mount_oregano: Let me see (Postage stamp)

A shot of us four Burke kids on Christmas Eve captured from one of our grandfather’s home movies. Beth is the blonde. I’m wearing green. Lou is the baby. Mike is in back.


My sister Beth died in January of cancer. Last year was her last Christmas and one of her happiest.

Her son and his wife came to visit toward the end of December and set up and decorated the tree. Beth had inherited the Christmas tree ornaments from my parents and grandparents, and although she was too ill to do more than watch them work, she was entranced. It was, my sister said, the best tree ever.

She described it to me over the phone, and I could see it as she spoke because I knew so many of the ornaments.

My mother had made a canvas-work embroidery angel for the top of the tree. In keeping with family tradition, a little electric candle had been placed in her hands to light her face.

Some old, fancy glass ornaments had been my grandparents’, lovingly cared for by my parents and then by Beth. They were fragile and worn but exceptionally ornate. One had gold stripes edged with glitter and little holiday scenes hand-painted between the stripes.

My sister especially loved the ornament her son had made in grade school, a white paper bird with a long tinsel tale. And there was my ornament from kindergarten, green and red metallic disks glued together around a length of yarn. Other children’s artwork was hung up, too, chronicling a family that grew larger, and boys and girls who grew up. Some ornaments were gifts and careful purchases – each color, each sparkle, each light a story and a memory.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “I can stare at it for hours.”

It held happy memories from her whole life, as merry as a Christmas tree ever could be – the best gift, the best tree ever.

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (ImFeelingBlue)
My junior high school had a scandalous “secret” that older students would melodramatically point out to incoming seventh-graders. The hallway floors in one of the buildings was edged with decorative glazed tiles in bright colors. On the first floor near the office, amid tiles depicting geometric shapes, anchors, lions, birds, shields, and other motifs, there was a swastika!

Oh, no! Why?

The answer involved a history lesson. The swastika symbol was old, older than Nazis and World War II. Nazis didn’t invent it, they only used it. Our building was older than the Nazis, so when it was built, the ancient symbol had seemed innocent, just like the lions and anchors.

We learned a lot in those buildings. In my case, classes included Spanish, algebra, geometry, civics, literature, art, home economics, and gym. But in the hallways, thanks to that scandalous tile, we also learned a lesson about the world, an idea some adults still don’t quite get. Things change over time, and the past holds surprises.

We also wondered why we were attending such old, decrepit buildings. This wasn’t just us kids whining, since teachers and parents had the same question. At some point – I can’t find out exactly when – the buildings were torn down and replaced by a new middle school elsewhere in the city.

My old junior high school was so unloved that I cannot find a single photo of the buildings on the Internet. All I could find were tiles in the Men’s Gymnasium, built in 1917, at Indiana University. They seem to have come from the same manufacturer as the ones at my junior high school.

The tiled floor at my school with the swastika has disappeared. It became history, a memory with a lesson.

And the world keeps changing.

— Sue Burke

Also posted at my professional website,
mount_oregano: Let me see (MeAtWork)
Late one Friday when the fish weren’t biting, Dad decided we could spend our time better having a beer at the little tavern in Green Lake Terrace, Wisconsin, where we had a summer home.

From the comfort of a bar stool, he told me three secrets to success at work – and he’d had a variety of experiences in life. I’ve tried to carry them out, and they work:

1. Always stay as polite as you can for as long as you can. If you start out mad, where can you go from there? Besides, if you’re polite, calm, and rational, the person you’re dealing with will feel obliged to act that way, too, and this is more likely to get you want you want.

My dad added that this can require calculated self-control, and the point might come when politeness doesn’t work. He earned the nickname “the bastard” at work for his ability to be impolitely assertive in a self-controlled, calculated way when he had to. For example, once a machine was delivered that didn’t work right, and in heavy manufacturing, operating errors can kill people. The supplier refused to fix the machine. Finally, my dad talked to the supplier and explained in simple Anglo-Saxon words why they had to fix their machine, or else – and they finally understood what their situation would be if they didn’t.

My father, who would be 84 this month if he were still alive, didn’t teach me how to swear, but he taught me when to swear.

2. Always remember that the people who work for you have it in their power to determine whether you’re a success or not. Treat them as well as you can. If your employees hate you, they have no incentive to work harder than they need to. In fact, they might even make things fail out of spite – this has actually happened.

If your employees know you try your best to get them what they need, fight on their behalf with the powers that be, and respect them, they’ll go the extra mile. Experienced workers treasure a good boss. For some reason, my dad said, good bosses are rare.

3. Always tip bartenders. Bartenders remember regular customers who tip, and that means you’ll have a friend in the room.

For example, when my dad entertained clients, he could pre-arrange for his friendly bartender to quietly slip him non-alcoholic drinks while the others were getting what they ordered. It helped to be the clandestinely sober one during business discussions.

This secret to success extends to all kinds of people who don’t work for you but who have a working relationship with you. If you appreciate them, they’ll return the favor in their area of expertise. Be on good terms with janitors, for example. They know more about the building than you ever will.

— Sue Burke

Also posted at my professional website:
mount_oregano: Let me see (Let me see..)
I have a common name. “Susan” ranked big in the decade when I was born.

The surname “Burke” came to England and Ireland with the Normans and soon became common.

That’s why I can find a lot of other people with my name. I searched for “Sue Burke” at Facebook and gave up counting after 300. (A while back, at random, I became Facebook friends with two other Sue Burkes just because – delightful women, and very different from me and each other.)

“Sue” is also the largest, most complete, and best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered, now on display at the Field Museum in Chicago. I am Sue, fear me.

“Burke” is a verb, too: 1. to murder in such a way as to leave no marks on the body, usually by suffocation; 2. to get rid of, silence, or suppress.

That meaning comes from William Burke, who, with his partner William Hare sold bodies to a medical school for anatomical dissection. To get those bodies, they killed 16 people, usually by suffocation, before they were discovered. Hare turned state’s evidence, and Burke was hanged in 1829.

I don’t believe we’re related, which is a relief.

I’m also not related to Edmund Burke (1729-1797), which is too bad. He was the Irish orator, statesman, and philosopher famous for saying, among other things:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
“It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.”
“Nothing turns out to be so oppressive and unjust as a feeble government.”
“Education is the cheap defense of nations.”

No one I know had anything to do with the television show Burke’s Law, although the series was popular in our household. On the air from 1963 to 1966, it featured Gene Barry, who won the 1965 Golden Globe for his role as Amos Burke, a millionaire chief of detectives in Los Angeles who often declared his own rules during an investigation:

“Never ask a question unless you already know the answer. Burke’s Law.”
“Never confuse the improbable with the impossible: Burke’s Law.”
“If you must swim in dangerous waters, don't invite the sharks to lunch: Burke’s Law.”
“You never grow up, you grow old: Burke’s Law.”

— Sue Burke

Also posted at my professional website,
mount_oregano: Let me see (statue)

My sister, Elizabeth Rose Horton, died yesterday at age 53 of cancer.

She was five years younger than me, blonde, energetic and fun, smart and practical. She leaves behind a son with a personality a lot like hers but cranked a few notches higher, and a gentle and loving husband. Through hard work, Beth created a good life and a happy home in west Texas.

But she smoked, and last January she was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer, an especially aggressive kind. It seemed to be in remission when I saw her at Fourth of July, but it came back. I spent a few weeks with her in November and December to help her and her husband, and to get her to a Thanksgiving family reunion at my younger brother’s home.

Though we were far away in distance, we were close by telephone and internet. In person or by phone, we would talk — and laugh and laugh. Even at the end, when she was weak and often confused, she was still making jokes.

My little sister was the glue that kept people together, and now we must do it ourselves.

She was maid of honor at my wedding in 1992. This is a photo of us with my grandmother and mother. My mother died in 1994, my grandmother in 2001, and my sister in 2014.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (partygirl)

(In case you’re not on the Christmas card list for me and my husband Jerry, here's our Christmas newsletter.)

We traveled to the United States twice this year to spend time with family. First we celebrated Jerry's mother's 80th birthday in Milwaukee in June, and then Fourth of July at Sue's brother Lou's home in Houston. In November we crossed the Big Pond again to go to Houston for a Burke family Thanksgiving.

Jerry is still working for IBM and this year traveled to Finland, where he ate reindeer, which is why Santa's sleigh (and UPS) arrived a bit slower. He's still studying Portuguese and is reading a lot.

Sue is no longer teaching English to Spanish teenagers. She earned a Masters-level diploma in Spanish-to-English translation and is now working as a writer and translator. She has already been assigned a novel by a US publisher. In addition, she got her Spanish driver's license, which is a lot more difficult than getting a US license and took months of study.

We ended the year with a trip in December to Valencia for Spain's science fiction convention (and took the photo of the Christmas display in the City Hall Square). We’re spending quiet year-end holidays here in Madrid.

Best wishes for 2014!

— Sue Burke and Jerry Finn

mount_oregano: Let me see (Guadarrama1)

I was eleven years old when Santa forgot me. I got up on Christmas morning and rushed down to the tree to see what he had left.

Of course I knew that Santa didn’t exist – or rather, I knew that Mom and Dad were Santa. But since I had a little brother and sister, the magical Santa still came to our house.

I found only one box for me under the tree, which meant it would be especially good. Instead, it was just a hat and scarf set, and not a very good hat and scarf set, or even a color I liked. I felt disappointed and most of all bewildered. For the benefit of the little ones, I acted happy, but I wasn’t.

Soon my mother called me aside and apologized. In the confusion of the holiday, she and Dad had miscounted gifts and realized late the night before that they had nothing for me from Santa, so Dad ran out and got something quick. She hoped I understood, and I did, I really did. I imagined Dad going to the only place open on late Christmas Eve night, which in those days was probably a gas station, and given the limited merchandise, he had made a good choice.

And yet I had to hide tears. I wasn’t unhappy with my parents. I genuinely appreciated the effort. I wore the hat and scarf, and they were warm.

What hurt me was the proof of something I had already suspected but hadn’t wanted to believe: the world had no magic, no guarantees. It was full of human beings who made mistakes. An innocently botched Christmas gift was trifling, but devastating mistakes were possible, too. Given time – and an eleven-year-old has lots of time ahead of her – devastating mistakes would happen. I got my proof that Christmas morning.

Sometimes Santa simply forgets, a portent of calamities to come.

— Sue Burke

Also posted at my professional website:

mount_oregano: Let me see (Infrared)

At one time, my alarm clock and my telephone (a fixed line — this was a long time ago) sat next to each other on the headboard of my bed.

One night I was awoken out of a deep sleep by the alarm clock (or so I thought). To switch it off (I was very groggy), I picked up the telephone handset. My alarm clock began telling me that it had left its sunglasses and softball with me. It wanted them back.

I know I said something in response, and in fact my alarm clock and I had a short conversation, but I don’t remember anything I said. I was too busy trying to figure out how an alarm clock could play softball. As an electric clock, it didn’t even have hands. It also didn’t have eyes, so why would it need sunglasses?

Could there be clock softball leagues? And who knew my alarm clock had a female voice?

The other party ended the conversation, and as I began to hang up the handset, I slowly understood what had happened. I had recently had a party. Someone had forgotten her sunglasses and a softball. My guest had called to recover them.

I had not talked to the alarm clock.

I asked around, and I waited for her to call back, but she never did. (What had I said?) After a year, I began to wear the sunglasses (hoping someone would recognize them), and eventually I gave the softball to the neighbor boys.

Inanimate objects rarely converse with us. One of my treasured memories, besides the time when the sun set in the east, is the time when I really thought I was talking to an alarm clock.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (partygirl)

(If you’re on our Christmas card list, you’ve already received this.)

This sculpture of the Three Kings is on the side of a building in our neighborhood.

We've had a quiet year, even though political and economic events here in Spain and back in the United States were noisy and intrusive.

We joined my husband Jerry's brother Tom and his wife Mary for delightful and scenic long weekend in June. They were in San Sebastián-Donostia on the northern Atlantic coast of Spain as part of their European tour.

We also visited Milwaukee at the end of August and early September to see family and friends, and took a side trip to Chicago for the World Science Fiction Convention. I also attended Spain's 2012 science fiction convention near San Sebastián in October.

The Iron Throne made a special guest appearance at Spain’s convention.

For yet another year, my first novel debut has been moved back, now to fall of 2013, due to a weak economy. The book is tentatively titled Pax: a Novel. Stay tuned.

I’m still teaching English to Spanish teenagers, and has participated in several translation projects, including the ongoing translation of the Spanish medieval novel Amadis of Gaul. You can read it at

Jerry is still working in IBM sales, and traveled this year to Munich, Belgrade, Milan, Dubai, Amsterdam, Geneva, and Brussels.

Best wishes for the holidays and for 2013!

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Guadarrama1)

The real celebration of Christmas in Spain starts on Saturday, December 22, with the drawing of the El Gordo lottery. Lottery tickets cost €200 (about US$260), and are sold in one-tenth shares. Like many people, I bought my décimo share through work so that my coworkers and I can share the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat. If I believed in lotteries more, I could also buy tickets through places like my newspaper kiosk or my supermarket and share their luck, or buy tickets directly from a lottery shop.

Luck is what matters. Spaniards believe in luck.

Here in Madrid, the number 17912 sold out fast because on 17 September 2012, the politician who headed Madrid Province resigned. Love her or hate her (few people are neutral), her resignation made for a big day. Moreover, her first name is Esperanza or “Hope.”

At work, we sent the receptionist to the lottery shop around the corner to buy a number at random, which she did: 29168. Is 29 January 68 lucky? Nothing significant seems to have happened on that date in any year ending in 68. I don’t know if this is good or bad.

The El Gordo jackpot is huge, €2,500,000,000 (over US$3 billion), but it gets split into 15,304 prizes ranging from €400,000 (about US$.5 million) for a first-prize décimo to 20€. I’ve never won anything yet, and I’d be happy to merely get my money back. My chances of winning something are 15.3%, so I’m not very hopeful.

It will take three and a half hours on Saturday morning to draw the winners and announce the prizes. The lottery began in 1812, and the winning numbers and prizes are sung by students of San Idelfonso School of Madrid. Yes, sung. You can watch a segment of the 2011 drawing here:

I think this year’s television advertisement is a creepy. There’s no real dialogue, so you can understand it (to the extent that it is understandable) without knowing Spanish:

If you want to buy lottery tickets and you don’t live in Spain, they are for sale over the Internet. Most but not all of the vendors are legitimate. I can vouch for La Bruixa d’Or (the Golden Witch) in Sort, a town in Catalonia. In Spain, witches are lucky and the name of the town, Sort, means “luck” in Catalan:

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (OpenMic)

A long time ago, the realms of science fiction, fantasy, and horror endured a debate over whether women could write as well as men. For example, could a woman really write as well as James Tiptree Jr.?

It turned out that Tiptree was really Alice B. Sheldon. That almost ended debate then and there, except for occasional nonsense like this:

Of course women can write, and here’s a chance to see what they can do. Broad Universe, an organization that promotes women in gender fiction, has published an anthology of twenty-nine short stories and fiction excerpts. Broad Spectrum, The 2012 Broad Universe Fiction Sampler even includes a story by me.

The anthology is free. Get the ebook here:
Available in multiple formats: online in HTML and JavaScript, or in Kindle, Epub, PDF, RTF, LRF, and Palm Doc PDB.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Obama)

Time zones yawn wide. Florida is six hours behind Madrid, so the election night party in Madrid started when the party in Florida would have ended if Florida knew how to count votes — that is, a little before midnight on November 6, 2012.

Four years ago, Democrats Abroad Madrid, the local chapter of the overseas branch of the Democratic Party, had organized an election night party at the Circulo de Bellas Artes, a big, venerable cultural center. This year we went for Sala Galileo Galilei, an old theater recreated as a popular live music venue.

The 2008 election had generated extraordinary enthusiasm. In Spain, the vote had been simplified to one question: Would the United States, with its racist past, elect a black man as president? Americans and Spaniards wanted to witness history, so although we had hoped for 2,000 people at the party, more than twice that number wanted to attend. And the night had been magic.

Now, the stakes seemed less historic, although American passions ran high among both long-term residents and students who had come to study abroad. Economic troubles in Spain and the US meant that Spaniards were following the election with a more personal interest this time, since a strong US economy could help pull Spain from its recession. Romney tended to remind them of Merkel.

This year, we chose a more modest site for the party, which turned out to be ideal for a party of 500. At 11:30 p.m. a volunteer crew arrived for tasks like decorating and setting up food sales. I was helping with the media. We expected about 40 journalists, and some were already waiting for me, looking for people to interview and hoping they could circulate freely through the crowd. “Of course,” I said. “Make yourself at home and talk to anyone you want.” They did, to the entertainment of party-goers.

Journalists found plenty of local color in the people wearing campaign tee-shirts and hats. One man even wore an Obama campaign tie. A volunteer painted faces. I led a cameraman to one woman who had come with tiny flags painted on her nails, and she was happy to display them. Best of all, we had life-sized cardboard cutout of President Obama so we could pose for photos with it. One television reporter did her standup with her arm around its shoulders.

Mostly, we waited. And waited, watching CNN projected on a screen on the stage. At 1:10 a.m., Florida was reported to be leaning Obama, and we screamed even though the vote tallies were coming in slowly. An hour later, I was getting the Obama sunrise logo painted on my cheek, but we paused when singer Liza Tredway took the stage to lead us in the national anthem.

Then it was back to waiting, watching CNN’s dogged reporting, cheering or booing results and projections until we were hoarse, checking the Internet for news, sharing gossip and nervousness, buying a snack and a drink, and waiting...

At 4 a.m., the news looked very good, but too many states — especially Florida, whose count in key areas was far from certain — were still too close to call. At 5:15, we knew the final outcome was near. The cardboard Obama moved across the room to witness the results more closely.

Then, at 5:20, CNN called the election. We cheered, we hugged, we kissed. Cardboard Obama went bodysurfing through the crowd.

Only one thing remained: the victory speech. The crowd thinned. Someone had apparently kidnaped Cardboard Obama because it couldn't be found. But we kept waiting to see the final act of this long night.

It didn’t come. Romney wouldn’t concede, even though Fox News had declared Obama the winner. Finally, the hall had to close. A friend and I shared a cab home in the cold, dark morning, and when I got to bed at 6:40, Romney still hadn’t conceded.

This had been a heated election, but Obama wasn’t as historic as he had been in 2008. Instead, he was a sitting president with a record of successes and disappointments seeking re-election. The magic had dissipated, but another process had begun that would be analyzed and overanalyzed for days and weeks to come. His victory would change America. I knew I could see his speech on the Internet when I woke up. And maybe Florida’s votes would have been counted, too. (No, they weren’t.)

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Let me see..)

I teach English to Spanish teenagers, which is an education for them and me.

Earlier this month, a student came to class wearing a tee-shirt that a friend had brought as a gift from New York — seen here, and available for purchase here:

My student knew what m***** f***** meant, since bad words are among the first vocabulary items any kid seeks out, but he had a question, and not the one I expected: “What does duck mean? I’m sure it isn’t pato.” (Pato = the bird called “duck.”)

So I explained, and he learned how to say get down and hide in one convenient English word. And, finally, he appreciated the joke on the shirt. Meanwhile I pondered the possibility of pistol-packing foul-mouthed New York waterfowl.

Education marches on.

— Sue Burke

P.S. Stay strong, New York! The world's thoughts are with you.

mount_oregano: Let me see (Madrid)

[This is an encore post from 2009.]

Every Spanish town or city has its patron Virgin, and in a big city like Madrid, even neighborhoods have their own. Ours is Our Lady of Atocha. On the first Sunday of October — that is, today — she is taken out of the Royal Basilica of Atocha and carried in procession through the streets while neighbors applaud and cheer.

Tradition says that the statue was made by the disciples of Saint Peter while the Virgin was still alive. It's actually late Byzantine, although the veneration goes back centuries earlier. Saint Ildefonso, Archbishop of Toledo, wrote in 665 or 666 A.D. that an image of the Virgin was being worshiped in a small chapel near the banks of the Manzanares River.

Every local Virgin has her legends and miracles, and this is just one of Atocha's:

In the year 720, the mayor of Madrid, the knight Gracián Ramírez, often went to the chapel near the Manzanares to pray, but he went in secret because the area had fallen under the control of the invading Moors. One day the statue was missing, and as he searched for it, he pledged that if he found it, he would build a new chapel at that spot. He found it in a field of esparto grass, which is known as "atocha" in this part of Spain — thus, it seems, her name.

He gathered some men and construction began (at more or less the site of the current basilica), but as it neared completion, the Moors suspected that he was building a fort and amassed to attack. They badly outnumbered the Christians, and despite his prayers, Gracián feared defeat. To prevent his wife and two daughters from falling into the hands of the Moors, he brought them to the altar, drew his sword, and chopped off their heads. He left their corpses in the chapel and went out to fight to his death.

But at that moment, great flashes of lightning and deafening thunder blinded the Moors and terrified them. They trampled each other as they tried to run away, giving the Christians an easy victory. After the battle, they hurried back to the chapel to give their thanks. But when they arrived, Garcián discovered his wife and daughters on their knees praying before the altar — alive and well, but with a red line around their neck where he had severed their heads to remind him of his lack of faith.

(Astute readers will see a few historical problems with this story. Well, yes, such as the fact that the town of Madrid did not exist, and it so it had no mayor. It's a traditional story, and "tradition" in Spain means that you should take it for its dramatic, folkloric, or didactic value, not as fact.)

Over the years, the chapel became a church, and more miracles occurred. Eventually, the kings of Spain became regular worshipers, and Our Lady of Atocha became the patroness of the royal house. The church was rebuilt several times and eventually designated as a basilica. It was damaged during the French occupation in 1808 and burned down during the Civil War in 1936. The current building was inaugurated on Christmas Day, 1951.

But over the centuries, the statue, with its gentle, happy eyes, was always protected and saved.

Our Lady of Atocha is made of dark wood, 60 centimeters high from head to foot, seated on a throne with a crown on her head. She holds an apple in her right hand. The Christ Child sits on her lap, holding a book and raising two fingers in benediction.

The queens of Spain donate their wedding dresses to the Virgin, and when she goes out on procession, she wears splendid clothing made from them — as you can see in the photo.

She's one of the "black Madonnas" that became popular in Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries. Why were they black? No one is quite sure, but recent investigations have shown that they didn't turn dark through age. They were deliberately dark.

Today, she will be carried out of the church on a float decorated with flowers and candles. If it's like previous processions, as she emerges, the police band will play the Spanish national anthem, a royal march. Hundreds of people will greet her with applause and shouts of "Viva la Virgen!"

I hope to be there. I'm not Catholic, but Atocha is my neighborhood, and she's been here a lot longer than anyone.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Carmencita)

I don’t get back to the United States every year, so when I do, I find surprises. This year, I spent August 24 to September 8 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, visiting family and friends, and Chicago, Illinois, attending Chicon 7, the 70th World Science Fiction Convention. Here are some observations:

American steakhouses are a true culinary treasure and should be celebrated. Although Spain has great pork and seafood, its beef is tender but bland. That’s because in Spain, the animals are slaughtered a year younger than in the US, so their flavor is less developed. I yearned for some good American beef. And oh my God, is it good.

Speaking of food, I observed in several supermarkets that home cooking seems to be on the wane. I could have bought ready-made anything. Although there does seem to be an increased interest in cake decorating.

I know this may be hard to believe, but clerks and waiters exceed their European counterparts in service and amiability. Some of them even seemed to be enjoying their work. Maybe they weren’t, but they put on a convincing act.

Television commercials have not improved.

Politics in the US actually may not be more nasty than politics in many European countries, but television ads, which are far more numerous in the US, make the nastiness harder to ignore.

Milwaukee and Chicago are pretty — even beautiful — in ways rarely seen on television and movies, which is the chief way foreigners learn about the US.

The science fiction convention was a blast, but too big. With more than 5,000 people attending, almost everyone was there, but I couldn’t find many of the friends I had hoped to meet there.

In the US, seems to be no other setting for air conditioning other than “arctic wasteland.”

— Sue Burke

Also posted at my professional website,

mount_oregano: Let me see (ImFeelingBlue)

After a slight delay (blame the day job), here are some photos from my vacation August 24 to September 9 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Chicago, Illinois. Above, the view from my hotel room in Chicago at Chicon 7 in the Hyatt Regency. More photos here:

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (OpenMic)

Where to find me in Chicago:

Thursday, August 30, 3:00 to 4:30 p.m.
Daily Science Fiction book launch
Wrigley Room
Not Just Rockets and Robots, Daily Science Fiction Year One, official launch with author reading panel, discussion and signing. I have a story in that anthology

Friday, August 31, 3:00 to 4:30 p.m.
Broad Universe Rapid-Fire Reading
Grand Suite 3
Members of the Broad Universe organization read short excepts from current works. Reading: Brenda Cooper, Carol Berg, Cat Rambo, Catherine Asaro, Catherine Lundoff, Conni Covington, Deirdre, Gwynne Garfinkle, J. Kathleen Cheney, Kathryn Sullivan, Laurel Anne Hill, Lyda Morehouse, Mary Robinette Kowal, Roberta Gregory, Roberta Rogow, Sandra Ulbrich Almazan, Sue Burke. I’ll be reading from the end of Chapter 35 of Amadis of Gaul, the part where the knight Amadis and Princess Oriana finally consummate their forbidden love.

Sunday, September 2, 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon
Writers Workshop P
Grand Suite 4
Joan Slonczewski and Sue Burke, with three other participants. Previous sign-up was required and is now closed.

Sunday September 2, 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.
Face to Face Critique Writing Groups
Columbus CD
Discussion of the pro and cons of face to face writing groups and how working with your peers will help your writing. With David Boop, Gene Wolfe, J. Kathleen Cheney (moderator), Martha Wells, and Sue Burke.

I’ll also help staff the Broad Universe sales table — but you can go anytime to the table in the Dealer's Room, chat with fine female authors who would love to meet you, and buy their books.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (ImFeelingBlue)

My university major was political science, so of course I had to read Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes. In this book, written in 1651, Hobbes attempted to formulate a theory of a nation-state, and he did so wracked, as he admits, by fear. In 1640, in fear of his life, he had fled his home in Great Britain to Paris and then Holland during the English Civil War.

His book angered many people for its ideas about how states are formed by social contracts and about how states can only rule if they hold sufficient power by consent of the governed — among other radical ideas for his time and ours. Leviathan is still admired as one of the most well-reasoned philosophic inquiries into politics.

You can hear a discussion about it at A Partially Examined Life: a philosophy broadcast and blog:

Chapter 13 (read it here) has earned the most fame, and I think it has some bearing on the situation in the United States and the use of firearms:

Hobbes begins the chapter by pointing out that all people are equal because they can all kill each other — and while he envisioned that someone physically weak might need to do it “by secret machination or by confederacy of others,” now firearms make each of us indisputably able anyone to kill at will.

He then says that since, inevitably, we will all sooner or later want something that someone else has or disagree with each other, we will be distrustful of each other because none of us can be safe from anyone else unless there is a powerful institution larger than ourselves, a common power which we all fear that can enforce peace. Without it, we cannot trust each other.

Without it, we will inevitably fight: to take each others’ possessions, to defend our possessions, or over differing opinions, such as religion or politics. So, without that common power forcing us to behave peacefully, we are in a constant state of war with one another. In a total war of all against all, we can have no industry since we cannot be sure we can reap its profits, no business because we cannot trust each other, no arts, no society, but only “continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

And yet, he said, people want peace so they can have comfortable lives and the industry and business to create comfort. From this desire, people can be drawn into agreement to create a social contract for a peaceful civil society.

So much for Hobbes. And where is the US in this theory of government? Behind right-to-carry and “stand your ground” laws and increased arms sales, I see the perception that there is, here and now, a war of all against all — perhaps low-level, but very real. There is a perceived need to have a gun to be safe, even in a restaurant or movie theater, and certainly at home against intruders. The government is not perceived to be sufficiently powerful or competent to keep us safe, which Hobbes would consider a failed government.

Fear, and danger of violent death as a constant. No trust. And lives made smaller and poorer. Fights among citizens keep growing more vicious not just over possessions, but over opinions.

And yet, the vast majority of gunholders want peace and see no other way to secure it than by increasing their ability to kill at will, but I think this is a social contract in favor of greater war, not in favor of peace.

If Hobbes is right, this war does not need to continue. To stop it would take a willingness to create a social contract that involves everyone agreeing to give up some freedom to own and use lethal power at will — perhaps limiting the firepower of guns, perhaps requiring specific safety training for all gun owners, perhaps limiting the types of permissible munition, perhaps requiring insurance for gun owners the same way that cars must be insured. There are many other ideas that might begin to ratchet down the level of warfare.

These can be a hard concessions to make, which is one reason why Leviathan is a long book: what to give up, when, how, and the “unalienable rights” (in Hobbes’ words; the Founding Fathers had read him carefully) that cannot be agreed away.

Are we Americans willing to begin that long, hard process of negotiation to move away from a state of war and toward peace?

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (statue)

If you haven’t read Adam Smith, you probably think he supports free-for-all capitalism and is thoroughly pro-business; governments should be small and do little.

If you have read his most important book, The Wealth of Nations, you know that isn’t true. He considered the people who run businesses often to be fools and cheats, and believed that government ought to do many specific things, such as provide public welfare for the unemployed and run certain public projects rather than privatize them, because privatization would lead to cheating and ruination.

I took this photo of my husband at Smith's burial place in Canongate Kirkyard in Edinburgh, Scotland. Note the coins left in tribute on the headstone — small copper coins from all over the world. Smith’s fans are, appropriately, thrifty.

In honor of the anniversary of his death, here are some excerpts from The Wealth of Nations that may be good advice for our times:

“Our merchants and master-manufacturers complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price, and thereby lessening the sale of their goods both at home and abroad. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.”
Book I, Chapter IX

“The interest of the dealers, however, in any particular branch of trade or manufactures, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public. To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers.... The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.”
Book I, Chapter XI, Part III, Conclusion of the Chapter

“All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.”
Book III, Chapter IV

“Though the principles of the banking trade may appear somewhat abstruse, the practice is capable of being reduced to strict rules. To depart upon any occasion from these rules, in consequence of some flattering speculation of extraordinary gain, is almost always extremely dangerous, and frequently fatal to the banking company which attempts it.”
Book V, Chapter I, Part III

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Postage stamp)

Beautiful: My husband and I spent yesterday hiking in Peñalara Park in the peaks of the Guadarrama Mountains near Madrid.

You can get there in a two-hour ride by commuter train, changing trains in the mountain town of Cercedilla to a narrow-guage line that snakes up the sides of the mountains to the park. More than 150,000 people visit each year — even a few foreign tourists who discover that Madrid exists beyond the Prado Museum and tapas bars.

A few more photos here:

The park’s website, in Spanish:

— Sue Burke

September 2017

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