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Novel in Progress

I've reached a major milestone. Eden (or, more accurately, Furrows Through the Earth, the current prospective title) is now officially transcribed from longhand and is in manuscript form. 81 standard-sized pages with roughly 55,000 words (about 200 pages in book form), bound in a substantial cover and ready for the first of what will undoubtedly be many rewrites. I can't adequately describe how thoroughly satisfying it is to have this creation of mine in such a substantially tangible form, even if it's far from being finished.

Browsing through the manuscript on my train last night, I'm both satisfied and dissatisfied with the results. I'm quite happy with the narrative itself. I think it's a pretty good story, and I've been relatively successful in synthesizing several diverse historical themes. But while I intentionally tried to keep it minimalist and understated, I think the writing might be a bit too plain right now. I still don't think the descriptions accurately reflect the story's physical setting that I have in my mind's eye. And some of the themes need to be expounded upon, while others need to be downplayed somewhat to avoid them being too brutally obvious. It's what's left unsaid that makes truly great fiction.

Well, I certainly didn't expect to have a finished product already. This is all a process, and I'm sure my narrative will fluctuate quite a bit before I'm finished. But I think I'm off to a very good start. Now I just need to keep at it.

March 31, 2004 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

More Vonnegut

Vonnegut's wry take on the literary life, from Galapagos:

That was another thing people used to be able to do, which they can't do anymore: enjoy in their heads events which hadn't happened yet and which might never occur. My mother was good at that. Someday my father would stop writing science fiction, and write something a whole lot of people wanted to read instead. And we would get a new house in a beautiful city, and nice clothes, and so on. She used to make me wonder why God had ever gone to all the trouble of creating reality.

March 31, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Alistair Cooke

Alistair Cooke just passed away, at age 95. (The New York Times published a very nice tribute to this fine man.) Best known in America as the host of "Masterpiece Theatre," he was actually most noteworthy for his weekly "Letter from America" segment on BBC radio, which ran with only an occasional break for nearly 58 years, from 1946 until this year--a total of 2,869 broadcasts.

He was a journalist in the finest sense of the word. Here is his description of the 1962 defeat of middleweight boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson:

"When it was over, Sugar Ray flexed his calves for the last time and did a little hobbling dance over to embrace the victor, who was pink and sweaty and very happy, identifiable on the scorecard as Denny Moyer of Portland, Ore., but on closer inspection was that bearded figure with a scythe Sugar Ray had dreaded to meet."

March 30, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Jayson Blair, Update Your Resumé

I guess there's hope for the American reading public after all. Whiny, self-serving, disgraced-journalists-turned-memoirists need not apply.

Jayson Blair Book Flops
By Hillel Italie

March 18, 2004 | NEW YORK (AP) -- Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass, two young journalists notorious for fabricating stories, have something else in common: Both have written highly publicized books that few people are buying.

Blair, a former New York Times reporter, received a six-figure advance for "Burning Down My Master's House." Published March 6, the book had an announced first printing of 250,000 and plenty of media coverage, including author interviews with Katie Couric on NBC and Larry King on CNN.

But in its first nine days of publication, the book only sold about 1,400 copies, according to Nielsen BookScan. Figures from Nielsen usually represent about 70 percent of total sales.

"Jayson Blair's book is currently not selling particularly well, but frankly I don't think that comes as much of a surprise, given the amount of ink already spilled on this topic," Daniel Blackman, vice president and general manager of Barnes & Noble.com, said. "Keep in mind that the audience for this book, are for the most part, the very same readers who've already consumed the extensive Times coverage in the aftermath of the scandal. I think they already know all they need to on the subject."

March 29, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (4)

Dan Curley

Despite my lifelong interest in reading and my more recent fiction-writing efforts, I was inexplicably focused on getting a business degree at the University of Illinois. For some reason I took only a handful of literature classes and only two rhetoric classes, one of which was just a generic required freshman writing class.

But one of the more rewarding classes I ever took, I realize now, was that other rhetoric class. It was a narrative writing course taught by Dan Curley, whom--I only learned much later--was a fairly renowned short-story writer. Curley was quite a character. Curmudgeonly, sometimes sneering at the class, sometimes being crusty-with-heart-of-gold helpful. His wardrobe--battered old sweaters, dark wool slacks, boots--wasn't markedly different than that of many of the homeless people seen around campus, a resemblance made even more pronounced by his greasy, unkempt hair.

But he had generally positive things to say about my writing. (You'd think such encouragement would have inspired me to get serious about my writing well before reaching my mid-thirties. But for some reason this wasn't the case.) He particularly liked a line from one of my stories--"Sorry doesn't change things"--and told the class he'd like to have that written on a sign to hang in his office. I actually considered having one made for him, but never got around to it.

What I liked best about Curley was his refreshing, humorous and occasionally brutal candor. I remember him reading one of my classmates' stories aloud. It was one of those self-absorbed memoir-masquerading-as-fiction pieces so endemic to undergrad rhetoric courses. The story consisted entirely of a girl sitting by a lake with her boyfriend, with her talking endlessly of their relationship and future together, and the boyfriend quietly listening. (To the girl/writer, he was listening intently and compassionately, but to everyone else--especially to Curley--it was obvious he was bored to tears.)

After several tedious pages of the girl's monologue, Curley stopped reading, put down the manuscript, and leaned back in his chair. He took off his glasses, rubbed his tired eyes, put the glasses back on, and crossed his arms in deep thought. Then, partly to himself and partly to the class at large, he sighed and said one of my favorite quotations of all time:

"No, no, this doesn't work at all. I think the guy definitely would have been trying to cop a feel by now."

March 28, 2004 in Books, Memoir | Permalink | Comments (3)

A Year of Tuesdays

Ah, that wonderful, wonderful Onion!

New York Times Seeks Court Order To Remove Tuesdays With Morrie From Bestseller List

NEW YORK—The New York Times announced Monday that it will seek a court order to have Mitch Albom's book of discussions between himself and his dying mentor, Tuesdays With Morrie, forcibly removed from the paperback non-fiction bestseller list.

"We've tolerated the old dead guy's ramblings for the past 66 weeks," Times Sunday books-section editor Mel Constantine said. "But now it's simply gotta go. I want Morrie out of my list—permanently."

Should the order be successful, the book's slot on the list will be replaced by a line urging readers to donate to the Fresh Air Fund.

March 25, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Fight For Your Rights!


From Powell's Books:

Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act gives the FBI virtually unlimited access to bookstore and library records. This section of the Patriot Act, hurriedly crafted and passed after the tragedy of 9/11, has caused tremendous concern among booksellers and bookstore customers, librarians and library patrons, as well as many other groups. By signing the Campaign for Reader Privacy's petition, you will be notifying your representatives in Congress that you support legislation to restore the privacy of bookstore and library records.

As a longtime supporter of free speech and First Amendment issues, Powell's Books strongly urges you to take a moment and sign the petition.

"First Amendment freedoms must not be weakened in difficult times. It is precisely then that we most need them." — Michael Powell, owner of Powell's Books

Sign the petition by clicking here. It may seem like a small thing right now, but the loss of our basic civil rights, bit by bit, cannot be tolerated in a presumably free society.

March 25, 2004 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Do As We Say, Not As We Do

Another fascinating example of White House hypocrisy, courtesy of the Center for American Progress:

Made in…Burma? Newsday reported Friday that President Bush's website was selling fleece pullovers made in Myanmar (formerly Burma). Not only is the jacket not Made in America, a sore subject as millions of Americans have lost jobs to outsourcing overseas, it also funds a violent regime. "The Bush administration has had sanctions in place since September against Myanmar--also known by its colonial name Burma--in an attempt to punish the government over human rights violations." According to Charles Kernagan, the head of the National Labor Committee (a group that seeks to combat sweatshops internationally), "Burma is one of the most repressive, brutal dictatorships in the world...The Bush-Cheney campaign was putting money into the hands of dictators with that purchase."

Dictatorship, schmictatorship. We've got to keep our costs down. And Myanmar's slave labor is renowned for making some of the finest fleece pullovers in the world.

March 25, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bob Mould on Creativity

Interesting thoughts on the creative process from the ever-interesting Bob Mould:

"The upside of this, I suppose, is that the art of storytelling never really changes; we simply repeat the things we hear that resonate, adding our own embellishments, the chinese whisper, the gossip, reverse the last two chords, change 'she' to 'he', speed it up a little bit. Sample, time stretch, stutter, filter. I think I still get it, most of the time."

Though he's referring directly to music, his idea applies to art in general. Nobody really creates anything new ("There is no new thing under the sun" applies as much today as in biblical times), but embellishes and riffs on an existing body of work. My writing is certainly no exception. I don't pretend to be anything but derivative.

March 23, 2004 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

night rally.

I finally got around to reading night rally., the sadly defunct literary journal. This eclectic journal was the labor of love of Amber Dorko Stopper, one of Julie's online colleagues (they're both avid knitters), who sent Julie several old issues a while back. The issue I just finished reading (vol. 1 no. 2) was quite interesting, with a wide range of topics:

+ The odd fiction of comic icon Andy Kaufman. "The Assassination" was particularly good--four parallel narratives which pleasantly leaves unresolved the question of who pulled the trigger.

+ The diary-esque poetry of Sharisha G., which reads somewhat like Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago, in verse.

+ Excerpts from acclaimed zine The Duplex Planet, which consists of intriguing interviews with nursing home residents.

+ A roundtable discussion between Amber, contributing editor Lisa Annelouise Tomer, Another Chicago Magazine managing editor Sara Skolnik and writer Gwen Cope, who talk about the role of lust in creative writing, the value of dayjobs and writing as an avocation, and postmodernism versus plagiarism.

+ A very funny fiction piece by Andrew Ervin, "Diz Lives", which tells the story of an American expat in London who finds himself living in Chinatown and writing intellectual fortune cookie messages. He's prone to sitting in restaurants, eavesdropping on people at other tables to hear his messages read aloud. An angry Chianti-fueled bender leads to an ill-advised message-writing session ("You Will Be Blown Up By the I.R.A.") with predictably disastrous results at a restaurant the following day.

All in all, night rally. was a very satisfying read. Based on the sad plight of the journal, I would imagine Amber has quite a few old issues she'd love to sell you, so contact her here if you're interested. Highly recommended.

March 23, 2004 in Zines | Permalink | Comments (1)

Bush Versus Overtime Pay

Very interesting new study by Ross Eisenbrey and Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute, a non-partisan Washington think tank. (Press release/summary here; full study here.) Per the study, under the Bush Adminstration's new labor rules, employers can declare hourly employees to be "professional"--and thus ineligible for overtime pay--based solely on a basic amount of work experience or even military training, regardless of actual work responsbilities, education level or career experience.

“The administration’s proposal would create, in effect, a massive subsidy to employers paid for by their employees,” said Eisenbrey. “As more employers take advantage of the new rules, it will create a rush-to-the-bottom pressure that will eventually force even reluctant employers to participate in order to keep their labor costs competitive.”

“Under the guise of modernization, the Bush administration is threatening to gut the right to overtime pay for millions of workers,” said Bernstein. “This seemingly innocent set of rule changes will lower the incomes of working families, many of whom depend on overtime pay to make ends meet.”

The administration's new rules are clearly nothing more than a means of enabling employers to slash overtime pay, to the detriment of lower-level employees. (This is particularly galling in the case of employees with military experience. If you're a Reservist or National Guardsman serving in Iraq, the Bush Adminstration would like to thank you for your selfless service by eliminating your overtime pay once you're back on the job Stateside.) By all means, let's let corporations pad their next quarterly profit numbers by a penny or two a share. We can't disappoint Wall Street. After all, there are executive incentive programs at stake.

March 22, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

More New Fiction

Last week was a fairly productive one on the fiction front. Two new pieces: "The Reverend Marvin Barry" and "Sought Not Found", plus a new fiction index page. Happy reading.

March 22, 2004 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Death of a Bookstore

Boston's Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop is closing its doors after 29 years. (Via Bookslut.) An interesting laundry list of reasons is cited. The summation is particularly bitter:

"Thus, we come to the twilight of the age of books; to the closing of the mind; to the pitiful end of the quest for knowledge--and stare into the cold abyss of night."

Uh, Mr. Bookseller, I understand your obviously deep disappointment, but there's still a great love of reading and writing out there, even if the commercial means of delivering literature has changed. It's not as if the government is conducting mandatory book burnings before cheering throngs of millions.

March 19, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Curse of the Full Belly

A remarkably pertinent passage from Kurt Vonnegut's Galapagos:

There is another human defect which the Law of Human Selection has yet to remedy: When people of today have full bellies, they are exactly like their ancestors of a million years ago: very slow to acknowledge any awful troubles they may be in. Then is when they forget to keep a sharp lookout for sharks and whales.

This was a particularly tragic flaw a million years ago, since the people who were best informed about the state of the planet, like Andrew MacIntosh, for example, and rich and powerful enough to slow down all the waste and destruction going on, were by definition well fed.

So everything was always just fine as far as they were concerned.

George Bush has a very full belly. Always has.

March 19, 2004 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Poe's Legacy

Here's a nice tribute to Edgar Allen Poe in the Baltimore Sun (via Maud):

Poe's Tortured Heart Still Beats In Today's Literature

I remember first reading "A Premature Burial" one night in college, just before going to sleep. Or trying to go to sleep--it gave me this weird bit of terrors that kept me up for hours.

I particularly like Louis Bayard's quote from the article:

"I think our culture has absorbed him so thoroughly that we don't always recognize him."

I can think of no greater honor for a writer than the acknowlegment that the writer has permeated our collective consciousness.

March 18, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Very Troubling Indeed

A terrifying question, and even more terrifying answers...

When was the last time you've read a book?
Within 3 months - 50%
Within a year - 25%
They still make those? - 25%

I sincerely hope that anyone answering the latter was just trying to be funny, even if their humor is completely lost on me.

March 18, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Limit Reached

Another submission to the Fast Fiction Contest at Writer's Resource Center. This project required all sentences to be nine words or less.

It wasn't something he wanted. Just something he had to do. He had to live, after all. But the desk job was slowly wearing him away. Imagination began to fade, 5:00 now his greatest longing. The paycheck came every two weeks, bonus every year. Mortgage paid, groceries bought, over and over. The trap was slowly drawing him in. Weekend reprieves were no longer enough.

Life was slipping from his grasp. A clean break was needed. This manuscript just might be the answer.

March 16, 2004 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Muzzling the Truth, Again

I don't know why I'm surprised at any of this:

The Bush administration was facing opposition last fall, even within Republican ranks, for its Medicare drug-presciption legislation. Thirteen GOP congressmen said they'd vote against the bill unless the price tag came to less than $400 billion. Fine, the administration said, the tab will be $395 billion. The House passed the bill by only five votes. Then, in January, the White House disclosed that the total cost would be dramatically higher, at around $550 billion. Faulty prior estimates? New information came in?

No. As it turns out, the administration knew all along that the program would cost $550 billion. When Richard Foster, Medicare's chief actuary, felt compelled to publicly disclose this, his boss, Medicare chief Tom Scully, threatened to fire him if he did so. (Scully, incidentally, was actively interviewing for a new job within the healthcare industry as the same time as he was helping to push the Medicare legislation through Congress. This blatant conflict of interest was approved by his boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. Scully has since left the government, and is now a top lobbyist for the healthcare industry.) The higher estimates were not disclosed by the White House until January 29, after Bush had signed the bill into law.

And now, the New York Times reports, the White House has hired actors to pose as journalists, who praise the new Medicare law in scripted news segments sent to local TV stations across the country. (Local news programs being what they are, the canned segments were undoubtedly swallowed hook, line and sinker and unquestioningly rebroadcast.) The segments have already been broadcast in several states.

So once again America is lied to, government employees who want to do the right thing are muzzled, deception is used to justify the White House's actions after the fact, and government regulators move seamlessly into cozily lucrative careers with the industry they formerly oversaw.

Will the shameless dishonesty of this adminstration ever cease? Before Inauguration Day, that is?

(As always, kudos to the Center for American Progress for reporting on this story. You can sign an online petition to the House of Representatives demanding an investigation of this latest malfeasance by clicking here.)

March 15, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Rationality Reaches the Drug War

Here's some good news for latte-drinking jocks. For once, some healthy perspective is being observed in the battle against performance-enhancing drugs.

Caffeine has been removed from the list of substances international sports authorities have banned or restricted. The move came as part of a comprehensive review by the World Anti-Doping Agency, whose new code went into effect Jan. 1. Now national governing bodies for all Olympic sports are in the process of adopting it.

The reasoning was both practical and philosophical. Recent research shows that high doses of caffeine actually may hurt, not help, athletic performance and that any benefit probably results from just a cup or two of coffee.

With serious doping issues bedeviling competition at all levels, sports medicine experts such as Dr. Gary Wadler believe it would be foolish to deny athletes their morning java.

"I feel very strongly that we should use our cannons to go after the elephants," says Wadler, a New York University professor of medicine who sat on the WADA committee that revised the prohibited-substance list.

Now, if the government could finally become similarly enlightened in legalizing marijuana--thus generating new tax revenue, cleaning tens of thousands of non-violent offenders out of our overburdened prison system, and destigmatizing a substance which is less harmful than alcohol--or, at the very least, legalizing it for legitimate medical purposes.

March 15, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bald! Bald! Baldrick's!

The deed is done. Here's the gruesome end result:


Actually, I don't think it looks too bad. A friend at work said I look like Michael Stipe, which I'm assuming was meant as a compliment. Interestingly, my scalp is already back to stubble, a little more than twenty-four hours later. Soon my hair will be back to normal, and it will once again be sadly obvious that I'm bald by nature, not by choice. Sigh.

The St. Baldrick's event at Smith & Wollensky was excellent--well-run and a lot of fun. Lots of warmth and camaraderie, and really made me feel like I was part of something important. A local representative of the NCCF (unfortunately, I've forgotten his name) took the time to talk to me and thank me for my participation. I thanked him, in return, for having the chance to be part of it.

I'd like to thank each and every one of you who supported my efforts, either through donation or encouragement. I'm not a terribly effective saleman, but I was successful far beyond my expectations--fortunately, this is such a great cause that it practically sold itself.

If you'd still like to donate, by no means is it too late! Any and all donations, no matter how tardy or how small, are greatly welcomed by St. Baldrick's and the NCCF. Every dollar gets us a little closer to finding a cure. As before, you can donate online with a credit card here, or if you'd prefer check or cash, email me to make the necessary arrangements.

A huge thanks to each and every one of you!

March 13, 2004 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (0)

24 Hours and Counting



I'm scheduled for shearing at 12:40 PM on Friday, at Smith & Wollensky, 318 N. State St. in Chicago.

Feel free to drop by for a good laugh. I'm hoping for either Michael Jordan or Yul Brynner. But I'm expecting ET.

March 11, 2004 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (2)

A Rarity - New Fiction!

Somehow I managed to stay awake long enough on last night's train to write a new piece, "Prodigal". In case you're wondering, the protagonist is not me. I never abandoned my suburban upbringing to flee to a decrepit city neighborhood to pursue the writing muse, nor have I idled away pointless hours in filthy bars, alone. But I can sympathize. Call it creative license.

March 11, 2004 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Cheneys, First Family of Hypocrisy

Fascinating post from the ever-fascinating Maud:

Sisters, a 1981 lesbian romance novel penned by Vice President Dick Cheney's wife, Lynne, "was feted Monday night in a special performance by the 'Lynne Cheney Players'" to celebrate the release of Laura Flanders' new book, Bushwomen: Tale of a Cynical Species.

See the cover of Cheney's novel here.

In 2001, when asked about the book, Cheney told a reporter, "I don't remember the plot." The Vice President's wife has not expressed an opinion on the issue of gay marriage, although her 34-year-old daughter, Mary Cheney, is openly gay.

If I was her, I'd conveniently forget the plot, too. Repression can be a remarkably effective sanity-maintenance tool. ("Dick, honey, do you know where these royalty checks are coming from?") And the cheesy cover art, as well. Nice to see Dick Cheney being party to denying the rights of people of a specific sexual preference, the same preference which his family benefits from financially (Lynne) and personally (Mary).

Check out the customer reviews on Amazon, particularly the final one: "I'd say wait till it shows up in a trash can near you. That's when the price would be right." Average rating: 2 stars.

But Laura Flanders gets the last word: "Horribly written."

March 10, 2004 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Babbitt and our School System

Here's a fifteen-year-old girl's Amazon review (via Maud) of Sinclair Lewis' classic Babbitt:

Kill me now so i don't have to finish this book, March 2, 2004
Reviewer: heifergirl (see more about me) from Indiana

I am 15yo. This is a stupid book. I only got to the second chapter. All he talks about is his shoes and his clothes and what his wife's going to wear. I don't care what his wife's going to wear or his shoes! I'm glad my school only makes us read the first couple chapters of a 'classic' and then allows us decide if we want to read the rest. If not, the suicide rate would be higher for literature class.

My, this certainly says a lot--and perhaps too much--about our education system. Democratic ideals certainly have their place, but not when they allow teenagers to simply stop reading assigned texts. The reviewer doesn't care about "what his wife's going to wear or his shoes," but Lewis knew that most readers wouldn't care about such trivialities, which was exactly his point. Babbitt's focus on such meaningless matters is Lewis' skewering way of portraying the mundane, mindless, bourgeois middle-class lifestyle of which Babbitt has come to represent. Maybe the reviewer's teacher could have pointed this out and discussed it further, were he/she not busy allowing the inattentive class to prematurely move onto their next novel.

If this practice is commonplace in American schools, it's one more reason that I'm so relieved that my wife Julie will be home-schooling our kids.

March 10, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Jefferson's Substance Over Style

The presidential election of 1796 between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson was closely enough contested to come down to a handful of electoral votes. There was a problem with the votes from the Vermont delegation, which might have been considered technically invalid, although the intent of the delegation--in favor of Adams--was apparently quite clear. Rather than dispute the results on purely technical grounds, Jefferson conceded the election. In a letter to James Madison, Jefferson made this remarkable statement:

I observe doubts are still expressed as to the validity of the Vermont election. Surely in so great a case, substance and not form should prevail...I pray you to declare it on every occasion foreseen or not foreseen by me, in favor of the choice of the people substantially expressed, and to prevent the phaenomenon of a Pseudo-president at so early a day.

Jefferson's taking of the moral high ground, even though it cost him the election, is truly admirable. While he might very well have cooked the 1800 electoral ballot count in his favor, thus bolstering his election to the Presidency (but not stealing it outright), at least he was consistent in applying the same logic he used in stepping aside in 1796.

I can't help but wonder if George Bush, if faced with a similar substance-versus-style dilemma, would act as honorably.

Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I don't wonder. He wouldn't, period.

March 8, 2004 in Current Affairs, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Apologies, Fiction Readers

Regular readers of this blog have probably noticed that there have been very few fiction entries here lately. When I started this, my intent was to post short fiction pieces here on a regular basis, with only occasional commentary. But the fact is that I've been writing very little fiction lately, with most of my spare time being devoted to transcribing my longhand first draft of Eden, my novel-in-progress, into MS Word to ease my future editing efforts.

And you've also undoubtedly noticed the overtly political tone of my postings during the past few months. I'm not particularly political in nature, feeling that while our leadership is far from perfect, it has generally been acceptable overall and thus not worth my getting involved. But I adamantly do not believe so now. The current administration (sorry, I still can't call him our president, as I continue to feel he gained the office by non-legitimate means) has caused such appalling harm to our country in three short years that I feel I must do everything in my power to ensure he doesn't get re-elected.

Millions of jobs lost with little response from Washington...tax cuts targeted at the upper classes which have resulted in massive budget deficits...a seriously ill-advised, poorly-planned and falsely-justified war in Iraq which has cost the lives of over five hundred Americans and several hundred Iraqis...alienation of most the international community with a professed concept of preemptive war... a clampdown on civil liberties in the name of a war on terror which even the head of the CIA admits hasn't made us any safer...a blatant environmental sellout of wilderness and developed lands to well-connected corporate interests...Medicare "reform" which is really nothing more than a multibillion dollar handout to the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries...these are just the most serious examples of how little George Bush cares about the average American. Unless you're one of his closest friends, coziest corporate cronies or biggest campaign contributors, he doesn't give a damn about your piddling little interests.

And bear in mind that Bush has done all of this while facing re-election in November 2004. I shudder at the thought of what further havoc a second-term Bush might wreak on America, when he won't have any re-election concerns to consider.

Thus, I'm doing everything within my power to prevent four more years of George Bush. I'm not a very outgoing person, so going door-to-door or working the phones wouldn't be too effective. But I'm good at reviewing the news media and concisely putting things into context, which is what I'll continue to do here until November. Then, I pray, this four-year nightmare will all be over, and I can get back to the relative trifles of short fiction.

March 7, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Still More Outrage

The dishonesty, callousness and political opportunism of the Bush Adminstration seems to know no end. Its first batch of campaign commercials are only the most recent example. Mislead.org does an excellent job of keeping a watchful eye on the White House's extensively devious doings. I highly recommend signing up for their "Daily Mislead" email updates. Here's their most recent message:


As the nation headed for war last year, President Bush "clamped down" on the media, extending and expanding a controversial policy that banned reporters from photographing flag-draped caskets of soldiers killed in combat. The White House said the policy was enforced to "spare the feelings of military families." Yet, in the very first television advertisement of his 2004 campaign, the president has blanketed the nation's airwaves with an image of "firefighters carrying a flag-draped body" from the 9/11 wreckage at Ground Zero.

The hypocrisy of preventing Americans from receiving a "reminder of the toll of war" at the very same time the president exploits an image of a dead body for his own political gain has caused an outrage among victims' families. Chris Burke, whose brother Tom died in the attacks, said, "Using my dead friends and my dead brother for political expediency is dead wrong. It's wrong, it's bad taste and an insult to the 3,000 people who died on Sept. 11."

The president's actions have also raised new credibility questions because he previously promised not to exploit the 9/11 attacks. Speaking of 9/11 in January 2003, President Bush told the Associated Press that he had "no ambition whatsoever to use this as a political issue."

March 6, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Has Ashcroft Been Reading Kafka?

"The guiding principle for my decisions is this: Guilt is unquestionable. Other courts cannot follow that principle because they have more than one member and even have courts that are higher than themselves. That is not the case here..." --Franz Kafka, "The Penal Colony"

March 5, 2004 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Quiet Hero

An inspiring story from today's Joliet Herald-News. We need a lot more people like Mr. Rutecki.

Lockport man: As train approaches, he saves disabled woman who was trapped

By Charla Brautigam, Herald-News Staff Writer

LOCKPORT — A Lockport man is being hailed as a hero after plucking a disabled woman from the railroad tracks just seconds before an Amtrak train barreled through, smashing her motorized scooter.

Thomas Rutecki made the dramatic rescue Tuesday afternoon in Downers Grove as he waited for his commuter train into Chicago. He had just decided to put his book down and step outside the station's shelter when he spotted Rosetta Wiedemann, a 65-year-old legally blind resident from Downers Grove, crossing the tracks on her motorized scooter around 2:30 p.m. A moment later, he realized Wiedemann had become trapped on the tracks when one of her scooter wheels became lodged between the track and the wooden platform.

"I did a fast walk down there," said Rutecki, who planned to set Wiedemann free by pushing her scooter out of the rut. But before he could even reach her, Rutecki spotted a steady light coming around the bend.

"Oh, Lord," he told himself. "We've got a train coming."

As the crossing gates came down around them, Rutecki reached for the scooter's handlebar and pulled, but the mechanism came off in his hand.

The Good Samaritan then tried to tug at the seat, but another part came off.

By then, "the train was getting awfully big," said Rutecki, who decided to "forget" the scooter and just save Wiedemann.

Seconds later, as he carried Wiedemann around the gate, the train struck the scooter, scattering pieces up to 100 feet away.

"That thing was shrapnel after that," said Rutecki, who was relieved the impact didn't derail the train.

The hero went on to work a short time later, calling his boss at SBC to tell him he would be a little late because there had been some "trouble" with his train.

No one, including Rutecki's wife, knew what had happened until reporters started calling requesting interviews with the reluctant hero.

"He's the type that if he can help someone out, he will," said Rutecki's wife, Joan, who has fielded phone calls from every major television network, including CNN.

"He doesn't think he needs recognition for it," she added.

Downers Grove Police Chief Robert Porter says otherwise.

"Your husband is a hero," he told Joan on Wednesday.

The chief plans to present Rutecki with a special award on March 25. It's an honor Rutecki is somewhat sheepish about receiving.

"I was just glad to be of assistance," he said. "Anyone would have done it for the lady."

March 4, 2004 in Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)

Excellent Quotation

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." --Martin Luther King, Jr.

With November looming, fighting the silence has taken on enormous importance.

March 4, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Elite's Mouthpiece

Alan Greenspan's emerging ideological and cultural predilictions are more than a bit unsettling. The Federal Reserve's Grand Poobah weighed in on two topics last week: job outsourcing and Social Security.

Regarding job outsourcing (Greenspan Notes 'Unease' at Job Losses), Greenspan did express concern at blue- and white-collar jobs draining away to cheap labor markets in China and India (although notably not Mexico, where NAFTA--still supported by Bush--has sent thousands of U.S. blue-collar jobs). But Greenspan's basic premise is that these jobs can be replaced with the development of more highly-skilled workers through improved education and job-training efforts. Nice idea, except for the fact that the Bush Administration has cut spending on those areas, with its ballyhooed No Child Left Behind having resulted in the imposition of enormous compliance costs on local school districts, threats of a cutoff of federal funding, and an unhealthy emphasis on teaching students how to excel at taking standardized tests at the expense of actual learning.

Even more troubling is Greenspan's suggestion that Social Security be cut to reduce the budget deficit (Greenspan: Cut Social Security) instead of rolling back Bush's ill-advised tax cuts. As many economists have pointed out, the primary cause of the deficit is not increased domestic spending, but a revenue shortfall. Tax revenue as a percentage of government expenditures now stands at a fifty-year low, largely due to the tax cuts which Bush rammed through during the past few years. Despite his claims of the cuts benefitting a broad range of Americans, 40% of the most recent tax cut went to the richest 1% of Americans. And how will this be paid for? According to Greenspan, by cutting Social Security--which the lower and middle class are taxed for most heavily and which those classes rely on most heavily for financial security in retirement. The combination of higher Social Security taxes instituted during the 1980s, the Bush tax cuts and Greenspan's recommended cuts in Social Security would result in a massive upward distribution of wealth benefitting the upper classes which have already enjoyed the highest growth rates of personal wealth during the past twenty years.

It's Greenspan's elitism and naked political bent that disturbs me the most. He's making bold policy prescriptions on matters which have no direct impact on him. It's easy for him to say cut Social Security and get yourself educated, when he obviously won't be relying on Social Security to pay his living expenses in retirement and he already has all the education he needs. His pronouncements have become little more than political cover for an elitist, cloistered White House ("My fellow Americans, Alan Greenspan is a very wise and independent man, and even he supports what we're doing!"). He's supposed to be an objective voice guiding monetary policy, but he has betrayed his public mandate by letting himself become corrupted by the Bush Administration.

Paul Krugman of the New York Times summarizes Greenspan's role in the Social Security debacle quite succintly:

Mr. Greenspan pushed through an increase in taxes on working Americans, generating a Social Security surplus. Then he used that surplus to argue for tax cuts that deliver very little relief to most people, but are worth a lot to those making more than $300,000 a year. And now that those tax cuts have contributed to a soaring deficit, he wants to cut Social Security benefits.

The point, of course, is that if anyone had tried to sell this package honestly — "Let's raise taxes and cut benefits for working families so we can give big tax cuts to the rich!" — voters would have been outraged. So the class warriors of the right engaged in bait-and-switch.


The Bush White House has made it clear that it will destroy the careers of scientists, budget experts, intelligence operatives and even military officers who don't toe the line. But Mr. Greenspan should have been immune to such pressures, and he should have understood that the peculiarity of his position — as an unelected official who wields immense power — carries with it an obligation to stand above the fray. By using his office to promote a partisan agenda, he has betrayed his institution, and the nation.

Followup, 3/4/04: Interesting item from the Center for American Progress:

"A new report by the Economic Policy Institute finds that long-term unemployment has skyrocketed, especially among the educated. An analysis of long-term unemployment from 2000 to 2003 shows that 'the number of people without work for six months or more has risen at the extraordinarily high rate of 198.2% over this period.' Especially hard hit? Job seekers with college degrees. College graduates represent 15.3% of total unemployment, but 19.1% of long-term unemployment, and long-term unemployment for this group has risen by 299.4%."

So much for Greenspan's argument that more education is the automatic cure for our job-loss woes.

March 3, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)