Saturday, December 26, 2009

Rich Lowry's Ghosts

So Amazon sends me an e-mail trumpeting their 70% off sale and I think, "70% off? I like the sound of that."

So I click over and immediately go to the books section, start looking through the "mystery and thriller" category because that's my thing, and what do I find?

A book called Banquo's Ghosts by Rich Lowry. The title piqued my interest first, but then I recognized Lowry. Lowry is the guy from the National Review who went all "starbursts" over Sarah Palin. I've seen some of his posts on their blog, the Corner, but they always struck me as right-wing drivel.

But maybe his book is different. He's credited with a co-writer, Keith Korman, and it is a novel, so maybe it's just genre drivel.

But alas, that does not seem to be the case. From the Publisher's Weekly "review":
National Review editor Lowry (Legacy) and Korman (Swan Dive) have written an exciting, intelligent novel that delivers the thriller goods and tosses barbs at do-gooder politicians, government obstructionists, reporters and a wide array of liberal weenies. Unlikely hero Peter Johnson, a mildly buffoonish writer working for the Crusader, a left-wing magazine, is recruited by CIA agent Stewart Banquo for the assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist. Banquo figures no one would ever suspect Johnson, known for his drunkenness and willingness to take a bribe, to be working for the CIA. Johnson, who accepts the job for a variety of reasons, heads off to Iran. A series of double crosses lands Johnson in the hands of the Iranians and sets up the rest of the plot involving a chillingly plausible terrorist attack. A major thread left untied points to what should be a much anticipated sequel. Expect a boost from author appearances on Hannity's America.
My question: A boost to who?

No, let's just dissect this for a minute. I haven't read a word of the book but I don't really like what I see. Peter Johnson? What kind of lame-ass generic name is that? You're writing a novel. You can come up with any kind of name you want. And you pick Peter Johnson? Why, because Ward Cleaver was taken?

And the "left-wing magazine" is called "the Crusader." Because you know those lefties are on one crusade or another save the trees, the whales, the giant earthworm from Montana that no one's ever seen. Right-wingers never go on crusades. Unless the crusade involves communism, gay marriage, the unborn, or Muslims, of course.

But I digress...

The plot, as far as I can tell, involves "the assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist." Now maybe I'm missing something, but isn't the "top Iranian nuclear scientist" kind of like the bottom nuclear scientist in any other country? I mean, you're the guy who specializes in something your country doesn't yet do. Sure, we're playing around in a right wing fantasy-land here, but why couldn't it be a top Russian nuclear scientist working with the Iranians? Better yet, a dissident Pakistani nuclear scientist with sympathies for Al Qaeda working for the Iranians?

I digress even farther...

I love this part though: "A major thread left untied points to what should be a much anticipated sequel." Oh yeah? You sure the guys who didn't come up with "Peter Johnson" of the "Crusader" didn't fuck up and just leave that thread hanging cuz they didn't know what to do with it?

No, it's set-up for the sequel, cleverly called World War III. In bargain bins everywhere next year.

So Much For That Idea

Looks like I won't be getting on an airplane anytime soon. I was thinking about finally flying somewhere next year, but you know what?

Fuck that.

I refuse to be treated like a terrorist.

I refuse to participate in "security theater" measures that DO NOT PROVIDE SECURITY but do provide major inconveniences to all the non-terrorists flying the not-so-friendly skies.

I will take a train or drive or just stay here in Colorado if I want to go anywhere. But I'm not getting on a plane unless it's going to a saner place and not coming back.

Updated: Kevin Drum made me laugh with this:

Apparently al-Qaeda doesn't need to bother with real terrorism anymore: just light off a firecracker on a plane and the U.S. government will react as if a major city had been leveled. Why not just ban air flight entirely and be done with it?

Don't Get Sick and If You Do, Die Quickly

I couldn't pick folk-rock singer Vic Chesnutt out of a line-up, never heard one of his songs, or even his name. He died this week from an overdose of muscle relaxants, but I'm not sure if it was intentional or not.

But the closing paragraphs had some resonance viz-a-viz the healthcare debate:
Chesnutt had recently struggled with a lawsuit filed by a Georgia hospital after he racked up surgery bills totaling some $70,000, the Athens newspaper reported. He said he couldn't afford more than hospitalization insurance and couldn't keep up with the payments.

The problems baffled his Canadian bandmates, Chesnutt said.

"There's nowhere else in the world that I'd be facing the situation I'm in right now. They cannot understand what kind of society would inflict that on their population," he said. "It's terrifying."
I'm sure some Republican out there is saying to himself, "Well if you didn't want to pay for $70,000 worth of surgery, you shouldn't have gotten $70,000 worth of surgery," as if surgery was some kind of optional luxury good like a flat screen TV and this guy was out getting butt fat injected into his cheeks.

No, he was paralyzed. In all likelihood, he needed that surgery. So why are they trying to stick him with a $70,000 bill? That's half the value of the mortgage on my home.

The home that is my biggest expense, the home that's going to take me 30 years to pay off.

My question: How can any reasonable person expect a paralyzed guy to pay $70,000 for surgery?

No, let me rephrase that:

How can any reasonable person expect anyone to pay $70,000 for surgery? Jesus Christ.

You know what this country needs more of? Working-class doctors. You know what we don't need more of? Republicans bitching about healthcare reform.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Now I Have a Machine Gun

Okay, so maybe not a machine gun.

But I do have an iPod now! Oh glorious purple iPod. With your little screen and easy to use controls. You can play music and tell me what it is! You've got video too! Albeit on a little screen, but if you do a lot of standing around at bus stops and rolling around on public transit, it's pretty convenient. Oh and podcasts and audiobooks and games and all this other stuff! All neatly organized, too.

I love you, iPod. If only you weren't so damn proprietary...

Is it just me, or does my head look too small for my body in this picture? The stylish pull over was a gift from my brother.

That's my niece holding on for dear life.

Here's my nephew holding up his prized Xbox and new games. Look, his eyes are already glazed.

Angel got a "new" bike. (It's new in the sense that it's never been put together, but it's been sitting in my shed since she was born... Long term planning. It's a gift.)

Oh, and you know what else I got? A puke-free, Players of the Century tagged LT jersey. The LT.

Merry Christmas everybody. Hope you're watching Die Hard.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Garden

Missing from Bob Cesca's best political documentary list, The Garden. I finally saw this movie yesterday, and it brought me to tears.

It was --by far-- the best political documentary I've ever seen, better than anything Michael Moore could come up with. It tells the heartbreaking story of the South Central Community Garden, the largest garden of its kind, an experiment in community revitalization and urban farming that lost out to greed and mean-spiritedness.

Do I recommend it? Highly. It's not just a great documentary; it's a great film.

Viral Video of the Day

I saw this video posted somewhere while I was at work and made a mental note to watch it later. Never happened...

Until now.

And after hearing the first line, especially the droll way it's delivered, I'm glad I finally watched it.

"Star Wars the Phantom Menace was the most disappointing thing since my son..."

Updated: Part 2 is hilarious! I love this dude.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Don't Bring a Gun to a Snowball Fight

This video fills me with Chrismas cheer. The scenario:

A snowball fight in the street. An off-duty cop gets involved, pulls out his gun and calls for back-up.

The best part?

People intentionally throw snowballs at this dickhead. They start chanting "Don't bring a gun to a snowball fight." As backup arrives and the on-duty cop tries to handle the situation, some guy starts asking the cop, "What the fuck is wrong with you?"

What the fuck is wrong with you indeed?

Te-Nehisi Coates, commenting on the video, says:
The fact that "there are only a handful of bad cops" cuts no ice with me. If only a "handful of McDonald's are spitting in your food" your not going to McDonalds. Likewise, I don't even ask the cops for directions. Better to take my chance with a dude on the street. At least if he decides to shoot me, he stands a chance of being prosecuted.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bad Writing

So I'm reading this really bad horror novel and no, that's not redundant. There are, on occasion, really good horror novels but this is not one of them. I will spare the author embarassment and not name him/her or the book, but I will include some of the blurbs on the cover.

"One of my must-read authors!"
"------ is a writer to watch!"
"It won't be long before ----- is taking big bites out of the field of horror fiction!"
"------ gives his/her audience what they crave in spades!"

The book is about a werewolf and includes this passage:
"His fingers and toes were white-hot lances of agony as the skin split to allow for razor-sharp claws to erupt; likewise his gums split open, blood staining his mouth as his teeth became razor-sharp fangs in a drooling maw of sharp, canine teeth."
No shit. I typed that straight out of the book.

"White-hot lances of agony" is good, but then something happens to this sentence. "To allow for razor-sharp claws to erupt." For? We don't need that "for."

"To allow razor-sharp claws to erupt" is much smoother.

Then, we've got this horrible sentence fragment: "blood staining his mouth as his teeth became razor-sharp fangs in a drooling maw of sharp, canine teeth."

Man, where to start? If you strip out most of the adjectives, this sentence tells us one thing:
His teeth became fangs in a mouth full of teeth.
What's another word for mouth? Maw. What's another word for "razor-sharp fangs?" That's right. "Sharp, canine teeth."

Now here's the thing. As a writer, I could totally write that sentence. But I would rewrite the hell out of it. I'd cut it way down, to nothing, but that's my style.

"His mouth became a drooling maw of razor-sharp fangs." And even then, I'd hate it.

I'd want a better verb. I'd want to lose the "mouth/maw" redundancy. I'd rip it up and put it back together again. "Razor-sharp fangs emerged from his drooling maw."

Yeah, I'd keep that. It plays hell with the word count, but then again, I don't write for a living, so I'm not exactly getting paid by the word. Instead, I'd rather craft a coherent sentence.

Side Benefits of Medical Marijuana

When someone tries to rob your marijuana dispensary, you can call the cops.

Look at this dude.

I don't know if he was roughed up by the cops or the dispensary owners, but he got fucked up.

I love that the cops were called, that they came to the pot dispensary, and instead of busting down doors, confiscating cash and plants, and carting people off to jail, they had to take statements.

Oh, there will be a prosecution. But not for growing, possessing, or selling pot.

That's progress.

PS. Also notice how this is filed in the "attempted robbery" category and not, as it normally would be, in the "drug deal gone bad" category.

Say It Ain't So

You know, I've posted about my disappointment in Dan Simmons but I was ready to get over it. The guy is just too good a writer. But then I read this in his latest semi-monthly "Message From Dan:"
Don’t worry, I won’t get into politics. There’s enough of that on the “Hot Button Issues” section of my forum here. But I will say that this one-year-later November of 2010 was disturbing. Anger and division and suspicion and breakdown of traditional political dialogue runs deeper in the country than any time I can remember since the end of the 1960’s during the depths of the Vietnam War days. Recent choices, decisions, and directions by the president and party we voted into power last year have polarized me in ways I haven’t felt since the late-1960’s . . . demanding some action. It’s just harder now to find the proper venue for constructive political action, but I shall. I suspect many other people – on both sides of many of these issues of war, peace, and the economy – will as well in the coming months and years.

It makes me sad.
Now, contrary to what some may believe, I try not to be a knee-jerk guy. I try to put myself in other people's shoes, try to understand before being understood.

But I read that bolded sentence, and went "Huh?"
"Recent choices, decisions, and directions by the president and party we voted into power last year have polarized me in ways I haven’t felt since the late-1960’s..."
So I take it Dan doesn't like the Lily Ledbetter Act...

Or S-Chip.

Or stem cell research.

Or Sonia Sotomayor.

Or the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

I'm assuming that he doesn't like the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but then again, who does? I would have preferred to do without that one, but then again, I would have preferred to do without the whole economic meltdown thing, too.

Maybe Dan's disappointed that Obama hasn't closed Gitmo. Maybe he's worried about trying terrorists as criminals like we did all those years before George W. Bush "decided" we didn't need laws and courts and all that other pansy liberal stuff.

Maybe he really really wants Obama to get rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

But something tells me that's not what Dan's talking about. I wouldn't advise it, but take a look at the "Hot Button Issues" section of his forum.

Some of the headlines of recent Simmons posts:
Paul Krugman IS "A Dangerous Dysfunction"
VDH (As in Victor Davis Hanson): Obama versus History
Cap and Steal
Schumer Calls Flight Attendant "Bitch"
A Little Learning is a Bidenesque Thing
Holder and Race-Based Politics
Gitmo by the Lake
Ayn Rand
Obama in Oslo
Islam U
The Most Boring Man in the World?
Brooks: Bearded Mideastern Religious Fanatics
Their Shackles Are Their Own Problem
Ahmadinejad: US Blocking Return of Savior
Obama's Approval Rating Lowest of any President
Peggy Noonan on THE SPEECH
George Will: This Will Not End Well
Alinsky Does Afghanistan
Krauthammer: Uncertain Trumpet
Oh God. It's like Pajamas Media all over again.


Last night, my cousin sent me a text gloating over the hated Raiders beating my beloved Broncos. His text included his signature: "$gangster$"

I found that funny because 1) he ain't no gangster and 2) he ain't got no money.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Worst "10 Best" List Ever

Courtesy of Bob Cesca, who puts together a list of the ten best political movies of the last decade.

Michael Moore gets three nods, for Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, and SICKO.

Now, just speaking for me personally, if I were putting together a list of "10 best" list on anything, and one guy got three nods, I'd think...okay, I need to diversify.

Not my list, but my tastes.

Around the Web

The Washington Post compiled "The Worst Ideas of the Decade," and surprise-surprise, many of them are cherished Republican/Right-wing ideas, like torture, letting Osama Bin Laden go at Tora Bora, the prosperity gospel. (Ugh, how I hate that prosperity gospel shit.)

(And don't give me that "But they're a liberal paper!" bullshit. Some of these were written by conservatives. You're going to tell me that Reihan Salam is a liberal? And yet, there he is, writing critically of the "compassionate conservativism" of George W. Bush. He must have Bush Derangement Syndrome or something, I guess, huh?)

This column from Will Wilkinson, perhaps the world's most reasonable libertarian, is worth reading in its entirety. He describes riding on a plane with an Iraq War vet returning from combat. The crew mentioned the soldier and asked for applause "to thank one of the real heroes who keeps America safe."

Wilkinson continues:
I hesitated to join the applause.

Hadn’t we known for years that the war was predicated on misinformation? Were we all so ready to agree that it was keeping Americans safe? It was, in fact, killing and wounding thousands upon thousands of Americans--many more than were killed on 9/11. Our troops, in turn, have killed tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis who did nothing to any of us. Maybe the soldier on the airplane signed up to keep me safe and to protect our freedom. But why should we all have to agree that his choice was free of false assumptions? Why should we be expected to display our gratitude, to put our hands together, for what may in the end be a senseless waste of life and a squandering of national power?

Yet all of this is expected of us. By a flight attendant in an American flag tie. So I hesitated. But sooner or later we all feel the ugly nudge of conformism and make some small surrender to keep up appearances. On that juddering plane descending through the clouds, it seemed worth communicating that I was not, after all, on the side of the terrorists.
I, too, am not on the side of the terrorists, but if you try to tell me that we're fighting in Iraq to keep me safe or to preserve my freedoms, I'll blow a big raspberry in your face.

I don't live in Iraq, can't be touched by the WMD they don't have, won't be voting in their elections, won't be going to their schools...

You want to fight for my freedom? Let me smoke pot without a prescription. Hell, let me smoke a cigarette at a bar. Let me drive my truck again. Let my Mom get married officially. Don't kick my girlfriend out when her visa expires.

The biggest threat to my freedom isn't Saddam Hussein or Iraqi insurgents. The biggest threat to my freedom is right here at home and comes from my fellow citizens.

On another subject, this exchange from this interview made me laugh and cry all at the same time:
Q: What role did loose lending practices play in masking declining wages during the last period of economic expansion?

A: Easy credit has been America's substitute for decent wages.
Oh snap!

I used to know this dude that urged me to vote against a minimum wage increase a few years ago. I ignored his pleas and voted yes, but he argued that it would make it harder for companies to hire people. Makes sense on a certain level but correct me if I'm wrong, doesn't making a shit wage make it harder to participate in the economy?

So let's see...a company paying more for labor...or a person --a living, breathing, thinking, feeling person-- having more buying power? Um, I think I'll side with the person.