Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Anger Display

Having grown up on a diet of science fiction from the Golden Age, I usually don’t pay much attention to sci-fi written after, say, the 1980s. The classic stuff is all I need, thank you.

But once in a while, I stumble onto a contemporary story that measures up, such as the short story below.

“Evil Robot Monkey” was nominated for the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Short Story. It didn’t win, but the author snagged a Hugo in 2011 for another story.

Her accolades also include the 2008 Campbell Award for Best New Writer. And her debut novel was nominated for the 2010 Nebula Award for Best Novel. And she won a Hugo in 2014 for Best Novelette.

Talent will out.

———

Evil Robot Monkey

By Mary Robinette Kowal
Published in the Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume 2

Sliding his hands over the clay, Sly relished the moisture oozing around his fingers. The clay matted down the hair on the back of his hands making them look almost human. He turned the potter’s wheel with his prehensile feet as he shaped the vase. Pinching the clay between his fingers he lifted the wall of the vase, spinning it higher.

Someone banged on the window of his pen. Sly jumped and then screamed as the vase collapsed under its own weight. He spun and hurled it at the picture window like feces. The clay spattered against the Plexiglas, sliding down the window.

In the courtyard beyond the glass, a group of school kids leapt back, laughing. One of them swung his arms aping Sly crudely. Sly bared his teeth, knowing these people would take it as a grin, but he meant it as a threat. Swinging down from his stool, he crossed his room in three long strides and pressed his dirty hand against the window. Still grinning, he wrote SSA. Outside, the letters would be reversed.

The student’s teacher flushed as red as a female in heat and called the children away from the window. She looked back once as she led them out of the courtyard, so Sly grabbed himself and showed her what he would do if she came into his pen.

Her naked face turned brighter red and she hurried away. When they were gone, Sly rested his head against the glass. The metal in his skull thunked against the window. It wouldn’t be long now, before a handler came to talk to him.

Damn.

He just wanted to make pottery. He loped back to the wheel and sat down again with his back to the window. Kicking the wheel into movement, Sly dropped a new ball of clay in the center and tried to lose himself.

In the corner of his vision, the door to his room snicked open. Sly let the wheel spin to a halt, crumpling the latest vase.

Vern poked his head through. He signed, “You okay?”

Sly shook his head emphatically and pointed at the window.

Sorry.” Vern’s hands danced. “We should have warned you that they were coming.”

You should have told them that I was not an animal.”

Vern looked down in submission. “I did. They’re kids.”

And I’m a chimp. I know.” Sly buried his fingers in the clay to silence his thoughts.

It was Delilah. She thought you wouldn’t mind because the other chimps didn’t.”

Sly scowled and yanked his hands free. “I’m not like the other chimps.” He pointed to the implant in his head. “Maybe Delilah should have one of these. Seems like she needs help thinking.”

I’m sorry.” Vern knelt in front of Sly, closer than anyone else would come when he wasn’t sedated. It would be so easy to reach out and snap his neck. “It was a lousy thing to do.”

Sly pushed the clay around on the wheel. Vern was better than the others. He seemed to understand the hellish limbo where Sly lived — too smart to be with other chimps, but too much of an animal to be with humans. Vern was the one who had brought Sly the potter’s wheel which, by the Earth and Trees, Sly loved. Sly looked up and raised his eyebrows. “So what did they think of my show?”

Vern covered his mouth, masking his smile. The man had manners. “The teacher was upset about the ‘evil robot monkey.’”

Sly threw his head back and hooted. Served her right.

But Delilah thinks you should be disciplined.” Vern, still so close that Sly could reach out and break him, stayed very still. “She wants me to take the clay away since you used it for an anger display.”

Sly’s lips drew back in a grimace built of anger and fear. Rage threatened to blind him, but he held on, clutching the wheel. If he lost it with Vern — rational thought danced out of his reach. Panting, he spun the wheel trying to push his anger into the clay.

The wheel spun. Clay slid between his fingers. Soft. Firm and smooth. The smell of earth lived in his nostrils. He held the world in his hands. Turning, turning, the walls rose around a kernel of anger, subsuming it.

His heart slowed with the wheel and Sly blinked, becoming aware again as if he were slipping out of sleep. The vase on the wheel still seemed to dance with life. Its walls held the shape of the world within them. He passed a finger across the rim.

Vern’s eyes were moist. “Do you want me to put that in the kiln for you?”

Sly nodded.

I have to take the clay. You understand that, don’t you.”

Sly nodded again staring at his vase. It was beautiful.

Vern scowled. “The woman makes me want to hurl feces.”

Sly snorted at the image, then sobered. “How long before I get it back?”

Vern picked up the bucket of clay next to the wheel. “I don’t know.” He stopped at the door and looked past Sly to the window. “I’m not cleaning your mess. Do you understand me?”

For a moment, rage crawled on his spine, but Vern did not meet his eyes and kept staring at the window. Sly turned.

The vase he had thrown lay on the floor in a pile of clay.

Clay.

I understand.” He waited until the door closed, then loped over and scooped the clay up. It was not much, but it was enough for now.

Sly sat down at his wheel and began to turn.

Evil Robot Monkey

Original illustration by the author.

 

Let's eat

Quit

Baby

Clown

 

Last month, all nine Republican on the House Intelligence Committee signed a letter calling on Democrat Adam Schiff, the new chairman, to resign. They said Schiff made false claims that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians, so he ought to quit.

Never mind that we don’t yet know what Mueller uncovered about Trump and the Russians. The letter is just another example of the innate behavior of present-day Republicans. It’s distasteful, inappropriate and low-minded. It scrambles the facts in the classic manner of GOP nastiness. See for yourself.

Intel-1

Intel-2

Schiff’s response to the Republicans, apparently spontaneous, is a thing of beauty. Here is the transcript.

———

My colleagues might think it’s okay that the Russians offered dirt on the Democratic candidate for president as part of what’s described as the Russian government’s effort to help the Trump campaign. You might think that’s okay.

My colleagues might think it’s okay that, when that was offered to the son of the president, who had a pivotal role in the campaign, that the president’s son did not call the FBI, he did not adamantly refuse that foreign help. No, instead, that son said he would ‘love’ the help with the Russians.

You might think it was okay that he took that meeting. You might think it’s okay that Paul Manafort, the campaign chair, someone with great experience running campaigns, also took that meeting. You might think it’s okay that the president’s son-in-law also took that meeting. You might think it’s okay that they concealed it from the public. You might think it’s okay that their only disappointment after that meeting was that the dirt they received on Hillary Clinton wasn’t better. You might think it’s okay. I don’t.

You might think it’s okay that, when it was discovered a year later that they had lied about that meeting and said it was about adoptions, you might think it’s okay that the president is reported to have helped dictate that lie. You might think it’s okay. I don’t.

You might think it’s okay that the campaign chairman of a presidential campaign would offer information about that campaign to a Russian oligarch in exchange for money or debt forgiveness. You might think that’s okay. I don’t.

You might think it’s okay that that campaign chairman offered polling data, campaign polling data, to someone linked to Russian intelligence. I don’t think that’s okay.

You might think it’s okay if that the president himself called on Russia to hack his opponent’s emails, if they were listening. You might think it’s okay that, later that day, the Russians in fact attempted to hack a server affiliated with that campaign. I don’t think that’s okay.

You might think that it’s okay that the president’s son-in-law sought to establish a secret back-channel of communication with Russians through a Russian diplomatic facility. I don’t think that’s okay.

You might think it’s okay that an associate of the president made direct contact with the GRU (ed. note: Russian Intelligence) through Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks, that is considered a hostile intelligence agency. You might think it’s okay that a senior campaign official was instructed to reach that associate and find out what that hostile intelligence agency had to say in terms of dirt on his opponent.

You might think it’s okay that the national security adviser-designate secretly conferred with a Russian ambassador about undermining U.S. sanctions, and you might think it’s okay he lied about it to the FBI.

You might say that’s all okay. You might say that’s just what you need to do to win. But I don’t think it’s okay. I think it’s immoral, I think it’s unethical, I think it’s unpatriotic and, yes, I think it’s corrupt and evidence of collusion.

Now, I have always said that whether this amounts to proof of conspiracy was another matter. Whether the special counsel could prove beyond a reasonable doubt the proof of that crime was up to the special counsel, and that I would accept his decision, and I do. He is a good and honorable man, and he is a good prosecutor.

But I do not think that conduct, criminal or not, is okay. And the day we do think that’s okay is the day we will look back and say, that is the day America lost its way.

And I’ll tell you one more thing that is apropos of the hearing today. I don’t think it’s okay that during a presidential campaign, Mr. Trump sought the Kremlin’s help to consummate a real estate deal in Moscow that would make him a fortune. According to the special counsel, hundreds of millions of dollars.

I don’t think it’s okay that he concealed it from the public. I don’t think it’s okay he advocated a new and more favorable policy towards the Russians, even as he was seeking the Russian’s help, the Kremlin’s help, to make money.

I don’t think it’s okay that his attorney lied to our committee. There is a different word for that than collusion and it’s called compromise. And that’s the subject of our hearing today.

Mic drop

———

Schiff seems to be a decent and honorable guy. Unless he has me completely fooled, and I don’t think he does, he has integrity and compassion, wants to play fair, wants to do the right thing.

There was a time when you could say the same about some Republicans.

 

The Mueller Report is all over the news these days, mostly in the form of speculation and spin, seeing as how Trump’s Justice Department has managed to keep it secret so far.

The Full Mueller will surface eventually, and the facts will be known. But really, the verdict on Trump came in years ago.

Donald Trump is an all-around awful human being. If you opened his head, crawly things would spill out and skitter away to find the nearest dark place.

He is crude, obnoxious, and vindictive. He is a bully, a blowhard, and a crook. He tells lies for sport. He has no qualifications for the job and no plans to acquire them. His business ties with Russian gangsters go back decades.

I could accept an offensive jerk as president, but not a no-talent gasbag who is in bed with the Russians. He is unfit for office for a thousand reasons and should have been ejected long ago.

Depressingly, plenty of people think otherwise. They seem to believe that our government and political institutions are so screwed up, so rigged to benefit either (a) the rich and powerful or (b) deadbeats and welfare queens, that we need someone like Trump to tear down the system so we can start fresh — in some ill-defined way that came to them in a fever dream.

Well, it’s true that the system is screwed-up and rigged. But if you think Trump is the solution, you’re addled.

The way to get rid of the parasites and, dare I say it, make America great again, is to start using our institutions as they were intended to be used. To play fair. Work together. Use our shared resources to help each other.

Things got off the rails because, over time, the rich and well-connected, including big corporations, have learned to game the system to their own advantage and the detriment of everyone else.

For example, Amazon.com, Inc. made profits of $11 billion in 2018. The company not only paid zero federal income tax, but also qualified for a tax rebate of $129 million. That’s gaming the system like a boss.

It’s undeniable that America has become more and more under the control of modern-day robber barons. Their ascendance in the U.S. has been more subtle than the rise of the Russian oligarchs after the USSR imploded, but the similarities are very real.

Meanwhile, the Republicans connive and cheat to hold down Democratic voter turnout through gerrymandering and voter suppression.

And Fox News and the rest of the right-wing propaganda machine keep the conservative herd in a lather by invoking inner demons and insecurities, including fear of black and brown people.

And the GOP base keeps voting for Republicans, who make saps out of the faithful by helping the rich get richer and the powerful become more entrenched.

There are plenty of Democrats in office who ought to be shown the door, but, in general, the Left gets it right. The Left hasn’t lost its mind, integrity, and sense of decency. Consider the formal Democratic Party priorities for 2019.

HR 1, the first bill passed by the new House, would institute campaign finance reform, add new restrictions on lobbying, and expand voting rights.

Democrats want to restore provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court shredded in 2013. Democrats want the federal government to build rural broadband systems.

They want to shore up the Affordable Care Act, lower prescription drug prices, pass some overdue restrictions on guns, and act decisively on climate change.

By the way, the Green New Deal, which the conservatives are straining so hard to vilify and belittle, is merely a label for taking climate change seriously. It isn’t a war on cows.

Whatever we do to go green will be insufficient, but if we can snap out of it in the 11th hour and decarbonize the economy to some degree, it might help the planet remain livable a bit longer.

The ideas on the list of Democratic priorities aren’t radical. They’re just common-sense efforts to face reality.

Contrast that to Trump and the Republicans, who say climate change is a hoax, who warn that malevolent forces are poised to storm the southern border, and who rarely favor anything that isn’t cruel, selfish, deceitful, or underhanded.

But that, I’m afraid, is innate right-wing behavior.

More on that subject in my next post.

Mueller et al

Don, Rod, Bob, and Smiling Bill.

 

The Questions…

1. Leonardo da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper gave rise to two well-known superstitions. One is never seating 13 people at the dinner table. What is the other?

2. Bank of America was founded in 1904. Under what name was it established?

3. What British-born movie producer/director/actor/puppeteer is the voice of Miss Piggy and other Muppet characters, plus the voice of Cookie Monster and other Sesame Street characters, plus the voice of Yoda in the Star Wars films?

4. In 2001, pro football inducted a non-player, George Toma, into the Hall of Fame. Who is Toma?

5. What and where is Null Island?

The Answers…

1. In the painting, Judas is knocking over a container of salt with his arm, which led to the superstition that spilling salt is a bad omen.

2. BofA began as the Bank of Italy in San Francisco’s Little Italy neighborhood. The founder was the son of Italian immigrants who said other banks were freezing out Italians. In 1922, it was renamed the Bank of America and Italy. The Italy part was dropped in 1930.

3. Frank Oz, real name Frank Oznowicz. His parents were Dutch puppeteers who fought the Nazis during WWII before fleeing to England. They came to America when Frank was five.

4. George Toma was the longtime head groundskeeper of the NFL as well as numerous MLB stadiums. He prepared the field for every Super Bowl from the first one in 1967 until he retired in 1999. Now age 90, he is still active as a consultant.

5. Null Island is the fanciful name of the spot on Earth where the Equator (latitude 0°) intersects the Prime Meridian (longitude 0°) off the east coast of Africa. Nothing is there except a NOAA weather buoy.

Last Supper

Null Island

 

More poetry that isn’t pretentious and a waste of time…

———

Now We Are Six

By A. A. Milne

Milne AA

Alan Alexander Milne (1882-1956)

When I was One,
I had just begun.
When I was Two,
I was nearly new.
When I was Three
I was hardly me.
When I was Four,
I was not much more.
When I was Five,
I was just alive.
But now I am Six,
I’m as clever as clever,
So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.

———

Ebb

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

I know what my heart is like
Since your love died:
It is like a hollow ledge
Holding a little pool
Left there by the tide,
A little tepid pool,
Drying inward from the edge.

———

I Am the Song

By Charles Causley

Causley C

Charles Stanley Causley (1917-2003)

I am the song that sings the bird.
I am the leaf that grows the land.
I am the tide that moves the moon.
I am the stream that halts the sand.
I am the cloud that drives the storm.
I am the earth that lights the sun.
I am the fire that strikes the stone.
I am the clay that shapes the hand.
I am the word that speaks the man.

———

The Rainbow

By Christina Rossetti

Rossetti C

Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Boats sail on the rivers,
And ships sail on the seas;
But clouds that sail across the sky
Are prettier than these.
There are bridges on the rivers,
As pretty as you please;
But the bow that bridges heaven,
And overtops the trees,
And builds a road from earth to sky,
Is prettier far than these.

———

Hug O’ War

By Shel Silverstein

Silverstein S

Sheldon Allan Silverstein (1930-1999)

I will not play at tug o’ war.
I’d rather play at hug o’ war,
Where everyone hugs
Instead of tugs,
Where everyone giggles
And rolls on the rug,
Where everyone kisses,
And everyone grins,
And everyone cuddles,
And everyone wins.

 

Next Chapter

Well, we have happy news in the Smith family: my son Dustin is officially retired from law enforcement. He served 20 years in the business, first with Family & Children Services, then with Athens-Clark County PD, then with University of Georgia PD.

As you can imagine, his work involved risks and challenges that were downright ugly. Now we all can rest easier about his physical safety and emotional well-being.

Dustin plans to focus on his new business, Sporting South Photography. Check out his website.

On Dustin’s last day with UGA PD, his wife Leslie posted this on Facebook:

“Today, Dustin retired from police work after 20 years. The first picture is from his ACC Police Academy graduation and the second is from UGA.”

Dustin 3-03

Dustin 3-19a

“He has served his community with dedication, loyalty and professionalism. He has made life-long connections and lost a brother. Thank you to everyone that supported him and prayed for him throughout his career.”

Dustin 3-19b

“He will begin a new journey with sports photography, that we hope will give him renewed focus and success, and maybe a little less stress.

“Congrats to you Sgt. Smith! Enjoy your next chapter in life.”

The lost brother Leslie mentioned is a fellow officer, Buddy Christian of ACC PD, who was killed in the line of duty a few years ago.

Dustin’s police career was filled with superlatives. He was not only a crackerjack officer, but also the kind of person you want to see in law enforcement: intelligent, empathetic, and compassionate. He recognized the importance of the work and the obligation to do it well.

That was apparent when he was named the Honor Graduate of his class at the Police Academy. It was apparent again when, in his first assignment on patrol in a section of Athens with a large Hispanic population, he went the extra mile and took Spanish lessons.

In time, Dustin was assigned to the Domestic Violence unit, a notably stressful job. But he was good at it, and Athens PD kept him there, even after the work began wearing him down and he asked for a reassignment.

Eventually, he was moved to Investigations, where he excelled again. In recent years, owing to his skills and years of experience, he ran the UGA PD Training unit.

Dustin told me some years ago that one of the toughest aspects of police work is knowing that half the people you contact on a given day hate your guts.

He probably wasn’t exaggerating. He had to deal with the worst people, on their worst behavior, often in the worst parts of town. As the cop confronting them, he was the enemy personified.

That’s why he and I see Athens differently. To me, Athens is the UGA campus, the special vibe of the downtown, the stately old neighborhoods, the Botanical Garden.

Dustin remembers rundown neighborhoods where a shooting, stabbing, or beating just happened. He thinks about dealing with drunk and belligerent frat boys and working on Saturday when the Bulldogs have a home game.

Maybe now he can get acquainted with a more positive side of the city.

Anyway, the page has turned, and Dustin starts his new life as a civilian.

And he promptly marked the occasion by making a delightful video that, in my humble estimation, knocks it out of the park. I can’t get enough of watching it.

https://rockysmith.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/a-day-in-the-life.mp4

That’s my boy.