Hey, Tacoma. I’m making a rare appearance at Foss Waterway Seaport!

Lighthouse Guide cover image

I’ll be talking about the Fyddeye Guide to America’s Lighthouses and its companion guide Dec. 10, 2016 at Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma.

It’s been years since I’ve made a public appearance, but my friend Wes Wenhardt, the executive director of Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma, asked me to give a talk. I’ll be at FWS 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, December 10. I’ll be speaking about some of my favorite Puget Sound maritime heritage attractions listed in my books.

I’ve published two maritime history guidebooks, The Fyddeye Guide to America’s Maritime History, and The Fyddeye Guide to America’s Lighthouses. I published the books in 2010 and 2012 respectively because no comprehensive, single-volume travel guides existed for U.S. maritime heritage attractions, including maritime museums, tall ships, and lighthouses.

Copies of my books will be available for sale at the presentation. Foss Waterway Seaport’s address is 705 Dock Street in Tacoma. Hope to see you there!

Have you visited Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma?

Criminy! What do you think of the header image on my blog?

Header image

I’ve been doing some rethinking about content for my blog, especially in light of the chance that it might become the main platform for promoting my upcoming Carbon Run books. Frankly, I need to make the blog more, um, sexy, and what’s better than an attractive woman that suggests one of the characters in my novels? (I’m not saying who.) I needed an image of a reclining figure that would span the blog horizontally, and I came across one by Toxic Wolf.

What do you think?

Grrreat! Tony the Tiger chews out Breitbart News and slaps Stephen Bannon in the face.

Stephen Bannon: Only property owners should be allowed to vote.

President-elect Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, once suggested that only property owners be allowed to vote. 71.9 percent of whites own homes, compared to 41.3 percent of African-Americans.

It’s been a living hell the past four weeks. On November 8, voters picked Donald J. Trump as the next president, and he’s already embroiled in the beginnings of a half-dozen scandals. For me, the most egregious is his ignorance of the Constitution, particularly the First Amendment. Of all his staff picks, the most odious is Stephen Bannon, former executive editor of Breitbart News.

Corporate America is taking notice of Bannon and his background. This week, breakfast cereal maker Kellogg pulled its ads from the reactionary website, saying the site’s inflammatory approach to news is not “aligned with our values as a company.” Yes, it may be unbelievable, but some corporations have a conscience. Other brands that have ditched Breitbart include Allstate, Nest, and EarthLink.

Though everyone who knows Bannon even slightly says he’s not a racist, anti-Semite, or kitten-hater, he oversaw the growth of Breitbart News from a nothing to a leading hyper-conservative voice that reaches 19.2 million visitors a month. He blessed its take-no-prisoners approach before leaving in August, but there’s worry that three weeks after his appointment as Trump’s chief adviser and strategist, he may be legitimizing racism, misogyny, and religious intolerance. After all, he did it at Breitbart News. Might he do it in the White House?

Bannon may not be racist, but he’s a bully [Tweet this!]

Big news outlets have now published detailed backgrounders on Bannon, and he comes across as a bully, but not a racist, at least in the KKK sense of outspoken disrespect for minorities. Racism, however, is far more nuanced than using the “n” word when referring to African-Americans, for example. According to the New York Times, he “occasionally” suggested to a friend that only property owners should be allowed to vote. If it ever came to pass, millions of poor people, including blacks, would be disenfranchised. When challenged on this point, he reportedly said, “Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.”

The one word applied to Bannon by most of his friends, relatives, and acquaintances is “opportunist,” because of his pursuit of business opportunities. His rise at Breitbart was supposedly because of its profit potential, as well as its conservative politics. The Oxford Dictionary defines an opportunist as “a person who takes advantage of opportunities as and when they arise, regardless of planning or principle.” A more precise word for Bannon might be “carpetbagger,” because he only joined the Trump campaign in August, after seeing how the candidate’s statements matched his extremist nationalist views. With his White House appointment, he becomes Trump’s muse.

Millions of Americans want Bannon stopped, including 15,000 lawyers who have signed an online letter decrying Bannon and asking Trump to rescind his hiring. “Through Breitbart, Mr. Bannon has intentionally legitimized racism, anti-Semitism, and other hate-based ideologies,” the letter says. “Such bigotry runs counter to the values enshrined in the Constitution we promised to defend.”

Up to now, Trump has shown no interest in firing or sidelining Bannon. You can judge another by his friends, and now we know how Trump really thinks, because of the people he gathers round him.

How are you opposing racism and misogyny in the incoming Trump Administration?

Exposed: Does Trump have a secret plan to repeal the First Amendment? Maybe.

We’re less than two months away from a President Trump, and already President-elect Trump has tried to suppress our constitutional rights. With all the comings and goings at Trump Tower as he puts together his administration, his behavior on free speech, press, and assembly ought to give heart to conspiracy theorists.

Trump Kovatch tweet

Donald Trump meets Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to discuss a post at the Department of Homeland Security. Kobach is carrying a briefing paper with his ideas on a registry for Muslims. Could Trump have a similar plan to suppress free speech? Image courtesy Huffington Post.

Here’s my contribution: Trump is out to gut the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Perhaps nothing illustrates this plan better than this tweet:

Flag-burning, as odious as it may be, is protected speech under the Constitution, confirmed by the 1990 U.S. Supreme Court case, United States v. Eichman, which struck down a federal law banning flag-burning.

Trump’s attack on the First Amendment started less than a day after the November 8 election, when he accused “professional protesters” of inciting protests against the result, and blamed the media for fanning the flames.

His next attempt came November 18, when he demanded an apology from the Broadway cast of the musical Hamilton, after the cast made up of all races (looking a lot like America) begged Vice President-elect Mike Pence and the incoming Trump administration to respect all citizens’ rights. Two days later, Trump berated Alec Baldwin of NBC’s Saturday Night Live for his hilarious impression of the ex-candidate, demanding “equal time.”

On November 22, Trump jerked around the New York Times, agreeing to an interview, cancelling the interview, then agreeing to it again, a day after he browbeat television news executives and personalities for their coverage of him during the campaign.

His attitude is clear: Be nice to my administration, or you’ll pay for it.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

A recap of your rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The prohibition applies to presidents as well.

As a former newspaper and radio reporter, I’m most alarmed by the assault on press freedoms. Trump will soon have the immense and frightening power of the federal government in his hands, and history has shown that some presidents are unafraid to abuse it. It’s highly unlikely, even with a conservative Congress behind him, that he could repeal the text of our most cherished amendment. However, as president, Trump is in a unique position to bully the media into parroting his words and putting a positive spin on his policies. His direct appeals via social media could rally supporters to pressure local and national media to be nice to him or else, thus suppressing a key channel for dissent. The same tactic could work against protestors and the entertainment media.

For its part, the national news media has an unfortunate history of falling into line as new presidents take office, though virtually all the previous office-holders had none of the demagogic personality traits of Trump. In his case, reporters, editors, and producers will have to work extra hard to resist his bullying from the bully pulpit, else he will get away with a de facto repeal of all our rights as Americans.

This post was updated November 29 to include information about the flag-burning tweet.

What do you think? Should the media be “nice” to the incoming president?

Reviews: It’s true. Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder is science fiction.

State of Wonder cover image

Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder is really science fiction in disguise.

Writers love to complain about the necessity of genre. They’d prefer to write above the petty differences among romance, mystery, fantasy, and dozens of other pigeonholes and sub-pigeonholes. Most writers, though, acknowledge the need for publishers and bookstore owners to make book-finding and thus book-selling intuitive for the reader through categorization.

Genre gets mischievous when a literary novel is miscategorized. After reading State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, winner of the 2002 PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize for Fiction in the same year for her novel Bel Canto, it was clear that the 2011 novel belonged on the shelf next to Fahrenheit 451 and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. State of Wonder has so many science fiction elements that putting it anywhere else denies it a significant readership.

The irony of the sci-fi-ness in State of Wonder is Patchett’s own attitude toward technology.

The story concerns Marina Singh, a research scientist who learns of the death of a colleague in the Amazon rainforest. He was sent to Brazil by their pharmaceutical firm to urge another scientist, Annick Swenson, to speed up work on a treatment for infertility. Singh’s journey becomes a mashup of Heart of Darkness, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and the motion picture Fitzcarraldo. Continue reading

Stephen Bannon not a white nationalist? He should repudiate Breitbart News.

Stephen Bannon photo

Stephen Bannon is the former executive editor of Breitbart News, a haven for white nationalism. He is President-elect Trump’s pick as chief strategist. Photo courtesy The Guardian.

The justifiable angst over Stephen Bannon’s hiring as soon-to-be President Trump’s chief strategist stems from the former’s time as executive editor of Breitbart News. He quit the job and joined the Trump campaign in August. Known for its incendiary headlines and stories that diss just about everyone who is not a white, male, U.S.-born Christian, Breitbart News is a comfortable home for the alt-right movement, better described as white nationalism.

Bannon is proud of his association with the alt-right.

The alt-right is led by young men like Richard Spencer, who runs a one-man think tank in Washington, D.C. Well-spoken, good-looking, and calm, if intense, Spencer was recently interviewed on NPR and the public radio investigative program Reveal. His main goal is creation of a white “ethno-state” within the borders of the United States, populated exclusively with—you guessed it—white people.

Earlier this week, Spencer and many of his ilk were banned from Twitter for violating its rules on hate speech. Many have fled to another social media site known for attracting the alt-right.

Bannon and Breitbart News are intimately intertwined with white nationalism. However, Bannon’s apologists claim he is not racist himself, and he really is a teddy bear once you get to know him. He denies that he is a white nationalist. His embrace of the alt-right comes from shared views on immigration (stop it) and globalist economics (stop that, too), not racism.

Stephen Bannon should immediately and unconditionally repudiate and condemn Breitbart News and all white nationalists in the alt-right and elsewhere.

Fine. As someone willing to give the man the benefit of the doubt, let him prove his tolerance and love of diversity.

Stephen Bannon should immediately and unconditionally repudiate and condemn Breitbart News and all white nationalists in the alt-right and elsewhere. That might ease the fears of religious groups, supporters of immigration rights, and feminists.

But I doubt it.

What do you think? Should Bannon disassociate himself with Breitbart News?

Let’s ban Breitbart editor Stephen Bannon from the people’s house. Here’s why.

Stephen Bannon meme

Stephen Bannon, President-elect Trumps’ choice for chief strategist, was editor of Breitbart News.

No one knows whether Stephen Bannon, President-elect Trump’s choice as chief strategist, is racist or not. It’s too easy to throw around the word, which tends to shut down debate immediately. That does not mean, however, he should be allowed within the walls of the White House.

Saying he should be “given a chance” is like saying “give intolerance a chance.”

The former executive editor of Breitbart News attracts white supremacists, anti-Semites, homophobes, and self-described racists like a flame draws moths. That’s why he doesn’t belong in the people’s house. We can’t take the risk of like-minded people soiling the home that belongs to the entire country, not just his followers.

Breitbart News draws white supremacists like a flame draws moths

Bannon rose to prominence last summer, when he joined the Trump campaign after championing the latter’s candidacy on the pages of Breitbart News. The site is responsible for incendiary stories with headlines such as “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy,” “Lesbian bridezillas bully bridal shop owner over religious beliefs,” and “There’s no hiring bias against women in tech, they just suck at interviews.”

“We’re the platform for the alt-right,” Bannon told Mother Jones magazine, although he focuses his own energy on curbing immigration and the “globalist” trend in economic and political affairs. As executive editor, Bannon would have signed off on these headlines and the accompanying stories. He would’ve set policies that encouraged misogynist, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, race-baiting language.

Will he encourage similar thinking in the White House?

His appointment this week rightly drew howls of protest. The Anti-Defamation League called for Trump to rescind his hiring, which does not require Senate approval. However, many other Jewish groups said nothing about the appointment, prefering to wait and see. This is hard to understand, given that Breitbart News compared Planned Parenthood’s legal abortion services to the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust, the most singular event in modern Jewish history.

Every American who believes in respect, tolerance, and diversity should cry out against Stephen Bannon and his views. If he joins the White House staff, it’ll take years to wipe out the stain on America’s values.

What do you think of Mr. Bannon?

Trump will lay siege to free speech. Here’s how you can resist.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump says he will change the nation’s libel laws to make it easier to sue journalists.

President-elect Donald Trump has announced the appointment of Steve Bannon to be his strategic right-hand man. Bannon is the former executive editor for Breitbart News, a right-wing news site notorious for publishing articles sympathetic to white nationalism that also stir racist fears and anti-Semitism. Bannon’s site has abused the First Amendment to threaten minorities, women, and Trump’s political enemies.

That’s not the worst of it.

As a former journalist, I’m appalled at Trump’s thinking about our human rights when it comes to free thought. Throughout the campaign, Trump disrespected any member of the press he disliked, calling them “scum,” banned reporters from covering his campaign, insulted journalists with disabilities, and promised to reform the nation’s libel laws to make lawsuits against journalists easier. The appointment of Bannon confirms his attitude. His words and behavior are intended to discourage criticism, particularly from the left, and tamp down expected probes by mainstream journalists into his policies and behavior as president.

Wait, there’s more.

According to the Author’s Guild, a writer’s advocacy group, President Trump could veto the SPEAK FREE Act, a bill that would prohibit so-called “strategic lawsuits against public participation,” or SLAPP suits. Corporations and individuals file these suits to discourage writers and journalists from publishing material that “harms” plaintiffs.

Given his cavalier attitude toward copyright, as witnessed by his use of music and images in his campaign without permission of the owners, Trump is unlikely to pursue copyright reform, such as laws that prevent copyrighted works from entering the public domain essentially forever.

He’s also likely to show little sympathy for net neutrality, a government policy that guarantees equal access to the internet for all Americans. Without net neutrality, the country will further bifurcate into digital haves and have-nots. Because writers tend to fall into the latter category economically, they will suffer if this right is lost.

Here’s how you can resist these threats.

Speak out – The First Amendment guarantees your right to speak and publish freely. Use your rights with calm determination. Inform, entertain, and educate, but never incite violence or hate. Don’t sink to Trump’s demagogic level.

Buy a newspaper – As it is with politics, money is the mother’s milk of free speech. Support newspapers, magazines, public radio and television, non-profits practicing independent investigative journalism, and writers of all stripes, fiction and non-fiction. Everyone needs to put food on the table, and your financial support helps independent writers and journalists practice free thought in a public setting.

Donate to advocates – Here’s a non-comprehensive list of organizations that fight for free speech in courts of law and the court of public opinion.

American Civil Liberties Union
Free Speech Foundation
PEN America
National Coalition Against Censorship
Sunlight Foundation
Free Press

Giving these organizations money or joining their membership ranks helps them sustain the fight.

You may be thinking that President Trump would never do all the things he says he’s going to do. Don’t fool yourself. Take him at his word, or your rights may be eroded bit by bit until you didn’t notice that they had disappeared. Instead, defend them now, if not for your sake, for your children’s sake.

How will you defend your free speech rights?

A brief video about safety and intolerance, inspired by #safetypin

After the Brexit vote, the UK experienced a spike in attacks on minorities. The vote was largely about immigration, and the choice to leave the EU over border controls gave permission to a small number of Brits to harass dark-skinned and/or non-Christian immigrants. A Twitter user, @cheeahs, also known as miss pomeroy 1926, is credited with an idea for showing support for immigrants and others under attack.

The idea is this: wear a safety pin. It’s a brilliant idea, simple, to the point, and instantly recognizable.

Americans are adopting the symbol after the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, women, and members of the LBGT community are all reporting verbal and physical assaults by ignorant thugs.

I made a brief video explaining why I’m wearing a safety pin. Let me know what you think.

Review: Doctor Strange: It’s All Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch actor

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange dominates the eponymous film.

I’ll be honest. Movies based on comic books don’t interest me. The only reason I went to see Doctor Strange over the weekend was Benedict Cumberbatch. I’ve become a major fan after his performances in the latest BBC version of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries and his movies, particularly The Imitation Game, in which he played mathematician Alan Turing, and as Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate. Doctor Strange was another chance to see him in action.

My wife, a teacher who works with autistic children, pointed out rightly that Cumberbatch has a knack for playing individuals with personalities on either end of the bell curve. Armchair diagnosticians might argue he plays characters who are “on the spectrum,” as “average” people say, sometimes with a mocking laugh. Holmes, Turing, and Assange are all high-functioning, extremely intelligent people with trouble connecting emotionally to others. They aren’t mentally ill, just so different they make others around them uncomfortable. Continue reading