Olympics For Sale, Part 2
Bush Ads Could Cost N.Y. in 2012
The Bush campaign's use of the Olympics in advertisements for the president may have cost New York City, now hosting the Republican convention, a shot at hosting the Summer Olympics in 2012. The Bush ad, touting the inclusion of "two more free nations," Afghanistan and Iraq, in this year's Olympics, has reportedly outraged Olympic officials and prejudiced them against the Big Apple. An International Olympic Committee (IOC) official quoted in the German Newspaper Der Spiegel said, "The chances of New York City to host the games were already not very good. Now they have dropped to near zero." Last week after Iraq's soccer team advanced to the quarterfinals, Iraqi midfielder Salih Sadir voiced his own feelings on the ads: "Iraq as a team does not want Mr. Bush to use us for the presidential campaign," Sadir told Sports Illustrated. "He can find another way to advertise himself." Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis has also spoken out against the ads, saying, "Of course, we've invaded Iraq and are in there and are using it for political gain. It bewilders me, and I understand why the Iraqi players are offended."
Remember, New York, George Bush truly cares about you.
One Book, One Chicago
I just came across this delightful essay on the "One Book, One Chicago" reading series (as well as comparable programs in other cities) by Marta Segal Block in The Common Review.
Why are our libraries and civic groups trying to depress us? Is it our country's Puritan background that makes us think if we enjoy something it can't be good for us? Is it our cultural moment of renewed seriousness? Our effort to reconnect with tragedy at every level? Or is it just that many of the people on these committees are would-be teachers eager to dole out the punishment of a tear-jerking assignment?
The Franzen dig was rather nice, as well. I'm heading out to run an errand in a few minutes, and I hope to find a copy of The Common Review at Borders. Looks like a good one.
Oh, That Freedom-Loving Rudy
Yikes. Stalin couldn't have said this any more clearly.
"Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do."
--Rudolph Guiliani, 1998
I'll bet Rudy wishes he was still mayor of NYC this week, and personally directing the blunt-force "ceding to lawful authority" on the streets around Madison Square Garden. I sent the quote to friend Fred, who added the following comment:
They left out his next sentence: "And I am that authority".
Photo of the Week
If Mr. James wasn't a happily married man, I'll bet he'd love saying this to women in bars.
God's success: Joliet resident says his 57-inch zucchini is a miracle
By Janet Lundquist, Joliet Herald-News
JOLIET — Salim James believes God performed a miracle in his garden this summer. In fact, he's sure of it.
This summer, James' backyard garden produced a 57-inch zucchini, which measures four inches longer than the world's longest zucchini listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, which was measured in October 2002.
"This is not my success, this is God's success," said James, 66, of Joliet.
More Thoughts on Workshopping
Young poets have been deluded into thinking that if everybody sits around and talks about a text, then it's a kind of democratic procedure and everybody has a voice. The muse is not an equal-opportunity employer. It doesn't work that way.
Remember, kids, it's your work, and not that of the snarky grad-school lifer over in the corner.
Strong Advice for Fledgling Writers
I'm working my way through the current issue of Tin House and I like what I've seen so far. They sent it to me as a complimentary gift, hoping I'd be encouraged to subscribe, but I'm not at all ashamed to say that was never my intention. In fact, I've already returned the bill, marking it "CANCEL." I think I prefer single issues of lit journals to subscriptions--with the latter, there's always the dread that a new issue is coming soon, and I'd damned well better get reading the current one even if I'd rather be reading something else. I'm already two issues behind on my reading of The Believer, even though I enjoy that mag quite a bit.
Anyway, Tin House is quite good so far. I thoroughly enjoyed Steven Millhauser's "The Room in the Attic" (mysterious, mesmerizing) and I'm partway through Tony Swofford's interview of Chris Offutt. Offutt has some interesting insights on creative writing, particularly for novices:
Student writers are working in an artificial artistic environment. They've got to turn in a fifteen-page short story by Thursday. It becomes a deadline or an assignment. There is enormous pressure to produce something that's good in this minimum time. This is contrary to both learning and making art. Once you start writing something with the idea that it will be exposed to the world--the self-consciousness that you're writing it for other people to read--you lose the whole point of writing because you start protecting yourself, either from exposing yourself emotionally or from the possibility of comments that will make you feel bad. Once you start doing that, you're doomed. And that's something that's very difficult for student writers to understand, that you have to dispense with the artificiality of the workshop setting. You have to go to "I-don't-give-a-f***-villle" in order to write.
Luckily, I'm in that neighborhood almost all the time.
Literary Recognition, At Last!
I am very pleased to announce that I just won the Fast Fiction Contest at Writer's Resource Center for my piece "Blown." The prize is modest (the book The Economical Guide to Self-Publishing) but the intrinsic reward is priceless.
I apologize for succeeding at the expense of Bob Dylan, whom I do indeed admire and never find irritating. (Okay, replace "never" with "only sometimes."). When I first read the contest rule (story must include a number), I thought of the old Dilbert strip which quotes the famous "How many angels can fit on the head of a pin?" rhetorical question and concludes with Dogbert saying "I don't care what he says, the number is six!"
Rather than rip off Dilbert, I tried to think of other rhetorical questions for which the answer was a number. Which immediately brought "Blowin' in the Wind" to mind. Sorry, Bob.
I'm already contemplating what I might work on for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November. I've worked on Eden for the past two NaNoWriMo's, and though I have a finished first draft I've been rather remiss in editing the manuscript into a serviceable first revision. I still care quite a bit about Eden and would like to see it through to completion, which means it's probably not a good idea to start up the distraction of a brand new novel in November.
So I've been thinking. I'm pretty good at writing one-page story fragments that I never seem to expand into fully-developed stories. Thus to blast my way past this inertia I've decided to write nothing but short stories for this year's NaNoWriMo. I checked the calendar, and I have twenty working days in November that I can count on as productive time. (I do most of writing on my sixty-minute train ride to and from work, with not much writing accomplished at home due to various responsibilities and distractions.)
My goal: Attaining the 50,000 words by writing twenty short stories of 2,500 words each. That might even be more of a challenge than writing a single 50,000 word novel in a month. On December 1st, if all goes according to plan, I should have a very healthy reservoir of short story material to refine into finished product. And it seems like short story collections are coming into favor lately, so that might improve my publication potential beyond that of my 19th Century canal-and-farm epic.
Don't Believe the Hype
David Kirby had an amusing piece in Sunday's Chicago Tribune. Kirby had previously reviewed David Foster Wallace's new story collection Oblivion, giving a rather guarded recommendation which Kirby summarizes as follows:
I said Oblivion is an extremely demanding read, a hyper-realistic type of fiction with sophisticated philosophical underpinnings and a worthy book in many ways, though one intended for readers with very specialized tastes--in other words, not a beach novel.
Yet somehow the marketing honchos at Little, Brown generously interpolated Kirby's review to come up with the following pull quote:
'Superb.' David Kirby, Chicago Tribune.
Obviously, quite a stretch. Kirby goes on to discuss other dubious pull quotes, after rather nicely describing how a reviewer's words can be completely taken out of context:
Thus a jacket might trumpet "Amazing . . . constantly surprises . . . great fun for the reader" when the actual quote was something like "Amazing piece of drivel that constantly surprises with its total and complete inanity, thus providing great fun for the reader who truly knows the difference between competent writing and complete ineptitude."
Conclusion? When reading pull quotes as presented by publishers, bear in mind what Lou Reed once undeniably said: "Don't believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear."
A Question of Names
The American Patriot Committee had solemnly convened. The three men sat behind a long, elevated table, imperious, in starched shirts and dark wool suits despite the simmering August heat. The ceiling fans clacked-clacked endlessly overhead, casting intermittent shadows across the flesh of their considerable foreheads. They were serious to the pointing of being grim, in no mood for any talk other than the defendant trying to explain himself.
“You were involved with Local 37 of the electricians’ union, am I correct, Mr. Lehrer?” the man on the right said, not looking up from the sheaf of papers which he compulsively shuffled.
“Yesss,” the defendant replied slowly, drawing out the syllable, stalling as he tried to figure out where the panel was going with this line of questioning. “I organized for them.”
“Hmmm, yes, organized,” the man said. “Nice word for it, organized. You are also familiar then, Mr. Lehrer, with Joseph Messmer.”
“Yes, he heads the local,” Nathan Lehrer replied flatly.
“Yes he does. That and much more. It’s an established fact, Mr. Lehrer, that Joseph Messmer takes his orders directly from Moscow.”
“I wouldn’t know anything about that,” Lehrer insisted, tension rising slightly in his voice.
“You wouldn’t, eh? I think you do. I think you know quite a bit about it.”
He said nothing. Here he was, about to be branded like the others.
He had dinner with Messmer on just two occasions, even refusing the other’s offer of a nightcap the first time, so wary was he of Messmer’s reputation. All Lehrer wanted to do was sign up as many journeymen to the union as he could, and Messmer had intimated that he knew the right strategy for Lehrer to take. So Lehrer accepted the first dinner offer, only to have Messmer quickly dispense with all talk of organizing laborers in favor of more abstract discussion of class warfare and the justification of armed revolt.
Messmer’s dangerous talk unnerved Lehrer, for whom the dinner couldn’t end quickly enough.
Why he ever accepted Messmer’s second invitation he would never be able to explain. Messmer had been conciliatory, apologizing for how he had gotten off the subject Lehrer was interested in, and insisted that their next talk would consist of nothing but organizing.
Lehrer joined Messmer again, warily this time, but Messmer quickly reverted to talk of revolt, and Lehrer excused himself and left before their soup even had a chance to cool.
Just two meetings, one of them brief and neither one damning to Lehrer, and yet here he was before the Committee, trying to remain calm as his fate was coldly determined.
“We don’t really want you, Mr. Lehrer,” the man on the right said, suddenly trying to sound reassuring. Lehrer wasn’t buying it, not by any means.
“We’re more interested in people you may know.”
Ignorance is Bliss
Biting words for Condi Rice--and implicitly for Dubya--from former Iraq weapons inspector David Kay:
In uncharacteristically caustic remarks about his former colleagues, the weapons inspector, David Kay, said the National Security Council had failed to protect President Bush from faulty prewar intelligence and had left Secretary of State Colin L. Powell "hanging out in the wind" when he tried to gather intelligence before the war about Iraq's weapons programs.
"Where was the N.S.C?" Dr. Kay asked, suggesting that the president had come to depend too heavily on information supplied by Ms. Rice, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, and that the president needed to reach out to others for national security information.
"Every president who has been successful, at least that I know of, in the history of this republic, has developed both informal and formal means of getting checks on whether people who tell him things are in fact telling him the whole truth."
True, but this is a man who willingly admits to not reading newspapers (other than perhaps the comics page for "Nancy", "Garfield" and an occasional stab at "Junior Jumble") or following other media sources, since he's so confident that his cabinet will give him all the information he needs. ("Mr. President, I'm pretty sure that 'HSIF' is 'FISH'.")
Either Dubya doesn't want to know the truth--which might, after all, conflict with his predetermined dogma--or Rice has simply been telling him what she knows he wants to hear. Or both.
Irene Zabytko, When Luba Leaves Home
My original intention for this site was to present my own writings as well as my impressions of noteworthy books I was reading. While I've done a decent job of keeping up with my writings, circumstances beyond my control--i.e. dread of another four years of George Bush, and the will to prevent such a catastrophe--have largely precluded book commentary. I'm going to try rectifying this by getting back to at least a basic level of commentary.
Which brings us to Irene Zabytko's warm, wonderful collection of short stories, When Luba Leaves Home, which I just finished reading. The stories all revolve around Ukrainian immigrants in Chicago's Ukrainian Village neighborhood during the late 1960s. The narrator, Luba (clearly a proxy for Zabytko herself) inevitably tries to free herself from the confines of her parents' generation and the neighborhood.
Had the book limited itself to this theme, it might have become just another coming-of-age story. But interestingly, she grows increasingly distant from her friends of her own generation as she finds herself drawing closer and closer to her parents' generation. The characters of her own generation are somewhat flat, almost archetypes, and the stories which primarily involve them aren't very engaging. But the older characters are richly and vividly drawn, and the stories surrounding them are extremely well-done and quite often beautiful. The story "The Last Boat," in which Luba tells of her relationship with her dying, widower Uncle Dutka, is particulary lovely and unforgettable.
While this is a collection of short stories, with each able to stand alone on its own merits, there is enough interconnection between the stories that the book almost reads like a novel. This is a trend I've noticed recently in short story collections (other examples are Stuart Dybek's I Sailed With Magellan, John McNally's The Book of Ralph and David Bezmozgis' Natasha: And Other Stories); whether or not this is a new development, I can't say for sure.
Another Polite Rejection
My short story, "Can't Be Happy Today, But Tomorrow," has been declined by The First Line. It's somewhat of a special purpose piece that's unlikely to get published elsewhere, so I've put it up on my Writings page.
Unlike last time, I'm having a bit of trouble shaking this one off. I was really pleased with this story and thought it had a good chance for acceptance. That makes two up and two down. The next TFL first line is "The inside is dark," which seems pretty vague, enough so that I'm not sure whether or not it will inspire another story from me.
Olympics For Sale
If I recall correctly, it was just a few years ago that the Olympics people (either the IOC or USOC, I don't remember which) was cracking down left and right on unauthorized use of the word "Olympics." I think the gay/lesbian organizers of what became known as the Gay Games were the main target, although there were others as well. (The Olympics people had just enough heart not to force the Special Olympics to change its name.)
So why in the world can Dubya get away with exploiting the Olympics in this campaign ad? Does the IOC really not mind that its goodwill is being used in an election campaign, especially for the benefit of a man who does not particularly reflect its ideals ("tolerance, equality, fair play and, most of all, peace")?
Am I missing something here?
John Darnielle, Kingmaker
The ever-wonderful John Darnielle (el grande Mountain Goat) says, at Last Plane to Jakarta, that he'll be voting for John Kerry as the lesser of two multimillionaire, war-mongering evils:
If I have to have a Christian running the country I'd rather it be a Papist, who'll at least have some sense of decorum, than a born-again, who believes that the last days are just around the corner...
But, good public servant that he is, John selflessly offers his More Deserving Presidential Candidates list (in two parts, here and here). While his arguments in favor of Tupac Shakur ("If Tupac can release more albums after his death than most people can muster in a whole career, then conquering terrorism, global warming, and the credibility gap should be a small matter for him and his posse.") and Bobby Womack are compelling, I'll have to go with Liza. What wonders she would do for international relations.
A fascinating, and troubling, item from this month's The Atlantic. Want a more secure homeland? Short of permanently encarcerating radicalized Muslims (dream on, John Ashcroft), how about a small investment in 100 more Muslim chaplains?
Which is more likely to breed anti-Americanism and radical Islam—an American-run prison in Iraq, or an American-run prison in America? The depredations at Abu Ghraib notwithstanding, a report from the Department of Justice suggests that the answer may be the latter.
Despite recent cautionary examples like Jose Padilla, who is believed to have been radicalized in prison before allegedly plotting to detonate a dirty bomb (the shoe bomber Richard Reid is thought to have been similarly radicalized in a British prison), the Justice Department reports that safeguards against religious extremism in federal prisons are still remarkably lax. No national Islamic organization is currently authorized by the Bureau of Prisons to approve new Muslim chaplains, which has led to an acute clerical shortage. There is currently only one chaplain for every 900 Muslim inmates, and no new Muslim chaplains have been hired since 2001.
This gap is being filled by inmate-led prayer sessions—and inmates, according to interviews with prison officials and Muslim chaplains, are likely to radicalize their fellow prisoners, urging them to overthrow the U.S. government (because "Muslims aren't cowards," as one group of converts was taught) and preaching a breed of "Prison Islam" that distorts Koranic teaching to promote violence and gang loyalty.
France has already seen the results of a similar trend, the report notes. In French prisons inmates exercise considerable control over Muslim worship, creating a "terrorist university" that spreads anti-Semitic and anti-Western tapes, books, and pamphlets throughout the penal system.
National Preparedness Month. Oy...
Bob Harris, cohort of the esteemed Tom Tomorrow of This Modern World, has a biting essay at AlterNet.org on National Preparedness Month, the Bush Administration's latest thinly-disguised election ploy. You don't have to be cynical to see through this ruse.
On 9/11 itself, there's a "NASCAR race in Richmond" listed. This would be the "Chevy Rock 'N' Roll 400" at the Richmond International Raceway. Obviously, a NASCAR race has nothing – nothing – whatsoever to do with homeland security. It is, however, a GOP-friendly event in Virginia, a battleground state where Bush's lead is within the margin of error.
Hmm. There are two other NASCAR races in September: one in New Hampshire, the other in Delaware. Both are solidly in the Kerry camp. And, gosh, nothing is scheduled. Apparently non-swing state voters just don't need to be quite so, ahem, "prepared."
If we don't see "preparedness" rallies at the other two races – and they ain't scheduled, folks – that certainly suggests Bush & Co. are using fear as a political tool.
To The Point
I like most of the finalists, but none more so than this gem which also missed the cut. The imagery of "the clanging of snails ricocheting up the hoover nozzle" is just wonderful. Catherine Casale should be deservedly proud of her effort.
Nice interview here with Art Spiegelman about his upcoming 9/11-haunted book, In The Shadow of No Towers. This will be one of the rare books that I purchase new, immediately upon release. (Aleksandar Hemon's next novel will be the next, whenever that blessed event might be.)
I wish I could do comics about "My Year in Provence," or something. But so far it has been the painful realities that I can barely grasp that force me to the drawing table. I'm kind of hoping my next work will be a humorous bedroom farce about the amusing foibles of the upper middle class, intercut with succulent dessert recipes. Unfortunately, I seem to have a rather grotesque muse.
Quote of the Year
Please, please, please let this not be what he really meant to say.
"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."
--George W. Bush, August 5, 2004
So our enemy is whom, exactly?
Later, press secretary Scott McClellan assured reporters that Bush had no intent to harm Americans.
Or at least not using methods as brutally obvious as Al Qaeda's. This administration is much more subtle than that.
Rather, it "just shows even the most straightforward and plain-spoken people misspeak. The American people know this president speaks with clarity and conviction," McClellan said. "And the terrorists know by his actions he means it."
My, what a fun job Scott McClellan has.
Photo of the Week, Photographer of the Century
Henri Cartier-Bresson has passed away, at 95. Words fail me. I'll let the New York Times take it from here.
But he was far more than a gifted photojournalist. He combined a Rabelaisian appetite for the world with a clarity of vision and intellectual rigor that linked him to French masters like Poussin. His wit, lyricism and ability to see the geometry of a fleeting image and capture it in the blink of an eye reshaped and created a new standard for the art of photography. If in later years a certain sentimentality crept into some of his pictures, his best photographs, many of them from the 1930's, when he most strongly bore the imprint of Surrealism, are simply among the best works of 20th-century art.
In 1932, he stuck his camera between the slats of a fence near the St.-Lazare railway station in Paris at precisely the right instant and captured a picture of the watery lot behind the station, strewn with debris. A man has propelled himself from a ladder that lies in the water. Photographs of puddle jumpers were clichés then, but Mr. Cartier-Bresson brings to his image layer on layer of fresh and uncanny detail: the figure of a leaping dancer on a pair of posters on a wall behind the man mirrors him and his reflection in the water; the rippling circles made by the ladder echo circular bands of discarded metal debris; another poster, advertising a performer named Railowsky, puns with the railway station and the ladder, which, flat, resembles a railroad track.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Hamsun
From the always-interesting Writer's Almanac at Minnesota Public Radio:
It's the birthday of novelist Knut Hamsun, born Knut Pedersen in Lom, Norway (1859). Author of Hunger (1890) and Growth of the Soil (1917), he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1920. He said, "Language must resound with all the harmonies of music. The writer must always, at all times, find the tremulous word which captures the thing and is able to draw a sob from my soul by its very rightness. A word can be transformed into a color, light, a smell. It is the writer's task to use it in such a way that it serves, never fails, can never be ignored."
As I've said on countless occasions, Hunger has been my favorite novel for nearly twenty years now. I've recommended it to nearly everyone I know, and recently sent a spare copy to my niece Beth to try to indoctrinate the current generation of readers as well. Like many writers, Hamsun failed to maintain the effervesence of his earliest writings, and his novels become rather conventional as he got older. But, ironically, it was the plodding farming epic Growth of the Soil that won him the Nobel Prize.
Counterterrorism or Bureaucracy?
But of course...given the choice between sacrificing bureaucratic power and actually protecting the American people, power will win out every time. From a New York Times editorial:
There are a variety of credible ways to construct the job, whether in the cabinet or not, but what Mr. Bush proposed is not one of them. His intelligence director would be in the worst of all worlds: cut out of the president's inner circle and lacking any real power. Andrew Card Jr., Mr. Bush's chief of staff, said the post would not carry real authority over the intelligence agencies' budgets or intelligence jobs in the Pentagon, the Justice Department and other agencies. The decision bore the unmistakable stamp of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who was never going to willingly give up control of appointments or his share of the intelligence budget: $32 billion of the overall $40 billion.
More Fast Fiction
I've resumed doing submissions for the Fast Fiction contest at Writer's Resource Center. This week's project required that each sentence begin with the letter "r." However, I really don't agree with the judge's decision on the winning entry. To me, starting off each of the first three sentences with "rich people" sounds more like a political speech, not creative fiction. Blame the DNC, I guess.
Here's my entry:
"Rightly so," the old man intoned.
Reginald Travers always spoke in this tone of voice: deliberate, sonorous, formal to the point of stiffness. Rain fell icily on our heads, but Travers was oblivious to the discomfort as he gravely endorsed my proposal.
Recently I had endured a relentless series of misfortunes, and now I was at a loss. Rich I never was to begin with, in either wealth or prospects, and now my accounts were severely diminished in both aspects.
Respectfully, grudgingly, I turned to the only man who could help me. Reginald Travers, my late father's sworn enemy.
The Tribune's series from last week on Loop obscurities and arcana was pretty interesting, but none more so than this item, one of the most low-profile pieces that they ran:
In 1833, William (or, according to some accounts, Willard) Jones started a farm at the northwest corner of Clark and Monroe Streets. Eleven years later, when he began selling off parts of his farm for development, Jones included a covenant in the sales contracts giving him the right to use a path through the property to bring his cow to a nearby pasture.
Despite a succession of owners and vast changes in what became Chicago's downtown, the easement was held binding in 1925, so a 22-story office structure, erected three years later, had to be built around and over the path.
Today, the 10-foot-wide, 18-foot-tall pathway--looking like a private alley--can be seen behind a metal gate just west of the building entrance at 100 W. Monroe.
One of my personal favorites, Calvin Trillin, apparently has a winner with Obliviously On He Sails: The Bush Administration in Rhyme, a new collection of "deadline poems" about Dubya and his cronies. Ever humble, Trillin is comfortable in what he assumes to be non-notoriety.
"I think Linda Ronstadt could safely dedicate a song to me," he said, in his trademark deadpan. "People might say, `Who?' but they wouldn't get up and throw a drink at her."