The many pitfalls of language

The many pitfalls of language

Language: a writer’s tool is constantly evolving

When language fails

As a writer, I am aware of the raw power of my tool. As a linguist, I am also aware of how many of the world’s languages have evolved from common ancestors, how they are related and how the meaning of the same word can differ from one sister language to another. Language is extremely complex, and the more you learn, the more you know, the easier it becomes to get lost in language, to make mistakes and realizing just how little you actually know.

Just last week I was made aware, in a most humiliating way, that an expression used in the blurbs of one of my books had offended a group of people. I was given a proper dress-down, in public, which led me to withdraw that particular book from the table where I was selling it along with my other work. Seems that both the sensitivity readers (which we’d used, despite the accuser’s assumption of the contrary), the publisher, editor, and this author had completely missed it. I won’t go into details here, but oddly, when discussing this with fellow authors and members of the affected group/minority, everyone was puzzled and wondered how else to express oneself today, to be politically correct and not offending anyone.

Always evolving

Languages evolve, all the time. There are many examples in history and from literature where the most highly acclaimed books include wording that is no longer considered okay. We no longer use “nigger” or “negro” to describe blacks or Africans, which is a good thing. African American is the term used if you’re in the US but is of little help to describe black people from other parts of the world. But when Astrid Lindgren wrote her Pippi books back in the 1960s, it was perfectly okay to write that Pippi’s father was “negerkung” (negro king.) In recent editions, the term has been replaced. This is probably the most famous example in terms of language evolving, but there are literally thousands of expressions that have changed, be it for people with disabilities (or function variations as may be more modern), people from within the LGBTQ community, etc.

Lost in translation: politics, philosophy, religion & culture make things complex

As a member of the LGBTQ community, I am a member of a minority, and I’ve always been acutely aware of how I’m labeled by society. Often times words also carry a political notion, a belief held by the speaker. After Chernobyl, people who were fighting against the use of this particular way to generate power were, in German anyway, always speaking of atomic power, and the slogan “Atomkraft, Nein Danke!” became a household term. The proponents of nuclear power did not use atomic power. They call it nuclear power. Neither terms were “offensive” to anyone. They simply indicated a political belief. There are many similar examples of words and expressions who carry a philosophical belief within the word: capitalism vs. free enterprise, sexual orientation vs sexual preference, etc.

Words carry political beliefs

Words carry political beliefs

Then there are differences across cultures, which make many of the words which are used across languages dangerous pitfalls. Even within a given language family, a word that carries a connotation in one country may not be viewed the same way elsewhere. The word black is one such example, where it may be deemed acceptable in some flavors of English, but might get you stares if you use it in the U.S.

You might also remember the time when the Swedish chairman of BP was criticized for using the term “little people” in a White House press conference. While a perfectly acceptable term in Swedish, translated ad verbatim to English it becomes offensive. What he meant was “ordinary, regular people like you and I.”

How we view history changes

To make matters even more complex, we are, as a people, really bad at looking at history through the lens of the time. I’ve just returned from Washington, DC, where I also visited the National Archives Museum where the original Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution are on display. When you read these documents and you read things like “We the people…” or “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” yet are aware that this did not apply to everybody. “People” and “all men” did not include Native Americans, Africans or Asians. Because if you believe in slavery it makes no sense to assume that Africans were entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” because clearly, they were not. Men, back then, obviously also did not apply to women.

Did not apply to blacks, women, Asians or Natives.

However, today, we look at these words and we can feel pride in the accomplishment of the founding fathers, even if we’re Korean, Sudanese or German, and decisions rendered by the Supreme Court of the U.S. has updated the interpretation of the meaning of these words over time. It just so happens that the probably biggest struggle within said court these days is in the interpretation of the constitution: as a document in time, or to read it literally, or if you prefer, a liberal or a conservative interpretation.

Labeling a group of people, labeling “me”

Language evolves, all the time. Would it not, we’d all still be speaking a proto-human language we don’t even remember. Latin would not have evolved into Italian, French, Spanish, etc., and Germanic into German, Scandinavian and English. So that’s a good thing. We also introduce new words, we share them across languages and cultures and make new words our own.

It’s a good thing that we no longer use words like “nigger”, “cripple” or “faggot”, as the negative connotations are painful reminders to members of said communities of a painful past. And language continues to evolve: it’s better to say transgender than transsexual, as the trans experience isn’t primarily about people’s sexuality but more about their gender, we talk about marriage equality rather than “gay marriage” because a marriage is a marriage, it has no sexual/romantic orientation.

For most people, all of this is way above their heads, and they’re not really affected by the terminology used within a certain community, and how groups try to improve on language to make it more inclusive and less offensive, divisive. For older generations, much of this may pass them by. However, when words and expressions are used that are hurtful, the consequences can be dire, and we can observe this in our everyday lives. Ten years ago, gender fluidity and trans people were not discussed in mainstream society. The language was very CIS, except for the affected people. Therefore, for most people, meeting members of the trans community can be an interesting and frightful experience, as it not only challenges the language they speak but also some of the very fundamental core foundations of their education and the two sexes: male and female. Migration challenges other long-held beliefs.

Political correctness and the backlash of the Trumpian era

For some, things have clearly gone too far and they push back. Migration is used as a term to lump together people who come to our countries for very different reasons. No longer is a distinction made between refugees and economic immigrants, it’s all equally bad. And in our strive to create a label that fits just us, we make it a perfect pitfall to be offended, for how is a stranger to know if you want to be addressed as Mr., Mrs., Ms. or Miss. Or something else entirely? How are we to know if you are bisexual or pansexual? Oftentimes, terms are used interchangeably and what means something to one person, has different connotations to someone else.

This may be controversial but sometimes I feel we have gone too far. We are too easily offended. And some people have begun to push back. To mislabel something doesn’t necessarily make a person a “bigot” or “racist” or whatever. They may simply not be familiar with the latest developments in the language. Trust me, it’s easy to get things wrong. When I first moved to the US in the eighties we used a “bathroom” to go potty, these days it’s “restroom” (although given American toilets, they’re anything but restful with their lack of privacy, but that’s another story.) In India, people still go to the toilet, in English.

The drive for political correctness sometimes feels like a provocation. And we are quick to accuse, prosecute and judge people for using the wrong words. The judgment can be harsh, particularly in this social media day and age where the action often precedes contemplation and thought. And I feel that some people have begun to push back. And as I’ve mentioned above, language is becoming political, but not always. But when someone talks about “gay marriage”, I for one assume they’re not supportive of the concept of marriage equality. But an I be certain?

The benefit of the doubt

Here’s the thing. Our societies have become very black and white in our political discourse, and we seem to have a hard time to accept dissenting views and opinions. There is less and less discourse in society about where we should head, how to overcome the challenges of our time. Instead, driven by 140 characters, we simplify and shorten. It’s not necessarily beneficial to being respectful to one another. Trying to do the right thing can be frightening and intimidating and a friend of mine recently said that the fear of saying the wrong thing has led him to avoid public discussions/settings. That’s a shame.

What about we give each other the benefit of the doubt? What if we were to assume that most people are NOT trying to offend us, denigrate us, insult us. So when they use a term we find offensive, don’t lash out, forgive and educate. Tell them how you’d like to be addressed, politely. Chances are, they’ll be grateful, i.e. if you do it with a smile and non-judgemental way. I often feel that we usually use the opposite approach: we’re offended, we judge and keep a grudge and the message gets lost, simply because the wrong word was used. I think we could all be helped if we calmed things down a bit, in the interest of communication and understanding.

I know that my own language is far from perfect, regardless of which one I use. I’m also aware that being multilingual increases my potential for making mistakes. I beg your forgiveness and oversight for any words used mistakenly.

Remember: you may not have the power to choose the words used to describe you, but you have the power to choose how to respond.

What is your take? Do you think we should tackle this dilemma? What is the best way to help people use the least offensive and most inclusive language? Feel free to use the comment section.

 

The many pitfalls of language

When the lines between reality and fiction blur…

It’s happening right now, in a way we never thought possible…

I read the strangest article (in Swedish) in one of my regular newspapers, about pop stars, models and social media influencers that don’t exist. Think about that for a moment. There are artificially created people on Instagram and elsewhere, with photorealistic imagery that do not exist. Yet they have millions and millions of followers, some of them even publish songs. And at the same time, we have politicians all over the globe who lie more frequently than they tell the truth and accuse everybody who doesn’t agree with them to lie and label any news outlet who disagrees with them as fake news. And no, Donald Trump isn’t the only one. “Fake news” has become a thing for far too many politicians in every corner of the world. He simply “perfected” the act. Fake news is no longer about news which is incorrect, fake news is news you don’t like. What a fundamental shift in connotation, in just three years.

Fake people, fake lives, lies, and truth interchangeable, how are we as ordinary human beings going to survive this? How will we, as humanity, be able to overcome the threats to the very core of our society if we keep blurring the lines between reality and fiction, imagination and deception?

Not a new idea, or concept

I’m not the first person to think about this. And smarter people than I have been trying to show us possible outcomes for decades. Picture the Terminator and the threat of what AI could do to humanity. Or worse, The Matrix. These movies were all pre-Internet, and pre-virtual/augmented reality. I saw another flick called Player One a few months ago, which is a movie that actually does take place knowing where we are today, and it painted a bleak picture, too, albeit with a happy ending.

I’ve also read articles littered with examples of so-called “deep fakes”, of YouTube or news cast-style videos that were completely fake, with “real” people saying things they’ve never said. With our current level of technology, you can interchange Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler, although that doesn’t really achieve much for anybody. However, what if say you could have a candidate for the 2020 Presidential campaign say something untoward? And what about someone who’s actually said something untoward being able to completely deny it? Even though the latter happens already.

It’s on the radio, it’s got to be true!

Many years ago, I was actively engaged in public access radio, which is a great way for ordinary people to express their opinions on FM-radio. More than once I encountered people who would complain about things said there, particularly if it was from someone who was from a rival political party or ethnic groups. Oddly, when I reminded them that it was our remit to transmit our own opinions, not state facts, I would often hear “but it’s on the radio!” as if the mere fact that they heard in through an FM-receiver somehow made whatever statement be the truth. I am afraid that we all suffer from that mentality, a little, and it’s enhanced when we hear it on TV, or from one of our elected officials, even though, these days, we can’t really trust anything we hear. We all have to double-check the facts. 

Add to this the fact that more and more of us live our lives on social media, that people mourn the deception of so-called “friends” online, people they’ve never even met. How can anyone trust a complete stranger whose words you read on your computer screen, without the infliction of the tone of voice? Need I remind you of how quickly we descend into trolling when we think we’re alone and anonymous? It’s so easy to hurt people online, and it’s so simple to create misunderstandings when you don’t really know the person on the other end, do not understand what personality they have. Suddenly, the most innocent joke turns into the vilest of offenses and we “block” that someone, never to speak to them again. Virtually anything can create an online shitstorm. All among people who don’t know each other, not really.

Forget to like a friend’s post and you’ve begun your journey to forget them…

Then you have the algorithms of the various social media engines who ruthlessly serve you what is in their best interest, not what is in yours. Forget to like your friends umpteenth cat meme and they will slowly but surely wither away from your stream (and–sadly–your consciousness) replaced by advertisements for things you incidentally said to Alexa, Cordana or whatever other assistants you’re using or searches made or click-bait you couldn’t resist. We are manipulated online and it’s getting almost impossible to resist the allure of the almighty algorithm. Don’t believe me? Go have a look at what your interests are on Facebook, based on the site’s ad-settings on your profile. It’s not only a good idea to detox those hundreds (!) of “interests” every now and then, but some also provide a clue as to how the algorithms work and more than a handful of headshakes as to how stupid they actually are. No AI out there, yet!

Combine all of the above and you have a toxic cocktail. And as an author and creator of fiction, I wonder. Will I still be needed in the future? Will anyone still read my stories? My books? I do not know. If we start to live the fiction and use our personal lives to escape the harsh reality of this world, will fiction be there to bring us back to reality, after a long hard day in Escapia? Or will we become completely superfluous, no longer necessary since our own chosen realities surpass anything fiction could ever hope to offer? A world where every human is the main character in their own story, and we all walk through the streets with our 3D goggles on, eating at Klingon restaurants, being served by people we don’t look at, servers who think they’re serving us to the Minotaur of their own reality. Meanwhile, the puppet masters sit in their mansions enjoying the spectacle we’re making of ourselves.

Where will we be in a few years?

I don’t have the answer to any of my questions, but I worry. I wonder if humanity is equipped for the future we’re setting ourselves up for, or will we, given climate change and the potential for human conflict inherently part of it, be the end of ourselves long before we reach the full potential of that future?

What do you think? Feel free to comment and discuss.

International Women’s Day matters, not just to women, but men as well

International Women’s Day matters, not just to women, but men as well

Gender equality is critical, not just to elevate women, but to free men as well

I always feel conflicted on this day. It’s such an important opportunity to talk about all the work we still have ahead of us, in terms of gender equality, women’s rights etc. all around the world. Just this morning I heard a story on the news about how a new right-wing party wants to tear up the current abortion legislation in Spain, turn back the dial some forty years. So sad, and so very sad that many women support these policies. No one should ever be allowed to make any kind of decision about your own body than the person themself. Alas, women’s bodies still seem to be the property of someone or something else.

My mother feeding me. 1967. Photo: private

It’s not about vaginas v penises, not really…

Gender equality isn’t really about our sexual organs or biology. Yes, undoubtedly, biology plays a role and has played a role in the past. Today though, it’s more about values. We have men with vaginas and women with penises (and people who do not fit on the binary scale), so we can forego the “biological” part, because unless you know the person in front of you is trans, you’ll treat them according to how you perceive them, not what they may or may not have between their legs, what hormonal levels they exhibit in a blood test or even how they perceive themselves…

The real difference is in how we value that which is considered “male” and that which is considered “female”. Sadly, female attributes are considered less valuable, less desirable, than male traits. As a gay man, someone who’s often been described with female attributes in order to be ridiculed, derided and diminished, I know a little bit about it. My community has made the most of this, taking these so-called undesirable traits, elevating and celebrating them. #Drag When we call each other “bitch!” it’s a compliment, not a slur. We’re fierce, strong!

Unfortunately, for society, this skewed value attribution is detrimental. Boys are still (sadly) raised to oppress whatever traits that might be considered female: show emotions, cry, care etc. Instead, they’re pushed to compete, struggle, fight and overcome adversity, to “be a man”. Mind you, these traits are not “bad” per se, but unless they are balanced by empathy and caring, they become dangerous. A man who fights and competes to advance is potentially dangerous if he doesn’t feel empathy for those around him or care for those he competes with. A woman, similarly, is a walking target for abuse if she doesn’t compete or fight for her place if all she does is feel empathy and make excuses.

Ying and Yang. Only together can male and female attributes form a complete human being, regardless of how we identify.

Ying and Yang. Only together can male and female attributes form a complete human being, regardless of how we identify.

Male and female traits, in a way, are like Ying and Yang. Only together do they make us whole as human beings.

Equality isn’t women’s struggle. It’s a human struggle

I often look to my own parents to see how gender inequality can destroy lives and affect people across time and even generations. My mother was raised in a conservative Catholic home (they all were back in the 1940s.) When she got married, she’d advanced to a purchaser for a local clothing store and had a (potentially) rewarding professional career ahead of her. She had an amazing sense of fashion and was always dressed meticulously. My dad, a carpenter, wanted to move away and she gave it all up, for him (of course.) When they got married, my mother knew nothing (sic!) about sex. Nothing. Imagine the shock.

She raised me and my brother to be different than what my dad had been raised to be. Not that my father is a bad person. Quite the contrary. But just as my mom was a victim of societal expectations (and she played her role well), so was (is) my dad. He worked very hard, built a very successful business, providing for us, and became a person of great influence in town. We often jokingly refer to him as the “King of Samedan” because of that. Part of that image was also to be successful in sexual matters, and affairs with several women were the result, in part because my mom couldn’t due to her upbringing.

I don’t know when my mother first found out about those affairs. I recently learned they began in 1981, but the first ‘clash’ didn’t come until 1985/86 when I was in the US. I missed it all. I couldn’t miss how their relationship had changed when I came back though. But my mother wouldn’t leave him. Threaten? Yes. But a good woman doesn’t leave her man. It’s how she’d been raised and she was unable to break out of the expectations of what it meant to be a good wife, a good mother.

Emotionally crippled

Grandfather and grandson feeding the birds together. Those two… Photo: private

When my mom died, five years ago, my dad was devastated, even though he’d continued to stay in touch with at least one of the women he’d had affairs with through those years. I know because both my brother and I got an offer to inseminate her Lesbian daughter just a couple of years before mom passed away… We both politely (not really) declined. My dad could not cope with being alone after her death, he’d burn the water on the stove… It didn’t take many months before he considered at least four (!)  different women and we all joked about what he’d labeled “Beuteschema”, i.e. target audience, to translate it a little bit less offensive than the German term.

Fast forward and my dad is dating the “other woman” and they spend a lot of time together. He’s grown a lot as a person in the past few years and is a lot more open about his emotions, and he’s an amazing and loving grandfather. But there are still lies, there are still cover-ups, and there are still other women that I’m not supposed to know about. His male ego still needs to be stroked. He needs to feel that power rush of being valued by women. Mind you, it takes two to tango, and cheating isn’t a male thing, but I believe that men cheat for different reasons: for them it’s the fear or loneliness, of asserting their power, having something pretty by their side, being looked after, cared for, while women do it to be seen, valued, affirmed. Two sides of the same coin. Ying & Yang all over.

To break the cycle

Unfortunately, this behavior, the effects of the inequality my parents suffer from, also affects their children. Having been my mother’s confidant for decades, I am the living memory of my mother’s pain and the betrayals against her. Every time I see my father’s new woman, I remember all the countless times my mom cried and lamented at being cheated on. It makes family gatherings very difficult and had it not been for my son and his right to spend time with his grandfather, I have a hunch I would avoid the pain if possible. Alas…

Here's to a better, brighter future, regardless of gender.

Here’s to a better, brighter future, regardless of gender.

So how do you break the cycle? I’ll be honest, I see little hope for me to ever feel differently about what happened between my mom and dad. And I doubt my feelings toward the other woman will ever change. What I can do is try and make sure that I raise our son to be different, to help him be a true human, someone who competes and fights, someone who is truly whole and who doesn’t judge others based on their biology or gender attributes, but based on their heart and mind. It’s an uphill battle because society doesn’t change at the pace we’d like it to (quite the contrary.)

Countless times have we had to point out that “no, that’s not a girl/boy thing” when he came home to tell us about something at school.

I try very hard to break the cycle. I’m a faggot, I’m in touch with every feminine side there is, and I celebrate those traits, every day, just as I relish my masculine characteristics. I can wield a hammer as well as I can stir a pot with a spoon. Let’s all work toward this common goal. Not just today, as we wear purple to honor our sisters, but every day of the year. For all of humanity, women, men and nonbinary people alike.

I wish you all a most auspicious International Women’s Day 2019.

 

Pen International: turn your weapons into pens

Pen International: turn your weapons into pens

The mighty power of words

A few days ago, I was invited to join Pen Sweden, a club within Pen International. I was deeply honored to be considered for membership of such a prestigious organization. As a writer, my pen, my keyboard and the words they create are my way of changing society for the better. I have always held a deeply felt conviction that we must speak up. Speak up about injustice, speak up against prejudice, persecution, speak up against racism, homophobia, misogyny. Pen International takes all of our pens and turns it into a powerful force to be reckoned with.

I first heard of Pen…

I will never forget the first time I had heard of Pen International. Salman Rushdie published the Satanic Verses and as a result, some priests in Iran were in desperate need of a diaper change. To have, as they believed, Islam sullied on the day of their greatest triumph was considered blasphemy. Shortly after that, a fatwa was issued against Mr. Rushdie. Mr. Rushdie deserved, the claimed, death for his words. That was in 1989. I was twenty-two years old at the time, I was working as a banker in Zurich and had never heard of Mr. Rushdie before. Yet somehow I noted the strong and global reaction by the literary community and the strong condemnation of the fatwa by Pen International.

Around the world, authors and writers rushed (no pun) to his defense and that was the first time I heard about Pen International. I have held this organization in the highest regard ever since, for speaking up in the face of death threats, and I have followed their work from a respectful distance. This is particularly true considering how some authors and some literary organizations with power, e.g. the Swedish Academy, who awards the Nobel Prize for literature, acted. They refused to speak up which led to some of the members to leave the academy. The final “empty chair” wasn’t filled until late last year when the last of the “Rushdie” members was finally allowed to officially leave the academy and a replacement was voted in. Almost thirty years later.

There is a risk associated with speaking up

The logo on Pen InternationalTo speak your mind, to exercise our “freedom of speech” is not without risk. Maybe the Swedish Academy was afraid of what might happen if they spoke up. Terrorist regimes, like the one in Iran, do not shy away from using violence against dissidents, even abroad. Just last fall, Scandinavian police forces stopped a plot by the Iranian secret police to kill exiled Iranians in Denmark. 2018. Iran is not the only country that has little regard to our human rights: Saudi Arabia and Khashoggi, China and Gui Minhai, the Swedish author and publisher who was abducted in Thailand and taken to China against his will, Dawit Isaak, a Swedish journalist who’s been imprisoned without a trial in Ethiopia and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, the list is so much longer.

A few years ago, I spoke up against the human rights violations in Russia, particularly for the LGBT community on this blog. Suddenly, I noticed that I no longer had readers in Russia (even though I had many Russian readers in the past.) It seemed that my criticism of the Sochi Olympics and the horrific treatment of its queer citizens had scared the government there into blocking my blog from reaching Russia. As feeble as my pen may be, it had stung someone somewhere.

Things in our society are far from perfect, but…

Last night, my husband and I had a discussion with our godson about equality in Sweden, and while we may be frustrated with the lack of progress here and there, and rightly so, our life here is still infinitely better than that for many other people elsewhere. Personally, I see no conflict between working to improve things locally with speaking up for those who are infinitely worse off elsewhere.

  • In Sweden, we lament the lack of progress in fathers taking their six months of parental leave. In most countries of the world, the concept of paternity leave is completely foreign.
  • In Sweden, we are frustrated by the fact that we still haven’t had a female prime minister. In Saudi, women can’t even leave the house without the approval of a male.
  • In Sweden, we are frustrated about the red tape that queer families have to cut through to legalize their families and children. In fourteen countries, simply being queer incurs a death sentence and in another eighty or so, it will land you in prison. Marry? Children?
  • In Sweden, I may be frustrated by angry and pointless letters to the editor. In many other countries, such letters are inconceivable, dangerous.

I add my voice to the chorus

The work of Pen International and its national chapters is incredibly important. We speak up for those who have been silenced. We speak up for those who have no voice, and we are a constant reminder to those who oppress, discriminate and hate, that they are seen and recognized for who really they are and what they do. “Freedom of speech” is such a treasure and the very foundation of a free society. And never before has it been more threatened than before, by novel concepts such as AI, fake news. Coupled with state disinformation campaigns, blatant political lies they become a real threat to the fabric of our societies. I can only hope that my pen will continue to be an annoyment to those who deserve to be annoyed by it, as tiny as the sting may be.

Join me?

 

Is there–should there–be a statute of limitations for past mistakes?

Is there–should there–be a statute of limitations for past mistakes?

Does it make sense to judge past behavior using present norms?

I’m not thinking about murder or theft. I think these are crimes that have always been considered illegal and–more importantly–immoral. While there may be mitigating circumstances for judges and courts to consider, e.g. hunger or self-defense, the basic societal norm doesn’t change. However, what I would like to talk about today is different. It is behaviors, acts that are clearly considered inappropriate, illegal even, from our current, contemporary point of view, things that may have been looked at very differently “way back” when they happened.

The #MeToo movement has put the spotlight on a great many such behaviors by men over the past eighteen months. And I think it is important that we highlight such behavior and speak out against sexual assault, rape, but also behavior that may not necessarily be illegal, but inappropriate, e.g. touching someone without their explicit consent, to not accept a no for a no etc. Racism, how we treat the LGBTQ-community, women’s rights etc. are other areas of how our views on humanity have evolved, for the better.

The people’s tribunal is in session…

Every now and then a celebrity or politician is making headlines for things they did a long time ago. Sometimes we learn when that was, sometimes, it’s more obscure. Let me say this again, just to make it clear because the topic is so sensitive, this isn’t about illegal behavior then and now, but inappropriate behavior. Is it fair to judge someone for something they did in the past when societal norms were different? I would like to use examples, but the trouble with specific people is that it clouds the bigger picture, as you dive into specific circumstances. So I won’t.

A long while ago, I wrote a post about the many statues that commemorate the American Civil War and the controversy they cause today. My point then was that we must see those statues in the light of the historical context during which they were erected. And treat them accordingly. Use them to teach today’s population about history so that we may avoid making the same mistakes again. I think we should apply the same approach to our more personal, human mistakes as well.

…and there is no way to appeal

If a politician made a racist remark thirty years ago may not necessarily disqualify them from holding office today. What was the context of their behavior then? What has their track record shown since? And how did their society, the place where they lived at the time view that which we now consider racist? Or homophobic? Please understand, I’m not trying to condone the act per se, but I also believe in human fallacy and in our ability to learn, to forgive and second chances.

In our days, we are so very quick to judge, so very quick to draw far-reaching conclusions. Social media and commenting here and there make people’s tribunals so easy to reach a damning verdict, a verdict to which there is no appeal. And let’s face it, if we look within ourselves, haven’t we all done things we are less proud of? Things we might not even remember? This is all part of the human equation. As such, everyone deserves that forgiveness, the caution before judgment, not just those we like or those who are on our side of an argument. Who has the right to cast that first stone?

What is your take? Should past actions be viewed through current lenses or through the lens of what society looked like back then, which–once again–is no endorsement of the past? Comments are welcome. Let’s talk.

Hans M Hirschi

I haven’t disappeared… I’ve been busy living my life.

I haven’t disappeared… I’ve been busy living my life.

You know Christmas is approaching when “busy” is included in just about every other sentence…

Gosh, I just realized visiting my page on Amazon that I haven’t written in almost three weeks. Which is a lie, because I’ve written a lot. I haven’t blogged though. I’ve been busy. So this post is going to be the musings of someone who feels badly about not keeping in touch, with a diss of social media diss, a bit of nostalgia and probably way too much information on this author’s ongoing health struggles. Mix that in with a healthy dose of emotions and you’ll get a busy, busy blog post.

The Golden One…

The audio book is almost done and I can't wait to have it released in time for Christmas. Vance is busy (lol) finishing it up as I type this.

The audiobook is almost done and I can’t wait to have it released in time for Christmas. Vance is busy (lol) finishing it up as I type this.

Let’s begin with my WIP I (because there’s also a WIP II, duh), The Golden One. I feel really bad about book two, Deceit, because even though it’s open on my computer, and even though I’ve looked at it several times in the past weeks, I haven’t actually done any work on it. Instead, it’s served as a reference to book three, Reckoning, which is in the final stretches. Thing is, I really, really want to finish book two before Christmas so that I can get it to my editor in VERY good time before the March release date we agreed upon. Then again, It’s already the second advent week and although I’m maybe 80% there, maybe even 90%, I’m not sure I’ll get it done. Because I really want to finish book three before I finish editing book two.

Why? Consistency. I don’t want to restrict myself by saying something in book two that’ll restrict me later on, as the story unravels, and with my mind always coming up with new twists and turns, I need to make sure not to fuck it up and there is one thing in book two that really bothers me now that I’m in book three. I may yet have to fix that. We’ll see. But yeah, it’s kept me busy alright…

A Christmas story…

I've been busy writing a short Christmas story about Raphael from the Opera House. I hope you'll like it.

I’ve been busy writing a short Christmas story about Raphael from the Opera House. I hope you’ll like it.

So many of us get inspired by the holidays. last year I wrote this really cute Dickensian story and this year, I wanted to revisit one of my characters. I gave my readers a few choices and in the end, Willem (Willem of the Tafel) and Raphael (The Opera House) ended up in a tie. I had an idea for Willem, but it didn’t pan out since their time doesn’t do Christmas so it sorta kinda fell apart. But then I had an idea for Raphael and the story practically wrote itself. I had to make a few edits here and there to make it flow better, but I hope I’ll be able to present it to you in my next newsletter, which comes out in two weeks, in the final advent week, on Thursday, December 20th.

If you haven’t subscribed to my newsletter, there’s still plenty of time. You’ll find the subscribe button popping up every now and then. If it does not, you can sign up here. Oh yeah, to write that newsletter and have it ready by the time we head out for our Xmas vacation. Another thing on my never shrinking to-do list. Did I mention I was busy? If you wonder why this stupid word is strewn in all the time for no apparent reason, it’s because it’s my keyword and my social media analyzer is pushing me to use it more… and more evenly. Middle finger straight up in the air.

The holiday season is crazy busy…

Or are we just telling ourselves? Last Saturday, I swear on the seams of my pants, I could’ve participated in five events, easily: a birthday party my son was invited to, several grand openings, one of them the new intercultural library here in town which I can’t wait to visit, and so on and so forth. None came to fruition as we traveled four hours north to visit my mother in law. That, of course, is always a two-edged sword. In-laws, declining health, “family” in general and what not. But we also spent a night at a great hotel, had an amazing Christmas buffet dinner and I got to have a bit of time with my husband to just talk after Sascha had gone to bed. Getting there was a bit of an adventure, as our electric car uses more electricity with the winter tires on and our “gas station” had some technical challenges, costing us an hour extra. Alas, what can you do?

What world are we leaving behind for our kids?

Sascha in Venice, learning about the effects of global warming first hand.

Sascha in Venice, learning about the effects of global warming first hand.

This is on my mind a lot recently, as we get more and more warnings about not doing enough to stop global warming. And it is really difficult to make headways if some don’t play along. If everyone on a cul-de-sac drives slowly, except Bob, the kids are still at risk of being run over. But how do you get Bob to stop speeding? Why would you not speed if he doesn’t stop?

Global warming is no different, and I’m sick and tired of politicians who say that it’s a Chinese hoax or natural variation. Duh, yes, but it’s never been quite this fast, and why would the Chinese do that? It’s costing them money, too, and have you seen pollution levels in any major Chinese city? I would NOT want to live there with my kids.

Seventeen of the eighteen warmest years in recorded history have taken place after 2000. Do the math. You look at the damage done by hurricanes and typhoons these past two years (they’re even looking at increasing the scales to allow for even deadlier storms, adding factors like rainfall) or the forest fires ravaging California, Greece, Sweden etc. this year and you get a picture that might just be freak weather, but all evidence points in one direction: weather is getting freakier every year, and that ain’t normal variations. Not this fast. Over thousands of years maybe. But never in twenty.

Fly less? Buy less? Live less?

My family has been working for years to try and reduce our carbon footprint. Now I’ll grant you that with our travel, we have a big one, but we do more than most at home to try and reduce it. Our new EV, we do a lot of walking, use public transport a lot when we can, we have all but eliminated beef from the menu and I cook a lot using plant-based proteins. Our heating is electrical and from 100% renewable resources (wind & water.) There’s always more to do and we try, from organic, locally sourced foods to turning off the lights when we don’t need them etc.

But here’s the thing. What I do matters little if the CEOs of big companies fly in their own jets. And my EV matters nothing if 95% of the population still spew out climate gases from their diesel and gasoline engines. We need global solutions because air knows no borders (which I’m actively using in The Golden One!) I remember being in Seoul last winter and the daily smog warnings I got on my phone (I couldn’t read them and had to ask locals.) Bad air blowing in from China. It would either be mild and smoggy (air from China) or cold and clear (air from Russia) in Seoul. Not much the Koreans can do. No DMZ will stop the air…

This week, in Katowice, the world gathers to discuss climate change, again, and to try to find a way forward. I don’t expect any results, because even if China, India, the EU and most of the world agree to improve things, as long as the Americans keep spewing out more climate gas  per capita than anyone else and their president claiming “you look at our air and water and it’s now at a record clean.” and the new Brazilian president threatening to deforest the Amazon forest, aka the “lungs of the planet”, we might soon all be facing extinction, as David Attenborough just said today.

Most countries, industries, and individuals are Bobs when it comes to climate. We all expect someone else to fix things, but the climate is a global problem and one we need to tackle together… We’re quickly running out of time.

Social media

I used to love social media. I do no more. Apart from the fact that it’s highly addictive and the algorithms almost dangerous to human sanity, it’s also destructive to the human psyche and worse, to our societies. We have become totally obsessed with “me, me, me” and we no longer see society, the need for cohesion, for compromise. Yes, in a good compromise everyone walks away with their heads high, nobody gets everything, but nobody loses. But we have become so focused on winning, on always looking our best that a compromise is seen as “loss of face” and thus unacceptable from the very start.

Facebook’s algorithms, for instance, will make sure that certain of your posts (which changes over time) will be seen by many of your followers, gathering many likes, followed by posts which are hardly seen by anyone (this post will fall under the latter category because it’s critical of Facebook.) The rush to get more likes will get people to post, but the depression or ‘low’ following a post with no likes will get people to post even more psychologists have seen. Facebook wins, but we all lose in the end. Because what is a friendship based on likes rather than helping each other, actually being there for each other?

Advertising now includes stolen email

The latest coup was launched a couple of months ago. Advertisers are now able to upload their email database to target their so-called “customer base”. Facebook, of course, has no way to double check these databases for accuracy and many companies, particularly start-ups will feel compelled to buy email addresses off the web. Oftentimes those addresses will have been stolen or sold. Here are the companies (or search terms) that have uploaded my email address so far, not one of them I’ve ever given my address to (voluntarily), most I don’t even know of:

Not all company names on this list are from that category. There are a couple of names I do recognize, where I actually am a customer, but in the hidden category, they put all the companies, hundreds of them...

Not all company names on this list are from that category. There are a couple of names I do recognize, where I actually am a customer, but in the hidden category, they put all the companies, hundreds of them… I still don’t want to see their ads online.

I don’t know where this will end, but I just heard today that more and more people are turning off their Facebook accounts. I’ve already left Twitter and I can’t say I miss it. I still use Instagram, but I merely look at pretty pictures.

You said you were busy?

Yeah, I am. I’ve been writing as much as I’ve been able to, and with the Holidays approaching there’s also been a bit of juggling of Christmas preparations (we have a five-year-old expecting Santa to visit) and the closer we get to Christmas, the crazier things get. I’ve also been in rehab for varying parts of my body, which has been a bit of a downer. My sciatica is a constant pain in the ass, almost literally, and recently I had to see a specialist for weird knee pain. Turns out my knee cap had become inflamed by something, So my PT had me do special stuff for my legs, which I now pay a price for as I’m sore after the first normal work out yesterday. Then two weeks ago, my herniated disk in my neck flared up again, out of the blue, after six years. Oddly, it’s fine now, let’s hope it stays that way. Getting old sucks. LOL, Always one body port or another aching. But alas, it is what it is, as long as I feel fine and my heart ticks on, you won’t hear me complain. It all keeps me busy.

So that’s been my past few weeks. What’s new in your neck of the woods?