Cassandra Watches the Ball Drop

Something I’ve been noticing lately, even among my brightest friends, is an eyes-averted tendency to focus on the narrow, the personal. The big picture is just too much to handle.

Yet celebrations are planned for the arrival of 2017. “Let’s forget our troubles and party” seems to be the attitude, and this is somewhat understandable. But only somewhat.

New Year's Eve, Times Square
New Year’s Eve, Times Square. Photo: Inside New York.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just consider what we’re carrying into the new year:

  • An arguably illegitimate presidential election.
  • A demonstrably unqualified President-elect.
  • A hostile attack by a foreign power (including, as reported today, alarming hacks on the American power grid).
  • A President-elect who consistently praises said foreign power.
  • A new Presidential Cabinet of zealots and incompetents which is dedicated to the destruction of every key government agency (let’s hope the incompetents remain incompetent).
  • Right-wing control of all three branches of the federal government (once Trump takes office and a new Supreme Court justice is confirmed).
  • Republican control of most states as well, and an enfeebled Democratic opposition.
  • An American public which has been sundered in two, with one half unable and/or unwilling to distinguish truth from falsehood.

And this is but a sampling of what’s in store. It doesn’t exactly make for a happy new year’s outlook, does it?

However, there is one New Year’s tradition worth preserving, and that is the New Year’s resolution.

Here’s my suggestion: resolve to resist.

Consider the Source

Yesterday, the House Intelligence Committee produced a 33-page report claiming that Edward Snowden is in contact with Russian intelligence services. The report also claimed that Snowden was a chronically disgruntled employee who acted out of personal pique.

The committee had released a three-page summary of its report in September to counter the premiere of Snowden, a movie by the director Oliver Stone that portrayed him as a heroic whistle-blower.

Edward Snowden
Photo by By Laura Poitras / Praxis Films, CC BY 3.0, Link.

According to the New York Times, the full report was “not the result of an independent intelligence investigation by the committee. Rather, it was a review of the N.S.A.’s response to Mr. Snowden’s leaks and of the findings from an executive branch investigation. The committee said it did not conduct witness interviews, to avoid jeopardizing any future trial of Mr. Snowden.”

What’s more, key sections of the report remain redacted, including claims about Snowden’s contacts with Russian intelligence. As a result, today’s Times story notes, “the redactions made it hard to judge whether the report’s conclusions were merely a reiteration of the intelligence community’s contempt for Mr. Snowden or were based on new evidence.”

Considering that we’re talking about the current, Republican-dominated U. S. House of Representatives, a do-nothing body with obstructionist policies which have contributed mightily to the dystopian political landscape in store for us next year, I think the motivation for the report is obvious. While the summary was released to counter any positive effect from the Oliver Stone film, the full report is intended to argue against any possible pardon by President Obama before he leaves office (something that seemed unlikely anyway).

The post-truth machine is operating at full force here.

On the Brink

As I write this (on Monday, December 19), Donald Trump has just surpassed the 270 Electoral College votes he needs to become President. This, despite the news of Russian interference to tilt the election in his favor. This, despite the fact that his opponent had a popular vote margin of more than two and a half million.

Plenty has already been written and said about both factors. The fact that the popular vote winner has lost the presidency is nothing new; we only have to go back to 2000 and George W. Bush for another example. The Russian hacking is new, though, and it is highly disturbing for anyone who genuinely cares about American democracy. But not disturbing enough to make a difference, apparently.

The Russian connection, like Trump himself, has already been “normalized” with “Saturday Night Live” skits and jokes around the office. All the talking heads are still talking, and irony is still frequently called upon. The seriousness of the situation continues to escape most of us, most of the time.

Is America’s political nightmare so horrifying that, like death itself, we find it difficult to view straight on? Is it only possible to avert our eyes and twitter (pun intended) nervously at stupid skits and jokes? If so, things are about to get a whole lot worse.

A Work in Progress

Here’s a draft version of something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

“Symphony no. 8”

When we talk about the “Mighty Nine”
We could be talking about almost anything.
Maybe it’s baseball, the ’27 Yankees.
Maybe the Supreme Court, or a video game.
There aren’t many music classes
Left in the schools these days.

Suppose you do encounter Beethoven, though.
Suppose you listen to each and every symphony
And hear them all more than once.
Which would you then say
Moved you the most?
The “Eroica”? The Fifth? The Mighty Ninth?

For me it would be a different choice,
A work not played as often as the others.
A fiery work, but somehow also cold and isolated.
I’m referring to the glittering, self-contained Eighth:
A work that pierces ice-blue skies
To no applause on earth.

—Thomas Pletcher

Sneak Preview: 2017 TV Season

Big Changes Are in Store for Your Favorite Shows!

Writeside.com has learned that the Trump Administration has negotiated major changes with America’s TV networks and cable companies—plus streaming providers Netflix, Hulu and Amazon—to “bring prime time TV programs into closer accord with America’s values.”

Virtually every prime time program will reflect these changes. Here, for example, are some of the changes planned for the well-regarded FX series “The Americans.”

"The Americans"
“The Americans” title card © FX.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Rather than being set in the early 1980s during the Cold War, the upcoming fifth season will take place in present-day America.
  • Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, two Soviet KGB officers posing as an American married couple living in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., will come out of hiding and join their neighbor Stan Beeman at the FBI.
  • Paige Jennings, who had intended to follow in her parents’ footsteps, becomes an intern at the Trump White House.
  • Elizabeth and Philip join Stan in combating un-American bureaucrats at the CIA, who are alleging that America’s close ally Russia interfered with the 2016 election. Certain members of Congress who prove susceptible to these claims also become FBI targets.
  • Vladimir Putin will make a cameo guest appearance mid-season.
  • John McCain, who had been spearheading efforts to prove Russian interference in the election, is poisoned with polonium-210, a radioactive isotope. Elizabeth and Philip are seen hovering near his hospital bed.
  • At a news conference in the season’s final episode, President Trump makes his own cameo guest appearance. He is asked if Russia is responsible for the McCain poisoning. “That’s ridiculous,” the President replies. “Besides, I like senators who haven’t been poisoned with polonium-210.”

President Trump has announced that he will serve as executive producer for “The Americans” next year, along with “The Apprentice.” The President also referred to some “fabulous” changes in store next year for “PBS News Hour.”

“We’re going to bring back that fantastic two-woman anchor team,” the President said, alluding to the duo of Judy Woodruff and the late Gwen Ifill. The program’s new 2017 anchors will be Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Palin.

Jump for Trump

What follows is an excerpt from my recently completed NaNoWriMo novel draft, The Divide. The story takes place in the days immediately before and after the 2016 presidential election, and the national zeitgeist certainly seeps into the plot. However, the story is not about the election per se. It portrays a number of different people on both sides of the widening national divide, and the ways their lives are affected by change and growing instability.

Here, without further ado, is chapter 15 (of 37 chapters in the first draft). The book’s chapters are numbered rather than titled but if you’re a fan of heavily underscored irony, you could call this one “Jump for Trump.”

—Thomas Pletcher

Continue reading “Jump for Trump”

The Post-truth Era

If you had any doubts about what’s ahead in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, an alarming story in today’s papers—archaic media which attempt to purvey “facts”—should provide some clues as to what’s coming.

So should the Oxford English Dictionary’s international word of the year: post-truth.

The post-truth item in question: a persistent story on social media claiming that Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant in northwest Washington, was harboring young children as sex slaves as part of a child-abuse ring led by Hillary Clinton.

Unbelievably ignorant. Photo: Sathi Soma, via Associated Press
Unbelievably ignorant. Photo: Sathi Soma, via Associated Press

Believing the Hillary Clinton-led pedophile pizza story to be true, an incredibly ill-informed young man drove six hours from North Carolina to D. C. with his rifle to conduct a “self-investigation.” He managed to get off a shot before he was arrested.

As scary (and to me, unbelievable) as this story is, here’s something even scarier: Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, President-elect Trump’s choice for national security adviser, has been promoting the supposed Hillary Clinton-pedophilia connection on Twitter. His son and advisor, Mike Flynn Jr., continues to do so, even claiming that Edgar Welch, the deluded North Carolina man who drove to Washington to “investigate,” was a plant to discredit fake news websites. As though fake news sites needed discrediting.

I don’t want to live in a post-truth world. If you don’t either, then join me in standing up for the facts whenever and wherever you can.

Update: Mike Flynn Jr. has apparently been dismissed from the Trump transition team. As of this writing, his father remains on board.

Love from Afar

There is a fantastic modern (composed in 2000) work at the Metropolitan Opera right now: “L’Amour de Loin” (“Love from Afar”) by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho. It is only the second time that an opera composed by a woman has appeared at the Met, and the first time in more than 100 years.

This production, featuring Eric Owens, Susanna Phillips and Tamara Mumford, and conducted by Susanna Malkki, has been well-reviewed. Saariaho’s music is like no one else’s—atmospheric, luminous, at times almost otherworldly. It suits this opera splendidly.

"Love from Afar" DVD
A fabulous performance on DVD.

If you can’t make this Met production, you can still enjoy Saariaho’s dazzling opera. A terrific performance with the Finnish National Orchestra conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen and featuring Gerald Finley, Dawn Upshaw and Monica Groop is available on a Deutsche Grammophon DVD.

Before the Election

Before the 2016 presidential election, there was widespread anxiety about the choice between two highly unpopular candidates. The poem below reflects this, although at the time it was written most people—including me—didn’t expect the worst would happen. But the poem’s last line indicates I might have had an inkling.

—Thomas Pletcher

“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.

To Canada.

Ulysses Sails Through NaNoWriMo

As a writer with a technology background, I find apps designed for writing of more than ordinary interest. I’ve tried a huge number of them and have quite a few still installed. For the 2016 edition of NaNoWriMo, however, I basically chose one app and stuck with it most of the way through: Ulysses.

Most of my writing is done on a MacBook Pro, although I also use Linux from time to time (Ubuntu on a Dell XPS 13). The Mac has a huge number of writing apps available, more than any other platform. Scrivener and Ulysses are probably the best known and most widely used.

For NaNoWriMo, I found Ulysses to be virtually ideal. The chapter summaries (in the middle column) keep you oriented as you work through your plot development. Progress toward your daily word count is graphically shown in the upper right hand corner, which is quite motivating. The application is streamlined and powerful, but not overly complicated. It can be configured in any number of ways to suit your preferences (full-screen mode is especially nice).

Ulysses screenshot
Note the graphical word count widget in the upper right corner—when the circle completes and turns green, you’ve reached your daily target.

Linux, unfortunately, lacks the Mac’s variety of writing programs. Still, there are options. For two or three days last November, I used FocusWriter, a nicely designed and versatile open source program available across platforms. It too offers a nice full-screen mode and a daily word count progress indicator, albeit text-based.

Ultimately, though, I felt most comfortable and productive during NaNoWriMo while using Ulysses.