After getting off to a widely praised (among Democrats) fast start, the Biden administration is slowing down. I’m thinking of the $2.25 trillion infrastructure package in particular, where Democrats have, at the President’s urging, tried to negotiate with Republicans to pass a bipartisan plan. It has become obvious, at the end of May, that the two parties are very far apart—just as they are on virtually everything else.
The Republicans retain a dated view of what constitutes infrastructure, one that excludes electric vehicles, for example. It is another instance of their willful disregard of science, of climate change, and of the need to create new economic and social opportunities to improve the country’s health. EVs represent a wide-ranging near- and mid-term economic boom that will encompass a large population while also helping to meet the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions. How can the Republicans not see this?
The same way they cannot see their responsibility for the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. The same way they insist on investigating Black Lives Matter alongside that insurrection. The same way they retain fealty to Donald Trump, who did everything he could to accelerate America’s downward path.
When the Ford Motor Company, hardly a model for social democratic initiatives, introduces an electric version of their F–150 pickup, America’s best-selling vehicle, it’s obvious that EVs represent the future. Republicans, as usual, do not. Instead, they represent a very real and increasing threat to the future, in myriad ways. And it goes without saying that they are negotiating in bad faith on infrastructure.
President Biden has spent enough time on this last-ditch attempt at bipartisanship—a former political norm which, for all practical purposes, is dead. It’s time to use the reconciliation process to “build back better” and more broadly, in order to address this country’s huge infrastructure needs on the widest possible scale.
Finally. After a very long wait, Scrivener 3 for Windows has finally been released. It may be April Fool’s Day, but the official release actually came on March 23. Let’s take a quick look at how it works with Wine on Linux.
There are a few initial glitches, at least on my Ubuntu setup, but they’re easily circumvented. And once you do have Scrivener 3 up and running, it’s good looking and functional. Is it worth the $49 cost? Absolutely; there’s no real competition.
I’ve written a number of posts on Scrivener 3 betas; just search on “Scrivener 3” to find them. Not a lot has changed recently. There’s still an installation error you may need to work around, but once you do you’ll be happy with the results.
Here’s a quick tutorial on installing Scrivener 3 on Linux (in my case, Ubuntu 20.04.2 LTS). I’m sure many in-depth reviews will follow in the coming days—for now, the aim is just to get you started.
Download the appropriate version (in most cases, 64-bit) here. Don’t double-click on the downloaded .exe file, though. If you do, you’ll liable to get this error:
Not to worry. Just drop into the Terminal app and navigate to wherever you downloaded the installer. Then use the wine command to install it, like so:
The setup wizard should then appear. Just follow the instructions to install.
On my system, the installer has trouble creating a desktop launcher. The workaround, again, is via the terminal. You need to navigate to the install location (.wine/drive_c/’Program Files’/Scrivener3) and issue the wine command again to launch Scrivener for the first time, i.e.,
All subsequent launches are easy, at least on a Gnome desktop. Just hit the Super Key and start to type in Scrivener—once the app icon appears (this is actually the Wine icon on my laptop, with a Scrivener caption beneath) select it and hit Enter to launch.
I didn’t find any misbehavior within the app itself on a quick initial tour. It seems to function as it should, and it looks great, just as it does on the Mac.
And there you have it: Scrivener 3 for Windows, fully functional on Linux. Kudos to the Literature & Latte team for maintaining Wine compatibility.
This column won’t follow the usual pattern of analysis and a plea for gun “control” following yet another mass shooting, except to state the obvious: United States policies regarding gun ownership are deranged. In terms of analysis, the facts have been out there for a very long time. This country simply has more guns, and more gun owners, than is sane; more guns equate to more gun deaths (see the obligatory chart below, click to enlarge).
There is, at this point, no plausible way to enact meaningful gun control. If we couldn’t do this after Newtown, then we’re not going to do it at all. Anything Congress might manage to do now—and the odds against Congress doing anything at all are very high—will make very little difference in terms of everyday outcomes. Why? Because there are already some 400 million guns floating around the country, a great many of them in unstable hands. For those guns, and for the people who own them, any unlikely new law (universal background checks?—it’s a bit late for that) would be meaningless.
What needs to happen is the removal of those 400 million “loose” guns. To be absolutely clear, the guns need to be removed from their owners (they would be compensated for their value), and their owners need to be prevented from acquiring replacements. The Holy Second Amendment, which has been grossly distorted by Republicans and their conservative courts, needs to be scrapped. Nothing less than these measures will solve the current problem.
The right will scream in outrage at this—if I had a larger right-leaning audience for this blog, one or more readers might well try to shoot me (a common impulse among problematic gun lovers). The left will say what I am proposing is impossible, and these people would be right. Under our current United States government, the solution I’ve described is impossible.
So what can be done? The answer, as for so many other intractable American problems, is secession: rational people joining together to create a rational new state (the Democratic Federation of America, let’s call it). A state where individual gun ownership would be permitted only under the most tightly controlled circumstances. A state where long-standing American myths—manifest destiny, rising by one’s own bootstraps, the inalienable right to shoot oneself or others—would no longer hold sway. A democratic socialist state on the Nordic model where crime would still occur, but rarely and on a much smaller scale. Where people would have more equality, where there would be far less poverty and deprivation. A state where life seemed meaningful again.
Jettison the crazies. Start over. Don’t “build back better.” Build something new, and better.
A great deal of attention has been paid to the need to escape from the constant anxiety of each day’s news, especially during this past year of the pandemic. You can turn off notifications on your phone and avoid reading the news online but it will still find you, somehow.
Streaming TV has been the most widespread diversion for most, but these days one has to dig deeper into Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu et al. to find something truly engaging. And even at its best, TV has a hard time matching the kind of transcendent escape provided by a really engrossing book.
I’m going to recommend two such books, each of which provides a wonderful diversion from daily tasks and worries. Both generate plenty of tension but it’s good tension—the kind that keeps you turning pages and temporarily rising above whatever happened in the wider world today. Both books are thrillers (though they’re quite different), and both are very well-written, and featured on last year’s New York Times “100 Notable Books” list.
S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wastelandis a thoroughgoing delight—if you like classic noir, you’ll love this book. Set in Virginia, its depiction of criminals and criminal life in the South reads as completely authentic. The novel’s protagonist, Beauregard “Bug” Montage, is torn between his past life as a getaway driver extraordinaire and his current desire to live as a good citizen, husband and father. The tension between these two roles helps fuel a fast-moving plot that grabs you tight and won’t let go. Full review here.
Lawrence Osborne’s The Glass Kingdom is an altogether different kind of thriller, and a nasty piece of work it is (I mean that as high praise). This novel’s setting is bustling, shadowy, dangerous Bangkok, where 30-something Sarah Mullins winds up after scamming $200K using the reputation of a famous American author. Sarah gravitates to a high-end collection of high-rises known as the Kingdom, supposedly secure from the chaos and growing civil unrest on the streets of Bangkok below. There she mingles with other expats from around the world, all of whom have sketchy backgrounds of their own. The book’s tension builds steadily and becomes almost unbearable toward the end. Full review here.
Read either or both of these novels and enjoy a well-deserved vacation from the news cycle. Have a good trip!
Without phenomenal luck and remarkable courage, the United States will soon be over.
Where to begin? The events of January 6 represent one of the darkest chapters in American history, and point the way toward a very bleak future—toward no future at all, where the country is concerned.
Today’s Republican Party is an active threat to democracy, truth and life itself. Yet it retains, and appears as though it will continue to retain, tremendous power. The fact that Trump will almost certainly be acquitted by the Republicans for his nihilistic and seditious behavior speaks for itself. So do the 74 million votes cast on his behalf in the recent election.
Although Democrats have achieved nominal power, this is deceptive. America’s built-in structural inequities guarantee that President Biden’s, and the Democratic Party’s, power remains very fragile. It’s good to see the flurry of Biden executive orders attempting to undo some of the damage Trump has done, but those orders themselves are fragile—they can easily be undone by the next right-wing president—and they don’t do enough to address America’s ongoing medical, political and societal emergencies.
What can be done? In an ideal world, in a sane world, a world governed by logic, the Democrats would employ their current shaky majority to attempt radical, structural change, despite the odds against achieving such change. And I’m not talking about economic or racial inequality here, because unless the nation can successfully address the emergencies referenced above, those are moot points.
Some ideas, none of which are likely to be implemented:
Criminalize disregard of public health precautions during the pandemic. Make anyone not wearing a mask or observing social distancing do substantial jail time and/or pay a crippling fine. America’s current laissez-faire attitude toward life itself is a disgusting perversion of the founders’ conception of individual rights.
Shut down social media. All of it. The ignorant and the destructive have no inherent right to spread their craziness among the population at large. The use of social media does not equate to free speech when such use produces obvious widespread damage.
Implement re-education camps (yes, just as the far right fears). Much of today’s appalling ignorance and susceptibility to lies and conspiracy theories stems from the 40-year-plus failure of America’s educational system. But instead of barbed wire and guard towers, try using America’s best and brightest teachers—we still have some—to show the benighted Trump public what gullible, harmful dupes they have been. Pay those people to obtain the education they should have obtained years ago (the carrot), and punish non-compliance (the stick).
Try the worst Republican politicians for treason. From Trump on down, Republicans have done their damnedest to undermine faith in the country’s democratic values, and their blatant spread of lies and misinformation has cost hundreds of thousands of lives during the Covid–19 pandemic. Republicans have also seriously weakened our standing in the world and they have made democratic governance almost impossible.
Use the National Guard, where appropriate, to clamp down on violence, including police violence (witness the cops’ typical double-standard at work on January 6). And while we’re at it, root out right-wing radicals from the Guard and from police departments nationwide.
Outlaw all militia groups and go for their guns. I don’t mean to be facetious here—400 million guns floating around the United States virtually guarantees that many of the 74 million Trump voters will eventually use them, and relatively soon, to “take back their country.” Offer a combination of money and National Guard force to mandate compliance. Allow the retaining of individual weapons for self-protection where appropriate (it usually won’t be).
How likely do you think it is that any of these six suggestions will become reality? Right—none of this going to happen. Therefore, the intelligent thing to do is prepare for what comes next as we hurtle toward disaster. I’m not talking about Civil War (though that is a distinct possibility), but a negotiated separation. Now is the ideal time to begin this process, while Democrats do wield some sort of power.
Governors of blue states and mayors of major cities should start the discussion now. The one way out of America’s downward spiral, the one chance that some semblance of America’s best moments in history and its leadership role in the world can be salvaged, is to say a permanent goodbye to Trump, to his voters and to the Republican Party at large. Let them go their own way. And let the rest of us regroup to try and salvage a sane and healthy American future, even if it’s on a reduced scale.
As this incredibly dysfunctional and deadly year nears its end, I’ll close 2020’s posts on a personal note: it was a tough year for writing, at least for me.
Many wonderful novels, stories, poems and non-fiction works were published this year, to be sure. Yet I know I’m not alone in feeling the effects of distraction and isolation on my writing. When every day is “Blursday,” it’s tough to focus. Not to make excuses—one must try, and I did. I published a grand total of one poem and one story this year. (Actually, the story won’t appear in Gargoyle until next summer.)
So, not a productive year. I can’t blame it all on the pandemic. Part of the responsibility is mine—I should have found more and better, more consistent, ways to focus, and I didn’t. Part of the responsibility lies with a fundamentally flawed literary marketplace, especially the minor leagues of literary magazines and chapbooks. There are myriad problems here which will likely be the subject of a future post.
The one poem I published, “Criminal,” appeared in the Spring 2020 edition of Poetry Quarterly. I’ll reproduce it below, since its subject matter and especially its title seem relevant to the horrific year we’ve just experienced.
I know it was a crime at least as cold as the fluorescent light that bore down on my father’s deathbed.
But I still can’t grasp the betrayal, or the indifference that enabled it. No conscious thought was involved.
Dad had been declining for a year, dropping faster toward the end, life’s last, careless insult a needless broken hip.
It was the fall that did me in, he told me when I flew out to see him in San Jose. When I first arrived his head was thrown back
and his mouth gaped. It was awkward. He was propped up in the hospital bed, and later that day I spooned out soup.
He slurped happily, as though life hadn’t changed all that much. But then he knew again it had—his time was nearly gone.
You’ll stay with me? he asked, eyebrows raised. I can’t, Dad, I told him. I have to get back.
He died the next evening, after I’d returned home. Distance helped blunt the news.
Today, November 7, 2020, is a day for celebration. Donald J. Trump, easily the worst president of the modern era and a contender for worst president ever, has been vanquished. Joe Biden will become America’s 46th President.
What’s more, Kamala Harris will become America’s first woman and woman of color to serve as America’s Vice President. In light of the country’s long record of racial and gender inequality, this is icing on the cake.
Biden’s ascension to the presidency will not automatically solve America’s myriad problems, which are severe. But there will be ample time to focus on these problems, and their possible solutions, after the new president and his team take office. For now, every thinking American owes Mr. Biden their gratitude for his defeat of the malignant Donald Trump.
Well, here we are again—on the eve of The Most Important Election Ever. This time, it may be true.
However, if (like me) you’re not convinced that a Biden victory on November 3 will fix everything, then I offer you the following. I published a slightly different version of this poem four years ago, and I believe its message remains useful today.
“A Villanelle for Election Day”
When the world begins to disintegrate
And the country begins to fall apart
Just breathe in deep and steer your own thoughts straight.
Every campaign lie is defined by hate
And every campaign is a lie at heart
When the world begins to disintegrate.
If fear expands and gathers too much weight
And you fear carnage is about to start
Just breathe in deep and steer your own thoughts straight.
Some will tell you it’s really fucking great
And it’s time to upset the apple cart
When the world begins to disintegrate
The darker it grows, the more it grows late
And you know compassion won’t play a part
Just breathe in deep and steer your own thoughts straight.
Perhaps the end is really up to fate
Perhaps it’s finally time to grow smart
When the world begins to disintegrate
Just breathe in deep and steer your own thoughts straight.
It’s the day after the New York Times published its scoop on Trump’s taxes, and while I hope the news helps the Democrats in November I don’t plan to focus on it here. Instead, let’s take a brief look at what happens after the election, regardless of who wins.
It’s been said many times that Trump is merely a symptom of America’s dysfunction and I believe this to be true. We’ve had appalling Presidents in the past, and we’ve always had plenty of truly deplorable citizens. So, defeating Trump in November (or December, or January) will not resolve the nation’s problems.
In fact, you could argue—and I do—that nothing can or will “fix” America as it’s presently constituted. This is also the argument that Nation contributor Richard Kreitner makes in his much-discussed new book, Break It Up. Kreitner reviews the long history of this country and demonstrates it has never been truly united. The “union” has been held together by one morally abhorrent compromise after another, right up until the present day.
But now we’re running out of time. Consider:
* We have 200,000+ deaths from Covid–19, and the pandemic continues.
* Climate change is here now—witness unprecedented West Coast fires, producing the world’s worst air quality.
* America’s built-in, historical social injustice is being confronted almost daily on the streets but little tangible progress has been made.
* We have a dysfunctional two-party system with entrenched safeguards against genuine democracy, resulting in minority rule.
* America lags behind other “advanced” countries in nearly every measurable quality of life indicator.
Imagine the Democrats win the White House and the Senate. More than 40% of the citizenry would still be adamantly (perhaps violently) opposed to any new agenda the government might offer. The country’s judicial system has shifted to the right. Right-wing militias are on the rise, and America has more guns than people.
Is progress likely under such circumstances? Can we really address the myriad emergencies facing this country?
Now imagine another scenario, one in which “red” and “blue” states agree to go their separate ways. Secession is a fraught issue but it is one that has always been with us, as Kreitner shows. Let’s say, for the moment, that each side of the country agreed to negotiate a peaceable separation which would possibly entail a common defense but also two new charters or constitutions for the two new nations. Granted, such negotiations would be extremely thorny. But each side’s desire to be free of the other would be a powerful motivator.
And what possibilities might ensue! A Blue America could follow a charter that guaranteed truly equal opportunity for all, a sane health care system, a dedication to fighting climate change and a rational system of justice. There would be no Second Amendment and no widespread gun ownership. Police forces would be college-educated and professionally trained; they would not have military equipment at their disposal. Prisons would not be capitalistic enterprises but would instead be focused on reform. Education would again become one of the country’s most revered professions. And on, and on. We could have a social democracy built on the Nordic model and strive to improve it further. We could have a country that people of good will, empathy and conscience could take genuine pride in.
I’m not naïve; I realize that dividing the country into separate nations would not be easy, nor would it produce a utopia. But it could produce a hell of a lot more genuine progress than we’re likely to get under our present flawed system. Given the intractable division in the U. S., and given the various states of emergency we confront, it’s time for another carefully considered look at the benefits which could accrue from secession. Reading Break It Up is a good place to start.
Update, 1/30/21: there is a bug in the recent Scrivener 3 betas which prevents Scrivener from launching successfully after installation. You can resolve it by using winetricks to install speechsdk. This is now fixed.
It goes without saying that these are troubling times. Politics and the pandemic, bound tightly together in this dysfunctional country, will be with us through the end of this year and well beyond. So let’s focus on something small and potentially positive, only tangentially related to the larger world.
There aren’t many fiction writers who use Linux as a regular platform, I’d wager. Yet there are a few, including me. I believe that open source at its best serves as a role model for how the larger society should function. This quality in itself attracts some socially conscious creative people to the platform. The problem, of course, is that commercial software remains dominant, and not all of it can run on Linux. It is possible to write with existing open source solutions. But the best solution for aspiring novelists is the carefully crafted Scrivener, developed by a small, quality-focused software team at Literature and Latte in the UK. And Scrivener no longer runs natively on Linux.
To the company’s credit, a version of the Scrivener Linux beta remains available, and this can interface with the current Scrivener 3 on the Mac by translating documents from Scrivener 2 format to Scrivener 3, and vice versa. But the need to “translate” back and forth is a less than ideal solution.
For a while, Wine had come to the rescue—Scrivener ran just fine “out of the box” on default Wine installations. But that changed sometime back, as Scrivener 3 for Windows development evolved. Wine stopped working, and I turned back to Scrivener on macOS to continue work on my novel. Apple still leads the pack in terms of both ease of use and options for writers (but Linux exemplifies the moral high ground, as noted above).
Now that the new version (20.04.1) of Ubuntu LTS is out, I decided to take another look at the situation, and I have some good news for the small audience of writers on Linux. The latest beta of Scrivener 3 for Windows does run on Wine. You just have to do a little extra work to enable this.
A quick disclaimer: while I worked as a developer for many years, I now focus on writing. As a writer, I can’t afford to be distracted by any particular tool. If something doesn’t “just work,” I’ll find an alternative that does and concentrate on the writing. That’s why I hadn’t wanted to get down into the weeds to figure out all the nuances of enabling Scrivener 3 on Wine. But when I took a quick look, I discovered that things weren’t that bad. My Wine configuration is probably a little wonky, and I’ll likely do a complete reinstall when Scrivener 3 for Windows is officially released, supposedly sometime this fall. But getting the software to work again isn’t all that much work.
The latest beta, 126.96.36.199 (RC9), would seem to indicate that the official release is near (fingers crossed). The beta expires in mid-September. Here’s how to get it working.
If you already have Wine installed, you have two choices: you can create a new prefix for Scrivener, or you can update the parameters of the default .wine prefix. (I’ve tried both, which is why my configuration is not as clean as it should be.) If you don’t have Wine installed, then installing it should be your first step. It’s straightforward, and I won’t describe the process here.
If, like me, you only plan to use Wine for Scrivener and one or two related programs (Literature and Latte’s Scapple “brainstorming” software runs fine on the default Wine install), then I recommend updating the environmental settings for the default prefix .wine to meet Scrivener’s current requirements. The process described below applies to Ubuntu Focal but should be translatable to other distros.
The core requirements are Windows 7 or higher and .NET v4.6.2 or higher (Wine 5.0 will let you use .NET v4.8).
Once Wine is installed, make sure you have 32-bit architecture enabled. This is needed for various reasons overall, and also to register Scrivener. The command is:
sudo dpkg -i –add-architecture i386
Following that, run this:
Now you’ll need to install Winetricks. Again, this is straightforward. Once you have it installed, run the following commands. The first one is:
This is necessary for Times New Roman, the most popular font for submitting your work to publishers. If you already have the font on your system (it might have come with or been installed by another program), you can omit the above command.
env WINEPREFIX=$HOME/.wine winetricks win7
env WINEPREFIX=$HOME/.wine winetricks dotnet48
Now you should be able to right-click on your downloaded Scrivener 3 beta file and use Wine’s installer to install it.
Scrivener will create a .desktop file than you can use to launch the program (which didn’t work in my case, because my overall Wine installation has some issues—as I said, I’ll clean this up when the official version is released). You can then add the launcher as a “favorite” in the dock.
An easy alternative for launching is simply to hit the Super key to bring up Search and type in the first few letters of “Scrivener.” Once you see the program just hit Enter to launch it.
Or, if you like the command line, make a little shell script like so:
cd ~/.wine/drive_c/‘Program Files’/Scrivener wine Scrivener.exe
Then you can run it with:
from whatever directory you placed the script in. That said, a launcher is probably the best way to go and that’s what I’ll use once I clean things up.
And there you have it—a little work, but well worth it for those who want to be able to use the best long-form writing program on Linux.