First draft is done!

It clocks in at about 123,000 words– far longer than I expected. It will probably expand a bit in the second draft. My longest novel is Senator, which is about 140,000 words. But who’s counting?

There’s something very satisfying about finishing the first draft of a novel. Until you have that draft, the book isn’t really real — there’s always the chance that the whole thing will fall apart somehow. I have a few of those fallen-apart efforts in notebooks and on floppy disks stuffed into a file cabinet in my basement. Now I get to make the thing better — add the plot details that I missed first time around, sharpen the characters, maybe even cut some stuff. My previous two novels required significant amounts of revision after the first draft; I think I’m closer on this one. We’ll see.

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General Kelly takes on a new assignment

I keep telling myself I won’t write about politics anymore; it’s too depressing. But I keep making an exception for John Kelly, the ex-Marine general who headed Homeland Security and now will be Chief of Staff in the Trump White House.

I make the exception because Kelly is my age and from my home town. Many of the same forces that shaped me presumably also shaped him. But here we are. One could imagine a military guy agreeing to take on Homeland Security — it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. Better someone who is competent that an idiot or an ideologue. But if competence leads to an outcome like this, give me idiocy:

Colindres always thought of America as a dream refuge. He fled Guatemala in 2004 to get away from the drug trafficking, from the murder, from the country where one of his family members was killed. He came across the border through Texas — where many of those he traveled with were caught. He decided to turn himself in and he was released into the US on a provisional waiver.

What he did not know, until after he married Samantha and began legal proceedings to become a US citizen, was that he had missed a court date in Texas. New England Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Shawn Neudauer said an order of removal was issued by a federal judge in 2004.

Colindres maintains the system failed him, too. Officials had his name and address wrong, he said, so he never knew about the court date or resulting order.

“I’m not a criminal. The only thing I did wrong was miss a court (appearance),” he said. “I didn’t know, I was just 20 years old. I made a mistake. I’m sorry. I think that’s all I can say.”

And now Kelly will apply his competence to–what? It will all end badly, for Kelly and for the country. He is likely to end up a dignity wraith, to use Josh Marshall’s brilliant term, having accomplished nothing except ruining his reputation and, like his predecessor, expressing gratitude to the great man who has humiliated him.

100,000

I just noticed that the odometer in Microsoft Word ticked past 100,000 words on my new novel. I think I have about 15,000 words to go. Is this good or bad? Portal weighed in at about 103,000 words, Barbarica at about 84,000. But I’ve got a bunch of characters and a lot of loose ends to deal with. I could imagine splitting up this thing into two books, but that doesn’t feel quite right.

I have plenty of time to change my mind, I suppose.

Malcolm Gladwell and the mystery of free-throw shooting

Here’s an interesting podcast in which Malcolm Gladwell confronts one of the fundamental mysteries of Western civilization: Why don’t basketball players shoot free-throws underhanded?  The evidence is incontrovertible that this method produces better outcomes than the overhand method.  And yet almost no one uses it.

This is of particular interest to me because, growing up, shot free-throws underhanded — I guess because my father did.  And I was good!  In the 7th grade, I was elected captain of my gym team, basically because I could shoot free-throws better than anyone else.  But this came to an end when the gym teacher noticed what I was doing and ordered me to cut it out.  So I did.  I was also pretty good shooting overhand, but nowhere near as good as I was underhand; it’s just harder.

Gladwell tells the story in his typical entertaining fashion, focusing on Wilt Chamberlain’s legendary 100-point game, which would never have happened if he hadn’t been going through a phase where he was shooting free throws underhand.  But then later, he changed back to the overhand method he was so bad at, because it made him “feel like a sissy.”  Wilt Chamberlain felt like a sissy!  Gladwell also brings in other standard examples from sports of people who can’t do the right thing even though they know better, like coaches who insist on punting when all the data says they should go for it on fourth down.

But, as usual, Gladwell’s explanation for this is, well, not that interesting, at least to me.  He uses the same theory of “thresholds” that he has also advanced to explain riots and school shootings.  Some people are go-it-aloners who don’t need to feel like they’re part of a crowd; for free-throw shooting, this would be Rick Barry, who didn’t care that no one else shot underhanded.  He knew he was right, and so that’s what he did.  He had a low “threshold”.  Most people have much higher thresholds; they can’t bring themselves to shoot free throws underhand or go for it on fourth down unless everyone else is doing it.  If everyone is doing the wrong thing, they will do the wrong thing–this might be the lesson of the Milgram experiments and others that emphasize the importance of situation in predicting human behavior.

Gladwell may be right; I don’t know.  But I’d have liked him to dig a little deeper.  Why would someone like Wilt Chamberlain feel compelled to be a conformist when it came to free-throw shooting, despite being as out of the ordinary as one could imagine in so many other ways?  What causes someone to have a different threshold?  No explanation is given.

The Salem Lyceum

A few weeks ago I had dinner in a restaurant housed in the former Salem Lyceum building. Lyceums were to mid-nineteenth-century America what TED talks are to our America.  Here’s a nice summary of the history of the one in Salem.  Hawthorne, Thoreau, Emerson, Daniel Webster . . . the intellectual and political heavyweights of nineteenth-century Massachusetts all showed up here.

As the article points out, the Salem Lyceum is most famous for an event that was technical, not intellectual — Alexander Graham Bell’s first public demonstration of “long distance telephone conversations” in 1877:

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Technology marches on.  I took this photo on my iPhone, which automatically sent a copy to my Dropbox account on a computer somewhere in the cloud.  Then I used my phone’s global positioning technology to map out the route back to my hotel.  I didn’t use the phone to talk to anyone.