Saturday, December 29, 2018

I'm not a fighter, I'm an ostrich.

My publisher Whisk(e)y Tit has published an interview with me about my novella, The Ice MineJon Frankel sent me the questions by email and I tried my best to explain the origins of the book and my poetic endeavors.  If you have a moment, please check it out.  You can order the book via the Tit website or on Amazon

Jon's work is also available on these platforms.  His "lo-tech noir" novels are vivid and finely-honed visions of a dystopian future both incredibly strange and sadly familiar.  He's a voracious reader and his works are a mix of pulp fiction and true erudition.  I don't know anyone with such a deep and wide knowledge of English literature, and though he doesn't whack you over the head with it, his books are filled with sly references to "the English canon".  Harold Bloom would approve! 

Jon's "blogh" is also worth a gander:  The Last Bender.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

".... the abyss between the ludicrous and the terrifying."

Hey ho!  Got a new review of The Ice Mine on Amazon by J  Frankel.   5 lucky stars:

Steven M. Adkins’ ‘The Ice Mine, “The Relation” of Ricardo Etienne Bream’ is a hallucinatory novella of a madman’s quest for a mythical place, in this case an Ice Mine. The narrator has lost his wife, children, home, and job through addiction to narcotics. He manages to kick his addiction and hopes to recover at least some semblance of a life, in the course of which he discovers among his books ‘Relations’ of other travellers who have gone in search of the Ice Mine, which may lie to the north, or the east, or the south. Most who light out to find it never return. The narrative has the feel of Browning’s strange Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, a poem he dreamed. 
Adkins’ prose is sonically rich, full of words like ‘blorp’, evoking comics as much as classic sci fi. The heart of his writing is surrealism and the great strength is his fine rendering of a marginal consciousness riven by guilt and self-hatred. He compares self-pity to the honey of bees, something he defecates at night and consumes in the morning. The story alternates between his adventures into terra incognito, encounters with mythical beasts and dangerous defiles, rocky wastes, storms and dust, and reflections on his life and the history of his people. It is a novel of alienation and nightmare, enlivened by the knowing prose, which straddles the abyss between the ludicrous and the terrifying.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

A gilet jaune does not a Gilet Jaune make

I wrote this on Facebook a few days ago and reproduce it here because it seems to have been well-received....

For my friends in the US (and elsewhere), this is a weird time in France. For the last three [now four] weeks we've been in the grips of popular protest movement that has gotten increasingly violent. Toll booths have been set on fire or otherwise damaged, a prefecture was torched, a tax office bricked up. Hundreds have been hurt, including hundreds of police. Three [make that 4] people have been killed. Friends, and my own son, have inadvertently gotten tear-gassed.

It was initially sparked by an increase in taxes on diesel and other energies, but has morphed into a general anger over the cost of living, a government removed from the people, the suppression of services in the country such as post offices and schools, while politicians in Paris live like aristocrats of old, and mega-corporations like Total pay no tax. (And yet the poor like the rich pay a 20% VAT). It's neither left nor right, and not led by unions. It's hard to meet the protestors' demands because they are many and varied. They don't have and don't want self-appointed leaders. The government has announced a moratorium on the tax increase, but most suspect it's just a ploy to calm things down and they'll just put it into effect later than planned.  [The government has since announced it will drop the plan to increase these taxes altogether].

This is about city versus country, Paris versus Provence, the rich versus the poor; one demand is the re-institution of a suppressed tax on large fortunes.

[City versus country:  People in the city don't have to drive, so the concerns of the gilets jaunes are alien to them.  A student of mine pointed out that this all really began when the government reduced the speed limit on country roads from 90 to 80 kph.  In the city, you can barely drive faster than 30, so again, no problem for a city-dweller.  The move was widely seen not as a way to improve safety but a way to impose more fines and collect revenue.  An example:  I have gotten three speeding tickets in the last year, compared to one in the preceding 15!

City people also don't need to drive for basic services such as post offices and doctors.  Country people do.

Rich versus poor:  Obviously, rich folks don't give damn about the price of basics; a man driving a Maserati doesn't care if a baguette is a euro or a euro-fifty.  For people living on the minimum wage, even twenty cents is a big deal.  There are families with two salaries who still finish the month with a serious overdraft.  People "get by", but do not prosper, cannot save money, cannot take nice vacations or buy new clothes and sometimes have to get by on pasta at the end of the month.  After bills, rent and fuel for the car, a lot of people don't have anything left; indeed, they finish in the negative.  An example: I lived this way for years, and thanks to "reforms" due to kick in come January, will have to live that way again.  Note that my examples are from my own experience; take my word for it, it applies to just about everyone I know.]

This week the high-school students joined in to protest "reforms" to the Baccalaureate, and it started to affect me personally. A blocked metro meant almost an hour to walk home on Monday, almost missing work on Tuesday, a half an hour wait on Wednesday for a tram that should come every 8 minutes. Today [last Thursday] I couldn't get to work as the metro was again shut down and buses stayed away from my workplace.

Two days ago a protest at a HS in Blagnac resulted in the entryway being torched and apparently other schools suffered the same. My son didn't go to school because classes were cancelled for fear of the same thing happening there.

Now the unions are calling for strikes, including within the police (not the officers, but the canteens, admin personnel etc.) The farmers might get in on it because they suffer quite a bit.

Wild rumors are flying. I heard some groups threatened to come into Paris armed. For days the papers have not been talking of a "movement" or "protests" but "insurrection". It's a wild and tense time, with no small amount of fear of what will happen come Saturday, which have been the most violent days so far.

We shall see. Walking thru town to get home, one could hear people talking only of this and irritated at the inconvenience, yet not angry. People are in general quite supportive from what I've seen. Not all, but a lot. There's a palpable tension and I've heard sirens all day.

Anyway, despite it all, I feel safe, though I worry for my family and have advised my son to be alert once school starts back up. I've said he can go on strike if he feels aggrieved, but to stay away from anyone trying to start fires or otherwise act in a violent manner. Maybe that's wrong, but to be honest, I generally support the protest. I abhor the violence, but it has caught the government's attention. For better or for worse remains to be seen....

So, if you've seen something on TV or in the papers, this is one view of what's been going on.

[Final thoughts.  Saturday (12/8) was not as bad as expected, but from what I saw, the violence which did occur was not perpetrated by the gilets jaunes proper, who are mostly normal working-class men, and a lot of women, but young hooligans with their own agenda.  They may wear a yellow vest, but a gilet jaune does not a Gilet Jaune make.  The movement is largely trying to calm the violence and we have strong denunciations of arson and vandalism from among the protesters.

I predicted this protest would continue and so far have been proven correct.  I think next Saturday will see a significantly cooler situation.  X-mas is around the corner and it's getting colder, and the government won't tolerate another day of violence.  BTW, don't let Trump 's tweets fool you.  A March for the Climate this weekend drew more people than the gilets jaunes protests and among the marchers were several gilets jaunes.  People are not fools, they know something must be done about climate change, they just don't want the cost placed entirely on their shoulders.

Coming to Toulouse today, I passed a pretty well-entrenched gilet jaune blockade.  They had a cabin, a campfire, a friendly attitude, and seemed to be pretty chummy with the Gendarmes present on the scene.  That was very interesting to see indeed.]

Sunday, December 2, 2018

My Name is Toni

My friend Waithira Francis has published a book entitled My Name is Toni, which I intend to review on LoS when time permits.

I was supposed to read and review it before publishing for a back cover quote, but alas, I was just too busy to finish the book before she published.  I regret that!

What I can say is that it's an semi-autobiographical account of an African woman who emigrates to France and her ensuing adventures.  What strikes me is how she manages to both shed light on what it's like to be a woman, an African and an émigrée, yet touch on universally-recognizable experiences and emotions. 

Or maybe it's just me.  I'm a white, American man but like Francis, an émigré.  That shared experience makes our differences much less important.  But one need not be an expat to understand and be struck by this book.

You can send a message at this Facebook page to inquire about ordering.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Tie a Yellow Jacket 'round the Old Speed Radar

Hornet's nest

1. A dangerous, complicated situation. If we do invade, I fear that we will find ourselves in a real hornet's nest.
2. A situation that produces angry reactions. The politician's off-the-cuff remark about pollution stirred up a hornet's nest among environmentalists.

In the last two weeks France has been a-buzz with the talk of the "gilets jaunes", or "yellow vests".  I, and the Anglophone media it seems, use the term "Yellow Jackets".

A yellow jacket is hornet, and the hornet is both a metaphor for anger (angry as a hornet) and trouble (she kicked over a hornets' nest).

Very appropriate then.

The Yellow Jackets are not part of France's perpetually disgruntled unions nor are they ideologically aligned.  They are in effect a popular uprising, ordinary people fed up with, well, just about everything.  The original groups were started on Facebook, like the Arab Spring.  The initial spark was the decision by Macron's government to increase taxes on diesel in order to encourage people to go electric.  This after years of encouraging people to use diesel.  There's talk of giving people 4000 euros towards buying a new car, but 4 grand is peanuts compared to the price. 

Going green, sadly, is often a luxury of those who can afford it.

While the original motive of the Yellow Jackets was to protest rising fuel prices, it has morphed into something more general; the cost of living, unemployment, low salaries, the struggle ordinary people have simply to pay the bills.

Last Saturday (11/17) over 300,000 people took to the streets to block the roads and slow traffic.  Over 2000 roadblocks were erected.  Several hundred have been injured in scuffles.  In one case a panicked woman hit the gas and killed a protestor.  In another case a man tried to force his way through and killed a young man.  In Réunion a man fired a starter pistol into the air to get thru a roadblock.

It was only supposed to be a one-day protest but it continued and this weekend it got pretty heated as thousands (8k+) of protestors took to the streets of Paris.  They marched and the "casseurs" (literally, "breakers" but hooligans would be apt) came with them

The casseurs broke the windows and set stuff on fire.  The riot police fired tear gas and unleashed water canons.  Fire and water, gas and glass.

They were even throwing paving stones, that famous symbol of mai '68, the massive general strike punctuated by Situationist slogans, which almost brought down the government, and which aging boomers look back on with such fondness, as they take early retirement from well-paying jobs to pass the next 30 years in their secondary homes while their children and grandchildren scrape by.

Probably with a pittance for a pension in store.

Famous cartoon has an old woman berating a girl:  "I was already at work by your age!"  Young girl:  "And I'll still be working at yours!"

Coming home Saturday evening from taking my son to a chum's, I looked at the thick mist settling onto the fields, swirling thru the headlights.  I noticed the local speed-trap radar had been wrapped in a gilet jaune.

On TV, Paris was engulfed in another kid of mist.

I'd been worried about my wife earlier, as I'd heard of two first-person accounts where some protestors had harassed an African woman; still another told an English woman to "go back to her castle in England".  Still another told me that her 12-year-old daughter had been harassed for being pro-Macron after not smiling at the Yellow Jackets.  It hasn't all been nice and calm.  700+ injured as of 11/21.

Come Sunday, heading back to Toulouse, we waited at a roundabout for a few minutes before the traffic crawled ahead.  Large painted signs had been erected and planted into the turf at the center of the circle.

At the next roundabout, more Yellow Jackets; two police vans with two bored-looking policemen sat pacing around.  The Yellow Jackets sat on chairs by a fire, a large shelter erected to cover their wood.  A Temporary Autonomous Zone.  The Yellow Jackets have no leader thus no rules, but they are apparently coming up with some basics:  no alcohol for example.  Not only bad for their image, but prone to incite violence.  Self-governing anarchists of a sort.

Each car was briefly stopped, then let go.  The trucks were held up a little longer.  My wife had put her yellow vest on the dashboard and as we approached, the yellow jacket at the road block gave us a thumbs up and didn't stop us.  My wife returned the gesture and let out a hoot of support.  She seemed to enjoy all of this, supporting it completely.

As we entered Toulouse, all the barriers at the toll booth had been removed.  We decided to pay anyway, just in case we got filmed.  I'm sure they're fining people who drive on thru.  A student of mine who commutes to Foix told me he hadn't paid a toll in over a week.  The Yellow Jackets just wave him thru...

I support it as well.  Everyone I know struggles financially, is overtaxed and underpaid, constantly poor or near-broke, nobody's putting money in the bank, except those like me who get it all taken away for their quarterly tax as an independent worker, going from poor-ish to precarious, starting from zero four times a year.

People are fed up with low wages, high prices, outrageous tax.  I support the movement, but the idea of having to place a vest on my dash to get through traffic evokes having to wear a certain kind of armband to avoid harassment.  Anecdotes about harassment make me uneasy.  It's a mixed bag,  a mélange of pissed-off people, and I predict it will continue, roaring back to life every Saturday, each one more ferocious than the last....

The government doesn't know what to do.  It's a grassroots uprising with wide support.  The elites in Paris, totally disconnected from the people they govern, seem to have the support of the media, if not their silence.  Macron addressed the issue today and you'd be hard-pressed to find it on the front page.  Libération has a brief article, but not much meat.  Macron said "I feel your pain" but offered no plan to reduce taxes or concrete actions to ease that pain.  The Yellow Jackets are not impressed.

In the following clip, an anchorwoman cuts off a reporter as soon as she says that the police have arrived at a protest armed with tasers and clubs.  Even if you don't speak French you can sense the urgency as the anchorwoman speaks over the reporter and "cuts off this live broadcast".  This seems to be a lot like the official position thus far.  Silence with a slight whiff of panic.

Hélas, even left-wing newspaper Libération admits this wasn't censorship, but that this local news ran out of time; the "censored" journalist herself says she wasn't censored.  Still, it looks bad, and it's been widely circulated as "proof" of censorship and symptomatic of elite attitudes towards the Yellow Jackets.

As a metaphor at least, it works....

In Italy, the gilets jaunes are protesting Europe.  In Belgium, the gilets jaunes are more like those in France; under the name Mouvement citoyen belge, they're protesting the cost of living, notably energy costs, and plan to run candidates for office to bring a voice to the people.  As in France, there's no specific political alignment. 

The principal supporters of the Yellow Jackets from the political arena seem to be voices from the far right and far left, meeting somewhere no longer on the fringes but in the dead center of the country, among people who give a fig for ideology.  They just want to be able to afford to drive to work. 

And eat.  "Let them eat cake?"  Or as Macron said, "If you want a job, all you have to do is cross the street."  Hollande's ex said in private he referred to the poor as the "sans-dents," the "toothless."  Sarkozy referred to protestors as "racaille," or "scum".  Chirac, speaking of public housing, decried the "noise and smell".

Arrogance, elitism, and disconnected from the people they "govern".

Another popular maxim floating around is "Macron takes himself for Louis XIV but will finish up as Louis XVI"....