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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

REAL PROTESTER DANGER

"These are symptoms of a deeper problem of insensitivity and detachment."
-Jesse Jackson

There's been so much comment by prominent leftists and pundits in the media lately about protests and the dangers of Tea Party rallies that I thought it would be useful to illustrate what a real dangerous rally is like.

Portland, Oregon has recently had several shootings by police officers. It doesn't happen very often, so when it does, it tends to upset the people in Oregon. There were three shootings in a short time period:
On Jan. 29, Officer Ron Frashour shot and killed an unarmed man, Aaron Campbell, in an apartment building parking lot in a situation that started out as a welfare check.

The U.S. Justice Department has launched a civil rights investigation into the shooting of Campbell, 25.

On March 22, Officer Jason Walters shot and killed Jack Dale Collins, a 58-year-old homeless man who reportedly was causing a disturbance in Hoyt Arboretum. The officer said he fired when Collins came at him with a knife and refused to drop the weapon.
In each case except the last (still pending) the police officer in question was cleared by a grand jury. Protesters disagreed and Jesse Jackson, sensing a chance for some money and television face time, flew in to join the fight. About 200 people marched past the court house chanting carefully prepared slogans and holding pre-printed signs. These people are professionals at this. Jesse Jackson was unable to find anything racist to complain about, so instead he talked about how everyone should give homeless people everything because this is a wealthy country.

Well its not easy being a professional grievance monger. The Black Block organized "anarchy" group joined in, and that's when things went... typical for a leftist rally:
The Portland Police Bureau said the eight people were charged with various crimes, including disorderly conduct, criminal mischief and riot. No details were provided about the officers’ injuries.

The protest left some damage in its wake, police said, with windows broken at the Bank of America building on Southwest Fifth Avenue.
A cop was hit in the head with a rock. See, that's what a protest that results in violence and danger looks like, people. We used to see this kind of thing pretty much every month when President Bush was in office. Naturally, there's no particular sense of danger being expressed by the media. Those Tea Partiers though, they're sinister and dangerous with how they don't cause any violence, property damage, or trouble. They're too orderly, too willing to hoist a flag of the country they belong to (without burning it), and too willing to urge congress to obey the law. They clearly are up to something. Note: this protest was a fraction of the size of even the first Oregon Tea Party rally, but it got many times the media coverage.

STICKS AND STONES

"Its a perfectly cromulent word."

Nigger. Kyke, slope, honky, cracker, ofay, dago, limey, kraut, zipperhead, spic, chink, casper, and so on. Have I offended you? Well you shouldn't be. Recently Orson Bean wrote an article on Big Hollywood reminding people of a bit leftist radical and comic Lenny Bruce did live once:
One night at the Vanguard I watched in shocked amazement as he pointed to a customer and said, “Oh look, we’ve got a nigger here tonight.” The crowd froze. “And another darky is with him and a third jigaboo.” The silence was deafening. But Lenny was an advocate of the old show business maxim: if you’ve gone too far… go farther. He’d only just begun “Look over here”, he said, “A kike. And a mocky* is at the table with him. And we got two spicks in the back. Hey, there’s a fag at the bar.” Slowly, the laughter began. Lenny said nigger a hundred times. Finally the crowd was howling. The pure outrageousness of it all had gotten to them and they simply had no choice.

When Lenny had them where he wanted them he turned serious. “It’s all arbitrary,” he told the crowd. “We agree to be offended by certain words. What if we decided that the word dentist was offensive. You dirty rotten dentist! Then that would become the insult du jour. But what if we simply decide not to be offended. What if we just take the sting out of these words and use them as terms of affection. ‘Hey niggah, how ya doin’? ‘Fine, honky, an’ you?’ What if we all just agreed that words can’t hurt? Then nobody could scream insults at a poor little Black girl in Little Rock.”
He was talking about the news report when supposedly some folks in Little Rock were yelling "nigger" over and over at black children being escorted into a white school to force integration. I think Lenny had a point: words in and of themselves have no power or meaning, they only mean what we agree upon. If I declare that the word "fhnagu" means "to sing like Tiny Tim" then it means that only if others agree and start using it. Unless that happens, it's just nonsense like the Lewis Caroll poem Jabberwocky. Carroll built an entire poem around nonsense words; words which seemed plausible but didn't exist or mean anything:

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

What does brillig, slivy, toves, wabe, mimsy and so on mean? Nothing, but when used in context they seem to mean something. Dungeons and Dragons took the word "vorpal blade" from this poem and turned it into a fantastically sharp and deadly weapon that tends to decapitate its enemies.

Yet consider: when the left chooses to attack and discredit the right, they don't argue logically or based on facts, they don't debate the merits of the right's arguments. They cry racist and pretend that someone said nigger at some point. Now, part of the most recent furor is an attempt to shore up President Obama's sliding polling numbers among black voters. The Democrats absolutely have to pull in about 90% of black voters or they lose every single election, so they can't let that slide. What's their remedy for that? To claim Republicans are nonstop bigots and one bedsheet away from being in the klan.

Mind you an actual klan leader is considered the "conscience of the Senate" by Democrats, and the Klan was made up of Democrats, but history is irrelevant when you're working on scaring and fooling people. The fact that no one actually called a single member of the Congressional Black Caucus that deliberately walked slowly through the Tea Party rally with cameras rolling a nigger doesn't matter either. The charge is enough for many to believe it and the left to push the narrative of the bigoted right. Will it work to sway black voters? Who knows, it certainly worked after Hurricane Katrina.

Yet Bean's primary point in his article is that the Tea Party shouldn't have cared about being called "teabaggers" by the left. That words shall never hurt me and if the right just shrugged and went along with it, then it wouldn't have any impact or power. I disagree that the name could be negated by adopting it, this wasn't so much a calculated attempt to attack the Tea Party as it is an example of immature giggling on the left like 6th graders saying "testicle" and giggling uncontrollably. Its naughty and helps them disregard a real, significant movement of ordinary people. There's something deeper wrong with the label, though.

The truth is, calling me "honky" doesn't even ruffle my feathers. I don't care, the word sounds silly to me. I personally liked Clint Eastwood's curmudgeon in Gran Torino, not just because he was a noble and heroic man but because he was crusty and hard edged. Here's a sample of the dialog to help illustrate what I mean (language warning):
(The old, balding barber MARTIN finishes cutting WALT'S hair.)

BARBER: There, you look like a human being again. You shouldn't wait so long between haircuts, you cheap bastard.

WALT:
I'm just amazed that you're still alive. I keep hoping you'll die and they'll get someone good in here, but you just hang in there, you dumb, Italian-Wop-Dago, you.

BARBER: That'll be ten dollars, Walt.

WALT: Ten dollars? Jesus Christ, Martin, you keep raising the price. You sure you're not part Jew?
(Martin laughs at Walt)

MARTIN: It's been ten bucks for the last five years and you know it, you thick-skulled, old Pollack son of a bitch.

WALT: Here's ten, keep the change.

MARTIN: See you in three weeks, you prick.

WALT: If you live that long, dipshit.
(Walt and Martin shake hands and Walt walks out.)
Now, Walt is consistently offensive through the whole movie. Without apology or shame he calls every single person he meets by some ethnic or personal slur. Its so much a part of him he does it every time he talks, just by nature and habit. Many people call Walt a racist. He's not. He treats every single person with the same mannerisms, no matter who they are. He calls his own people Pollacks. I wouldn't recommend that, because it tends to hurt some peoples' feelings but it is a slice of culture that is dying out and was funny to watch. Words cannot hurt someone, but some people will be hurt despite that. If you understand that and live life with that understanding you'll be a lot better off.

Yet the teabagger slur is a bit different. This isn't a personal slur or some funny word to use to describe someone. It is an attack on the very concept of what's being promoted in the Tea Parties. The Tea Party its self is a venerable and revered event in not just American history, but world wide for being the first great stab at tyranny and toward true liberty and democracy. It is the Rubicon at which humanity strode away from monarchy and rule by distinct classes of people toward a greater freedom and self-rule. Mocking that name with a particularly offensive sexual slur (primarily associated with homosexuals) is an attack on the very foundation of liberty.

I don't care if you call me names. But if you call other people names, I might get upset, especially if they are my family and friends and neighbors and people who never, ever get up and march in protests unless something really, really upsets them. The Tea Party movement isn't some contrived reaction to the Democratic Party majority, the Democrats have had a majority in US government for most of the lives of everyone alive in the country at present. This is the next step in a long, long line of continual annoyances, frustrations, and embitterments that is finally boiling over. These are people who simply do not get involved in rallies and protests and even politics period beyond voting. When that happens, its like when the townsfolk get so tired of Denton Baxter's men they take up guns and chase them out of town.

Its one thing to have the sheriff and the perpetually offended upset at you. Its another when the public at large rises up. I think the left knows this, deep down. I think they understand that this is something bigger and more significant than the pathetic, top-down, carefully crafted and staged "anti-war" rallies in the last decade. And that's why they're trying to destroy the entire movement. Yet the more they stomp and scream and demonize, the more upset people get.

And think about it. The very same people who are shocked and horrified that black congressmen were called nigger 15 times (even though it never happened) actually use the term teabagger to describe Tea Party Rally attendees. That PC multicultural tolerance has always been a rank, deliberate lie on the same lines as Animal Farm's "all animals are equal." Some have always been perfectlya cceptable to attack, hate, deride, offend, and mock. The multiculturalist's claim that all cultures are relatively equal is a deliberate lie: the white European heritage has always been presumed less and more pernicious. People have always been annoyed with and mocked that, but they're getting fed up.

And ultimately that's what's wrong with words like ofay and frog and jigaboo (what on earth is that supposed to mean anyway?). It isn't the sounds, but the ideology behind them, the hate and will to destroy, or at least suppress and tyrannize. The same motivation to oppose and stop those words from being used should stop these people from using teabagger as a slur. The same motivation that tries to keep people from being offended and hurt should fight for liberty for us all because it is the desire to control and oppress that all Americans should oppose.

And think about something else. At Ace of Spades HQ, Ace brought up another knucklehead actor's vapid thoughts on the war on terror, this time Matthew Modine:
Imagine if somebody were to really sit down with Osama Bin Ladin and say, "Listen man, what is it that you're so angry at me about that you're willing to have people strap bombs to themselves, or get inside of airplanes and fly them into buildings?" That would be the miracle if we can get, sit down and talk to our enemies and have a fine way for them to hear us.
Ace asked a simple and obvious question:
Hey, man, why don't you stop butchering people? It's a buzzkill, man.

You know, guys like Matthew Modine are so charming and empathetic and stuff that if only they'd had the chance to sit down with Adolf Hitler and have a real good (air quotes) "rap session," why...

I'm quoting that because the liberal media never pauses for a moment to ask the pertinent question, "Why does the American public hate us, and what can we do to appease them?"
The fact is, this doesn't even occur to them. The left is often so ready to appease everyone on earth but their own countrymen. When Tea Partiers stood up and started yelling "hey, stop spending so much and stop raping the constitution!" the left should have been right there with them, if they were consistent. After all, we heard continuous howling and gnashing of teeth from both left and right about the deficits and debts under President Bush. Now that a Democrat is in office, well who cares, right? He's doing the right thing, so it doesn't matter.

That's why the teabagger slur isn't just another racial epithet or slander. Its an attack not just on the people there, but the country and what it stands for, it is a slur against the concept of liberty, the constitution, and the principles of freedom and America that has led for more than 200 years. These "Progressives" don't want to progress, they want their system and slowing of civilization, not achievement and forward motion. These "Liberals" don't want liberty, they want obedience and silence. And in the end, that's something all Americans should oppose and even fear. mean words don't matter, but mean ideas do. Words can't hurt me but the ideology that drives them can.

*Mocky is a really obscure slur for Jew.

OOH, SHOW ME YOUR JOYSTICK

"I live on the second floor of my parents' house, thank you very much!"

Want to meet real, live girls? Like to play online and console games? Then GameCrush has an offer for you. Matt Hickey at CNet has the news:
GameCrush is set to launch at 6 p.m. PDT Tuesday, and its premise, in theory, is simple. It's the gaming equivalent of buying a girl a drink to chat her up, the developers say.

A Player (yes, they're called "Players") buys points--500 cost $8.25--and uses them to buy "game time" with a PlayDate (yes, they're called PlayDates). Xbox titles including Modern Warfare 2, Gears of War 2, Grand Theft Auto IV, and Halo 3 cost 400 points and last up to 10 minutes. PC-based casual games like Checkers, Battle Ship, Billiards Pool, Four Across, and Tic Tac Toe cost a little less.

Players browse through PlayDate profiles, and once they find one they're interested in they can send a gaming invite. Right now the system works with the Xbox 360 and the site's own games, but the developers say they're hoping to have PS3 and Wii integration soon.

If the PlayDate accepts the invitation, she can set her mood to "Flirty" or "Dirty" and it's game on (though any real gaming girl would set her profile to "Hurty" and kick your ass). The pair can chat, play, or both for the amount of time purchased. When their time is up, the Player is invited to send the remaining 100 points to his PlayDate as a tip. The PlayDates can then trade their points for real-world cash.
Can such a scheme possibly work? Would anyone actually pay for this kind of service? Apparently so: GameCrush became active and claims they almost immediately crashed under the crush of applications. At the GameCrush website there is now this message:
The GameCrush Public Beta is temporarily unavailable due to the incredible user response (more than 10,000 inquiries in five minutes). We are adding new servers to provide players with the best PlayDate experience possible. Games with GameCrush PlayDates start at $6.60 for ten minutes.
When they launch again is anyone's guess, you can sign up for an email notification when it goes online. If this post is to be believed, it seems that they expected to make a business out of this, but not to have this much success, because they weren't ready for the number of applications they got. In five minutes, they made over sixty thousand dollars in initial applications. That's pretty successful. Another possibility is that they just threw the website up to see if it was remotely feasible and are now scrambling to set it up with proof of customer interest.

Why would any girl want to sign on with desperate geeky computer gamers? Because the mroe games they do with others, the more money they make, real life money. Some gamer girls are uncomfortable with the idea, calling it "phone-sex-ey" (especially with the "tip" option at the end of the session) but I have no doubt the idea will catch on rapidly and plenty of girls who want cash for jewelry, clothes, purses, cell phone minutes and so on will be more than willing to get on and play. And for a lot of gamers, being paid to play is what they believe to be a dream job.

What will be going on with the "Dirty" setting is a matter of imagination, since there's no video but you can get audio with many games and the concern of some girls listed above seems more literal. There's always the option of going out and meeting girls in real life, but that's not something at least some gamers are ready or willing to attempt - and let's be honest, at least some gamers, most girls wouldn't really want to be near anyway.

Quote of the Day

"Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm."
-Publilius Syrus ~100AD

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

REMAKING MISERY

"What exactly would a reboot/remake add to that? I call shenanigans!"

Den of Geek has one of the most awful things I've ever seen on the internet posted, shamelessly, out in the open for everyone to stumble across. Cannot they think of the children? Their article is a blatant list of the 75 upcoming Hollywood projects involving remakes and reboots of old material.

Some of the lowlights:
Akira (live action, by Hughes Brothers)
Alien
American Pie*
Arthur (the Dudley Moore drunken rich man movie)
Bourne*
Cliffhanger (one of Stallone's most unfortunate flops)
The Crow (by LXG director)
Endless Love (the woeful Brooke Shields movie)
Fantastic Four, again
Footloose
Highlander
Jurassic Park*
Mr and Mrs Smith
Planet of the Apes, again
Police Academy - rebooting this, really?
Porky's, with Howard Stern?
Short Circuit
Spawn
Spy Kids*
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, again
The Warriors

The ones marked *might end up being prequel/sequels instead of a full reboot.
Just because I'm a masochist, I searched around the internet and found some of the upcoming TV shows being considered for or made into movies. The only bright spot in this is that it seems like they've slowed down, mercifully, on that particular trend:
A-Team
Dallas
Friends
Hawaii 5-0
Johnny Quest
Then there are movies that I wouldn't mind so much being remade or rebooted, although it makes me really nervous for modern guys to work on them. Conan for instance, with Jason Mamoa (pictured at the top, probably best known for his work on Firefly) in the title role might be good. I don't expect it to be better than the original Conan, but it might spark interest in fantasy which always is useful for me. I have to ask, though: Conan was a nordic guy, from the far north. This dude looks like a south pacific islander. Huh?
And who knows, maybe a Phantom Tollbooth remake could be good, although for some reason the original scared the heck out of me when I watched it at around age 7.
I'm really looking forward to a Westworld remake. The original was okay, but like I've said before it suffered from the presence of wimpy Richard Benjamin and a remake could really take advantage of modern effects and technology.
They're working on a Daredevil reboot, which could be good, and could hardly be worse than the original Ben Affleck movie.
Flash Gordon is being remade, and that's something I'd like to see done well but am nervous about (especially after the woeful Scyfy version).
And a restart of the Fletch franchise would be great, those books are lots of fun and translate well to movies.

Then there's the weird. Does anyone remember Drop Dead Fred? The movie tarring Rik Mayall and Phoebe Cates about a girl's childhood imaginary friend who comes to life when she's grown up, making her life hell? Why on earth would you remake this?
The director of Taken, which I loved, is working on Dune, which is pointless. You can't really make a Dune movie, its too big for anything less than aminiseries. Which Sci Fi already did a pretty good job with.
A reboot or sequel for Ghostbusters just makes me really nervous. All the guys involved with it originally are pretty old and the sequel was so bad I just can't imagine another one.

I understand why Hollywood does this. Recognizable, familiar movie content means that its a safer bet: you have a ready made audience who will be interested just in the fact something they know and like is being made. Making movies is a huge risk because of the cost involved, so cutting down that risk as much as you can is just smart business. Yet at the same time insulting or annoying your customers is not very smart business so you have to be careful.

I'm not of the opinion that every movie has to be original, but at the same time, there's so many great stories and ideas out there which have gone unfilmed and untouched, it seems just criminal to ignore them for yet another TV movie or remake. We all know the basic rules for a remake: it has to be a movie that was either poorly done or so dated that it has lost its power or charm. Well Hollywood has pretty much abandoned those rules for one: it can make money.

SWINE FLOP

"But all these experts can't be wrong, the experts bleat."

Remember the Swine Flu? Or, N1H1 as pig farmers would have us use, since it was hurting their business. We were told it was going to be a massively crippling pandemic, that the world would suffer with millions dead; it was to be the plague of the new century. We all were doomed, doomed!

Yeah, it didn't turn out like that. There were some pockets of heavy infection and even deaths in areas of great poverty, poor medical care, and unsanitary conditions such as Mexico City, but that's hardly surprising. When you are sickly, weak, and uncared for, even a slight infection is dangerous. Yet we were told this was going to be true worldwide and the panic spread so far that some Muslim countries slaughtered all their pigs, leading to some unfortunate side effects.

Now, the World Health Organization is admitting that they overstated things to a ridiculous degree and many are concerned this hurt their credibility. Sarah Bosely reports at The Guardian:
The World Health Organisation and other public health bodies have "gambled away" public confidence by overstating the dangers of the flu pandemic, according to a draft report to the Council of Europe.

The report, by the Labour MP Paul Flynn, vice chair of the council's health committee, says that a loss of credibility could endanger lives.

"This decline in confidence could be risky in the future," says the report, seen by the Guardian. "When the next pandemic arises many persons may not give full credibility to recommendations put forward by WHO and other bodies. They may refuse to be vaccinated and may put their own health and lives at risk."
At EU Referendum, Richard points out it wasn't just the WHO that was overblowing the dangers:
In the United Kingdom, the Department of Health initially announced that around 65,000 deaths were to be expected.

By the start of 2010, this estimate was downgraded to only 1,000 fatalities. By January 2010, fewer than 5,000 persons had been registered as having caught the disease and about 360 deaths had been noted.
Richard draws parallels between this and climate change hysteria, and I can't help but have similar thoughts. My concern, though, is more along the lines of what I said in my essay on Mad Scientists: it damages science and credibility of experts for them to say outrageous, illogical, and unscientific things repeatedly, like a child crying wolf.

There is some good reason to be careful with reports, and while I understand the desire to err on the side of caution, it shouldn't come at the cost of common sense, logic, and science. Places with miserable medical care and health conditions obviously ought not be extrapolated across the entire world equally. That's just logic, even if you don't do some sort of scientific study.

Then there are the hard facts. As I pointed out almost a year ago:
However, in a nation of 300 million people, the Centers of Disease Control note that quite a few people die each year from the flu, pandemic or not:
By comparison, the CDC estimates that 36,000 people in the United States die each year of influenza-related illnesses. And in spite of this, we in the medical community still have a hard time convincing people to get their flu shots.
The fact is that Swine Flu is not new, it is not unknown to transfer to humans from pigs, and it's not particularly lethal as viruses go.
The experts are doing a poor job of giving us the information we need, and are a bit too willing to exaggerate and cry havoc in the name of warning - and more likely, the name of sweet, sweet crisis funding, to be of proper service to us all. At this point its hard to trust anything we're told by any of these people, and that's the real problem.

This isn't new of course, the earliest example I can think of is the DDT scare in which a well-written book almost devoid of scientific support decided world policy and led to hundreds of millions of malaria cases and even deaths. The pendulum needs to swing back a bit; it used to be that health scares were utterly ignored by the people in power, now the slightest murmur from the proper areas and panic sets in with radical policy propositions hurled out in front of cameras to show they care. That needs to be dialed back before the population simply stops listening to experts and scientists entirely.

ANIME MADNESS

Not long ago, New Hampshire State Representative Nickolas Levasseur (Democrat) said this:
"Anime is a prime example of why two nukes just wasn't enough"
Anime fans were enraged, and while its difficult to know, I suspect that he was referring to the more sexual and perverted versions of Anime (called Hentai). It is hard not to come to the conclusion that something is basically wrong with Japan's culture, but I don't think many people would say that is a result of insufficient atomic bombing.

However, that said, I thought this would be a good time to drop a few images of various Anime translations - both professional and amateur - which are sometimes accurate (they say really strange stuff sometimes) and often just really poorly rendered or bizarre. Enjoy (warning some of these are a bit not safe for kids):














This last one helps explain why some of these translations ended up this way. It isn't easy to translate from one language to another, especially two such different languages as Japanese to English. Sometimes, the translator is just inserting something they thought would be funny, but usually its just lack of real competence. Take a look at these different attempts to translate the exact same scene:

The last one is the most proper, I'm told. Plenty of Techigai* in this area, especially by amateurs trying to make a film watchable for Americans.

*Techigai means mistake

Quote of the Day

"The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it."
-Flannery O'Connor

Monday, March 29, 2010

AGENT SEEKING

“I wish to be cremated. One tenth of my ashes shall be given to my agent, as written in our contract.”
-Groucho Marx

Writing a book is a lot more work than just typing out the words on a page or screen. That's the easy part, for me at least. When you get that first part done, then the real work begins, and that's where being an author is not really where I shine. I was under the impression that editors actually, you know edited books, but apparently their job is pretty limited in terms of proofing and editing. They want what is basically a finished book on their desk or they won't even consider your work.

So there's proofreading, editing, correcting, and rewriting to do. Going through the book after reading and checking for mistakes is good, but not nearly enough. Sure, any good word processor will find any blatant mistakes, but there's a lot it can't find, and while the grammar aids in programs like Microsoft Word are helpful, it isn't terribly intelligent and will miss some things and suggest others that are simply bizarre. Even if you go through the book very carefully, as the author you'll tend to read what you meant to say, rather than what you actually typed out, and miss too much. As a reader, you'll find yourself getting into the story too much and missing things you are trying to catch.

So you have to use other tricks, like reading the book out loud which helps a lot in catching strange wording and misplaced words. Giving your book to others to read and proof is a big help too, but that requires people not only willing, but able to do so - usually without pay. I have a friend who has a degree in English and proofreading, and he has been an enormous help (although some of his suggested corrections are more for formal writing than prose).

Even when you get all this done, the work is still mostly ahead of you. Now you have to actually find someone to buy your work, a way to get paid. Sure, if you finish a book, you're a writer. All it takes to be a writer is to actually write. But that's not enough for an author. I want to get paid for my work, and I want people to read my work. That means finding a publisher, and to do that, it means finding an agent.

See, I'm not a black man being groomed for a political future by a political machine in a major city. No publisher is going to, out of the blue, knock on my door and offer me $40,000 for a book. Even if I decide to write an autobiography, or have Bill Ayers ghost write it for me.

I don't have the contacts, skill, experience, or energy to sell a book to a publisher. Sure its not impossible to send them a book and hope they take it, but an agent can handle all that for you. They know what publishers are looking for which sorts of books, what editors to target, how to reach them, and the formats they prefer. Sure, they take 10% of your pay, but they do a lot of work and that is worth it for me to break into the business. If I can sell a million copies I won't need an agent, the publishers will knock on my door.

Finding an agent is actually not very easy. The book selling business is not doing well now, it seems to be going through a transition to whatever the future of novels will be, and readership has been on the decline for decades, despite spikes in some areas such as the Harry Potter or Twilight phenomena. So I'm trying to break into what is almost a dying industry with a product fewer and fewer people really seem to want.

And even in boom times, it wasn't easy to find an agent. For every worthwhile, published author there are thousands of people who just aren't good enough to publish but try anyway, and hundreds who are good enough to publish but never seem to break through. Why?

Well, agents have a lot of work to do, so they don't have time to read everyone's manuscript. So they ask for a query letter which is in essence a pitch, like in Hollywood. You have one printed page (or the equivalent in email) to convince the agent that you're someone he wants to learn more about and maybe represent. That means the query letter needs to be something that will grab their attention without annoying them.

Query letters follow very specific and time-honored formats, which means you have even less flexibility. Varying from this format means agents will tend to just trash your request, because they get scores of these in the mail at a time and only have so much time. You can be the best writer in the world and suck at writing query letters. Having immense, saleable talent at writing books does not mean you're great at pitching to an agent. And that means at least some writers are just left out in the cold no matter how good their manuscript is.

It isn't terribly hard to find an agent, you can search online for "literary agent" and get thousands of pages. It isn't hard to avoid the problematic ones either. Just avoid anyone who has too many irons in the fire (I'm an agent, a movie producer, a writer, and a talent scout!) and the ones that charge you anything at any time except their agent's fee. Wanting a self addressed stamped envelope is one thing, charging a "reading fee" or requiring you to pay for postage to publishers is a red flag. They get paid for selling you, not for trying to.

I spent an hour at the library a few days ago digging through various books on agents, publishing markets and so on. From that I managed to pull a few dozen potential agents. My preference is for ones that take email, not only because its cheaper and more convenient for me, but because I suspect they're the ones more likely and able to deal with the changing modern marketplace and able to handle the modern publishers. That doesn't mean someone who wants an old fashioned printed letter won't be able to do the job, it just means they might not be able to continue in the business and keep up with change.

I've sent out several dozen query letters so far. All of them were rejected, which doesn't particularly concern me. I figured it would take a while to get an agent, but that I will, eventually. All of them are terribly polite, which in a way is frustrating: if they said "your idea sucks and you'll never make it in this business" at least maybe I'd have some idea whether to keep trying or not.

In the process I've been honing my skill at writing query letters. Its less about a summary of the story and writing than it is an attempt to seduce the agent, to grab their attention and interest. They need to know some basics of the story, but even more they need something that makes them sit up and take note. That's the hard part. In a story I can take my time to develop something, in a letter like this, there's almost no time.

I'll keep pushing for Old Habits to be published, and when my PublishAmerica contract for Snowberry's Veil runs out in a year and a half or so, I'll rewrite and edit that one and try it too. By then I should have at least one more book done and ready to go. All I'm losing is time, and that keeps moving on whether I write or not.

So, I'll keep trying, and I hope you'll consider buying a copy of my fantasy novel Snowberry's Veil in the meantime.

AUDIOBOOKING

The libraries of Oregon have worked together to set up a site where you can borrow "books" online or listen to recorded readings of books, called Library2Go. This site is available to anyone with a valid library card in any of the many participating Oregon libraries, and it has a rather large selection of books. Most of them are downloads for a special Adobe reader, but you can also listen to some in MP3 or WMA format.

Some books you are even able to download and keep, but most have a limited check out period of one week. They also limit how many books you can check out at a time. All in all its a pretty great idea, and I signed on to it a few days ago to try it out.

However, the execution of this idea is pretty awful. First off, it lets you build a wishlist, but I could find nowhere on the entire site to actually access this wish list except immediately after logging on. You can set up lots of books on the list, then wait until they are available (apparently they only have one "copy" of each book available - likely some kind of copyright or accessibility laws and a deal with the publishers - and when someone else "borrows" that copy, you have to wait). But without being able to see the list, you can't see what's available and what is not.

If a book is readily "on the shelf," you can download it right away and listen to or read it online. If you have the proper software, that is. You must download the software first, and get it set up. Except the program to listen to the books requires the most up to date windows media reader and without that, it won't even download the seed to play the book. So you have to make sure that's up to date. Except the latest version of windows media needs a special codec to play the book, so you have to download that - which you do not know and cannot get until you try again to listen to the book. Finally you can listen to a book on "tape!"

Then there's the readers. I like Robert Parker's books, and I figured I'd listen to one of them as an introduction, while I did daily quests on World of Warcraft. The guy they have reading them is actor Joe Mantegna, who I really like, so I was really looking forward to the experience.

Mantegna sucks at reading books. I don't know if the producers told him to slow down and enunciate, or they think that only imbeciles listen to books on tape, or what. He reads everything with absolutely clear and perfect diction, with the exact same interval of time between each word, and with no inflections whatsoever. It was just painful, I gave up before he'd even read one page.

On the brighter side, the reading of Patrick O'Brian's unfinished final book 21 was extraordinary. Simon Vance read the book, and since he is British his voice fit the book well. He dramatized the reading with his delivery and use of different voices for characters, incredibly well delivered accents, and timing. So there are gems out there, but you have to dig for them.

Overall the entire site was a lot more work than it was worth, but now that I have it set up I can try some other books later. I can't help but think of Dick Estell who's been reading books for radio for more than 40 years now. His Radio Reader show was where I first heard books like Jaws, and he's a fantastic book reader. He used to run on NPR but I'm not sure who carries his work now.

There are sites to buy audiobooks online, but the most promising one I have seen is Simply Audiobooks, a site that works like Netflix - loaning you books on CD as long as you want, then you send them back without any late fees. If you can't find time to read but are doing work that doesn't require any reading or deep thought (gardening for example) these are a great idea. For example, Simon Vance has read the entire Aubrey-Maturin Patrick O'Brian series, and I can't recommend them highly enough. Maybe I should read my book Snowberry's Veil and make it available online....

NGOS IN HAITI

"With 10,000 NGO's do you really think Haiti has a shortage of Lawyers?"

Henry Porter and Afua Hirsh ask a question at the Guardian recently "How Can Lawyers Help Haiti?" Why would they ask this? Because they believe lawyers could perhaps find out where all the money is going and whether its being used well. Haiti, it seems, has been a hotspot for Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs).
Like, for example, what is happening to millions of extra dollars pouring into a country that already had a staggering 10,000 NGOs before the earthquake. For an island with a population of fewer than 10 million, there is at least one NGO per 1,000 people.
Why so many? Most of these organizations are there to try to help people in need, which Haiti is clearly filled with. Groups like Red Cross and UNICEF and other aid groups, doctors, groups bringing food and education and clothing and so on. The need was great, and became even greater with the devastating earthquake.

Yet, think back. Was the presence of all these groups really helping Haiti? Can it have gotten much worse if they weren't there? And does anyone really think having lots of lawyers around would make anything better? Haiti is a perfect example of a place where every top-down political and economic trick in the book has been tried, and all of them have failed not just badly, but utterly. What hasn't changed in Haiti?

The nation is ostensibly Roman Catholic, but the real religion is voodoo and the culture is almost devoid of basic values such as the virtue of hard work and the need for chastity and family. This is a nation which needs a cultural and ethical revolution. All the demands for rights and aid in the world will not help a people which will not help themselves. Haiti is a perfect example of why, ultimately, socialism is a failure. You cannot bring about change from the outside and from the top down, it has to be one by one from within. Politics don't drive social changes, they are driven by culture. Economics aren't some strange isolated pocket of reality, they are driven by culture, ethics, and society as well.

Something Americans should remember as well: you can cry for all the economic growth, comfort, and liberty from big government you want, but none of it will bring about the change we need and the life you desire without social change as well.

Quote of the Day

"Our culture's desire for all of us to be always efficient and performing our roles no matter what is actually overwriting a recognition of our humanity and what a full life involves emotionally."
-Jerome Wakefield on modern psychology

Friday, March 26, 2010

SETTING THE NARRATIVE

A few years back, legacy news producers officially rejected using the term "terrorist" to describe people who engage in terrorism, usually preferring the term "insurgent" or especially "militant." Now, courtesy Michelle Malkin we learn of yet another memo in a news organization about how to craft the narrative when they report. This time its about abortion, see if you can find the bias:
NPR News is revising the terms we use to describe people and groups involved in the abortion debate.

This updated policy is aimed at ensuring the words we speak and write are as clear, consistent and neutral as possible. This is important given that written text is such an integral part of our work.

On the air, we should use “abortion rights supporter(s)/advocate(s)” and “abortion rights opponent(s)” or derivations thereof (for example: “advocates of abortion rights”). It is acceptable to use the phrase “anti-abortion”, but do not use the term “pro-abortion rights”.
Note the presumption that abortion is a right, and the insistence that being opposed to abortion should never be described in terms of life. Of course, NPR is almost exclusively listened to by abortion fans and leftists, so perhaps they are just seeking to avoid annoying their small customer base.

LAMB CHOPS

And now for something happy and different: a lamb jumping on the bed.


Apparently the embed is having trouble right now, so here's the direct link: Leaping Lamb

WORD AROUND THE NET

"It's hard to find the producers of mass media pushing for people defined by their tight relationship with government because it is lame."

Baldilocks thought about conservative entertainment media and calls by sites like Big Hollywood for conservatives to become more involved in areas now dominated by the left, and she came to an interesting conclusion:
...conservatives have something in their favor when it comes to reclaiming the high ground in the American culture wars. It is that government remains decidedly uncool in popular media. Think about your favorite movies, books and television shows. Are the protagonists in even 1/4 of them big gubmint types? Are the heroes in your beloved films living in public housing or on welfare? Are the lead characters in your backlog of DVR 'ed TV shows employed as paper-pushing bureaucrats in some federal agency? Glancing at the fiction books stacked on top of your toilet, are your bathroom library tomes populated by men and women dependent on the various liberal do-gooders and bleeding hearts? When you pop a CD into your car stereo do the songs that serenade you to and from the supermarket urge the listener to start collecting food stamps because that's the hip thing to do?
She suggests that the conservative message of small government, individual liberty and rejecting the excesses of the left are all very popular and part of American social conscience, even if conservatives themselves have been so successfully portrayed as awful people by their political enemies. And I think she's mostly right - but that she's focusing on libertarianism rather than conservatism in this essay. Conservative ideals such as family, chastity, self restraint, and personal responsibility are less popular.

Robert Parker was one of my favorite writers, before I needed money badly and sold them all, I had almost every single Spenser book he'd written (all of them up to that point). I like his Paradise series of books as well, but the best work from Parker were his western books, and I really wish he'd started writing them earlier. The film Apaloosa, which I enjoyed a great deal, was very true to his book. I missed the news, somehow, but Robert Parker died at age 77 on January 19, sitting at his desk typing a new Spenser novel. Parker had written over 50 novels and has had many of his books turned into film and television adaptations. Parker averaged five pages a day, which I can do for a while, but he did that every day and pounded out book after book for decades. I'll miss his works. If you haven't read any, give them a try, they're all fun, although I really don't care for his Sunny Randall books. They aren't great literature, but then does everything have to be?

Argentina's left wing government is looking at seizing retirement accounts. The Argentinian government has been suffering from money problems since 2001 and things have only gotten worse. Their leftist government has been pushing more taxation, greater "social justice" and a wider social net, all of which has been pulling more and more money out of the economy and punishing people for succeeding more and more. Now they are eyeing individual retirement accounts:
Argentine President Cristina Kirchner announced this week that her government intends to nationalize the country's private pension system. If Congress approves this property grab, $30 billion in individually held retirement accounts -- think 401(k)s -- managed by private pension funds will become government property.
...
When the Argentine government ran out of money in 2001, it blamed the market and increased its own role in the economy. Since then it has imposed price controls, defaulted on its debt, seized dollar bank accounts, devalued the currency, nationalized businesses and tried to set confiscatory tax rates with the aim of making society more "fair." Mrs. Kirchner and her predecessor (and husband) Nestór Kirchner have also preserved the Peronist tradition of big spending.
How can this possibly be justified? At Q and O, McQ explains:
Mrs. Kirchner justified the proposed seizure of $30 billion in pension assets by accusing the funds of having instrumented “policies of plunder.”
Those people are making more money than the left thinks they should. That money should be seized by central government so it can be more fairly distributed. Argentina keeps spending money it doesn't have and then blames the market its killing for their inability to pay their bills. Take a look at that list of actions by the Argentinian government above and see if any of it seems familiar.

Also at Q and O is a massive list of provisions in the Government Health Insurance Takeover Act such as
  • Grant program for consumer assistance offices (Section 1002, p. 37)
  • Grant program to establish state Exchanges (Section 1311(a), p. 130)
  • Interagency Working Group on Health Care Quality (Section 3012, p. 688)
  • Independent Payment Advisory Board (Section 3403, p. 982)
  • Consumer Advisory Council for Independent Payment Advisory Board (Section 3403, p. 1027)
  • Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health (Section 4001(f), p. 1117)
  • Grant program to provide mid-career training for health professionals (Section 5206, p. 1307)
  • Grant program to promote training in mental and behavioral health (Section 5306, p. 1344)
  • Centers for Disease Control Office of Minority Health (Section 10334, p. 2272)
  • Indian Health demonstration program for chronic shortages of health professionals (S. 1790, Section 112, p. 24)
  • Indian youth life skills demonstration project (S. 1790, Section 181, p. 220)
in all there are 159 such examples in the post. Go take a look, this is going to create a massive increase in federal government jobs and thus spending.

Which perhaps explains why Washington DC is one of the few places in the country where personal income did not drop in 2009. Sara Murray reports at the Wall Street Journal:
Personal income in 42 states fell in 2009, the Commerce Department said Thursday.

Nevada's 4.8% plunge was the steepest, as construction and tourism industries took a beating. Also hit hard: Wyoming, where incomes fell 3.9%.

Incomes stayed flat in two states and rose in six and the District of Columbia. West Virginia had the best showing with a 2.1% increase. In Maine, Kentucky and Hawaii, increased government benefits, such as unemployment insurance and Social Security, offset drops in earnings and property values.
When there's economic hardship, the one place you can be sure of having great job security is the federal government. Regular folks suffer, politicians and bureaucrats do better. That's called "economic justice" and "equality" by the left.

British government officials are looking into the Hadley CRU scandal to determine wrongdoing and misuse of funds. However, recently it has been discovered that one of the hens is a fox. Andrew Orlowski reports at The Register:
The peer leading the second Climategate enquiry at the University of East Anglia serves as a director of one of the most powerful environmental networks in the world, according to Companies House documents - and has failed to declare it.

Lord Oxburgh, a geologist by training and the former scientific advisor to the Ministry of Defence, was appointed to lead the enquiry into the scientific aspects of the Climategate scandal on Monday. But Oxburgh is also a director of GLOBE, the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment.
This is much like having one of Hitler's buddies investigate Nazi Germany for war crimes: he's in on it. His organization benefits from Hadley CRU's lies, distortion, and doctoring of the data. Its like having members of the Congressional Black Caucus investigate the Congressional Black Caucus for ethical violations. Oh wait...

After a brief rise, home prices are heading downward again, with prices in 12 major markets falling for five months straight. Economists are calling this a "double dip" since the prices went down, flattened out or rose slightly, then went down again. If you look at past recessions, none of them were a continuous, smooth downward plunge, however: all had dips and rises, but always an overall trend downward until the recovery. Even the recoveries had some downward moments.

Social Security was scheduled to go bankrupt in 2017, and while President Bush and the GOP congress tried to do something about that, they failed and were accused of wanting old people to starve. Now we find that this estimate was... optimistic. Social Security is now paying out more money than its taking in this year, according to Mary Williams Walsh at the New York Times. So that's two of the three big spending entitlement programs the federal government created in the 20th century completely collapsing. Lets start a new one! This one will work better, honest.

Strategic Defaults, something I wrote about this week, are getting so problematic that Bank of America has announced a new policy. The Associated Press reports:
The bank, the largest mortgage servicer in the country, said Wednesday it will forgive up to 30 percent of some customers' total mortgage balance. The homeowners must be at least 60 days delinquent on their loans and owe more than 120 percent of their homes' value.

The plan is part of an agreement the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank reached 18 months ago with state attorneys general to settle charges over high-risk loans made by Countrywide Financial Corp. The loans were made before Bank of America acquired the mortgage lender in mid-2008. Bank of America has since stopped making those loans.

Although the motivation for Bank of America's announcement was to resolve legal problems, it has the potential of setting a precedent for other banks to also start forgiving principal on loans that are in danger of failing.
Basically, the strategy is working, if you bought a home and don't care to pay for it because its not worth as much as you hoped in your investment, well BofA is willing to cut you a deal. Great news for rich people who were flipping homes in a risky investment.

Completely unrelated to the above news, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke has warned that the government's budget outlook is "somewhat dark" and that congress needs to work on some way to reduce the deficit and debt. President Obama has a special blue-ribbon panel of hand picked experts looking at how to do this. I'd take bets on whether they'll recommend deep, austerity budget cuts or tax increases but really, who seriously doubts the outcome of that quandary?

NASA recently admitted that despite confident and absolute statements in the past about global warming and the climate, they don't really understand how clouds interact with warming and climate. In fact, they don't know much at all, but they're still really really certain that humans are causing it and we must all cripple our economies and live like cave men to stop it. Do it for Al Gore. Do it for Matt Damon.

Global Warming is causing flowers to lose their scent, according to a news story out of Asia. AsiaOne news reports:
Latif said UKM (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) might have offered plausible reasons as to why some pollinators were not spreading flower seeds, a pattern caused by the missing "scent trail" with scent tissues burning easily due to global warming.

"The aroma producing chemical compounds in flowers dry up faster now compared with before."

The only way out, he said, was to genetically modify the flowers so that the effects would not be permanent and the future generation would not be robbed of nature's beauty.

"The act is almost like producing essential oils. Scientists add on certain chemicals for stronger scent."

He said scents in flowers last longer in colder climate as plants can hold on to their essential oils longer.

"The flowers may still have strong scents in colder climate. But locally, we fear this might be lost forever."
This article is absolutely certain global warming is not just happening but is certainly causing flowers to lose their scent, and thus pollination is happening less often. The fact that the planet has been cooling, not warming for more than a decade is not addressed in this article. Very lightly touched on is the possibility that pollution might be a problem, but it is swiftly cast aside for a long discourse on the need for genetically engineering plants to have scents which won't go away when it gets hot. Oddly enough in previous warming periods, plants thrived and prospered more, not less, but apparently that's irrelevant to this story as well.

Obama's Secretary of Education, who oversaw a fall in quality of education in Chicago while in charge there is now being accused of using his position while in Chicago to aid powerful and rich friends and political donors. Chicago Breaking News reports:
While many Chicago parents took formal routes to land their children in the best schools, the well-connected also sought help through a shadowy appeals system created in recent years under former schools chief Arne Duncan.

Whispers have long swirled that some children get spots in the city's premier schools based on whom their parents know. But a list maintained over several years in Duncan's office and obtained by the Tribune lends further evidence to those charges. Duncan is now secretary of education under President Barack Obama.

The log is a compilation of politicians and influential business people who interceded on behalf of children during Duncan's tenure. It includes 25 aldermen, Mayor Richard Daley's office, House Speaker Michael Madigan, his daughter Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.
In all, three quarters of the list is made up of political allies. Defenders say that the list was kept secret because they would get overwhelmed, but clearly friends and politically useful people were told of the list so they could get hard-to-win positions for their kids in the city's best schools.

Non-profit newspaper San Francisco Public Press has won awards and is famous for digging into scandal, corruption, and governmental malfeasance but now they're getting federal money from the "stimulus" package. Many are wondering just how independent the newspaper now is and how hard they'll work at anything which might upset the gravy train. I'm wondering why a newspaper is getting federal dollars.

Andrew Breitbart is offering $10,000 to anyone who can provide video or audio proof that congressional black caucus members were called "niggers" while they walked through the tea party rally. Some of the members had cameras and all presumably had cell phones with cameras on them. There were news cameras present as well, but nobody can actually show footage or audio of these alleged shouts. The Caucus claims it happened fifteen times. So Breitbart is challenging them to show proof, and he's willing to pay for it. I don't expect proof or any sort of legacy media coverage of this to be forthcoming. Nobody seems to be upset that the left continually uses the crude and disgusting term "teabagger" when referring to the tea party rallies.

Seattle Times (now online only after the print version went out of business) is reporting that a rock was thrown through the window at the Cincinatti offices of Representative Dreihaus (D-OH). The problem with this story is that his office is on the 30th floor. As Glenn Reynolds quips "the Reds could use a guy with an arm like that." This report is being presented as proof of the dangerous, violent tea partiers and their radical extremist demands that the constitution be obeyed and government stop spending so much money on things we don't need. Meanwhile, Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VI) actually did have someone fire a shot through his office window. Cantor warned his fellow congressmen against using these events as political weapons. The Democratic leadership condemned tea partiers in response.

Iraq's economy, meanwhile, working on a business-friendly flat tax base, is growing rapidly. The country has gone from shambles and ruin to a GDP equal to that of California, and growing. Farah Stockman at the Boston Globe reports:
Traditional Wall Street investors have taken note. Iraq is now considered a safer bet than Argentina, Venezuela, Pakistan, and Dubai — and is nearly on par with the State of California, according to Bloomberg statistics on credit default swaps, which are considered a raw indicator of default risk.

“Compared to California, I’d rather bet on Iraq,’’ Daher said. “Iraq is a country where there are still bombs going off and people getting murdered, but they are less indebted than the United States. California is likely to have more demands on its resources, and there is no miracle where California is going to have more revenue coming out of the sky. Iraq has prospects for tremendously higher revenues, if they can manage to get their act halfway together, which they seem to be doing.’’
Good for Iraq. The Dinar is looking like a better and better investment.

And that's the Word Around the Net, March 26th, 2010.

Quote of the Day

"Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled."
-Michael Crichton

Thursday, March 25, 2010

STAR VALKYRIE!

"Fascinating"
-Spock

I borrowed the original "Star Trek" series on DVD from Lance, who comments here on occasion. It comes in hard plastic shells like tricorder cases and has the entire series plus some bonus material and notes. Watching these shows again, which I have not seen since the 70s in re-runs, is very revealing.

First, I've not actually seen but a few of the original series. The characters and shows were very memorable but I hadn't seen most of them, which makes this set even more entertaining.

Second, the show holds up incredibly well. Some of the episodes are a bit unsophisticated seeming by our jaded, cynical modern standards, but they still stand the test of time and the topics and ideas presented in the series are every bit as relevant today as they were at the time.

Third, the writing, acting, and even most of the effects of the first year hold up very well. I was surprised at what a good actor Shatner really is, how strong and charismatic a character he made Kirk and at how intelligent the stories and plotting are. This was good science fiction (and it shows how weak later Trek series became).

And finally, its interesting to watch how the ideas and presumptions of the show developed. The shields were originally called "screens." The United Federation of Planets wasn't what their organization was called in the first few episodes (I cannot remember the name, it wasn't very memorable). They didn't even have shuttles in the first few ones that were filmed: when the transporter didn't work, they couldn't get to the planet. And Chekov wasn't in the first season: he was added in the second season because Soviets complained it wasn't really representative of earth and the Soviet Union's space exploration.

PS: Russians really can pronounce V's. Unless they have a bizarre speech impediment.

Also, recently we watched Valkyrie on Netflix. I am not a Tom Cruise fan, especially lately as he's become increasingly lunatic, but he really is entertaining to watch in most movies. He doesn't have much range but he's interesting on screen which I guess is his job. The movie Valkyrie is said to be very historically accurate, down to the uniforms and details on planes, which is typical of modern cinema. The stories might be awful, the directors might stomp all over your eyeballs and the actors might be dull but pretty, the CGI might be overdone and annoying, but the set design, costuming, and so on will all be really, really good.

Valkyrie is about the final attempt to assassinate Hitler during WW2. There were dozens of attempts, but this one came the closest. You'll have to see the movie to get the full impact of that, because there's quite a bit more to the plot than simply killing him. As Colonel Stauffenberg, Cruise asks wisely: what then? What do you have planned after Hitler is dead? And that's what the movie is primarily about. Despite knowing how it all turns out (obviously the plot failed) the writer and director do an excellent job of keeping the sense of drama and interest up. This was a good movie I recommend. After all the stinkers we've gotten lately on Netflix, its a nice change.

What was particularly of interest to me in Valkyrie was the underlying narrative which probably the German government and people appreicated. The character played by Kenneth Branagh (small role - the movie is packed with great actors) says this line: "We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler's Germany." And that, really, is what this film is about. Sure, the plot is the attempted assassination, but the story is that there were people who rejected Hitler's evil and fought against it, even if they failed.

Today, there is a monument to the German Resistance, with Stauffenberg and the others involved memorialized and honored for their attempt to stop the evil and be true to their country rather than its mad leader and evil government. Valkyrie ends with the inscription on a placque in the memorial:

You did not bear the shame.
You resisted.
You bestowed an eternally vigilant symbol of change by sacrificing your impassioned lives for freedom, justice and honor.
Perhaps not a majority, but many Germans opposed Hitler and the Nazis and those men were well represented in this film. Ultimately, their sacrifice meant more than they knew: they were some of the brightest and best leaders and military command that Germany had left after killing off men like Rommel. Without them to lead, the German army was a ghost of what it was in the start of the war and thus their defeat was more swift and less costly in lives than it might have been with better leadership.

TRANSPARENCY NEVERTHELESS

"all House 'Blue Dogs' are really just 'Yellow Dogs' in a colorful costume."

Something I've touched on a few times in past posts is that the way government used to do things doesn't work any longer. I don't mean it cannot succeed in passing legislation and advancing policy, I mean it doesn't work to hide how its done and keep getting reelected. In The Nelson Blunder I explained why I don't think the strategy of enslaving millions to government programs will result in more numerous Democratic Party victories, even if it has in the past.

From a different angle, David Keene explains why what I said is true. At Big Government, Keene writes:
When I came to town in the early seventies “transparency” was a photographic rather than a political term. Legislation was written in back rooms by Congressional grandees, votes were traded for bridges, highways and no one outside Washington was much the wiser.

In those days, more than a few Congressional and Senate offices had three basic “robotyped” letters to send to constituents concerning pending legislation. The first went to those who supported it and assured the writer that the Congressman or Senator shared their views and supported them. The second said virtually the same thing to those who opposed the bill except that it assured them that the signer shared their objections and was opposed as well. The third sympathized with those who had questions and were undecided on the wisdom of the pending legislation and assured them that their elected representative too was agonizing over how to best represent them when the legislation came up for a vote.

Since there were multiple votes before final passage, these letters often cited votes reflecting the member’s basic agreement with the constituent and allowed him to vote pretty much as he wanted without fear that anyone would skewer him for the hypocrisy that allowed him to be for or against pending legislation before he finally voted the other way on final passage.

Those letters don’t work any more.
He goes on to say what I've been saying: voters are more informed now, with C-Span, the internet, and talk radio. What was previously hidden in the system is revealed and out in the open. The "sausage making" process of congressional action is now understood and reported on when before it was largely ignored.

Passing out bribes to get people to vote for legislation isn't new, its always been going on. What's new is that we're hearing about it. The truth is that while congress and the president squirm and break promises in order to avoid real transparency, it has come to them anyway. And that's only good for the future of America. Good for the voters, bad for the political future of a lot of old style politicians.

PICTURE OF THE DAY


Why is Ronnie Wood at the Government Health Insurance Takeover Act passing celebration?

Quotes of the Day

“The harsh fact of the matter is when you’re going to pass legislation that will cover 300 [million] American people in different ways it takes a long time to do the necessary administrative steps that have to be taken to put the legislation together to control the people.
-Senator Dingell (D-MI)

"Full protection for children will not come until 2014"
-Kate Cyrul

"We, as consumers, are going to have to change our spending habits. We'll have to stop demanding the latest of everything because we think it's the best."
-Dr. Tim Johnson

"...the wealthy are getting way, way too wealthy, and the middle income class is left behind. Wages have not kept up with increased income of the highest income in America. This legislation will have the effect of addressing that mal-distribution of income in America."
-Senator Baucus (D-MO)

"The bill that President Obama signed on Tuesday is the federal government’s biggest attack on economic inequality since inequality began rising more than three decades ago..."
-David Leonhardt, New York Times

"Well, the drug companies will have their profits reduced by close to $90 billion over the lifetime of this bill. That's part of the strategy moving forward."
-Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

"When Senator Clinton says a mandate, it's not a mandate on government to provide health insurance. It's a mandate on individuals to purchase it. Massachusetts has a mandate right now. They have exempted 20% of the uninsured because they've concluded that that 20% can't afford it. In some cases, there are people who are paying fines and still can't afford it so now they're worse off than they were. They don't have health insurance and they're paying a fine. (applause) In order for you to force people to get health insurance, you've got to have a very harsh, stiff penalty."
-President Obama describing exactly the bill he pushed and signed during the presidential debates

"This is f***ing huge!"
-Vice President Joe Biden

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

INCONSISTENCY

"Reminds me of one of those palaces Saddam had, you know the one with the solid gold toilet?"

Its kind of unfair to Sally Struthers, but every time I saw her blimpish form on television next to scrawny, starving kids telling us all how we should give money to help feed the hungry in other nations I couldn't help thinking "how about giving them half your food." I wonder what the kids thought of a crew showing up with cameras and lights, a big buffet, all fat and sleek and healthy for a brief visit speaking some language they didn't know, then leaving them back where they started.

More recently, former Japanese pin-up model Agnes Chan has been talking about saving the Somali children, who are hard hit by the nearly continual war in their country. The people of Somalia were so small and thin that grunts started calling them "skinnies" while in the country under the leadership of UN peacekeeping forces. There is a real problem for these kids, that's a valid concern just like Sally Strothers' commercials dealt with a real problem of starvation and hardship for children. Its especially hard to see that and most people want to help when they can.

Yet, take a look at miss Chan's home in Japan:


Now, look I'm not saying you have to live in poverty if you want to help others. I'm not saying that if you - like miss Chan - are a UNICEF spokesman you have to give up everything to show the way. But there comes a point at which you have to think "hey, maybe if you sold one of your gold plated rococo couches, you could afford to buy a few lunches for some kids."

I am simply thinking that if your house looks like the Versailles, chances are you ought to dial back a bit on telling other people how to spend their money to help others. Like Al Gore preaching about conspicuous consumption, the need to pollute less and use less energy, and the importance of moving away from fossil fuels while flying around the world, riding in limousines, and living in several vast, massively energy-consuming homes, the message sort of gets lost in your lack of consistency.

Miss Chan has a sort of record of doing embarrassing things, like doing a special show about the starving kids in Somalia. In it she interviewed children and presented the entire episode as if she was in Somalia, when she was in fact in neighboring Somaliland, which is much smaller and has not been torn by war for decades. Its also safer. Like Miss Struthers, she's probably sort of dim but means well (and apparently has little taste).

UNICEF is threatening to sue the Japanese news paper, claiming it is defaming miss Chan for reporting that she spent their funds on a lavish, luxurious tour while filming the Somaliland segment. I think they miss the point. She's defaming herself and UNICEF by these sort of stunts - and UNICEF is defaming its self by their support and defense of her with donated funds.

The problem is people who do head up and act as spokesmen for a lot of these huge charities do tend to live in (sometimes multiple) palaces and tend to be less than entirely consistent, informed, and intelligent about their cause and what they do. Not all of them are quite as tacky as miss Chan, but there's way too many people running big charities with 7 figure incomes and multiple massive homes in lush locations.