30 July 2009

What Does It Take?

Several industry professionals have had the opportunity to read and review my (still unpublished and unagented) novel EULOGY. Here are some of their comments:
Agent 1: "We were mightily impressed by the descriptive power of these pages and your ability to create compelling, true-to-life characters. That being said, [...] doesn’t feel that she’s the right person to represent your novel. I know we don’t need to remind you how subjective a business this is. You are certainly a talented writer and there’s no doubt that you’ll find the right agent who has the all-out enthusiasm that you deserve."
Editor 1: "From page one, Eulogy was a pleasure to read for its distinctive prose style, its close observations, and its elegant and precise vocabulary (protagonist and author alike clearly masters of le mot juste!). The writing style, the tempo, and the crisis-filled storyline lend the work a taut intensity and a heightened sense of reality that are exciting to experience. The tension that carries through much of the novel is nicely offset by fine passages of reflection. Lyrical, moody descriptions of place and frank yet graceful erotic moments left strong marks. .... I think you’re justified in feeling confident about the marketability of this work (I see film potential, too). The life Josh leads is very 21st-century Manhattan, yet the issues he grapples with are of broad perennial interest."
Editor 2: "The novel establishes several substantial lines of tension. Joshua’s marriage is failing, he and his wife emotionally separated due to insecurities and philosophical and artistic persuasions. Joshua’s career in a powerful law firm leaves little time for himself or for his marriage, and his father-in-law and mentor’s departure to London seems to put his own career into jeopardy. He faces the moral responsibility of helping his father to assist in his mother’s death, and this death forces him to physically and emotionally return to a past that he renounced long ago. It is clear to the reader that these various facets of his life pressure him to define himself according to others’ needs and perceptions, and he is about to break under the strain. This matrix of lines of tension presents a portrait of a complex life that is about to break open or to break apart. "
So what does it take to get a novel published?
---------------
As my teenagers would say:

"Wait! What's that? Waah, waah, waah. Is that the waahmbulance?"

"Sir, would care for some bread and cheese with your whine?"

"Hey, maybe we can go to Waahndy's instead for a burger and some french cries."

"Get over it."

--------------
There. The pity party's over. Sorry. I try not to indulge.

I'm taking a break from WoW and the internet for some scuba diving with Wisdoc and the aforementioned smart-alecks here: .

Best,
Jim H.

8/18/09 Edited to replace picture.

28 July 2009

Palin For President! Seriously.

Now, this is one Palin and one election I can endorse heartily: "As a long-distance traveller, [Michael] Palin has paid his dues, which is a fortunate position to be in for the prestigious role he has just taken up, as president of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS). Python man is now the nation's [i.e., Great Britain's] First Geographer." Palin's brief is to try to bring some excitement back to the study of geography: "For some reason, geography is not seen as a popular subject in school. It's seen as very unglamorous. Yet when I was at school, I can remember geography offering me the chance to get out and go on field trips and go on walks, and I loved maps, I loved atlases, I loved learning about other countries and places where things were different from our own – and that's all covered by geography." (h/t)

26 July 2009

Crimes Against Humanity

The disparagement of science—true science, objective knowledge—is, generally, a function of ignorance or stupidity. The muzzling of scientific facts is a power play. But when a group of moronic thugs hide information that is crucial to the well-being of the planet and all living things out of self-interest or the short-term financial interest of their constituents in a particular industry, that's pretty much criminal.

Apparently, the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney administration hid "[g]raphic images that reveal the devastating impact of global warming in the Arctic ... taken by spy satellites over the past decade, [which]confirm that in recent years vast areas in high latitudes have lost their ice cover in summer months. The pictures, kept secret by Washington during the presidency of George W Bush, were declassified by the White House last week."

The avowed antipathy of the Bush/Cheney regime to anything smacking of environmental concern and global warming grew out of their favoritism to the entrenched interests of their constituents in the oil industry. To hide such direct evidence of the "devastating impact of global warming" is a vicious, misanthropic act. In the face of such clear and compelling evidence, to argue publicly against the "devastating impact of global warming" is nothing short of a crime, a fraud.

And why must the revelation of such misfeasance (suppressing it) and malfeasance (lying about it) on this scale be relegated to a foreign newspaper? Where is the outrage in this country? Besides trying to remediate the global problem, is there nothing that can be done about the devastation these men have wrought through their outright mendacity?

23 July 2009

Who Will Save Us?

Okay. I've held my tongue long enough. It's time to tell you what I know. You may not want to hear it, but it's important. So important that it could change the history of this country, maybe even the world.

Some years back, when I was practicing law in New York, I worked with a group of well-connected, New York liberal lawyers. Some were New Lefters from pre-HUAC days—certainly the old lions in the group. Most spent their summers at socialist camps. Hard core. Their clients were mostly politicians and leftist activist agencies and their principals. I was a good lawyer and did my job faithfully representing their interests. But this is beside the point. Needless to say, these guys were deep in, high and mighty mucky-mucks, who were all really, really angry about what President Ronald Reagan had done to their beloved Soviet empire.

Anyway, one evening we were at an upstate country-club for our annual summer golf/tennis outing. I'll not name it here (nor any of the people), but the PGA has played major tournaments there. After a dinner of London broil and lobster, a few of them retired, as they did every year, to the gentleman's locker for some cards and cigars. "Care to join us for a Cuban, Jim my boy?" one of the younger partners, my mentor, asked me. I was surprised but truly honored. After having practiced law with most of these guys for over eight years, this was the first time I'd been asked into their sanctum sanctorum. "Absolutely," I said, knowing that this was an initiation rite for me I could hardly refuse. I knew enough, besides, not to open my mouth except to raise or pass or fold or puff or sip.

We played cards late into the night. The talk ranged from hot female paralegals at the firm to the Yankees to celebrities they had known from their school days. Most of it very light-hearted. As the evening wore on and the scotch wore in, the talk naturally enough turned to politics. They hated Ed Koch—'Bozo the Clown' they called him. They thought Rudy Giuliani, then a U.S. Attorney, was a fascist ('Mussolini-lite') who was crucifying Michael Milken—a firm client for certain minor real estate matters, I might add. And they wanted to string up Henry Kissinger as a war criminal. etc., etc. You can get the drift.

Then the talk turned to the current administration. Reagan was a stooge, they said, a cut-out for his then-Vice President George H.W. Bush who was the power behind the attempt on Reagan's life and, though nobody could prove it, on JFK. What was happening with the shadow government he was running from the basement of the White House was no less than an attempted coup. There was lots of rumbling agreement around the table. All of this political stuff meant little to me; I had never even voted.

"Not to worry," the most senior guy, an old 50s radical, said. "We've got a guy." He'd obviously had a few too many, and the liquor and the outrage had gotten the better of him. One of the other senior partners from our Chicago office whom I didn't know hissed an 'Ix-nay' at him and tried to change the subject, nodding covertly in my direction. From the corner of my eye I noted my mentor giving him a quiet nod across the table as if to say it was okay to talk around me. I could be trusted. I pretended to be lost in thought about the five cards I'd just been dealt—two low pair, fives and threes, if I remember correctly. I took a deep draw on my cigar, folded, and wandered back over the bar to refill my drink—f.y.i. Basil Hayden straight up with one cube of ice.

I thought nothing more about that little slip until later in the evening, as the clock approached the single digits, the senior partner and the Chicago partner started talking somewhat absent-mindedly among themselves—it was probably the scotch that loosened their inhibitions around me. I don't remember the exact words of their conversation but its import has haunted me to this day, and it's especially poignant now given the current controversy. I don't know why I never put it together before now.

Here's what I learned that night: the two of them had been involved in a secret society that had been culled from a larger group of radicals and leftist liberals. They had formed just after the JFK assassination—in fact in reaction to it. They believed it had been an outright coup by the "right-wing, military-industrial complex" and felt they needed to do something to set the country back on the path toward socialism. They had discovered a young man, 'Mau Mau' I think they called him, who would help them exact their revenge. His father, it came out, had been a covert Soviet spy who had brainwashed and recruited his mother to raise him as an agent of influence. There had been a few technicalities they had to iron out early on, I remember them saying. Something about a birth certificate and the child's bona fides—Operation Hula Hoop they'd called it, laughing. Obviously, I thought nothing of this little detail at the time; I had no idea what they meant by legitimacy. I had no reason to, obviously, at the time. From what I gathered, they had been covertly watching out for him through the years, using his teachers and friends, his church leaders and the organizations which employed him to groom him for the great role they had for him. Again, I had no idea what role they meant. They talked about how much trouble they had had bringing him to New York from an obscure West Coast college (I don't recall the name). They talked about how they had sponsored what they called his 'politically correct' education somewhere here in town and then sent him off to Chicago. As Harvard Law School alums themselves, they were proud of the way they'd managed to matriculate this Mau Mau at their alma mater. One of the Yale Law grads at the table harrumphed and mentioned some fraternity buddies of his at Yale who could've helped, if they'd only have let them. I had no idea what he meant. I just figured this was part of the normal rivalry that went on all the time between these two groups of elites.

Pretty soon, everyone's attention started fading, and the game petered out. I lost about $25 that night, not too much. My mentor, one of the Yalies, had won a couple hundred bucks. I pretended to be a little drunk and even closed my eyes to make the men think I was nodding off as the two old partners nattered on about how it wouldn't be long before they would finally set things aright in this country—even if it didn't come in their lifetime. They just had to be patient. The optimism and hope in their jaded old faces was unmistakable; it energized them. Gave them life

But, of all the things that happened that night, nothing is starker in my memory than what happened later in the parking lot. As I was walking out to my car, my mentor caught up with me and put his arm firmly around my shoulder, gripping me the way he'd done a thousand times. "Jim old boy," he said, "sometimes people say things aloud they really shouldn't, you know?" "Not sure what you're talking about, Bill." He stopped, "You can never ever tell anyone what you heard in there tonight." And he dug his fingers into my shoulder just at the pressure points to the point that it hurt. "I have no idea what you're talking about," I told him. "Good," he said, "keep it that way." His words were deeply chilling. His meaning was crystal clear. "See you Monday."

I never learned any actual names that night. I had pretty much mastered the art of eavesdropping—making myself appear nonchalant, uninterested, distracted—so I didn't ask any follow up questions as I would have, say, if I'd been cross-examining the men under oath, even though I comprehended very little of what they were saying. The next week, one evening when I was sure I wouldn't be noticed, I searched the records room and file rooms of the firm for any further evidence about this so-called Mau Mau or Operation Hula Hoop conspiracy. Needless to say, I found nothing. And I thought nothing further about it.

Until this week. Even now, I am shaking as I type this. It all came back to me in stark relief when I heard Lou Dobbs and the folks at FoxNews talking about this so-called 'birther' controversy. Some people believe that President Obama is not really a citizen of this country. They believe he was born in Kenya and might be an agent of influence for some foreign power or have divided loyalties. They believe he has been planted in the presidency to destroy this country. I don't know anything about that. All I know is what I heard a number of years ago over whiskeys and Cubans around that Westchester card table late one summer night. All I know is what they're alleging sounds a lot like what those old liberal, New York lawyers were laughing about that night. It's remarkable that even then, back before the Civil Rights Amendment had even been passed, they could've foreseen that, with proper guidance, a middle-class boy of mixed-race and mixed-religious parentage from Hawaii (a brand new state at the time) could navigate the treacherous waters of American politics, rise to the very pinnacle of power that rich white men had monopolized throughout the history of the country, and deceive the American public into voting him president. And actually win. How those old card-carrying, card-playing liberals could've known that then I'll never know.

In the intervening years, I've cut all ties with those old guys at my former firm. And most of the men—particularly the two older partners—have since either died or retired. Yet... Yet, I hesitate to write this in fear of what they could do to me. This powerful cabal of leftists has eyes and ears everywhere; I mean, if what I think happened happened, their man—their plant—is now the most powerful person in the world, and only a small group of heroic, right-wing, truth-seeking patriots (bloggers and talk radio callers) stands between him and the fulfillment of this ultimate, nefarious plan to destroy this country hatched by a bunch of defeated, resentful liberal elites nearly a half-century ago and executed with the sort of cunning and precision that makes Dick Cheney, David Addington, Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, and the whole American Enterprise Institute's Project for a New American Century look like a bunch of pikers—a real Mayberry Mafia.

17 July 2009

We Browse, So You Don't Have To

Enough about politics. Let's aggregate:

If you aren't checking in here regularly, you are doing yourself a disservice.

Ditto.

Ditto.

Ditto.

It seems that modernism was the source of all the ills of the 20th Century. It is big, rational, ordered: soul-crushingly unifying. Post-modernism is warm & fuzzily diverse, local, tribal: essentially divisive. I wonder how that's gonna' work out. Oh and it has something to do with the Fleshtones. A panacea? You'll have to ask Levi.

Is this really how you're supposed to structure your short-story collection? Who knew Canadians had such short fuses?

Is there any hope for fiction—beyond rationalism and commerce?

Mark Sarvas interviews Joseph O'Neill here. My review of Netherland is here. I still don't see why no one else sees the image of the WTC at the end of the book as wickets: "'Even, at the end, with his wife and son gliding up and around on the gleaming London Eye, Hans is content to drift back in memory to an earlier Staten Island Ferry ride toward the Twin Towers with his mother which, in turn, reminds him of a childhood memory of pencils.' (but NOT wickets!?)."

I'm not so sure this post is really about mathematics or even money. But I sincerely hope it is. Don't pull a Mme. Psychosis on us. Just write.

Monty Python coherent? But doesn't that take all the fun out of it? I guess it depends on what you were smoking when you saw it.

(h/t 1 & h/t 2) Richard Powers videos here, here, here, here, and here. My encounter with Mr. Powers here. Guy's brilliant. Great writer.

This promises to be an interesting series of posts re: the world of literary magazines.

Are you keeping up? I'm a few pages behind, but that's okay.

I'm not sure that this guy isn't onto something. We can quibble about specifics, but he's definitely asking the right question.

Jacob Russell thinks that "Aesthetics is lost without ontology." That seems trivially true, as everything is lost without ontology. Without ontology there is nothing. So, we can agree there. Russell's piece appears to be a response to this post at Larval Subjects. Larval believes as follows:
"It seems to me that what has been most fruitful in literary studies– and its best chance for relevance beyond the monadic cells of literary studies folks –are not those moments where it “respects the literary object qua literary object” (though we hear a lot of this rhetoric) but precisely when the literary object is assembled with something else: linguistics, marxist social theory (Jameson), phenomenology, philosophy, systems and complexity theory, ethnography, information theory and cybernetics, etc. In other words, literary studies does not articulate what is “in” the text, but rather provokes texts to speak by assembling them with something other than the text."
a/k/a Intertextuality. Larval then takes a run at Jacob here: He is "willing to wager that the aesthetic theory of a philosopher contains, in fractal form, the inner kernel and truth of any philosopher." And, to my mind, he asks precisely the right question: "Might it instead be the reverse, that ontology (and epistemology) is nothing without aesthetics?" But his thoughts then sort of dwindle into anecdote. Perhaps it's because there's a fundamental contradiction in his argument.

Look: We cannot know what is not presented to us, i.e., apparent to us either perceptually or conceptually. Aesthetics just is the attempt to grasp what is apparent in all its manifest plenitude. And based on a full appreciation of what is apparent we can begin to posit what is (if, in fact, it is any different), i.e., ontology. So, yes, ontology (and epistemology) is nothing without aesthetics in this sense. However, aesthetics is something other than theory. Aesthetics is precisely the study of what Beardsley liked to call the "regional qualities" of the work. To bring it all back home to fiction, a novel is a "model of consciousness". It challenges us to inhabit it, thus (re-)creating the reality it presents. Understanding how this reality is created—the techniques, mechanisms, forms, craft, artistry, conception (i.e., the aesthetic values)—is of utmost importance, and the intertext (particularly the intertext of theory) is merely subservient to this quest. To the critic or, better yet, the Larval theoretician, however, the square peg of the text must be made to fit into the round hole of some theory. That is, s/he has some axe that needs a good grinding. Thus, s/he refuses the immersion in the world of the text. Refuses the fullness of the aesthetic moment with a flailing grasp for relevance: "I don't like that book because it doesn't have any relevance with my life as a (insert ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, political affinity, etc., label here)." "That character is not sympathetic because s/he doesn't resemble me or share my concerns." "That novel doesn't jibe with my fixed ideas of what a novel should do and be." The Larval point of view is an explicit disavowal/refusal of any experience that is other or alien (i.e., non-relevant): If the text cannot be subsumed in the (favored) theory, then the text has no relevance. Larval seeks to extract some readily identifiable (commodifiable) theoretical content from the novel, when what the aesthetic object is all about is form. The novel, true to its name, is the presentation of something new—a new experience, a new reality, a new model of consciousness.

13 July 2009

"What makes you think they'll print it?"

Here's a quick follow-up post to this post from a couple of days ago about the "counterterrorism program" former VP Dick Cheney ordered not be reported to Congress. TIME magazine reports that "CIA Director Leon Panetta was told of the program's existence on June 23, four months after he took over the agency."

Why is that particular sentence jarring? It seems to suggest that Mr. Cheney, was running some sort of rogue, stay-behind, shadow operation within the intelligence community (the actual agency is not specified, only that Mr. Panetta of CIA is the one who discovered it) for something like six months after he left office (someone had to be running it) and six months after President Obama's took office. Nothing has been positively stated as to whether the program was dormant at the time of Mr. Panetta's discovery or to whom within or without the intelligence community the agents involved reported. Doesn't that sound just a little fishy? Doesn't that sound a little like Treason? Does it make, as I suggested in my previous post, the extension of the Secret Service "protection" Mr. Obama ordered for Mr. Cheney sound more plausibly like a house-arrest type situation?

One further thought: a "program" may indicate more than simply an information-gathering capacity—the kind of thing others have been speculating about. It could include an operational capability.

Questions: Did this program have anything to do with the mass graves that have been discovered recently in Afghanistan?

Did this program have anything to do with the manipulation of the American mass media that the Bush administration engaged in over the years? That is to say, was it a psy-ops or propaganda operation. It's not just spying on Americans—we know they were doing that to varying degrees of FISA legality. It has to do with disinformation and misinformation activities through various witting fools, plants, and cutouts in the media: Judith Miller and Ahmed Chalabi, Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher and Michael McManus, Hannity & Beck & Doocey & the whole Murdoch gang at FOXNews, the Wall Street Journal editorial staff, Limbaugh, Jeff Gannon, Tim Russert, etc. On that note, did you hear that Rupert Murdoch got busted for bugging a number of celebrities and politicians and publicists. Tip of that iceberg? Was someone within this let's call it CIA within the CIA actually running an op through Murdoch and his far-flung media empire?

Hey! And what about George Tenet's and Porter Goss's roles in all this?

Pay attention, folks. I'm sure we haven't seen the last of this. It could be nothing. Still, watch for other seemingly unrelated intelligence-related expositions in the next few weeks and months as this thing unravels behind the scenes.

12 July 2009

Everything's Just Jake

This is a sad story. I hadn't planned to blog it, but I was inspired by some pet-blegging by Blckdgrd, and I promised him somewhere in one of his comments that I can't locate right now because it's raining and when it rains my internet connection slows to a crawl I'd tell it.

Last week, we let our dog, Jake, out to his dog run as we have done every day for the last eight years or so so we could run a few errands. We checked, as ever, to make sure the gates were latched and he had plenty of fresh water.

An hour-and-a-half later, when we returned, he was gone. Vanished. The gates were still latched. Nothing was disturbed. There was a general freak out at the Wisdomicile.

Let me back up and fill in some information. Jake—if I do so say myself—is the greatest dog in the world. Above is a picture I took of him this Spring at the beach. He is, as you can plainly see, a German Shepherd: a dog's dog. He may not be the smartest or fastest or most loyal or most agile or sweetest (or whatever criteria you use) dog in the world, but he's in the top five or ten in every category. He is fierce in defending his territory, but has never bitten anyone. And around kids he's a pussycat. Any kid can come up to him and stick her hand in his mouth to take his beloved soccer ball away or pull his ears or tail or whatever, and he'll surrender. But if a strange adult tries to approach any of the kids who constantly like to play in our yard with him, he'll position himself between the kids and the adult and not let the adult near until we tell him it's okay. His herding instinct kicks in. He sleeps in my bedroom every night, and right now he's sitting right beside my desk chair. He's been a beloved family member for over eight years. For the record, we have two dogs, one cool cat, and two fat guinea pigs.

And he just disappeared. We couldn't understand how it could've happened. There were no signs of a struggle or commotion. Just an empty dog run, which has about the same area as the footprint of my house. It's Jake's room.

We immediately headed out to the woods behind my house. We live in Atlanta, but there's a green space across the Peachtree Creek which runs through my backyard. It has hiking and biking trails. We figured he was over there playing with some other dogs or chasing rabbits or whatever. We sometimes let him run out there when we're working in the yard, but he always comes back every five to ten minutes to check on us. We hiked around for an hour or two (in several directions) calling after him but couldn't find him. We went to the parks nearby and cruised up and down the streets of our neighborhood. No Jake. No dog's body.

I went to several of the other parks that border on the green space to no avail. Wisdaughter called as it was getting dark and said she had seen a dog that looked a lot like Jake in one of the parks I'd already been to, but the little girls he was with showed her the dog's tag ("Delgado") which had their address on it. Our hopes were crushed.

There were tears. And bafflement. Secretly, I was worried some burglars had nabbed him so they could hit our house later without having to worry about dealing with a watch/guard dog. But I couldn't figure how they'd managed to get him out of HIS yard. Or else, he'd somehow gotten out and been killed by a coyote. But this could not have gone down without a real commotion. This was Sunday.

Monday, I went to all the Vets in a ten-mile radius, called the animal shelters and Humane Society (the County Pound was closed 'til Tuesday), and hiked the woods behind my house for hours. Wisdaughter & I posted to www.lostandpound.com. I searched the skies for buzzards. Still, no Jake. Wisdoc checked in from work every hour practically in tears. Wisdaughter and Wesdom made up signs and fliers. Nothing.

Tuesday morning, we went to the Pound. It was a sobering and miserable experience. The officers there were terrific—sympathetic and helpful. Yet, no Jake. (I was astounded to discover that the vast majority of dogs in the Pound were Pitbull or Pitbull mixes.) I put up fliers at all the Vet's offices, grocery stores, restaurants, laundromats, etc. in the neighborhoods around the greenspace. Wesdom and I spent a long afternoon putting up posters in all the parks where people walk their dogs, becoming increasingly desperate.

That evening, just as I was walking in the door exhausted from my searching, the phone rang. A woman with a pleasant voice told me she'd just seen my poster. "I think we have your dog," she said. For the first time in all this, I became emotional. I wanted to know where she'd found him, if he was okay, everything. Her daughter, she said, had found him wandering on the trails that wound through the woods behind my house and connected up with her house, about a half mile away. Her daughter told her he wasn't wearing a collar when she found him, but, she said "My daughter lies." She said the dog was on her back porch and I could go over and pick him up. She was out to dinner and wouldn't be back until late. I thanked her profusely and told her I would like to meet her and thank her. She declined. Odd.

I went over to the house, and, sure enough, there he was. He looked a bit shell-shocked and dehydrated, but it was definitely Jake—wearing a new collar and a tag that read "Delgado". Unfreakingbelievable. The girl, an 11 year old, had put a new tag and collar on him and lied to the Wisdaughter's face. The picture was getting clearer. She had to have sneaked up into my yard, opened Jake's gate, led him out through the woods, thrown away his collar, had a new tag made, and put a new collar on him within a couple hours after having nabbed him. Yet, it was the only plausible explanation. No adult male could have come into the yard and taken him. No coyote could have dragged him over the fence and out of the yard. ONLY a little girl could have lured Jake out of his yard without creating a ruckus.

Now, I said at the first that this was a sad story. This is where it really gets sad. We got Jake back, and he's fine now. That's not the sad part.

The next afternoon, as I was working, Wesdom called me to come downstairs. "Someone wants to see you." I went to the front door, and there I saw three of the cutest little girls you'd ever want to meet—two blondes, 9 and 13, and one brunette, 11. "Yes?" I said. "Well," said the brunette, "your sign said you had a reward for getting your dog back and you have your dog. What's my reward?"

I felt like Billy Budd. I was so exasperated (flabbergasted) I couldn't speak. I wanted to throttle that child right there on my front doorstep. But, natch, I didn't. I sat down on the stoop and, after composing myself, told them I wanted to find out what happened first. The brunette, clearly the master-mind here, told some cock-and-bull story about finding Jake sans collar on the trails in the woods and him following them home.

"Let me tell you something about Jakie," I said. I told them about how he is more like a member of our family and how we've had him for over eight years and how devastated we all were that he had gone missing and how glad we were that their mother had called. Then I explained that in all the eight years we'd had Jake, he'd never gotten out of his yard. Not once. And I marveled at how his gates had been latched when we let him out and when we'd gotten back. And it was amazing that his collar had come off because in all his eight years of playing in the woods his collar and tags had never come off. What's more, I couldn't understand why he didn't come back because he really knew all those trails in the woods—where we walk him all the time—and he knows his way home. The girls were amazed too.

"But," I said, "setting all that aside, you know what really gets me? [Wisdaughter] saw you in the park on Sunday with Jake. And she asked you about him. And you said he was your dog and you showed her a collar with your address on it and the name 'Delgado'." At this point, they knew the jig was up.

The 9- and the 13-year old were mortified, abashed, ashamed, etc. Age-appropriately guilty. The 11-year old, on the other hand, seemed to be more upset about being caught in a lie. She tried to lie her way out of it, but I stopped her. "Let me tell you something, stealing a dog like Jake is a crime. Do you know what a crime is? I would be within my rights to call the police, and they could take you to jail. Do you want me to do that?" Of course, none of them did. "Tell you what, if you admit what you did, tell me exactly what happened, I'll consider not calling the police."

The two blonds begged the brunette to confess. Which she did, haltingly. She really appeared to have no conscience. She couldn't say why she did it. She wouldn't admit whether she'd had the tag made up before or after she took Jake. She knew, though, she'd made a mistake in lying to my daughter, but she wouldn't say why she'd done it.

This, to me, is the sad part. There was a level of sociopathy in her I found difficult to gauge or, frankly, understand. I looked at her and felt like I saw a terrible future for her. A sad future. She is an incipient thief and a liar. And she had the audacity, after taking Jake, to come and demand a reward for her mother's having returned him. I told Wisdoc that, really, she really only got the sequence wrong from being a full-fledged kidnapper and extortionist: you kidnap first, demand a reward, and then return the dog. You don't return the dog and then seek a reward.

Here's my quandary: should I report the incident to the police? Most of my friends and family feel I should. There are good reasons either way. Reporting the incident (and, say, not pressing charges) could serve as a reality check for this budding criminal. It could potentially help the parents in disciplining what sounds to me like a difficult child ("My daughter lies"—Can you imagine the embarrassment she must have felt in saying this? She didn't even want to face me.) Not reporting the incident (and, say, sending the parents a narrative of the actual events) might ensure that the parents know the truth. It would reward the mother for calling so promptly in response to my poster—imagine if I got the police involved how she would feel the next time her daughter pulled a stunt like this; she just might not do it.

But since I don't know the family, I'm also worried about a potential abuse situation for the child if the parents find out the truth. My main concern now that I have Jake back is for the child's future. It's a community thing. Hey, I suspect there were a few times somewhere in my youth or childhood when I was glad no one reported me to the police for one thing or another. And I grew up pretty much okay. To err, as they say, is human...

I'll just have to work this out.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

It's getting interesting now.

The New York Times is reporting that former Vice President Cheney ordered the CIA to withhold information about a secret counterterrorism program from Congress for eight years. (In situations involving Cheney, it's often wise to use the term 'counterterrorism' advisedly.)

What was it?

Could it have been the secret "'executive assassination ring' that reported directly to Vice President Dick Cheney?" Can you say "Blackwater"? No, now you have to say Xe—which is basically unpronounceable. And do the names Wellstone and Benazir Bhutto ring a bell? How about Mel Carnahan or Bruce Ivins? Ever hear of a guy named Gus Boulis or Ken Lay? How about David Kelly?

Could it have had anything to do with Cheney's limited admission of his personal authorization of the use of torture of at least one suspected terrorist at Guantanamo Bay? Cheney stated he "was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it." If he's admitting to this much, you just know there's more there that he's hiding.

Could it have been the collection by AT&T (and other telecoms) and its turning over of "tens of millions of telephone and Internet records to the NSA in what it calls a "massive and illegal program to wiretap and data-mine Americans' communications."

Could it have been the authorization and use of the so-called "Pinwale e-mail database" that improperly accessed the emails of millions of Americans, including former President Bill Clinton. And could this program, which was at the heart of the crisis at the hospital bedside of John Ashcroft in 2004, have been extended to spy on, let's say, domestic political challengers such as, e.g., Democratic members of Congress or the Senate or national presidential candidates, or Republican rivals of the Bush administration who were wobbly on Cheney's ambitious plans? Who knows who all Cheney was keeping tabs on? Remember, Rumsfeld (who was particularly tight with Cheney) practically set up his own in-house intelligence office—the Office of Special Plans—in order to stovepipe intel directly to the warmongers in the White House. Was there an ops side to this as well?

Could it have had anything to do with the illicit program of spying on U.N. delegations in the run-up to the U.N. Security Council's "vote" on Bush's plan to invade of Iraq? Or the Bush administration's "fixing the intelligence" referred to in the so-called "Downing Street Memo"?

Cheney has been the master of the use of classified information as both a sword and a shield. He has used it to advance his political aims, e.g., to destroy political enemies (Valerie Plame, anyone?) and he has hidden behind it and lied about its contents when it suited his purpose and he knew no one could challenge his lies without revealing classified information (does the name Rockefeller ring a bell).

Frankly, it's all speculation at this point. We just don't know now. But somebody does. Do you think this had anything to do with it: "Obama extends Cheney's Secret Service Protection? Bear in mind, the Secret Service not only guards and protects their charges, but they also 'keep an eye on'. Could Cheney be under some sort of super-secret house arrest at this point?

Interesting times.

Who's bringing the popcorn?

08 July 2009

Who's Next?

In case you were looking for fingerprints (and I knew you were—inquiring minds want to know) for this (classic honey trap), this (exotic honey trap), and this (fish in a barrel), I say look no further than this guy.





Remember: Back last November, I made the following prediction:
One last point re: Sarah Palin in 2012. Sarah Palin will never be president—in 2012 or ever. Mark my words. There are too many big boys lying in the tall grass waiting their chance. To name two: Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. They will take her down before they take on each other. And as I often counsel my friends, never get in the middle of an elephant-f*ck.
And what secretive ally of his (and his family) was responsible for vetting and compiling dossiers on the leaders of the elephant party (i.e., potential rivals)? That would be this guy. And who's heading up the PR front? You guessed it.

Picking them off one by one. Who's next?

05 July 2009

Independence Day

July 4th is our national holiday here in the United States. We consider it the anniversary of the birth of our country. It is a time for patriotism, celebrated with afternoon picnics with friends and family, baseball, and fireworks.

On this day, in 1776, a group of Caucasian, property- and slave-owning businessmen and gentlemen farmers sitting in congress declared the thirteen colonies here on the North American continent to be independent of the British empire and its monarch, mad King George III. This Declaration of Independence set forth a number of grievances with King George—principally having to do with the right of the British Parliament to levy taxes on the colonies and the king having set a German mercenary army on us—and a number of rights they felt, in high-blown rhetoric, had been trampled:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." (caps in the original)
These are some of the most famous words in the English language. Technically, the Declaration of Independence doesn't really have the status of law here. It cannot be cited as a precedent in a legal case. It is inspirational, a philosophical justification of our existence as a nation. The Constitution of the United States sets forth the roles and, more importantly, the limitations of our form of government and its major institutions, the Judiciary, the Legislature, and the Executive. The Declaration merely affirmed, officially, what many already believed:
"That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do."
Most, if not all, of my American readers will be aware of these things. I'm not telling them anything they don't already know. I simply want to point out two things about the language of these two quotations: First, the word 'unalienable': To alienate, in the parlance of their time, meant essentially 'to sell' or 'to transfer to another' by means of a formal process. The law speaks about the alienation of property—the removal, for example, of any liens or encumbrances against it. 'Men', according to what is referred to as the "Founding Fathers" may not sell or transfer to another their rights to 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.' Fine. Just note that, at the time, the term 'men' did not apply to slaves whose liberty, at a minimum, had been either seized or purchased by these same declarers. They were not 'men'—and neither were women, for that matter. Mostly, the term 'men' here referred to property-owning males. This glaring hypocrisy has been called the 'original sin' of our country.

[N.B.: By 'happiness', by the way, the Founding Fathers did not mean a feeling of pleasure or contentment. It's not a narcissistic or hedonistic concept. Happiness, here, has to do with the utilitarian notion of fulfilling expectations, that is to say of using one's properties, resources, and means of production (including slaves, women, children, etc.) to achieve one's (often mercantile or commercial or political) goals in society with and against others.]

Second, the word 'States': The same word is used to refer to the 'State of Great Britain'. The founders believed and, in fact, explicitly stated that each of the thirteen colonies, though united in rebellion against King George and his empire, was a separate State, a separate nation or country. It took our American Civil War to completely unpack this notion. Today, we've diminished the meaning of this term to refer to things like Rhode Island or Wyoming. This is a classic example of the old adage: Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

One more thing to pay attention to this weekend has to do with that 'endowed by their Creator' concept in the Declaration. What the Founders seem to be saying is that certain basic human rights are not granted to people by laws or governments. Rather, these rights flow from our basic human dignity as creatures in the likeness and image of the creator god. If a government can grant rights (e.g., habeas corpus), it can take them away.

Certain jurists, primarily conservative ones such as, for instance, Antonin Scalia, seem to take the view that if a right is not enumerated in the Bill of Rights (that is, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution) it doesn't exist. That is to say, there are really no natural rights. This view, on a philosophical level, finds human beings essentially evil—or, in their term, fallen. It declares that people have no essential dignity and are entitled to no innate, natural rights. Human beings are in no wise perfectible. Their behavior must be checked. Their hubris must not be allowed to take root. They can only have the rights that their government—albeit a government by their own consent—allows them to have.

For example, American conservatives believe there is no fundamental human right to privacy. This is a big issue here in the United States. The existence of a right of privacy was the explicit basis of, among others, the monumental Roe v. Wade decision of the United States Supreme Court recognizing a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy legally and safely in the United States:
The Constitution does not explicitly mention any right of privacy. In a line of decisions, however, going back perhaps as far as Union Pacific R. Co. v. Botsford, 141 U.S. 250, 251 (1891), the Court has recognized that a right of personal privacy, or a guarantee of certain areas or zones of privacy, does exist under the Constitution. In varying contexts, the Court or individual Justices have, indeed, found at least the roots of that right in the First Amendment, Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557, 564 (1969); in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 8-9 (1968), Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 350 (1967), Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616 (1886), see Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 478 (1928) (Brandeis, J., dissenting); in the penumbras of the Bill of Rights, Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S., at 484-485; in the Ninth Amendment, id., at 486 (Goldberg, J., concurring); or in the concept of liberty guaranteed by the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment, see Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 399 (1923). These decisions make it clear that only personal rights that can be deemed "fundamental" or "implicit in the concept of ordered liberty," Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319, 325 (1937), are included in this guarantee of personal privacy. They also make it clear that the right has some extension to activities relating to marriage, Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12 (1967); procreation, Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 541-542 (1942); contraception, Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S., at 453-454; id., at 460, 463-465 (WHITE, J., concurring in result); family relationships, Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166 (1944); and child rearing and education, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 535 (1925), Meyer v. Nebraska, supra.

This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment's concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment's reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.
Even here, the Court seems to want to ground the notion of a right to privacy in the Constitution, albeit in the Constitution's recognition of a the concept of personal liberty or its reservation of rights to the people.

American conservatives, however, hold the more extreme view that that right of privacy—and, by implication, all such inalienable rights—are not natural human rights 'endowed by their Creator' but rights that may or may not granted by the government, and, in fact, on a strict construction of the Bill of Rights, they believe that the right of privacy has never been granted to the American people. They believe Roe v. Wade and all the other cases cited therein recognized a right that simply does not exist on a strict reading of the Constitution. (Our former president, the conservative George W. Bush, also held this view with respect to the right of privacy, and he used every means at his disposable to secretively eavesdrop and even spy on Americans, and this was the true litmus test he used for selecting the judges and Justices he nominated to our judiciary's benches.)

The point here on this weekend as we celebrate the anniversary of our independence: If you believe in fundamental human dignity (whether as a religionist or a humanist) and, in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, in certain inalienable human rights, be wary of conservative jurists and politicians who clamor for a "strict construction" of the Constitution. They are, in effect, arguing that human beings are essentially evil and fallen, that human beings (particularly citizens of the U.S.) have no innate or natural rights as a consequence either of their essential dignity or as creatures of God. According to them, the people have no rights unless the government says so, or unless some document grants it to them (and, by implication, can take it away). This is diametrically opposed to the philosophical premise on which our independence, indeed our country, was founded and, to my mind, is the first step toward true tyranny.

01 July 2009

Taking a Wild Guess, Here

For those of you playing along at home: This is not strictly what you could call a spoiler (because I haven't read the entire book [I'm still in the very low three figures]), but it's a bit of a guess about where Infinite Jest is going. Don't play if you care about not finding things out till the very end of the book. Me, I like to think ahead. Guess at the author's direction the first time through.

And if you're not reading along with the Infinite Summer project. Too bad. Still, a couple of these videos you'll find pretty funny.

Maybe our author was trippin' on some serious weed (or something) when he saw this particular episode, to wit from the first episode of the first season of the Pythons:



Could that really have been the inspiration for IJ?

Then there's (anachronistically w/r/t the film but not necessarily the novel) this:



Not half-bad music by Sakamoto Ryuichi.

And, of course, there's this (uncensored) Matt & Trey classic:



For those of you who've read it: am I on the right track?