I am anti-government or anti-authority because I rant about infringements of our civil rights and personal liberties. I’ll cop to some of that, since I do believe that trading freedom (or even privacy) for a false security is foolish.

But more importantly, I think that the whole notion of secret courts or secret laws or secret lists are dangerous because they can be abused not due to an over-enthusiastic effort to protect the country, but because of personal grudges or to cover up incompetence. Without the ability to challenge these secret acts/actions, those abuses and incompetence cannot be brought to light and corrected. This is the perfect example of that:

The government contested a former Stanford University student’s assertion that she was wrongly placed on a no-fly list for seven years in court despite knowing an FBI official put her on the list by mistake because he checked the “wrong boxes” on a form, a federal judge wrote today.

The agent, Michael Kelly, based in San Jose, misunderstood the directions on the form and “erroneously nominated” Rahinah Ibrahim to the list in 2004, the judge wrote.

“He checked the wrong boxes, filling out the form exactly the opposite way from the instructions on the form,” U.S. District Judge William Alsup wrote (.pdf) today.

* * *

Much of the federal court trial, in which the woman sought only to clear her name, was conducted in secret after U.S. officials repeatedly invoked the state secrets privilege and sought to have the case dismissed.

 

Doctor Ibrahim is the first person to successfully challenge in court being put on a government watch list in the US. It’s highly doubtful that she is the only one to be placed on such a list incorrectly.

National security may benefit from secret lists and hidden actions. But so does bureaucratic incompetence and hidden agendas.

 

Jim Downey



Reflecting (on) reality.

Any work of literature is, to some extent, part of the society in which it was written, and needs to be understood within that context. Whether you’re talking The Bonfire of the Vanities or On the Beach or Life on the Mississippi  or just about any novel you care to name, it is, to some extent, a reflection on the culture surrounding it.

Writers react to the events around them. Even science fiction authors like yours truly. We really can’t avoid it.

I mentioned events in Boston the other day.  Just a blog post. But it is some measure of what has gotten my attention. So it would be safe to assume that to some degree it will show up in St. Cybi’s Well. And it will. But perhaps not exactly as you might think.

Almost five years ago I wrote this:

This is nothing more or less than the peace of the gun. This is the abrogation of civil liberties as a solution for incompetent governance. Of course people like it – let things get bad enough that they fear for their lives more than they value their liberties, and you can get people to do almost anything.

Now, I don’t think that what happened in Boston was anything like what led to that blog post about HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. in August of 2008. In that instance, it was chronic problems with crime rather than a couple of domestic terrorists which brought about de facto martial law.

And I think that the police agencies involved in determining who was responsible for the attacks, and then seeking the suspects in a major metropolitan area did a very professional job. Just compare it to another recent dragnet and you’ll see what I mean.

But I keep coming back to that earlier blog post. Why? Because seeing a major city shut down, and then para-military operations going house to house searching for a suspect, gives me pause. I certainly can’t fault the police for taking precautions intended to protect their own lives and the lives of citizens. SWAT equipment and tactics have been shown to be very effective.

Yet …

… I feel somewhat like the owner of a couple of highly trained and massive guard dogs, who has just watched those dogs chase off/control a threat. There’s a satisfaction in watching them do the task so well. But there’s also a nagging fear that maybe, just maybe, things could be bad if they ever decided that they no longer wanted to obey commands.

Nah – no need to worry. That has never happened before.

 

Jim Downey

 

 

 



All mixed up.

It’s been a confused Spring. The redbuds are just coming into color, while the Bradford pears are in full bloom and the magnolia trees are already shedding their petals. That’s all mixed up.

* * * * * * *

Our vet was here (yes, he only does house-calls) this week for the critters’ annual check-up and shots. We started with our oldest cat, who is 13 this year.

After going through his routine, sitting on our kitchen floor still holding the cat, he looked up at me and said: “Not bad for a body designed by nature to last just three or four years.”

* * * * * * *

There was recently a bit of a flap over the appropriateness/quality of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, prompted by a new stage production of the play.  I’m not a Shakespeare scholar, but I know this sort of thing pops up from time to time, due to changing societal norms about marriage, sex, and violence. This paragraph from the linked article sums up the current qualms:

Romeo and Juliet itself hasn’t aged well. The story follows Juliet Capulet, who is 13 when she meets Romeo Montague at a party, falls head over heels in love with him, and marries him within a day of meeting him. Romeo’s age isn’t specified in the play, but the quickness with which he throws over a former flame for Juliet doesn’t suggest a particularly mature man. Maybe this works on the page, when we’re not forced to watch actors and actresses who are clearly in their 20s and 30s behave like early teenagers. But the effect is embarrassing and unsettling for today’s theater audiences, perhaps already fretting over suspended adolescence and stunted millenials.

* * * * * * *

It was a rough week in Boston. To say the least.

And, like much of the rest of the nation, I was distracted almost to the point of obsession by the latest developments in the news, and how it all played out. Part of that distraction manifested in following discussions on several sites, including one of my favorites, MetaFilter. Which is where, last night after the second suspect was captured, there was a sentiment expressed which I found to be curious and challenging. This sentiment:

I won’t feel bad for feeling bad for this kid. And while he is legally an adult, I think back to when I was 19, and I sure as shit wasn’t making adult decisions then. YMMV. He did something unspeakably horrible, yes, but, he is still a human being. Maybe they were psychopaths, but we don’t know yet why this happened. Right now, this was a senseless act of violence, and I want to know why this happened. I want to know the motive that led to a friend of mine holing up in his basement two houses away in Watertown while this shit went down. I cannot rationalize this, but I also grew up in a peaceful suburb, and not, you know, a wartorn Soviet nation. If I believed that people were just born evil, I don’t think I could survive in this world. Again, YMMV, but compassion is helping me cope with this.
posted by Ruki at 8:01 PM on April 19

And a bit later, this one (an excerpt):

This young man was once someone’s cute 8 year-old. Somehow, somewhere, that adorable hope that we see in every 8 year-old was replaced with something sinister, and he made terrible decisions that caused death and pain. And now, even if he’s only given life in prison, his life is OVER.

I am sad that a life that had such potential has gone so badly awry. I am sad that his mother, who surely had great hopes and dreams for her children, is seeing those dreams shattered, is dealing with the grief and maybe even guilt of both of her sons turning to violence and terrorism.

Maybe it’s because my sons are so close to him in age. I don’t know. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, grieving that a young person has thrown his life away without really understanding the consequences of doing so. I don’t know. But I hurt for everyone involved – the people who died, the people who were wounded, the elder brother who should have known better, and this 19 year-old kid who had the world at his feet. It sucks all around, and I don’t know what else to do except feel great sorrow over the entire situation.
posted by MissySedai at 8:29 PM on April 19

* * * * * * *

From the closing paragraph of the Romeo and Juliet article:

But beyond that, the vision of Romeo and Juliet’s deaths uniting their families is an adolescent fantasy of death solving all problems, a “won’t they miss me when I’m gone” pout. There’s a reason that, in the best modern riff on Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, Maria lives after Tony’s death to shame the Sharks and the Jets, her survival a seal on the truce between them. Dying is easy. Living to survive the consequences of your actions and to do the actual work of reconciliation is the hard part.

* * * * * * *

“You guys grow ’em long,” continued our vet, as he released the old cat. “The last one lived to what, 19?”

“I think so. We’ve been lucky.”

* * * * * * *

It’s been a confused Spring. The redbuds are just coming into color, while the Bradford pears are in full bloom and the magnolia trees are already shedding their petals. That’s all mixed up.

Soon I’ll have the garden tilled. Just yesterday I placed my annual order for pepper plants, which will be delivered in a couple of weeks. That’s still too early to plant them, but I’ll be able to ‘harden them off’ in the shelter of the carport until the latter part of May. Then they’ll have a much better chance of thriving in my garden. I’ll do what I can, but at some point they’re on their own.

 

Jim Downey