Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sucking it Up

It must be the February blahs. Blogs all over the sphere are springing up with the periodic lament of a writer’s plight. Rejections, how meager our rewards are in relation to the quantity of our souls left on each page. It gets old, navel-gazing raised to the level of whining. Let’s refine the argument.

The question is: Why do you (personally) write? If you write solely for the joy of putting stories on paper, then you're already successful; have a ball.

If you write to get published, suck it up. There are more writers than publishing venues; it’s not going to change. I was an orchestral musician in a previous life before I turned my attention to writing. It's a lot less discouraging to get a rejection in the mail you paid 41 cents for than it is to fly across the country and book a night or two of hotel at mid-week prices so you can play a five-minute audition in competition with 150 others who are vying for the same spot, for a job that may not pay enough to live on. Send your story off and forget about it while you work on the next. It’s not such a bad deal.

If you're writing to make a living from it and aren't, then quit. The “I couldn’t live if I didn’t write” argument doesn't apply to someone who does it for the money.

I can name several good writers of personal acquaintance who might be published now if they spent half the time refining their writing they currently spend bitching about how tough the market is. I have had several short stories published, but publishers have so far managed to pass on all novel submissions, though they claim it pains them to do so. So it goes. (Sorry, Kurt.) The only way I see to keep moving forward is to accept each series of rejections with a simple phrase: The book wasn’t good enough. Make it – or the next one – better. That’s all I can control, so that’s what I deal with. To do otherwise makes it too easy to confuse reasons with excuses.

No Shame on the Right

Here’s a short piece from the current issue of Salon, describing the new Republican ad pushing for passage of the Protect America Act, also known as The Fourth Amendment is for Pussies Act.

My reply, to the Republican National Committee:

I have just watched your new ad, America at Risk. How can you shameless whores live with yourselves? It is President Bush who allowed this law to expire, through his "all or nothing" insistence, and refusal to accept an extension while a valid compromise is worked out.

Where do you draw the line between freedom and acceptable risk? It appears Republicans see no acceptable trade-offs; all freedoms are worth sacrificing for any scintilla of perceived safety.

You claim to be such patriots, and students of the original intent of the Founding Fathers. How do you reconcile these claims with the words of Benjamin Franklin "Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither liberty nor security?"

Shame on you all.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Mightier Than the Sword

The Music Education Correspondent (Retired) has written to a local paper, advocating a change to the lyrics of the Maryland State song.

The Home Office’s reply is below.

No wonder they pull you off of airplanes for extra security searches. This is yet another examples of how liberals are ruining this country, with their steadfast refusal to take a chance of offending anyone, as you proudly assert in your letter. (“We are quite certain no one will object.”

First, when did lack of content objectionable to anyone become a virtue? Would we not still writhe under the yoke of English tyranny, were it not for the actions of those willing, through word and deed surely objectionable to Crown sympathizers (“Crown-symphs” as Rush Limbaugh would call them today; except that he’d be one.) to speak out? And you posit this on the 276th anniversary of the birth of the Father of Our Country? Shame on you, and may your next lunch with Michele Obama taste dry and stale in your mouth as you struggle to find reasons to be proud of this country.

Have you done your homework into the origins of the lyrics you find so objectionable? Once again, cherry-picking examples creates misleading imagery. “The despot’s heel is on thy shore;” “Avenge the patriotic gore / That flecked the streets of Baltimore.” Easy to claim to be unobjectionable when the callow reader is denied full access to the facts.

Who is this despot, with his heel upon Maryland’s shore? None other than Abraham Lincoln, savior of the Union, and freer of the slaves. Witness these words, from Verse Six:

Dear Mother! burst the tyrant's chain,
Virginia should not call in vain,
She meets her sisters on the plain-
"Sic semper!" 'tis the proud refrain
That baffles minions back amain,
Arise in majesty again.

The “sic semper” used in Line Four is a reference to “Sic semper tyrannis,” (Thus ever to tyrants), and was shouted by John Wilkes Booth as he fled from Ford’s Theater after shooting President Lincoln, whose birthday is also celebrated this month, thus doubling the calumny of your supposedly innocently timed statement.

The words of Maryland, My Maryland are the traitorous hymn of secessionists! Yet you, in your haste to be inoffensive, would but alter them, allowing their hidden meaning to seep through to poison the minds of generations of Marylanders yet unborn. You are not a native Marylander; may your covertly seditious intent have come from some hidden wellspring of liberalism far to the north? I suspect so.

If you find the song so objectionable, endorse its abolishment, as the man it so expressly defames abolished the taint of slavery from its shores with his “despotic heel.” What fear have you that a hidden sleeper cell of Confederate sympathizers will have their feelings hurt? Express the courage of your convictions, but do not blink at the precipice and claim to have crossed.

Not to mention that the tune is from a Christmas Carol, which excludes all of our Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Shinto residents who are just as patriotic as you claim to be.

A German carol, no less. Don’t get me started on World War II.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Political Sports Analogy

I became a mature sports fan while watching the AFC Championship game that followed the 1974 NFL season. Pittsburgh had the ball, leading Oakland 17–13 early in the fourth quarter. The Steelers started one of their patented drives, which consisted mostly of running plays called traps. A trap play is an intricately timed and coordinated action; on television it looks like a guy running into a pile of other guys. Such is life.

What struck me after about five minutes and a few first downs was that the pile, which had moved two-three-four yards in the first quarter, was now moving four-five-six yards each time. I know the announcers didn’t mention it; Burghers hated Curt Gowdy with a vengeance, certain Raiders’ owner Al Davis had him on the payroll. Nothing spectacular happened. Pittsburgh was content to grind it out, moving the chains every two or three plays.

This was memorable to me because winning this game put Pittsburgh in their first Super Bowl. What made it pivotal was my ability, for the first time, to look ahead and know that Pittsburgh had won the game. Ten minutes left, and a turnover or bad penalty could still blow it for them, but Oakland had lost the ability to win this game. It was Pittsburgh’s to lose. (They scored and won 24-13.)

Now replace “Pittsburgh” and “Steelers” with “Barack Obama,” and “Oakland” and “Raiders” with “Hillary Clinton.”

Friday, February 15, 2008

One Small Step for Democracy

The Democrats finally found someone with some stones. Democrats being Democrats, of course it was a woman.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi not only didn’t bring the Senate’s version of the Protect America Act up for a vote before the House went on recess, she had the House cite two members of the Bush Administration – John Bolton and Harriet Miers – for contempt. (Republicans responded to this second action by storming out of the Capitol to denounce the Democrats’ “political theater” at a microphone-strewn podium serendipitously found on the building’s steps just in time for their “spontaneous” act..)

Bush responded, of course, by crying we’ll be dead by the time the House gets back if he doesn’t have the authority to listen to every phone call and read every email in the world, warrants be damned. Like the law has ever stopped him before. The Protect America Act is nothing more than a transparent attempt to legalize actions the Bush Administration has routinely taken for years. Immunity for the previously cooperating telecommunication companies – who would be the still cooperating telecommunications companies had their illegal collaboration not come to light – is amnesty by another name. Republicans are happy to grant amnesty to moneyed interests with the legal firepower to know they were violating not just laws, but the entire Fourth Amendment, but if your mother carried you across the Mexican border in her arms fifteen years ago, you’re SOL.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who sent to the House a bill complete with immunity and no amendments the White House didn’t sign off on, wrote to Bush, "I regret your reckless attempt to manufacture a crisis over the reauthorization of foreign surveillance laws. . . . Your suggestion that the law's expiration would prevent intelligence agents from listening to the conversations of terrorists is utterly false."

The most temperate response I can come up with is: Fuck you, Harry, and the horse you rode in on. Bush has rolled you over so many times you can join the Greek hookers’ union. You’re not from Texas, but “big hat, no cattle” was written with you in mind. You sold out Chris Dodd and Pat Leahy, so your big talk now, while Speaker Pelosi has to carry your weight, impresses no one. You want to claim to be a Democrat while acting as Bush’s mole in Congress, fine. Just don’t be upset when people call you on it, as just about everyone has started to do. Let’s hope Senate Democrats can find a few onions of their own and elect a majority leader next year who actually believes in the co-equal branches of government.

I haven’t written this in a while, but it’s time again. For all of you who voted for George W. Bush in 2004 and see what has happened to Iraq, the deficit, the environment, the economy, and civil liberties, keep this in mind: It’s your fault.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

What Game are They Watching?

Waterboarding is in the news again, now that Attorney General Mukasey has declared the Justice Department will not investigate individuals who followed DoJ directives, even if those directives were based on dubious or non-existent legal reasoning; nor can those who created, endorsed, or propagated these questionable rulings be held accountable. (To catch up on this week’s comedy, click here.)

First, no whining from any senators who voted for Mukasey; he said he was going to do this, and he has. No surprises. It’s your fault.

The United States of America (remember them?) prosecuted Japanese soldiers as war criminals for waterboarding American prisoners. The current administration’s position is that it might be illegal, unless some mid-level functionary in the Justice Department wants to make points with the White House and writes an opinion no one but Dick Cheney agrees with to say it’s legal. Then it’s legal. Honest to God.

I don’t understand how some employees can walk into the Department of Justice building and not get sick to their stomachs just reading the sign. DoJ has done little, if anything, for the cause of justice since Shrub took office. All departments of the Executive Branch serve the president; that doesn’t mean they’re his lackeys, toadying up to spread a see-through veneer of legality to whatever he wants. Torture? Warrantless searches? Renditions? Denial of habeas? Whatever Shrub and Darth Cheney want, someone at the Department of Injustice can be found to justify it.

This is not the United States of America I was taught about, and it’s not just the government that sickens me. Polls show 61% of all Republicans think Shrub is doing a good job. Obviously no one else does; his current approval rating overall is 30%. My question is, who in their right mind can possibly look at his record and say he’s done a good job?

Witnesses for the prosecution:

  • Ignored warnings in August of 2001 that al-Qaeda planned to fly planes into buildings.
  • Invaded Iraq with no evidence they had anything to do with 9/11, the UN (accurately) said they had no WMD program, and we had nothing resembling a plan for what to do when Saddam was gone.
  • Destroyed America’s reputation abroad with our “you’re either for us or a terrorist sympathizer” rhetoric.
  • Preached fiscal restraint while increasing the budget by over 63% since taking office. This does not include the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Including those expected “emergency requests” would hike the increase to 74%.
  • His brand of fiscal conservatism has increased the national debt 60% since he took over. This is impressive, considering we were running surpluses and paying down the debt when he took office.
  • The disparity between the richest and poorest among us continues to grow to historic levels.
  • Not even during the Red Scare and the height of McCarthyism have our civil liberties been so badly eroded.
  • Torture is now condoned by the Executive Branch, as it feels necessary.
  • Long-dismissed legal theories are trotted out as fact. (Unitary Executive, signing statements, ignorance of checks and balances.)

Yet well over half of all Republicans think he’s doing a hell of a job. Let’s see what they might point to:

  • We haven’t been attacked in this country since 9/11. (Of course, we’ve now lost more killed and many times more wounded through our misguided responses than terrorists have ever killed here.)
  • Their taxes are lower.
  • He talks tough.

Shrub will leave office next year with this country improved in no way since he took over, other than relative incomes for those already in the top percentiles. For that, 61% of Republicans approve. A few conclusions can be drawn:

  • They’re selfish. (I got mine, and I’m keeping it.)
  • They’re cowards. (I don’t care what rights I sacrifice or who else has to die to make me 0.0001% safer.)
  • They’re bullies. (Do it our way, or else.)
  • They’re mouth-breathing, inbred idiots. (Self explanatory.)
  • All of the above. (These are not mutually exclusive.)

If this pissed you off, I guess we know where you fall on the approval rankings. Suck it up.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Knight Errant Hangs It Up

Basketball coach Bob Knight retired yesterday with an NCAA record 902 victories. Knight has been controversial for virtually his entire 42-year career as the enfant terrible of college basketball.

Knight couldn’t be a fictional character; his gifts are to profound, his faults too dramatic. He’s always fascinated me for that reason, the embodiment of the best and the worst sports brings out in a person, wrapped in the same psyche.

There’s no point in summing up the dichotomy that is Bob Knight, when John Feinstein has done it so well in this article in today’s Washington Post.