Monday, May 31, 2010

President Obama Forgoes Memory For Memorial Day


In his weekly address last Saturday, George III President Barack Obama brought up an interesting anecdote regarding the origins of Memorial Day. Naturally, the Obama-loving Daily Kos was all over it yet in their hosannas they seemed to be as irony-challenged as the President himself.

Toward the close of his address, the President mentioned a group of southern women in 1866 who'd arrived at a cemetery to pay their respects to fallen Confederate soldiers of the Civil War. Then they noticed the graves of Union soldiers who'd also fallen but whose graves were being ignored.

What Obama didn't mention was how those graves got there to begin with. Memorial Day didn't start with the formation of a Memorial Day Commission a few years later but days after Appomattox with a group of freed slaves in South Carolina, the state in which the war began. These men, the Freedmen, knowing the bodies of Union soldiers who'd fallen in Confederate territory were unceremoniously buried in mass graves, took the extraordinary step of disinterring those bodies one at a time and giving each man his own grave so he could be honored properly.

African Americans had to have their own Memorial Day because no one thought to honor them for their own brave service to their country and they started the tradition with honoring the Union soldiers who'd died to help liberate them.

But that's not why I'm taking the President to task.

In his four minute-long address to the nation last Saturday, Obama neatly extracted a page from the Bush/Cheney playbook, one revised and perfected by two draft-dodging scumbags, and conflated WWI and Korea with the defense of our freedoms. WWI had nothing whatsoever to do with defending our freedoms. World War One was a war between European empires.

As with Pearl Harbor and World War Two, which actually did threaten American freedom in a nominal way, President Wilson hurled us into WWI largely as a response to the sinking of the Lusitania and the deaths of many Americans in 1915. Yet even then, it still took us nearly two years to enter the war effort. In our brief involvement with the Great War, over 100,000 men perished.

Yet we could have sat out that war without suffering any fallout here at home.

Korea was all about the stopping of Communist expansion in the 38th parallel at the height of the Cold War. It was the first of the two great "police actions" (the other being Vietnam) that was waged to halt the spread of Communist aggression. And the Korean "War" was never officially ended. To this day, half a century later, we still have 5000 troops in South Korea that are rotated out every 12 months.

Neither WWI and Korea had anything to do with ensuring our freedoms. So should we honor those men and women who had fallen in those two conflicts? Absolutely but let's do so in the proper context and not legitimize the circumstances of their sacrifices by lumping them into "legitimate" wars like the Revolutionary, Civil and second World Wars.

And let's not glorify war, either. Never was there a single word or syllable uttered by the president, who also never served his nation's military, expressing regret or any actual sorrow that these men and women died in uniform for their country at the whims of European madmen, Communist dictators and our own military industrial complex that Obama is even now enriching at an even greater clip than we ever saw under Bush and Cheney.

As Rep. Alan Grayson, a real Democrat, says in his latest dispatch, "We've Always Been at War with Eastasia":
On May 30, 2010, at 10:06 a.m, the direct cost of occupying Iraq and Afghanistan will hit $1 trillion. And in a few weeks, the House of Representatives will be asked to vote for $33 billion of additional "emergency" supplemental spending to continue the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. There will be the pretense of debate - speeches on the floor of both chambers, stern requests for timetables or metrics or benchmarks - but this war money will get tossed in the wood chipper without difficulty, requested by a President who ran on an anti-war platform. Passing this legislation will mark the breaking of another promise to America, the promise that all war spending would be done through the regular budget process. Not through an off-budget swipe of our Chinese credit card.

The war money could be used for schools, bridges, or paying everyone's mortgage payments for a whole year. It could be used to end federal income taxes on every American's first $35,000 of income, as my bill, the War Is Making You Poor Act, does. It could be used to close the yawning deficit, supply health care to the unemployed, or for any other human and humane purpose.

Instead, it will be used for war. Because, as Orwell predicted in 1984, we've reached the point where everyone thinks that we've always been at war with Eastasia. Why?

Not because Al Qaeda was sheltered in Iraq. It wasn't. And not because Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan. It isn't. Bush could never explain why we went to war in Iraq, and Obama can't explain why we are 'escalating' in Afghanistan.

So, why? Why spend $1 trillion on a long, bloody nine-year campaign with no justifiable purpose?

Remember 9/11, the day that changed everything? That was almost a decade ago. Bush's response was to mire us in two bloody wars, wars in which we are still stuck today. Why?

I can't answer that question. But I do have an alternative vision of how the last 10 years could have played out.

Imagine if we had decided after 9/11 to wean ourselves off oil and other carbon-based fuels. We'd be almost ten years into that project by now.

Imagine if George W. Bush had somehow been able to summon the moral strength of Mahatma Gandhi, Helen Keller, or Martin Luther King Jr, and committed the American people to the pursuit of a common goal of a transformed society, a society which meets our own human needs rather than declaring "war" on an emotion, or, as John Quincy Adams put it, going "abroad, in search of monsters to destroy".

Imagine.

Imagine that we chose not to enslave ourselves to a massive military state whose stated goal is "stability" in countries that never have been "stable", and never will be.

Imagine.

"Imagine all the people, living life in peace."

It's kind of ironic that our new President, one who ran on and won the presidency on a vaguely visionary platform, can't imagine the same: A world in which we don't have to fold Memorial Day observations into an extended weekend more characterized by a day off from work, cookouts, beer and the official opening of local beaches.

There will always be war and there will always be war dead, with men and women fated to die young before raising families or realizing dreams and ambitions. That is a sad fact of life. But all too many of us, our own president included, completely lack enough visionary courage or desire to even try to imagine a world without needless, economy-crippling wars that kill uniformed and civilian men, women and more children than we also have the courage to contemplate.

Because, after all, great realities all too often begin with humble dreams.

Friday, May 28, 2010

This is American Zen


It used to be a given in the industry that if an agent or editor found out you were posting your property online, they shied away from you. Exposure and a built-in audience equaled fewer potential sales.

All that's changed. Now, with literary agents getting stupider and stupider and acquisitions editors shrinking their strike zone down to the size of a Republican's heart, about the only prayer you have of getting noticed outside of a literary agency is to post your material online.

Meet Mike Flannigan, my alter ego and the guy who's been publishing the best articles on Pottersville this past one plus year. I've just posted American Zen in its entirety on Scribd, which is most popularly known as the Youtube of documents.

American Zen, to those of you not in the know, is Mike's "memoir" of what was perhaps the most important and emotionally-charged week in his life. As a 19 year-old boy, Mike was the erstwhile lead guitarist for a promising Massachusetts-based rock and roll band called the Immortals in 1978. When their front man Dave suddenly got signed to a solo deal during their very last gig, the band broke up and the members went their separate ways.

Thirty years later, Mike, now a liberal political investigative journalist/blogger, gets a mysterious email from his childhood friend and former bandmate, the keyboardist Jo Jo Vandermeer. The email is as cryptic as it is brief:

"Let's get the guys together."

Suddenly, Mike is the only political journalist not writing about the incoming Obama administration. Because what happens between that Saturday morning and the heart-rending climax on Thanksgiving is the defining moment in not just Mike's life but in the lives of all the surviving bandmates during their improbable reunion. Through the brawls, shocking decades-old secrets laid bare, Fox News-fueled scandal and ultimately tragedy, Mike and company realize that while friendship is amazingly durable it is also amazingly fragile. That salvation, while necessary to all of us, also sometimes comes at the ultimate price.

It's American rock and roll. It's American life and death. It's American Zen.

See the show.

If you have a Facebook account, it's very easy to open a Scribd account and everything you post on the latter will be publicized on the former.

If it wasn't for reader Stan "The Man" Banos at Reciprocity Failure passing along a newspaper article referencing this and other alternative publishing venues, I wouldn't have even known about this. So, Stan m' man, this upload is dedicated to you.

Update: For some reason, Scribd is stumbling right out of the gate. I've already uploaded this manuscript twice and both times it's turned into a 426 page blank document. If anyone else is having these issues, please email me and I'll see what I can get from Scribd in the way of answers.

2nd note: Apparently, Scribd doesn't have the hard drive space to store documents longer than 100 pages. At least, I haven't found anything even remotely as long as American Zen's 426 page size. So you'll have to content yourself with the first 7 chapters.

3rd Update: After a bit of detective work, I've discovered that, for some maddeningly inane reason, you can only view the .pdf file on IE but not Mozilla Firefox. I don't use Internet Explorer for reasons that are as numerous as the sheer number of viruses it lets slip into your hard drive. If any Firefox users are having trouble seeing the document, please email me or leave a comment. For the time being, I'm just going to leave the first 7 chapters up because I'm already sick of this uploading bullshit.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Attention Writers


Especially frustrated novelists like me who are sick and tired of playing ring around-the-rosey with bottom line-driven zombie literary agencies. There's a new sheriff in town and it's called Cambridge House Books.

Now, my regular readers no doubt recall a two part series I'd posted last week giving both 10 gauge barrels to the literary representation business. Perhaps it's a coincidence and perhaps it isn't, but I got a rare fascinating email that made a pitch I had to pay attention to. I don't want to sound like a paid shill because I'm not. But when you hear what they said in their introductory email, it's going to make those of you who've been in the sink-or-swim writing business realize how much things are changing.

Reflecting concerns and complaints I've been yelling about for close to two decades, Cambridge House had developed a progressive strategy that was first pioneered by Stephen King and his new publisher after he'd left Simon and Schuster in the 90's:

The deal King and his publisher had set was ingenious in its simplicity and one is amazed it took this long to spread and solidify into an actual corporate strategy: Instead of King getting seven figure advances that he plainly didn't need by that time, he and his publisher decided to split the risk. In lieu of a huge advance that in all likelihood wouldn't be earned out, they would split the royalties 50/50. By doing that, King was not only taking in half the profits, he was also assuming half the risk. If he failed, his publisher failed.

This is what Cambridge House Books is now doing with their growing author list.

Hopefully, this will catch on and we won't be seeing many more $7-$10 million deals given to Bible-thumping dorks like Sarah fucking Palin and Joel Osteen.

To be fair, Harper Collins was the first major publisher to tentatively stick its cloven hoof in the water over two years ago with their Writers Initiative but here's the drawback: They, like all major publishers, largely extend this deal to their biggest-selling authors and nothing's really changed for their firsttime and midlist authors. All those corporate clowns at Harper are doing is just hedging their bets and going with proven cash cows like King's publisher did with him. It simply wouldn't be worth the while for major publishers to extend such a risky deal to a midlist author even if they're the ones responsible for keeping him/her at midlist!

And while this created hardly a ripple in the industry (few if any other big publishing houses have followed suit), it's equally true that even the trogs who run these publishing houses are gradually coming to the same conclusions that I and many writers had reached 15-20 years ago: That there's incredible short-sightedness and waste that goes hand in hand with the book business.

A top publisher with an annual catalog of, say, 1500 titles just understands and accepts as business as usual that about all but five of those books will fail. More often than not, we see that those five books a year, the equivalent of a tent pole movie from a major studio, had benefited from the lion's share of the publisher's publicity and advertising budget.

Even in the digital age, in which the latest by Stephen King or Ann Coulter will be pre-publicized for pennies on Amazon and sold months in advance of publication, publishers still earmark most of their advertising budget for guys who already have national and in some cases, international household name recognition. They still get the full page ads in the NY Times Book Review, dozens of advance copies sent to top reviewers, writeups in trade journals, radio spots and in some cases, trailers that get TV spots.

The rest of their stable of authors don't get that.

Cambridge House amplified and expanded the idea that authors should take on more risk if not assume half of it and this could have a great upside. In the business, it's a given that the publisher, which typically will spend $100,000 (not including printing costs) over a year and a half to bring out a single title, assumes 100% of the financial risk. But what even Cambridge House doesn't mention (to be fair, neither does anyone else) is that while the publisher assumes 100% of the financial risk, they still get to keep 90% of the royalties and the reputational risk is assumed by the author.

An ugly reality in the publishing biz: If your book doesn't hit the ground running and start selling 3-4 weeks after arrival, heartless corporate booksellers like Borders, Inc. and Barnes and Noble can and will pull it off their shelves to make way for the next victim. Where do these remaindered books get sent? Back to the publishers' shredders. Three to four weeks after publication.

That's enough to make any tree hugger go on a ten state shooting spree. Same with a lot of authors.

The unfortunate author, not their publisher, gets stuck with the stigma of failure even though it's almost entirely the publisher's fault for underpublicizing his/her title because they were too busy drumming up publicity for bestselling authors who are already more visible and recognizable than 99% of our elected officials.

Cambridge House seeks to curb that waste and even established publishers are finally waking and realizing, if not how many trees they're needlessly killing, the insanity of such waste. If the publisher fails, the author fails with them. If the author succeeds, everyone's happy.

What Cambridge will do for you, considering they take on your project, is to actually work with you even to the point of editing your ms, a practice that's all but a boutique service afforded only bestselling authors. Not a vanity or subsidy press by any means, they'll also assume a real role in publicizing your book and will negotiate with the biggest distributors such as Ingram and even Book of the Month clubs.

In other words, everything a publisher is supposed to do in the interests of their success but making the author more of a partner than an underpaid resource. Far from being a radical concept, this is what publishers did in the old days and is bringing back Old School publishing. The only difference is, authors are no longer capped at 15% royalties for hard cover and 7-8% for paperback sales but are made full partners.

They print the book, do the editing, if needed, the cover art, the advertising, provide aid in the distribution, etc. They actually invite you to submit manuscripts whether you're multiply-published or an unknown, whether your book is finished or still in the planning stages. And the best part:

If this catches on, it will do one of two things: Make greedy, self-absorbed literary agents go the way of the Dodo Bird, CCRs and rewrite editors or force them to recognize that we no longer need them in their current capacity as second-string gate keepers and that they'd better think twice before sending newly-empowered writers form rejection letters and the blatant disrespect many of us talented writers are getting on a daily basis.

I already wrote to them asking for exact submission guidelines and will send them American Zen. If you're a writer and you've produced a quality ms, I'd suggest you click on this link and try them, too.

How Does an American Power Act?


Well, before one can answer that, one must first determine which American power we're talking about: The political establishment or Big Business. And we've gotten several indications during countless congressional testimonies and lax to nonexistent oversight during the past generation to know where the real power lies.

The graph above was created by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a right wing think tank named after its principle money man, infamous right winger Pete Peterson. In a nutshell, it predicts the impact the American Power Act will have on US energy usage in the decades to come. You'll note that this energy industry-friendly legislation cooked up by Lindsey Graham, Joe Lieberman and John Kerry has little impact on reducing coal and oil consumption and has virtually zero impact on renewal energy sources such as wind and solar power.

Any supposedly progressive legislation that has the support of an energy CEO like Duke's Jim Rogers should make any true statesman shriek and run from it as if it was radioactive.

Fortunately for the energy industry, there are virtually no politicians who are handicapped and hobbled by such scruples. Same thing goes for the bureaucrats who run the Obama-era Interior Ministry and EPA. In fact, a former EPA investigator just confided that BP, currently the world's biggest polluter, won't be disciplined for spilling nearly 20 million gallons of crude (and counting) into the Gulf Coast and we can be assured such generous impunity will also be extended to Halliburton and Transocean, the rig's owner.

Of course, that's because the government can't afford the luxury of righteousness.

It's one thing to give these world-class polluters endless dispensations and exemptions. It's another thing entirely for our government to actually lie to the American people and to act as paid shills or mouthpieces in a laughable attempt at perception management. In fact, BP is actively forbidding scientists with more sophisticated instruments to investigate the extent of the spill and the government isn't exactly militant about letting them in. Plus, Jason Leopold of Truthout reminded us recently about the Bush-era DOJ actively scuttling an investigation that allowed BP to in turn scuttle away after paying the government a $20 million fine for a crime occurring in Alaska's Northern Slope that was downgraded to a misdemeanor.

What we're seeing is bitch-slapped, hat-in-hand compliance from two successive administrations, one very Republican and the other technically Democratic. And just as most of the Deepwater Horizon's oil spill is still underwater and not even visible to NASA satellites, this endless compliance toward the energy industry is just the tip of the iceberg.

Despite lying to the American people just 22 days before the Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 workers, in which he said,
So today we’re announcing the expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration, but in ways that balance the need to harness domestic energy resources and the need to protect America’s natural resources

President Obama then did what President Obama does and publicly clucked his tongue at BP in a faux populist vein. However, even that risible righteousness in turn earned a cluck of the tongue from Tea Party Flavor the Day Rand Paul, who said that Obama criticizing BP, a British oil company, was "unAmerican."

It is now unAmerican to criticize a huge corporation, even one headquartered in Europe, something that Teddy Roosevelt, a true progressive Republican, was doing a century ago. And what's being criticized as unAmerican, this token righteousness, is further made even more ludicrous by the realization that since the spill, Obama's Interior Dept. has issued 27 more drilling leases that we know of to other oil companies, including two to BP.

When one carefully parses the American Power Act, the new health care bill and the much-ballyhooed financial regulatory bill, we see an unmistakable pattern: A Congress that's being used as contractors and subcontractors whose job is to allow huge corporations to continue to self-regulate and self-deal. Look at the bankruptcy bill of 2005, one that was actually written by the nation's biggest lenders around 1997.

Then think of what Sen. Dick Durbin blurted out in a fit of frustration at having his homeowner relief bill blocked by Republicans and the usual swarm of lobbyists: "And the banks -- hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created -- are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place."

Truer words were never spoken on Capitol Hill.

And if the BP rig disaster doesn't show the endless compliance and forever put to rest the illusion that Congress and the administration will ever enact real reform and regulation over these world-eating corporations, nothing ever will. And the tragedy is that it doesn't even matter which party is in power. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss and they both smell like sweet light crude.


They have the money and the lobbyists and we don't. On Capitol Hill, money doesn't just talk: It screams with thousands of megaphones, drowning out the voices of even hundreds of millions of people. They'd drunk our milkshake long ago and there's only that irritating hollow sucking sound.

Monday, May 24, 2010

LOST's WTF Ending


(Spoiler alert: For those who have yet to see last night's finale of LOST, you may want to hit your backspace button and not read this post.)

Years ago, I suspected that this is how LOST would end: The castaways would find out they were dead all along. But I dismissed that as beneath J.J. Abrams' talent as a writer. Doing so would've been been a limp retread of that entire season of DALLAS in which we find out the entire year was just a dream. It was one of the most notorious jump-the-shark moments in TV history.

Little did I believe that Abrams would go for that very ending. For six years, we always had faith that by the series finale, all loose ends would be tied up tighter than a Jack Shepard tourniquet and no stone would be left unturned. Instead, we were left with more loose ends than we can count.

For instance, I can understand the philosophical ambiguity of us not knowing where the "dead" castaways are going but we can assume they've moved on and will transition to heaven. While somewhat unimaginative and something a second string writer would conjure, it remains a perfectly valid explanation as to their ultimate destination.

However, what was the island? What was the purpose behind it? Why was the Dharma Initiative so obsessed with it other than a vague mission to harness the island's potent but largely unexplained power? And Charles Widmore never adequately explained his own obsession with the island or what specifically he was after other than an equally abstract desire to also harness its power?

If they were dead these past six years, why were Kate and Sawyer/James Ford allowed to leave the island with Miles, Richard and Frank? Leave the island to go where? Richard had lived on the island most of his life and Frank and Miles arrived on Widmore's freighter and weren't on Oceanic 815.

Same with Desmond and Ben Linus, who were left behind on the island with Hurley, the new Jacob by default. And if Hurley and Desmond (and possibly Ben, who preferred to remain outside the church) transitioned to their final journey, then how could they remain on the island?

And if the island could in a metaphysical way resurrect the dead, then why were there only 48 survivors from the fuselage in the pilot episode (more from the later discovered tail section) and why did most of the passengers immediately perish in the crash? And why wasn't Michael, one of the original characters, at the reunion?

Midway through LOST's run, after we find out at the end of season three that some of the castaways managed to escape the island, it became very difficult to follow the twists and turns visited on us every week what with time travel, alternate universes and realities and so forth. But I managed to see every single episode of this series and the lack of resolution, while it isn't enough to justify a feature length movie, left me hungering for more.

While there's something universally satisfying about all of us coming to terms with our individual ends, it nonetheless is kind of a bittersweet resolution considering that almost all the characters went on to better alternate lives only to be told through overwhelming consensus that this, too, was an illusion and that their transition would be an ambiguous one. Many of these characters, especially Hurley, Jack and Desmond, finally figured it all out and set up lucrative, satisfying lives for themselves only to be told this was a lie and they'd have to give it up for an ambiguous fate with no guarantee of eternal happiness.

It was like "Lets Make a Deal" and being forced to choose the one door offered.

About five minutes before the series ended, I just knew, being a writer with an instinct for the circular, that the closing image would be the exact reverse of how the show opened six years ago: The dying Jack Shepard closing his eye, with Vincent the yellow Lab by his side. It was a nice, elliptical touch but not so nice as to make up for the unanswered questions and untied loose ends that offer lack of resolution while not seeming to justify a feature-length film that would.

Was anyone else as dissatisfied with the ending as I was?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Rand Paul's Best Moment





From her days as an Air America host, it's always been very tempting to compare liberal icon Rachel Maddow to fictional liberal icon Murphy Brown. Both ladies are smart, funny and always seem to be on the right side of every debate. The only difference is that Brown's character was a fierce pitbull in the face of Republican idiocy whereas Maddow never loses her composure and remains ever the lady while nonetheless remaining true to her journalistic credo.

Therefore it was almost preordained that Rachel would eventually get someone on her show that personifies the positions taken by the odious Stuart Best, a former colleague of Brown's who ran for, and won, a seat in Congress. Anyone who's ever seen that infamous episode knows that this was one of the few times that Brown didn't actually earn her paycheck. All she had to do was ask three candidates for their positions, three politicians consisting of one Democrat, one Republican and Wallace Shawn's character, proto-Tea Bagger Stuart Best.

Best quickly got himself into hot water when he was forced to spew racist right wing talking points given to him in a position paper by his donors, including a White Supremacy group that would deny basic civil rights to those who weren't "at least 7/8ths caucasian" and a "radical offshoot" of the NRA.

Rand Paul had just such a moment on Rachel Maddow's show just days after winning the GOP primary for Kentucky's senate race. After having made some pretty inflammatory remarks on TV and radio about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it was Maddow's turn to put his feet to the fire.

If you've seen this interview, you'll easily note that while trying to remain on the side of private business and its right not to be dictated to by the federal government, Paul is also trying to walk down that rope on the side of racial equality. Instead of walking down that rope, however, he only wound up hanging himself on it.

It's difficult to know where to begin dissecting this Tea Party lunacy from which Paul is now forbidden to stray. He tries to compare apples to hyenas by conflating racial equality at lunch counters with peoples' right to carry firearms into such an establishment and tries to portray it as an academic debate that we on then left are trying to politicize,

Then he tries to accuse Maddow moments later of conflation.

OK, I'll concede that Paul has a point: This shouldn't be a political football. Civil rights never should've been allowed to become a political issue and should've remained what it truly was all along: A human rights issue. But it isn't us who's turning this 46 year-old landmark legislation into a deflated political football. You can credit Tea Party Republicans for that.

But Rand Paul, a man who every time he opens his big, mealy mouth seems bound and determined to prove himself worthy of being named after Corporate Goddess Ayn Rand, uncomfortably waddles down that rope while trying not to alienate blacks and liberals or private business owners who own little Walgreen and Woolworth lunch counters.

Rand Paul seems perfectly comfortable, however, in tacitly siding with such people who should be allowed to discriminate against others because of skin color and their right to allow firearms into such establishments. Looking back on the lunch counter beatings that are still preserved on film from those days, one shudders to think what would've happened if more white people had brought their guns to Woolworth's.

This is what Rand Paul is cravenly trying to support without seeming too obvious about it:



As well as this:



...and this...


...and this...


...and this.



What Paul doesn't realize is that the civil rights struggle is not a political, abstract or academic issue. In fact, as long as idiots like Rand Paul continue championing the rights of white business owners to practice racial discrimination over the equal rights sought by people of color, that struggle will never truly be academic or resolved.

I don't believe that Rand Paul is any more racist than the pathetic Stuart Best. But defending a person's right to practice racism is racism. In other words, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. And Rand Paul is not the solution to any problem, least of all the racism that still thrives in the Tea Party that helped him win the primary.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Three Things About the Financial Reform Bill That Don't Make Sense


By now, we all know that last night the Senate passed their version of the financial reform bill that was mightily hated and fought by corporations, their swarm of lobbyists and the US Chamber of Commerce. I guess we should thank whatever God we pray to for small favors that it didn't drag on as long and as bitterly as the health care debate. In fact, a comprehensive bill may be on President Obama's desk as early as Monday next week.

And while it's certainly a good thing that Congress ultimately resisted the forces of darkness, there are three major issues I have with the bill. I never had any illusions that this "sweeping" "reform" bill would either be sweeping or benefiting from any actual reformist zeal but I just want to have three things clarified for me:

1) If the cost of regulating risks will make too "expensive" for banks to comply with the added oversight and if they pass these additional expenses onto their account holders, then how is this real regulatory reform? Isn't protecting Joe Accountholder from rapacious banks the main impetus for drafting such reform, in the first place?

2) Regulating interchange fees may or not prove to be a good idea in the long run. Yet if debit card holders like me (although I use a community bank, which isn't the concern of the bill) find fewer places where their cards will be accepted, in theory this could lead to bigger headaches than not being able to pay with the plastic. If more people are forced to withhold liquid capital from their banks and keeping more of their cash to themselves to make purchases that used to be made with debit cards, doesn't that hurt banks in the long run and wouldn't they, once again, be forced to retaliate by hiking fees and surcharges to make up for this shortfall in liquid capital?

3) If Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are still owned lock, stock and barrel by the federal government, then why are they exempt from oversight from Uncle Sam? You'd think this would be the perfect time to keep an eye on these troublesome twins to ensure they've learned their lesson.

Even the most cynical of us have to concede that this bill could've been a lot worse. Think of the Bankruptcy bill of 2005, for instance, another product of hideously misplaced and badly-aimed zeal. Forming a consumer protection agency, something bitterly fought by the US Chamber of Commerce is, in theory, a good thing for US consumers. Hopefully, it won't be underfunded or neglected when no one's looking so banks will continue making usurious, predatory loans to unwary home buyers that can then be bundled and profitably sold as toxic assets by other predators such as Goldman Sachs.

Going back to the regulatory risks aspect of the bill: One thing I do like is the creation of a $150,000,000,000 slush fund to help bail out "distressed" banks. Why shouldn't they pay for their own bailouts instead of passing the buck, or 700 billion of them, to the taxpayer? And if they try to make up for that shortfall by jacking up fees and surcharges or lowering interest rates on interest-bearing accounts, there's always the option of amending the bill.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Actual Word Verification From Craigslist


So I can prove I'm not a spambot but I have to prove my racist bona fides? Not a very good tradeoff.

I captured this image then refreshed the page because I refused to type that word.

Caption Contest


A young, pre-blackboard Glenn Beck demonstrates how Drew Carey is the anti-Christ.

OK, your turn.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What's the Difference Between Arlen Specter and a Magic Bullet?


Arlen Specter won't magically reappear and certainly not intact.

That's right, big surprise. Rep. Joe Sestak, one of the few actual Democrats running for office this year, has just defeated in PA's Senate Democratic primary one of the most nakedly ambitious turncoats in recent US history. As with John McCain and so many other flipfloppers, Specter's ouster in a primary race this spring points to not only comeuppance for those who don't toe one party line or the other but a predictable anti-incumbent fervor sweeping the nation.

Republicans are getting swept out, Democrats are getting swept out and many of their seats will fall into the hands of the other party.

In the end, not much will really change. The Republicans won't make any significant gains in the House if at all, none in the Senate and Congress will still be loaded with subcontractor psychopaths charitably referred to as lawmakers.

The real test will be not in the midterms but the 2012 general elections when the Democrats will have no choice but to ride Obama's coattails. Their chances of survival will depend largely if not entirely on the success of Obama's agenda.

And considering the results thus far, with Obama keeping Bush's fascist infrastructure and two unwinnable wars intact and actually covering for Bush and his war criminal cronies, the GOP in '12 just may sweep in like it's 1994 again.

But for now the midterms are shaping up to be like kabuki: Interesting in a train wreck sort of way but ultimately pointless.

But let's not forget one thing: The Tea Partyers just got a huge credibility spike when their man, Rand Paul, won his GOP primary in Kentucky tonight.

Immigration: No Easy Answers


(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari)

Admittedly, seeing the fairness and justness of Arizona's draconian new law, SB1070, isn't easy. Police officers being fallible humans like the rest of us, it will inevitably lead to racial profiling in spite of Gov. Jan Brewer's sickeningly pious assurances that it will not be tolerated. To right wing, anti-immigrant activists, it's not even that controversial but an upholding of three federal laws: US Code Title 8, 1304, US Code Title 8 Section 1324 and US Code Title 8 Section 1324a, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by FDR, a liberal Democratic president, 70 years ago.

But one must also consider the meanspiritedness that pushed such a law into being and take into account another signed a week later by Jan Brewer that pretty much outlawed all multicultural studies in Arizona's schools. One must also factor in Jan Brewer being up for election and her obvious desire to suck up to Arizona's powerful conservative voting base, the corrupt, multimillion taxpayer dollar cottage industry that's sprung up around the Bush-era Operation Streamline.

We'd also be remiss as thinking, compassionate people if we ignored the cynicism of SB1070 being used as a deterrent against legal US citizens of Hispanic descent who may want to vote for their favorite Democratic candidates.

And, finally, one must also acknowledge that there are many Arizona police officers who are against SB1070, including the Police Chief of Phoenix. Here's a sampling of what law enforcement is saying in opposition to SB1070:
"Before the signing of this bill, citizens would wave at me. Now they don't even want to make eye contact." - David Salgado, a 19-year Phoenix police veteran

"Crime is not based upon skin color, it's based upon conduct." - Mark Spencer, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association

"When you get a law that leads a state down this path, where the enforcement is targeted to a particular segment of the population, it's very difficult not to profile." - Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris

"If they're not committing a crime here, frankly, I'm not sure how it enhances public safety to target those people for removal." - Police Chief Thomas Manger of Montgomery County, Md.

The last word on the subject seems to be from Jack McDevitt, associate dean of criminal justice at Northeastern University, who says, "No training you give police officers is going to change all of the officer's behavior. Unfortunately, the shortcut will be: 'What does this person look like? What kind of accent does he have? And what kind of car is he driving?'"

Here's the problem: SB 1070 is, indeed, a reaffirmation of Federal Law US Code Title 8, 1304, US Code Title 8 Section 1324 and US Code Title 8 Section 1324a. The difference is, crossing into Arizona illegally will be an infraction of Arizona law, which smacks of the usurpation of federal authority. Many right wing activists will consider this a triumph of states' rights and those of us in the reality-based community all know what "states' rights" really means.

Another wrinkle in this new law, one that's not received as much notice, is that any Arizona citizen can sue a state law enforcement agency and even individual law enforcement officers if they have a reasonable suspicion they're not upholding the immigration law.

It's not much of a stretch to see the potential for abuse of this law if cops under the gun from the citizens who pay their salaries wish to avoid getting sued for dereliction of duty.

It's also very easy to at least strongly suspect that these Mexican immigrants who are dying by the hundreds trying to cross 20-60 miles of desert are being used as political and financial fodder. Truthout's Dahr Jamail recently published a sobering and tragic story of these people who are crossing over onto US soil for economic or familial reasons.

Jamail paints a picture of an Arizona courtroom in which six dozen or more captured immigrants face the same judge, Tom Ferraro, every day five days a week for some fast food simulacrum of justice, those who were snared in the Operation Streamline net. It's the embodiment of McJustice, the catch and release of an endless stream of poor dark people off whose backs millions are made in an endlessly corrupt system involving the underreported Wackenhut, which provides the transportation of these prisoners, public "defenders" who make $6,000-$12,000 a day each to complete the illusion of legal representation, $20-$22 million a month (or a conservative estimate of almost a quarter of a billion a year) in more taxpayer dollars just to keep the courthouse running and finally the private prison firm CCA, whose Eloy detention facility also vacuums up $9-11 million each month (or roughly $120,000,000 more a year).

Obviously, without SB1070, a lot of people would stand to lose their jobs and many private corporations and part of Arizona's criminal justice system would stand to lose a lot of money. With SB1070, they stand to make a lot more at taxpayer expense. What is now about 1000-1500 captured illegals facing "justice" per diem could easily turn into 2000-3000 a day or more.

With that kind of federal money flowing into Arizona's coffers, one's argument of Mexican workers pumping their minimum wage or sub minimum wage earnings into the state economy doesn't cut as much ice as it used to.

Meanwhile, these people are dying in our back yards. Border patrol agents are physically abusing them. And for every story of a BP agent offering medical assistance, there's at least one more to counter, such as the horrific story of a mother who was shackled by the Border Patrol even during childbirth. Some of the 85 corpses that have been found since October last year in the Arizona desert are so badly decomposed and dessicated that determining the gender much less the identity is all but impossible.

The anti-immigrant bias is so potent that even people who have tried to help these illegals by leaving out food and water for them have also been arrested and charged for their humanitarian acts.

But the bottom line is that there are no easy answers to the immigration issue. While it's true that crime in Phoenix has actually steadily gone down since the immigration wave began with NAFTA, the unavoidable fact is that they are here in violation of federal law regardless of the purity of their motives and their pitiful plights.

The Bush administration, in a rare show of bipartisanship, only alienated liberals and conservatives with its own compromised immigration bill that included a guest worker program that would streamline the path to citizenship for working Mexicans and South Americans. And with the second bailout, health care reform, the expansion of the war in Afghanistan and other huge issues facing the new administration, it's only fair to give President Obama a brief grace period until he can get a handle on this latest "crisis."

But to call a wave of indigent and desperate people looking for work and not handouts a "crisis" is very misleading. By and large, these people do not break the law and in fact avoid law enforcement whenever possible. They shun medical care because of their illegal status and they do put their meager earnings back into the national economy. The only crisis regarding immigration is the subhuman way these people are treated and the Nazi-era images inspired by right wing zealots who are bent on making Mexicans the new Jewish scapegoats in the even more real economic crisis facing us as a nation.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

An Unnecessary Evil: Part Two


But there are other reasons for constant rejection.

Selfish, sociopathic greed and career ambition is one and I don't pretend to understand why agents shoot themselves in the foot every day and try to put a positive spin knowing they let the big fish get away. Privately, you know they kick themselves in their fat asses with their soft leather Guccis.

Take my former agent: One of the things I admired most about Kimberley was when she called my house one night to beg me to let her represent me (back when agents made house calls) and admitted she let John Gilstrap get away. Kim's agency was one of the ones to which Gilstrap had submitted his eventuallly bestselling Nathan's Run. And Kim lost him because she took too long getting back to him. John, in the meantime, had settled on Molly Friedrich of the Aaron Priest Agency. Molly went on to put Gilstrap's property up for an exciting phone auction and got him a six figure deal with a hard cover edition through Warner Books (Warner Brothers Studios bought but didn't exercise the film rights). Kim's ship had sailed and was a dot on the horizon.

I thought, Either this is the dumbest agent on record or the most honest and self-effacing. I agreed to let her rep me even before we signed a representation agreement.

Unfortunately, my first appraisal was truer than the second. Kimberley thought my first novel, a sci fi piece of tripe about time travel and Jack the Ripper, was the greatest thing she'd ever read. Well, obviously, that book went nowhere and after a couple of months she was telling me to submit it to Warner Books' Young Author's contest.

Yes. She was actually telling me to do her footwork for her.

But that brings home my point: With a horrible first novel written before I'd learned most of even the basic rules for story-telling, I was able to get the services of an honest, nonfee-charging agent in virtually no time. Subsequent projects not long after received similar interest.

Fast forward 15 years later: Agents are so jaded (and literarily stupid) that my later novels, which blow out of the water anything and everything I'd written in the 90's, barely merits form rejection letters. Just the other day, I got rejected by an agent who said he couldn't take on any new clients but back in 1999 I kept him from getting fired when his client, Alex Kava, was expressing impatience with him on an internet BBS for writers. By this time, Philip Spitzer (no relation to Eliot) was already in semi-retirement.

However, when it's my turn, I'm told there's no room at the inn.

Media consolidation is responsible for much of this tighter, more competitive market. It's not unusual to see a media giant such as Germany's Bertelsmann AG, for instance, owning over 100 formerly independent US publishers. With more publishers and imprints under one huge umbrella, it spells only one thing: Fewer titles in the publishers' catalogs, hence fewer sales opportunities for agents and authors. And when brain transplant candidates like Sarah Palin get signed by agents who get for them $7,000,000 deals knowing damned good and well they're not actually writing anything, it further shrinks an already fast-evaporating watering hole for the rest of us. The agent and publisher alike are both well aware that the book likely won't earn out its advance, but that's OK. It's all about fast sales and fast commissions regardless of Going Rogue ending up by this summer, as it ought, at BJ's, CostCo's or K-Mart's book bargain bin going for $1.98.

As it is, it's tougher for firsttime authors, real writers, to get repped much less break into print. And those few agents who specialize in first fiction and multiply-rejected properties actually get my admiration because they've chosen to hoe the toughest row. The resub rate is miserable and firsttime novelists are expected to be accredited experts in certain fields.

But you'd think that talent and conscientiousness, obeyance of the rules would eventually pay off. After all, all it takes is one person in a position to help to make all the difference, right? Tell that to a talented, conscientious author who's been following the rules for close to two decades and has been kissing ass only to get farted in his or her face.

Tell that to someone who actually has an original, compelling, well-written concept and told time after time that their book still isn't as good as even the worst book currently on the shelves. After a while, with feedback cruelly held from you, you begin to wonder if you've been black-balled or kept out of the loop and denied the secret password or handshake or if Jeff Herman's Guide or the obscenely-priced Literary Market Place is a colossal hoax that give you the wrong contact names and that the real deal-makers' contact info is on a secret list.

Of course, this is largely untrue but it all goes back to what I say about lack of input and writing and submitting in a vacuum playing tricks with your mind.

The double standard is also the most galling thing about being a writer trying to break into print. Time and again, you'll see agent listings that stipulate that you must address a particular agent by name then a line or two below that says in essence, "If you haven't heard back from us in 6-8 weeks, take that as our way of not saying, Eat shit and die." And we're supposed to be OK with that and not second-guess their judgment.

And, while agents and editors alike readily admit they're in it for the money and look not at how good a property is but how salable it is (agents and editors begin the process by doing what's called an IPL, or Industry Profit Loss statement, a paper crystal ball that's supposed to tell them how big or bad a seller the book will be), they also tell us from the other side of their mouths that we're not supposed to be in it for the money but for the love of the game.

Uh huh. Making tons of money is merely incidental, in the minds of agents and publishing executives. Right. Gotcha.

Adding to the angst of a beginning writer is another movement, this one hostile to the writer, as are all trends in the business: The author is expected to do more.

It's a given, especially, if you're a nonfiction author, to have a marketing platform and to include that in with your pitch. You're supposed to be an accredited expert in one field or another so your book will have credibility. You're supposed to already have an internet presence, a following. In other words, a built-in readership and marketing platform. In the profiles and submission guidelines, agents even have the chutzpah to expect you to tell them what your qualifications are for writing your novel, why you're uniquely qualified to write it. Try saying merely, "Talent" and see how far it gets you.

If you're not an accredited expert or have been hiding from the internet these past 20 years and if you don't have a marketing or even a distribution strategy in place, you might as well just save your time, envelopes and postage. This business is rapidly becoming more and more of a self-serve industry and agents and publishers alike have gotten so lazy they expect you to hawk and whore your books almost as if you've published them through a vanity press. Publicity is up to you, marketing is up to you and whatever boutique agencies that take care of these things reserve such rarified treatment for proven money-makers.

That's not to say publishers don't have publicity and advertising departments. But the big book signing tours and full page ads in the NY Times Book Review, the writeups and reviews by big name authors in Kirkus and elsewhere are, once again, reserved for the Sarah Palins, Dan Browns and J.K. Rowlings. The rest of us are lucky if we get a blurb in our old high school newspaper and perhaps a book signing in our local bookshops.

Borders, for instance, got rid of a job title: The CCR. The CCR used to be the buffer between the public and publisher and helped set up book signings and readings. But, whereas a book store used to hold a community together and establish a community presence, today's book malls with the coffee bars are mere cash cows with no more real ties or obligations to the community than a casino or oil refinery. Like literary agencies and publishers, they are hollow entities that serve only one purpose and one purpose only: To make money. They are money factories, cash temples that now answer to boards of directors and shareholders and the books are actually incidental and ancillary at this point.

Publishing's always been a business but the days of Max Perkins at Scribner's guiding his authors through the publishing process are long gone and there are no more Swifty Lazars. There are only bean counters and whereas you may have literally invested blood, sweat and tears into your book, the odds of getting even a nibble of interest is entirely, completely and totally dependent upon their appraisal of your chances of putting money in their pockets.

Literary agents, while some of them are genuinely nice human beings, nonetheless are helping to ruin the publishing business that is plainly dying or undergoing tectonic changes around them. They are well-scrubbed parasites with an increasingly narrow focus (I got a rejection just two days from an agent that said, "I represent only cozies" and freely admitted not having read a word of my book. The turnaround time was 5 minutes flat, a record even for me, if not all time) and haughtier and haughtier attitudes toward the unwashed, "pre-pubbed" hordes.

Even potentially salable commodities (which is solely how they view our productions) are passed on if it doesn't personally tickle their subjective fancy. They'll tell you, "If I'm not crazy over this book, I will not be able to sell it." In other words, we're supposed to believe that the tens of millions of titles that have been sold over the last generation or so were done by agents who were absolutely head over heels in love with every one of them. As if it's not possible to fake enthusiasm even in a face-to-face business like publishing.

Literary agents will lie to you, disrespect you, sometimes cheat you, they will ignore you, they will pass more and more of the work on to you, they will hand down the law to you regardless of them being the hired help who works for the author and not vice versa and they will make you live under double standards. They are the nouveau riche, the new merchant class of the publishing racket and, like the newly-rich merchant class of the Middle Ages, have the hubris and attitude to go with their newfound wealth and political power.

Issac Asimov never had an agent in his life and you'd be surprised to find out who else doesn't. If you have to go the way of subsidy publishing and selling your book on Amazon or through Kindle or eBooks, do whatever you can to avoid agents. They are simply an unnecessary evil that, along with publishers, is killing the business for those who sustain the industry: We the writers and we the readers who create the trends.

Friday, May 14, 2010

An Unnecessary Evil: Part One


"Dear Author: After careful consideration, we regretfully come to the conclusion that your submission doesn't meet our needs at this time. But thank you for thinking of Og Literary Agency and good luck in your future endeavors, etc. etc. etc."

The pre-published (as the landed literary gentry generously call us nowadays before sniggering up their cuff-linked and well-starched sleeves) who think that literary agents are necessary evils are increasingly becoming the most optimistic of us. I would submit that literary agencies in general are unnecessary evils that are ruining the publishing business.

Of course, those who have agents would readily spring to the defense of their particular agent but largely on the strength of their having followed a predatory hunch that their client could put some coin in their pockets. It's the most purely mercenary of relationships. The speed with which a writer gets his/her phone calls taken and the odds of being put on hold are directly proportionate to the amount of moolah they're bringing in to their literary agency. It would be amusing to ask for some honest feedback of what these now-represented but multiply-rejected authors thought of agents in general before getting picked up by one. But of course, an honest analysis would never be published because politics forbid telling the truth at all costs.

Yet if one could face palm every published author in the US today and do a Mr. Spock mind meld, you'd probably find that the majority of them came to the same conclusion that my most recent experiences with them had led me: That literary agents in general are the greediest and most solipsistic sociopaths this side of Wall Street and Capitol Hill. And generally they have a literary IQ hovering somewhere between the idiot and moron levels.

It wasn't until roughly a generation ago that literary agencies began becoming indispensable. Just as companies increasingly use temp agencies as their unpaid weeding out and vetting out process, publishers decided one by one that they no longer had the time or even the fortitude to deal with the ever-rising tide of writers and wouldbe writers.

Now, with one exception (Farrar, Strauss and Girioux), there is not one major publisher in the continental US that will even consider reading a synopsis if it isn't submitted by an agent. Through some bit of creeping sociopathy, publishers grew to loathe and despise dealing with writers so much they decided to put up another major stumbling block separating Us from Them. That stumbling block, of course, is the literary agent.

Before, when authors could still approach acquisitions editors and executives directly and get to keep 100% of their royalties, now one must get through the first gate, which is the literary agency, before one even has a chance of getting through the True Editorial Gate, which is the Publisher. Furthermore, one must now pay a minimum of 15% of their royalties to these people who treat us as if we're the hired help and they the boss and not vice versa.

As a consequence, this artificial indispensability, which looks more and more like a massive kickback scheme (many agents are former big time book editors, Bob Mecoy at Simon and Schuster being one of the latest examples), had created a class of literary super being and light-giver. In fact, one who's currently and regularly in the swim sees more and more agencies (and I'm not talking about the biggest, snootiest cocksuckers such as ICM, the Gersh Agency or William Morris but some of the smaller outfits) who won't accept any submissions whatsoever except from previously-published authors or work by referral only.

Yes, more and more, we're seeing "You can't get a book published unless you have an agent but you can't get an agent unless you have published a book." Captain John Yossarian is raining tears down from on high at the tribute.

OK, you may say, this is a capitalistic society and harried, low-paid editors have a right to make tons of pelf as agents and you'd be spot on correct. But here's the problem:

These guys are like the tax collectors of olde: They leech 15% here, 15% there from individuals in a client list that can number in the hundreds and pretty soon they wind up making more sheckles than most if not all of their authors. Money buys some pretty big egos and a sense of elitism to match. We're supposed to be grateful to these parasites that once upon a time used to be optional. This is because we're supposed to worship at the altar of literary agents with the legendary Swifty Lazar as their golden icon. Their expertise and wisdom is never supposed to be second-guessed or questioned while that of we the authors, the ones who actually, you know, write the fucking books that sustain our nation's literacy, get questioned all the time.

And unless you're some flavor of the day with a burnt-out light bulb for a brain, like Sarah Palin, Joe the Plumber or Karl Rove, to name just three recent examples, your chances of getting a fair hearing from an agent are roughly proportionate to Pat Buchanan being the Grand Marshal at a Gay Pride parade in Provincetown in a mesh shirt and short shorts.

And this self-centered, avowedly mercenary elitism has given rise to the form rejection letter and the most monstrous set of double standards. Let's talk about the so-called necessity of the form rejection letter:

"Please forgive this form letter" some of them begin although many of them don't even begin with that iota of mass-produced remorse, "but we get so many submissions in any given week that time forbids us making a personal reply to each one."

OK, fair enough, you may say, especially in light of the very true fact that many agencies get 300+ submissions a week. If they personally write to each and every one, no books would ever get sold and the publishing business would come to a grinding halt.

And there are some very good reasons why the rejection rate is about 98% at every literary agency. Many writers don't submit appropriately and send off their Christian novel to someone who represents only nonfiction or send their gay erotica novel to a Christian literary agency. Some people are so desperate to get into print, they've been known to shotgun 300 or more queries to virtually every agency without researching or vetting them for legitimacy. Some of them, like the aforementioned ghost-written Sarah Palin, are so addle-pated they can't string together two coherent consecutive words. Some of them actually resort to gimmicks like brightly-colored stationary to stand out or resort to outright bribery. They're the post-literate version of the talentless psychopaths you see in the first 4 weeks of every American Idol.

Those are the people who deserve the form rejection letters. They decided to break or disobey ground rules that have to be observed for the common good. They send out misspelled boilerplate cover letters beginning with "Dear Agent" and deserve all the disrespect they have coming to them. If I was an agent, I'd react in a hostile manner, too, or begin ignoring them outright.

But there are those of us who do our research, follow the rules, proofread, personalize our cover letters, observe submission guidelines and submit quality writing samples and get kicked in the teeth for our efforts and hard work. My experience is that 60-70% of my proposals get completely ignored while roughly 95% of the rejection letters I get are boilerplate.

What incentive is there to obey the rules if you're a good, talented or promising author and get treated the same as those who choose not to follow the rules?

More often than not, I'm finding that my personalized cover letters that clearly identify a specific agent get either ignored or answered with a form rejection letter by some flunky assistant I didn't even know existed. It's as if once the agent makes a rash judgment that we cannot put some cha-ching in their pocket, they no longer think we're worth the two seconds to send out the rejection with their own two well-manicured hands.

Because time forbids.

Well, here's my answer: Hire more agents. The more agents, the more properties you acquire, the more money your agency makes.

Or hire more interns to do the scut work. They are unpaid or work for a small stipend and there are, I'm sure, thousands of college students majoring or minoring in English who would love to intern at a top agency.

Or get the fuck out of the business entirely. If you set up ground rules that demand personalization, you do not get to bitch and moan about not having enough time to reciprocate in kind in a profession you chose to pursue.

All the time I read in agent listings pissings and moanings from agents who list among their clients from Hell those who do not respect what they do for them, what it takes to sell a book, the expertise that goes behind it. While I'm positive such authors exist, I and many like me are not among them. I know all too well what an agent does. In fact, I used to have an agent back in 1996 (more on that later).

Yet what you'll never see are agents who reach out and want to know what it's like on our side of the desk, to know what writers go through because agents are by necessity and by and large soulless sociopathic husks of humanity who do not care to know that we do what we do in our spare time while they do what they do professionally.

But it's true. Most agents are not writers (and I refuse to count among our tribe those who are published authors but had their works represented by others in their agency and used the cozy contacts in the publishing biz that were denied decades ago to the rest of us). They don't care to know that the 400,000+ new titles that come out every year were written between shifts at work, picking up the kids from school or band practice and visits to the dentist, vet, service center, supermarket, etc.

If we're lucky, we get to devote perhaps more than 1% of our day to actual writing and putting together query packages. Agents routinely get to devote up to 66% of their day to their chosen profession.

The form rejection letter and the imperious attitude that meets a writer second-guessing their judgment can also be psychologically devastating in a variety of ways. Beyond the obvious, the crushing weight of unrelieved rejection, is the doubt and uncertainty that's more effective than a hundred hours of the Chinese water torture.

With no explanation other than, "does not suit our needs at this time", one by necessity must begin to look inward and wonder what it is they did wrong. But that's when the imagination begins to feed on itself. "What did I do wrong?" It's the ultimate Zen riddle, one with no answer or one that's incomprehensible.

So you run through the list:

  • I personalized my query letter and perfectly spelled and punctuated everything. Check.
  • I submitted no more or less than what the agency had specified in their submissions policy. Check.
  • I tweaked my synopsis and sent out the best one I could muster and did not go over the word limit. Check.
  • I've tweaked the actual manuscript for years and know I've made it as good as can be. Check.

    Next thing you know, you're dangling from the end of a rope and following the route of Thomas Chatterton or John Kennedy Toole, with a note scrawled in your own blood saying "Goodbye, cruel world" pinned to your jizz-soaked pants.

  • A Blast From the Past


    Those of us who'd been following the Family Circus, DT steps of the shaved chimp known as George W. Bush knew that his administration had waged an all-out war on science that stretched from NASA to the Surgeon General's Office to the EPA to the FDA to the Dept. of the Interior and beyond.

    So it kind of feels like a blast from the past, if recent events in the Gulf of Mexico permit me the unintentional pun, when I read stories like this from the New York Times, especially when they're front and center, above the fold:
    WASHINGTON — The federal Minerals Management Service gave permission to BP and dozens of other oil companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico without first getting required permits from another agency that assesses threats to endangered species — and despite strong warnings from that agency about the impact the drilling was likely to have on the gulf...

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is partly responsible for protecting endangered species and marine mammals. It has said on repeated occasions that drilling in the gulf affects these animals, but the minerals agency since January 2009 has approved at least three huge lease sales, 103 seismic blasting projects and 346 drilling plans. Agency records also show that permission for those projects and plans was granted without getting the permits required under federal law.

    Now, the president obviously doesn't make every single decision in the government but in a tribal sense he does. Any bureaucrat, from the Vice President on down to the meanest file clerk, is either in line with the President's agenda or gets out. While it would be fallacious to lay this squarely at the doorstep of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., nonetheless it's just as fallacious to consider this laissez faire trend starting on January 2009, the month Obama took over, as a mere coincidence.

    Apparently, this radical liberal, Socialist, pinko President has been "Drill, Baby, Drill" all along and is suppressing science at a rate that eclipses even the neocon Dark Ages of the Bush administration.

    Miss him, yet? Hardly. It's as if Bushie never left us.

    Wednesday, May 12, 2010

    Sweet Jesus, I Hate America


    And so would Jesus. So you'd better hope the Jews are right and that Jesus isn't coming back or 350,000,000 of us will have some fast 'splainin' to do on Judgment Day.

    When I look around me, at this once-great nation, I think of Ambrose Bierce's definition of "resident": Unable to leave. The same could apply to most citizens whose economic legs have been broken and banking bastinado has hobbled us from leaving this sinking ship, this burning blimp of a country. And I'd leave it in a New York minute if I could.

    Once I make my first million dollars, I'm going to buy a pub in the Irish countryside and look out the window to the green rolling hills while listening to drunks sing until the wee hours. Or maybe I'll buy a mansion in Manila and hire a Filipino houseboy like Jack London and maybe he'll call me, as did London's, "Mr. God." Or perhaps I'll move to France just to piss off the Republicans and eat pom frites until my arteries get harder and more brittle than crack pipes while thinking of Freedom Fries. At least I'll have one of the best health care systems in the world to care for me.

    Virtually anything, sweet blue-eyed Jesus, anything would be better than what we have going on here. And why do I hate you idiots so much? Gee, let me count the motherfucking ways:

    We live in a country in which super twinks like Justin Bieber and Youtube's Shane Dawson have sucked up 90% of the interest on the internet, in which it's virtually guaranteed that at any time of the day or night, the top trending topic on Yahoo or Twitter will be celebrity-related. This is because we care more about who Tiger Woods is fucking than who Goldman Sachs or BP or our own government is rear-ending.

    We live in a country where huge segments of the population still believe that Saddam had WMDs, that we still belong in Iraq and Afghanistan, that America was founded on Christian principles yet still can't enumerate the five basic freedoms granted us by the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. A large segment of conservatives actually believe that Barack Obama is the anti-Christ and almost half of us, despite the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, still support offshore oil drilling. A huge state like California thought it was more important to deny same sex couples the right to marry than to tackle the state's huge budgetary shortfall or to address the looming water crisis.

    We live in a country in which we had somehow miraculously transitioned from barbarism to decadence without the usual interregnum of civilization. We don't have civilization and never had. We've invaded more nations just in my own lifetime than Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and Japan had combined. Our intelligence community and our "liberal" administration targets American citizens and others for assassination without due process. Our tax dollars pay for this and other war crimes yet we're eerily OK with this.

    And it only stands to reason that such a materialistic, imperialistic nation wouldn't have a culture of its own. Culture? Make me laugh. We don't have culture, we have a hyperactive consumerism. Men and women of actual talent, people who had been able to raise themselves from the muck and mire of our pathetic public school system to write books of their own get ignored every day or dismissed with form rejection letters while air-headed douchebags like Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber get body-tackled by celebrity-chasing literary agents and signed to $7,000,000 deals for books they don't and can't even write. Then they sign them to more and put them on TV more often than the test patterns that are more informative. Who cares that they're ghost-written by partisan hacks and racists and are more filled with lies than the Bible that tens of millions of us take literally? Talent alone is no longer even on an agent's or editor's list of priorities. The short list of priorities consists of one word: Sales.

    We live in a nation in which our children have committed to memory every song lyric by Slipknot or Metallica but can't recall a single line by any of the Romantic poets and perhaps even Shakespeare. We prostrate ourselves before the red-carpeted altar of celebrity, willingly fleeced by the corporations that have created them without once realizing that we the unwashed masses would be tasered if we ever put one hand across that velvet rope.

    Because we have been marginalized, criminalized and scrutinized by those with more money and property who loathe and fear us. And we're perfectly OK with that.

    You make me sick, America, sick enough to puke up everything I've ever ingested since 1959. Never in my historical readings and in all my erudition have I ever seen a nation that wasted so much of its potential in such a relatively short span of time.

    And yet you still cling like stubborn sin to the biennial belief that we wield fractional, momentary power every even-numbered year and that we actually elect officials who will represent us. Well, I hate to be the one to burst your bubble, comrades, but for every Alan Grayson and Dennis Kucinich there are approximately 433 other corporate zombies who have a less than representative agenda.

    It used to be that Congress had outsourced its legislation to corporations such as the HMOs and the lending racket but actually it's the opposite that's true: It's the corporations who have outsourced their agenda to a Congress that plainly works for them. Think about how many millions of us have to sign petitions, make phone calls, send faxes, emails and letters just to get the begrudging attention of a Congressman. Think it takes a million Lloyd Blankfeins or Ken Lays to get that same congressman's attention? It takes only one because those are the individuals they represent, the individuals that the Supreme Court made of corporations.

    We live in a nation in which a man can get years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family because, since Reagan, we'd found it easier and more expedient to criminalize and vilify poverty than to address the causes of it. But when the already-wealthy rig the gaming table that is Wall Street and cripple the housing market and tank the economy to make a few billion more, they get to negotiate with the SEC in climate-controlled rooms and no one ever talks about criminal charges let alone jail time.

    Then when we were told by our "representatives" that we the people have to bail out these same corporations that helped cost us 8-12 million jobs and cause millions of foreclosures, instead of rising up in a quivering, blood-curdling fury on Pennsylvania Avenue or Wall Street, we merely change the channel and see if Britney Spears is wearing her underwear today. And it's up to the racist, post-literate Tea Baggers to do our protesting for us.

    And we're OK with this, huh?

    You fucking zombies don't deserve the democracy that your forefathers died to give you in Valley Forge, on the Lexington Bridge, in the streets of Boston. Why do I say that? Because nations, younger nations, nations who haven't had time to get spoiled by the illusion of freedom, nations like Iran, Kenya and Mexico rose up and openly rioted, and died, in the streets defending the democracy they knew had been stolen from them. We threw a few eggs at George W. Bush's limousine on January 20, 2001 and then went home and called it a good day's work.

    God, I fucking loathe you and everything you don't stand for. Every time I hear Jimi Hendrix's rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock, Picasso's Guernica set to music, when the colors red, white and blue melted off the flag as in an acid trip and dribbled down the sewers of Main Street, every time I think of those Wah-wahed, tortured distortions it becomes clearer to me why he did it.

    It was Jimi's mournful keen for an America he once knew, an America for which he would've fought as a paratroop in the 101st Screaming Eagles. It was Jimi's not very pretty obituary for an America to which we'd once aspired and had almost attained, a nation of such tremendous bounty, such potential for good.

    Yet even as we drown in goods and are bombarded by services ranging from mortgage refinancing for homes we no longer own to lengthening our penises, we still produce less and less because all the jobs have been outsourced overseas. Despite supporting two losing and unwinnable wars, we have never had to sacrifice one teaspoon of sugar, candy bar or pair of nylons, have never once orchestrated one rubber, paper or scrap iron drive to support these war efforts. Almost 6000 families notwithstanding, We the People have sacrificed... nothing.

    Well, I'm not OK with this. And while my emigration from this country will not change anything and few will care and none will remember, I think it's only important to enumerate my reasons for doing this if given the first available opportunity.

    Our bought-and sold government is corrupt to the core, our sociopathic corporations are corrupt, our so-called culture is corrupted and talent, virtue and righteousness are punchlines.

    First chance I get, I'm outta here in a New York minute, just me and my own, before I'm forced into a situation when, as H.L. Mencken visualized, I spit on my hands, raise the black flag and commence the slitting of throats.

    America, America, America you perfumed and styling-gelled nation of pigs and sheep, I'm fucking through with you.

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010

    You Forgot Iraq


    If there was any upside at all to the wave of suicide bombings and assassinations that were carried out all over Iraq yesterday, it was in reminding us that Afghanistan is no longer the sole front in the war on terror. Not by default, not by any stretch of the imagination.

    Iraq, and the al-Qaida offshoot that loves it, is here to stay.

    Indeed, sometimes it's difficult if not outright impossible to think of Iraq in 2005 terms, to not twitch at this distant news filtering down to us and to take George W. Bush to task for his rash, ill-planned and blatantly illegal occupation of Iraq. Yesterday's violence that had claimed over 200 lives and sent hundreds more to already overburdened hospitals was a dramatic spike that made for the deadliest day in Iraq all year long. Back in 2005, such days were virtually commonplace.

    But this is no longer George W. Bush's war any more than Vietnam was solely Johnson's or Nixon's war. And the more George W. Bush fades into memory and rightly assumes his place on the ash heap of history, the more it becomes the war of the incumbent commander in chief. It is not George W. Bush to whom we look for answers and solutions to the morass that is Iraq but Barack Obama.

    And since the elections late last winter that eerily paralleled those of the January 31st 2005 elections, Iraq's hopes, already battered by violence, increasingly rest on the shoulders of a former spy of the CIA and Britain's MI6, Dr. Ayad Alawi, a man roundly rejected and tossed from his provisional Prime Minister post when Sunnis avoided the polls by the millions. But Alawi's coalition and narrow two seat victory in the last election still leaves his political future, and Iraq's, up in the air. The former physician and spy who'd worked in collusion with British and US intelligence to undermine Saddam Hussein got to whereever he is by triangulating and tapping into the dissatisfaction of Sunni voters who'd rejected him five years ago, Sunni voters who are even less enchanted with the disastrous reign of Nouri al Maliki than they were of the secular Shia helping to oust Saddam.

    With a US President and his August 2011 deadline now in a shambles and with pundits and policy-makers now grumbling about having to extend our involvement in Iraq and with the balance of power teetering and the leadership just as uncertain, only one thing is clear: Yesterday's violence all but guarantees that the troop drawdown will be pushed back, that we'll have to violate the SOFA agreement more than we already have and in order to maintain our larger footprint in Afghanistan, we'll have to allocate more troops back in Iraq and further stretch our military to the breaking point it was already at when Bush left office.

    It will result in more hardship on American families with loved ones in the Gulf and central Asia, it will result in more trillions disappearing into the various rabbit holes more commonly referred to as the pockets of war profiteers, it will further batter our reputation in the international community that had barely begun being healed with the hands of our once bright and gifted leader.

    And as long as the Taliban and al-Qaida in Iraq are idiotic enough to continue slaughtering innocents and guaranteeing an American troop presence they vow to end, we will continue playing the game by their rules, leading with our chin regardless of the cost to innocents in both Iraq and our own nation.

    Monday, May 10, 2010

    Pictures That Just Caption Themselves


    Exhibit A.

    Sunday, May 9, 2010

    On Mother's Day


    ...let's be especially thoughtful of the mothers will can't receive breakfast in bed or cards from their children.

    Saturday, May 8, 2010

    BP Execs Get Down While Rig Goes Down


    No, this isn't about Rick Santelli having a spot of tea with Ann Coulter. It's about this article that came out a few hours ago from AP. Here are the lines that fly in your face like a spittle-flecked teabagger, according to BP's internal investigation:
    A group of BP executives were on board the Deepwater Horizon rig celebrating the project's safety record, according to the transcripts... The BP executives were injured but survived, according to one account. Nine rig crew on the rig floor and two engineers died.

    No wonder they wanted to isolate these guys before they had a chance to speak to families, the press and their lawyers.

    Note that the AP article only mentions the presence of the hearty partying executives in passing. That could be because of a deliberate unwillingness to highlight this display of sociopathy or it could be that British Petroleum's internal investigation, obviously based on interviews with the rig workers on site at the time of the explosion, is deliberately downplaying it.

    Either way, it points to a serious disconnect in BP's self-perception, in high-fiving themselves and patting each other on the back because one particular rig hadn't yet suffered a horrible accident such as the one that took place moments later. It's a troubling disconnect from reality because in a recent post I'd already gone into just a fraction of BP's horrible safety record. One of their biggest fuckups, in fact, occurred when Hurricane Dennis struck the very same Gulf Coast just the month before Katrina and also sank. It took engineers and laborers a week to get it back on its pylons.

    Here's just a taste of what happened in the moments leading up to the explosion: A bubble of methane gas, rising a mile up from the bottom through the drill column, raced its way to the surface with the force of a cannon. Bursting through "several seals and barriers", the gas then exploded and the engines followed, blowing off the rig.

    It all began with a geyser of water that shot 240 feet into the air, followed by an enormous bubble of methane, then flames, then explosions.

    In other words, hell breaking loose.

    Sure, 11 workers died but thank goodness the executives were spared. No wonder they think they're God's Chosen Ones.

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