Subscribe in a reader

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Cycle

Okay, I've tried various things over the years--artistically, that is--but I have always, without exception, found it difficult to break through to be heard.  Try selling a novel in the age of NaNoWriMo.  Well, you might be able to manage it, but I failed miserably.  Try making films and videos in the age of YouTube and the Everybody and His Brother Has a Film Festival and get noticed.  It's very difficult.  Neither of the two short films I made went very far, and being a failure can become an expensive hobby.

I've written and marketed a musical and sent out stories and essays and have never been able to break out into the open.  I have remained a dot in a large canvas of dots, a single pixel hidden amongst tens of millions of others.

I blame no one for this, except, perhaps, me.  Those who do succeed from these same circumstances, I applaud.  Through either superior cunning, talent, luck, or all three, they have accomplished something that I have been unable to.

Part of the problem, of course, is one of white noise.  You have to have a way of sticking out from the crowd, and I have been unable to engineer such a feat in several media.  But perhaps there is a solution.

The one medium I seem to stand nearly alone in is in multitrack audio theater.  It is where this blog began, and it will be where it ends.  For this is my final project.  Over some expanse of time, I will be recording, editing, mixing, and posting various mind movies--starting with short subjects--on my SoundCloud site.  I will post about each one here.  We will see where this goes.

You can listen to "Sharkie"



or "Don't Get Rooked"



already.  New bits will be up as they are finished.  Eventually, we will move on to more feature-length projects.  How they do is something about which we shall see.  Whatever happens, at least they will be available for all to hear.  They should be fun, too.  And, since I am standing on a ground where few others tread, I can't have the crowd as my excuse.  These will succeed or fail depending on how well I do the work.  And that's all that matters.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Why I Self-Publish

Straight Man:  Why were you talking to yourself?

Comedian:  I'm the only one who'll listen! 

I'm not what you would call a one-trick pony.  I do many things.  I've written stories and one-and-one-quarter novels.  I've written plays and teleplays and radio plays and sketches and songs and light verse and hundreds (most of them now archived) blog posts.  I also act and have acted on stage and in videos and for audio, as well.  I've also had the chance to direct on a couple of occasions and have edited video and audio pieces.  I've done foley work, I've been a stage manager and prop master on many occasions.  And I've done all of this, I can safely say, with more than a dollop of competence.  In fact, in all these matters, I would say that I have done well--sometimes extremely well--with far more success than failure.

There's no way around it; I am a talented man.

And yet there is one area where any smidgeon of talent has always eluded me.  I stink at marketing and sales.

The standard in the publishing biz these days is for agents to act as a go-between for authors and publishers, especially when it comes to books.  (Although more-and-more magazines won't seriously look at anything that isn't agent-submitted.)  So the first task for any author who wants to grasp at the chance to earn at least part of his or her living from writing is often to sell oneself and one's work to an agent or a friendly magazine, and my achievements in this area are pitiful at best.

I have tried over the years, especially with the book I have just self-published, Michael Drayton, Detective Guy (available in hardcover, paperback, for Kindle, and for Nook).  I submitted the manuscript to a couple of dozen agents and even one or two publishers without getting the merest nibble.  Nothing.  Zilch.  Bupkiss.

Now, there are some reasons for that.  Agents get a lot of submissions (almost everyone thinks they have a book in them and bullshit like NaNoWriMo just encourages more witless dingdongs [who greatly outnumber the genuine writers] to muddy up the channels with more useless shit), and they tend to use certain criteria as what they delude themselves into thinking is an objective system that they can use to weed out the manuscripts that are "marketable" from those that aren't.  One of these is assigning arbitrary length requirements for novels in different genres.  For example, Drayton, even though it's not really a detective novel, is a detective novel and is supposed to come in at about 70,000 words.  It really comes in at about 50,000, and I'm sure its length gets it immediately rejected more often than not.  Also, agents, just like the producers of big-budget action movies, prefer formulaic and heavy-handed plotting over subtler kinds of storytelling, and they commonly convince themselves that the by-the-numbers plotline they're looking at is "original" if the main character has a raccoon for a pet or wears an eyepatch and a Tattersall vest.  (I actually had an agent, who rejected Drayton when I was peddling it as a much sillier teleplay, tell me that the project he was actually interested in was about a man who solves mysteries with his young grandchildren.  How do they think up this stuff?!)

There was one agent whose form rejection said something about the prose being lacking, and if she actually thought the prose in Drayton was subpar, then she is a knothead who knows nothing about writing.  She should retire and let her place be taken by a more discerning reader, say a hat rack or a credenza.  The prose in Drayton is strong and supple and poetic.  It took years to burnish it, and I won't let that many years of determined effort be tossed aside that way.  If there is a hell, let her fry in it.

Also, I am an autodidact and have taught myself how to do dozens of things.  I taught myself how to swim and ride a bike, how to play guitar and piano and ukelele, and how to manipulate various computer programs to do my evil bidding.  My longest and most successful such project was teaching myself how to write.  I started when I was 14 and continue to learn and grow at 53.  But I never got a degree that signifies that I was societally approved to work as a the sort of tradesman known as a writer.  As a writer of serious intent, this functions as yet another disadvantage to me.

I could have gotten an MFA, I suppose, but I am philosophically opposed to them.  Writing--and this goes for the other arts, too--is not a mere profession, but a calling, and the acquisition of a certificate should be as meaningless to a true artist as a Masters in Baptism would have been to a certain prophet who plied his trade on the banks of the River Jordan.  Degrees are meant for dentists and actuaries, not writers.

But a collection of letters on a resume would have helped.  They help others, many of whom write not half as well as I do.  But that is not who I am.

After years and years of such disappointments, I had to admit to myself that the standard way cannot be my way.  "But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid," Raymond Chandler said, and if that be my lot, I can accept that.  And the only way I can find to get my work in front of even a tiny public in an even mildly professional way is to self-publish.  And so, I do.

I self-publish not because I really want to, but because I must.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Next in the Series, as a concept, a production company, and a blog, is alive and well.  This is our next project:

My son and I are trying to put a film project together.  Two weeks to go on http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1914908165/rouleau-ho. Humor may be involved.  All help is appreciated.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wendell, Friday Evening

My latest short film is below. It is a dramatic vignette called "Wendell, Friday Evening."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Stirring of the Phoenix

Every time I think that this blog has finally and completely bit the dust, it finds some way of making itself relevant again. In this case, it has to do with a short film I have recently made:



I have come full circle and, at 51, am starting to pursue the career I imagined for myself when I was 15. Since the "NITS" in "NITS Productions" stands for "Next in the Series," this blog seems like a reasonable venue for documenting this phase of my peripatetic existence.

I guess, as Yogi Berra supposedly said, "It ain't over 'til it's over."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

After the End

I've taken down the Next in the Series website and am packing in the whole notion of trying to pursue audio theater podcasting. I participated in a thread on an agent's blog a couple of years ago in which he asked the question, "How long do you go on before you give up?" Apparently, in my case, it takes a while.

I first became interested in audio theater when I was 15 or so. I had seen Jack Benny on "The Dinah Shore Show" reminiscing about Fred Allen and had then stumbled across a copy of Fred's first book, Treadmill to Oblivion, in the library in downtown Pawtucket, Rhode Island. As a result of reading the excerpts from the scripts of his various radio shows, I took a flyer at writing an audio sketch. It wasn't any good, but it was a start.

My friend Arthur got me hooked on The Firesign Theatre a few years later, and he and I ended up putting together a script about a guy who ran a fleabag in Maine. We gave him, as a pet, a lobster who had one peg leg. You can do those kinds of things with audio. I think I still have the script somewhere, but truly, nothing ever became of it.

A few years later, a friend and an acquaintance started playing around with recording some things on a four-track recorder the acquaintance had come into possession of. I was asked to join in, and we came to form an audio comedy team. We went for a two-or-so-year-long bumpy ride that had a couple of triumphs, an assortment of good times, various frustrations and disagreements, and a couple of disasters. After the group broke up, I, quite innocently and quite wrongly, tried to get everyone to make peace and reform. I saw potential in that grouping and that material. They did not. And, in retrospect, when one member of a trio consistently tries to undercut an enterprise, that enterprise has no future. In my initial enthusiasm, I think that I pushed someone to join in when he didn't want to, so he acted out in all sorts of, essentially, childish ways. I was wrong to push him and to assume that his idea of success was similar to mine.

Eight or so years ago, feeling the way a cartoon character looks after having tried to smoke a stick of dynamite, I decided to proceed on my own. Having gotten permission from my former writing partner (not the guy I had pushed when we were a trio) to use some of our old material, I plunged forward with adapting some things, rewriting others, and creating new scripts from scratch. Meanwhile, I tried to pitch the show to public radio and to satellite radio with no success. Eventually, I saw that it might work best, in the long run, as a podcast.

In the end, I found that I would be unable to put together a program of the quality that I wanted without money. I was wearing too many hats, trying to do too much myself, and not doing anything as well as I ought to have. I was also, at the same time, discovering my abilities as a novelist and short story writer and felt that I would be better served, overall, if I invested 100% of myself in those endeavors than to slow myself down with continued attention to something that it was unlikely I would ever pull off.

But that's life.

At the end of the day, I can be satisfied that I gave it a decent shot and that it just wasn't in the cards. Maybe someday I will be in a position to do some radio show or podcast, but until that day materializes, I will just hang up my spurs.

How long do you go on before you give up? Until you've run dry.

THE END

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

On the Move



Part of why doing the podcast has suddenly become feasible is that my recording facilities have become mobile. Above is the system I've developed for transport. Below is what things look like once everything is set up.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

And So

The beginning begins. One piece of equipment and one piece of software have been purchased that will make it possible for production on the first episode of Next in the Series: The Podcast to begin. I hope to have the first episode, which is called "The Anniversary Schmaltz," available for download sometime in January.

In honor of that, I will endeavor to make more frequent contributions to this blog so that historians and scholars in the vast, dim future will be able to understand the genesis and development of this epoch-making project. It's been a long road, but I am determined to get these scripts recorded and available. From there, let the Fates do what they must, which is, presumably, to be fateful. The bastards.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Small, Correctable Glitch

There will be a small delay in going forward with the first episode, which is called "The Anniversary Schmaltz," because the software that I bought for editing doesn't do as much as I thought it did. Therefore, I will be acquiring Adobe Audition 3 in the next week or two.

The software that I got over the summer will still be useful, it just doesn't have the number of production features that I am going to need if I am going to realize my vision. Or my hearing, I guess, since this is an audio project.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dreg

I've decided to go ahead with the podcast using the resources available to me, probably beginning in January and continuing at a rate of one episode per month.

As part of the preparation process, I have been cutting down and then building back up an episode called "Let's Revue," which is a collection of songs and short plays. Since I had cut it back, it seemed a bit light in the short play department to me, and last week I had the idea of adapting three short stories I had written in the 1980s.

Adapting the first one, which was called "Seminar," was a piece of cake. I turned the whole thing around in two evenings--and late evenings at that. I still need to take one more pass at it, but it's in pretty good shape as it stands.

The next story I set my sights on was one called "Dreg of the Wildebeest," the story of a Neanderthal who is having a midlife crisis. This will not end up in "Let's Revue," however. As I started to do research on it yesterday, I found this bit of information at the Neanderthal listing on Wikipedia:

Steven Mithen (2006) proposes that the Neanderthals had an elaborate proto-linguistic system of communication which was more musical than modern human language, and which predated the separation of language and music into two separate modes of cognition.


Well, after reading something like that, how could I not realize that "Dreg" needed to be transformed into "Dreg: The Musical"? This is going to become a major project that might even begin life as part of the podcast, but not for some time. there's too much reading to do, too much thinking, too much pondering to find a word that rhymes with "paleolithic."

The third, story, an odd, Kafkaesque piece called "Odyssey," should be simple enough to adapt this coming weekend. I'll report more next week.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Death of Caesar

As I've been putting together a new version of Let's Revue, I've decided to revamp a piece--it's really more of a one-act play than a sketch--called "The Death of Caesar" that I wrote years ago for the audio comedy team I was then a part of. The Rule of Three version was good, and it took us to a new level of complexity in recording technique. We had a mix of it that made people almost pee themselves while listening to it that one of my then-partners--a guy who could find small items from the remotest sectors of his life in a matter of moments--managed to lose. The second mix--and both mixes were done by the same fellow--flat out sucked. Since that fellow had profound problems with passive-aggressiveness, one can imagine how accidental I find that sequence of events. And when one member of a team decides that it is good for his ego to sabotage the efforts of the whole, then you have no team at all. It is, in retrospect, no wonder that Rule of Three died.

Which is all ancient history, but was something that I've needed to get off my chest for a while now.

There was one part of the original script that always ate at me, though. Part of the premise was that it was a recording of an old time radio show called The Mercurochrome Theater on the Air Featuring Orson Wellfed, Certified Genius. It was introduced by Orson, and then the playlet was performed. I originally wrote the part of Julius Caesar based on a sketch I had written a dozen years earlier than that in which I imagined Groucho as Caesar. In the Rule of Three version, this was tempered into Caesar as Borscht-Belt comic, a part that I played. And that was fine, except for one thing. I knew, somewhere in the back of my mind, that Caesar should have been played by Orson instead.

This was reinforced when I realized, some years after Rule of Three had died, that the theme of the piece was concerned with the way that envious societies have of tearing down and betraying men of genius. And having Orson portray Caesar would only strengthen this theme.

And so, that is what I am doing. Oddly enough, there's a fair bit of material that I can retain, but I think the work as a whole has improved. Of course, I've been tweaking all of the material, trying to tighten and improve as I go along. That should always be the goal: to produce the best version possible without wallowing in egotism.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A New Approach Deserves a New Look

Since I'm angling to get the show done as a podcast, I have decided to redesign the website. As part of that, I've redone the logo to reflect the notion of it being in support of a podcast. Here's what I came up with:



It's based on the original one, the one that I paid cash money for, and one that I think is wonderful. I just needed it to say the word "podcast."

And now on to the much longer process of redesigning the website.

I've also rewritten almost all of the scripts. I'm in the process of assembling a new version of "Let's Revue" so that it also reflects my interests in storytelling rather than being a collection of so-so sketches. (The sketch "Don't Get Rooked," which makes me laugh, has been retained.) I'm also debating whether the two sections of "The Quality of Marcy" are up to the standards that I hope to maintain.

A discussion with an associate led to us identifying a couple of possible trails for getting some money. There was nothing concrete, but you never know.

Monday, May 04, 2009

No Soap

Once again, I've come acropper the need to raise money. I did not get the grant that I applied for.

On the plus side, I used the opportunity to refine a couple more scripts and to further develop my vision for the project and my approach. Not all bad.

So, I'm going to see if I can't come up with any other ways of raising money, with luck for the entire run of the show. Never give up hope. There always has to be hope.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Step 1 to the Future?

I just dropped off my proposal to do three episodes of what had been Next in the Series: The Radio Show as Next in the Series: The Podcast. An application is not an acceptance, of course, and it is hard to predict what will happen over all.

Still, it could be a start.

I've been listening to comedy shows on BBC Radio 7 recently and am enjoying them quite a bit. Listening to these shows is reaffirming my love for the form. Audio theater might only ever be a hobby for me, but it's one that I love.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Resurrection

When I first began keeping this blog, I did so because I was writing scripts for a radio show that I had hoped to produce, first on public radio and then on satellite radio. Unfortunately, although I am a person of many talents, the talent for being a producer has never been among them. And so, because of failures in money-raising and marketing, because of failures in vision and in acquiring a proper understanding of the industry I was trying to infiltrate, the venture failed.

There I was, with about a dozen scripts and nothing to do with them. I sent one script to an outfit called Shoestring Radio Theatre, and they accepted it and produced it this past September. All of which is fine.

Except that I have this inability to keep my mind from working. I get ideas, all the time about all sorts of things. I just can't restrain myself from thinking. And I've thought more about this show, and about the ways that technology has evolved, even over the short number of years that I've had this blog. And I've come to realize that I was a fool to concentrate on radio. Radio, especially the kind of radio that seeks to tell a story, is an artifact, a piece of history. The modern approach would be to produce these scripts as podcasts.

Podcasting, since it is not reliant on sponsorship, requires much smaller budgets than did a radio show. There is no inherent need for "name" guest stars for marquee value. It gets marketed in a completely different, viral sort of way.

I think this might be a possibility. I cannot, at this time, reveal too much, mostly because I don't want to jinx anything and also because my resolve to attempt this is so new that I can't say much of anything with confidence. Let's just say that I can see possibilities for production and even a source for small bits of funding, most of which would probably go into purchasing the proper amount of bandwidth.

But the wheels are turning.

My first challenge, though, is to find the right producer.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Change

As time is passing, I'm seeing less and less reason for maintaining this blog. The radio series that it was meant to support never got going and even if I do manage to move forward with it as a piece of audio publishing, a new name will have to be found, something with the word "Theater" in it, just to make it marketable.

Sometimes it is important to simply make the past the past and move forward, and to that end, I have created a new blog called Are You Happy Now, Norman Mailer? which is where I shall be posting my half witticisms and myopic insights from now on. All are welcome to join me there.

And if you decide to not come along, thanks for your patronage, and I'll see you on the other side of the mirage.

Len

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Continuing Saga of Next in the Series

Although, some months ago, I had to admit to myself that I couldn't make Next in the Series work as a radio show (mainly because it's too difficult to convince the guys with the money to take a chance on it), I haven't been able to give up the dream entirely. I really like many of the scripts I wrote and think they work best as audio plays. And I like the medium. There are things that can be done in audio that no other medium can achieve.

And so, I've started to think about it again, only, this time, I plan to concentrate on the world of audio publishing rather than radio.

I'm still faced with some of the old problems: lack of money and actors. However, I could approach the whole series differently, more piecemeal. It would cost less to get started, far less. And I could put my toe in the water by producing (or publishing, if you will) just one to start with and follow up with others if there is any sign of a demand.

I doubt that anything will come of this soon. It's all very back burner kind of stuff. However, after a period of thinking it dead, it's fun to be thinking about pursuing it again.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What to Do

Earlier today, I loaded the samples from Next in the Series onto my iPod and listened to them to see whether they would make serviceable podcasts. They are short and decently produced and perhaps of a better quality than most podcasts currently available. The result was mixed. There was something missing from the pieces, and it seemed to me to be something missing mostly in the writing.

None of it really worked.

Now, part of that might be the medium. It is possible that they were just bad scripts for audio and might work in some other format. It's possible, but I don't think so.

I think the problem is that I have to stop trying to be funny. That's not to say that I should eschew humor entirely, but that I should just let it slip out whenever it comes to me naturally. I should avoid doing what one must do when writing professional-type comedy: Go for big laughs several times a minute.

As I've been working on Drayton these last almost three years, I've had to learn how to cut the jokes and to write differently--more subtly and seriously. I think this is a lesson that I have to take to my other writing endeavors. Even though I'm a funny writer, I'm not a comedy writer. Even though I'm capable of writing jokes--sometimes damn good jokes, too--I shouldn't.

I think that, at the end of the day, the problem with those pieces wasn't that they were bad, it's that they weren't as good as I could make them. And the reason for that was that I was always writing jokes.

At least, that's what it looks like from Parnassus today.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Clarification

As I've looked back over my previous post, I've come to realize that there could be some confusion as to my intent. When I said that I was dropping out, I meant simply dropping out of the news cycle, not running away from blogging.

The problem with being immersed in the news cycle is partially explained by this article in Vanity Fair that shows how badly the media porked Al Gore in the 2000 election. I was particularly struck by one thing that I had either forgotten or never knew because wasn't reported by the dreaded MSM: As of the first debate in 2000, George W. Bush didn't know that Social Security was a federal program. Any news organization that overlooked that to focus on Al Gore sighing should be run out of business. Of course, that would include roughly all of them, and running them out of business would save numberless trees and free up many hours of valuable TV time for sitcoms and idiotic reality shows.

The fact is that these news services did the nation a huge disservice by promoting the 24 Lies About Al Gore. How much deadly farce would we have avoided in the past six years had Gore's margin of victory in Florida been large enough to be tamperproof? It's hard to tell, but we would probably be living in a much saner, safer, and freer society than we currently do.

And we have to wonder, which boob will they give us this next time? (I'm assuming that only a boob can win since the lesson of 2000 is that competence for the job is not a criterion.) And, personally, I have begun to wonder what effect my watching this mess day-in-and-day-out will have on anything. And the answer is: None. The only effect that will come from my nonparticpation in the news cycle will be a mild stabilizing of my blood pressure, something, as shown in the pie chart in USA Today, that I am completely in favor of.

Back in the early '90s, I dropped out of the news cycle. I stopped reading the paper and stopped watching the news. And lo and behold, I was none the worse for it. My life didn't fall apart. My thoughts could drift to larger, more meaningful things than just whatever the scandal of the moment was, and when a friend of mine would come to me and say, "Did you hear about...?" I could answer, "No," and then give him an entirely different perspective than whatever was current in the media. This usually led to really interesting discussions that gave both of us a refreshed outlook. Both he (nominally a conservative) and I (allegedly a liberal) found that we agreed on much more than we disagreed on or than the media would have led us to believe. People having rational discussions and finding common ground doesn't make a good story.

And so, I will still be blogging when a thought occurs to me. The only difference will be that the ideas might be a little bigger or subtler and not needlessly weighted by the flickering show of current events.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Dropping Out

I have just finished deleting all the news feeds from both my My Yahoo! and iGoogle homepages. I have also unsubscribed to The New York Times Select service and will no longer be getting emails from The Atlanta Journal and Constitution.

In other words, I'm done.

Keeping abreast of current events is widely held to be wise and good. My mother's favorite pastime was pouring over the day's newspaper from stem-to-stern. She'd also make sure she watched both the local and national news programs at 6pm, and the local again at 11pm. She got these habits from her father, and there is no way of knowing how far back the tradition goes.

But not any more.

My readings of the Taoist sages Lao Tse and Chuang Tse have long since taught me the futility of keeping up with current events, and I have to say that keeping up with the news has done nothing to make me happier or wiser. Writing politically minded essays has done nothing for me or the world. It's all bombast and word games.

The simple truth is that people's minds can't be changed. They are going to believe what they are going to believe. Arguments and rationality do nothing.

The only hope lies in art. A decent piece of art aims not at the head, but at the gut and the heart. A good work of art can change a person not by changing their politics, whatever that really means, but by opening their heart in compassion and engaging their sympathy and their humanity.

And so I go forth as an artist, avoiding the temporal and trying to understand the eternal. I have no idea what effect this might have on this blog. Maybe it will improve it. I have no plans to kill it quite yet, though.

I'll see you on the other side.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Community

I didn't want to write this, but I've seen too many articles in which the points I'm about to make apply in the last weeks, days, and hours, that I cannot avoid writing about it. Then maybe I can shut the hell up like I'd like to.

In the last few weeks, the fundamental flaw in modern American conservative philosophy has made itself plain to me.

It really hit me when I was thinking about the limitations of Libertarianism. Now, there are issues on which I actually agree with the Libertarians, more so, actually, than I do with the Neocons, so their basic assumptions were easier to examine. I understood and sympathized with their point of view in certain areas, therefore, it was relatively simple to apply that viewpoint to other subjects to see how they turned out.

And that's what revealed the flaw.

The fundamental problem with conservative thought is its reliance on simplistic economic notions, such as, "The Wisdom of the Marketplace," and "Greed is good." This is an attitude that leads them to social Darwinism (despite a pronounced distaste in well-known conservatives for biological Darwinism) and other notions that stress competition above all other qualities. They live in a fantasy world in which the race is always to the swift and the laurels to the just. Those of us who live in the real world know just how wrong those ideas can be.

What further struck me about this line of thought was that it encouraged an unending attack on the idea of community. To the conservative mindset, we are never a community, but merely an assemblage of individuals, all out to best the others, striving for survival in a lonely, existential struggle. This is not only a cynical and bleak worldview, but it fails to take into account a very basic aspect of human nature.

That is that we are a herd animal.

One of the most primal instincts in humans is the instinct to belong. We create tribes with social structures and rudimentary governments whenever we form groups and always have. We are, by our very nature, social and cooperative, not solitary and competitive.

Now, the people who rail against government misunderstand what government is, especially government in a representative democracy. They see it as being an oppressive force that exists somehow outside of society. It is a demon and must be fought so that the marketplace can properly be preserved. The truth, of course, is that government exists, in modern democracies, to work the will of The People. We are the government, and when we war against it, we war against ourselves. This is the point of elections and participation. Ronald Reagan was wrong. Government isn't the problem. People who think that government's the problem are the problem because government is the most outward expression of our community.

We can see this attack on the idea of community in several issues and events of recent years. The first, of course, was in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. When Mr Bush made his speech and asked us to go shopping instead of asking us to sacrifice and to fight on the home front, he was refuting the idea of America as a community. And when, other than in those shocked and hollow days following the attacks, was America more of a community? Never in my lifetime, and never since World War II. We came together as the tribe America and that solidarity was wasted by indifference to its power and grandeur and importance.

The response to the devastation of the Gulf Coast region by Hurricane Katrina only two years ago last week also demonstrated a profound indifference to the concept of community. The slow response, the preferential treatment given insiders like Trent Lott, and the disdain practiced and witnessed (by Barbara Bush, most famously) toward the refugees (which is what they were if we want to use plain English) all show an inability to recognize that a part of our community, our tribe, was endangered. Compare the response to Katrina with the response to the earthquake and fire in San Francisco in 1906. San Francisco was rebuilt and hosting a Wold's Fair in 10 years. Can we hold out the same sort of hope for New Orleans?

According to Paul Krugman in his column, "Katrina All the Time" that appeared in The New York Times on Friday, August 31, 2007,

"Less than half the federal money set aside for rebuilding, as opposed to emergency relief, has actually been spent, in part because the Bush administration refused to waive the requirement that local governments put up matching funds for recovery projects — an impossible burden for communities whose tax bases have literally been washed away."

Is this how we treat our fellow citizens, fellow members of our community?

Mr Krugman goes on, in that column, to refer to the crisis we are suffering in the area of health insurance. The basic problem that we face in regards to health care is that we approach this most fundamental of communal concerns as a commodity. It is not. Although, to the shallow person, it may seem that another's illness is his own problem and not the concern of the community, one must only look slightly below the surface in order to see the fallacy of that outlook. Illnesses untreated are illnesses that are allowed, nay, encouraged to spread. Illnesses reduce productivity and efficiency of the society as a whole, and using emergency rooms (as Mr Bush so famously offers) as ersatz clinics reduces their efficiency in dealing with the desperately injured that they are designed to care for.

Of course, Mr Bush, the alleged Christian, needs to learn a lesson from Jesus: "What you do to the least of them, you do to me."

Jesus, of course, understood the concept of community, and the early church that rose after his death existed as a collection of communes, that is, social organizations that survived through cooperation and mutual concern. There is nothing in the four Gospels, that I am aware of, that advocates ignoring the sick, attacking the poor, or forsaking the downtrodden. There is quite a bit, on the other hand, about opening one's heart in compassion and treating others as we would have them treat us.

A previous Krugman column, one entitled, "A Socialist Plot," (NYT 8/27/07) compared providing universal health care with providing public education, and public education is another area in which people show a shortsighted disregard for community. Quite often one will hear someone fulminate over having to pay property taxes that support schools to which they have no children to go. This is blinkered and miserly. We should, all of us, be happily supporting our schools. If looked at communally, it is easy to see that every member of a community benefits from good schools, regardless of whether they have children to go there or not. Well educated children will end up contributing far more back into a society than they ever took out. Also, students who are well educated and who have a variety of extra-curricular activities will be less likely to become involved in drinking, drugs, sex, and crimes, all activities that people who foam at the mouth over their property taxes also tend to complain about.

Of course, I am in favor of nationalizing elementary and secondary education and rolling back the property taxes now collected for their support in favor of another tax scheme, possibly a national sales tax (and, yes, I know that's regressive, but a regressive tax might actually work to give the poor and middle class bigger voices in education). Public education funded and administered on a local level has resulted in poor schools that function with widely divergent criteria, curricula, texts, and approaches. Education is, for the nation as a community, too important to pursue in such a patchwork, haphazard, and unequal fashion. By not approaching education as a national concern, we undermine ourselves intellectually and competitively and renounce our obligations to ourselves as a community.

But enough. I could go on for many paragraphs, many more than I have already erected, without changing a single mind on this. It is too easy for us to see ourselves as eternally separate and isolated. It is far too easy to look at our neighbor as being "the other" or the guy down the street or the person in another city. We can stand apart in a series of toggled positions and identifications: liberal, conservative, religious, irreligious, pro-this, anti-that. And it will all get us nowhere.

Monday, September 03, 2007

My Response to the Latest Stanley Fish Blog Post

Stanley Fish has written on the inability he perceives liberalism to have in having tolerance for religious faith. My meager response follows:

There is actually an older source than either Milton or Mill for the notion of separation of church and state: Jesus of Nazareth. He said, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and render unto God what is God's." (Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26)

2000 years before Stanley Fish, Jesus was able to point out the fallacy of Professor Fish's argument. Professor Fish assumes that religious inquiry and political action are activities that exist in the same sphere: public. However, the realm of the spirit is inherently private and personal, and while it will undoubtedly influence the political and public outlook of an individual, it is not and should not be a public expression in and of itself.

Jesus is also the best source for wisdom on what to make of those who would move their spiritual quests from the private realm to the public: "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6:5-6) The meaning here, to me, is clear. The TV preachers, the Ayatollahs, the President who sees his administration as being ordained of God are all hypocrites. By making their spirituality (if true spirituality it be) so needlessly public, they subvert it.

For it is possible to be spiritual and political and to keep both in their proper place. In that case, spirituality and even adherence to a set of particular religious dogmas can be a helpful and healthy thing. The private informs and illuminates the public. Unfortunately, the reverse is quite often the result of mixing the two, and the public political ideas come to dominate the personal and spiritual.

Professor Fish does, though, discuss a difficult sticking point for many who would identify themselves as "liberal." As tempting as it is to sometimes wish to deny others free speech because we believe their religious and political beliefs intolerable, we cannot. For when we do, we are the hypocrites praying on the street corners. Even those who understand religion to be a sword rather than a balm must be allowed to speak, and we must try to engage them with rationality, regardless of the frustrations involved in doing so. It's not easy, but that's how it is.

Finally, if Professor Fish does not think that George W. Bush is a religious extremist, he is living in a fantasy world. His entire description of the balancing act he claims that American politicians have to walk is absurd and indicates that he must have been either unconscious or sequestered during both General Elections in 2000 and 2004.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Two Quick Things

First, I'm working on a long piece that I couldn't stop myself from writing. Unfortunately, it is a complex subject and more than I could get done this afternoon. I will get it posted as soon as possible.

Second, I just have to take a moment and talk about Sen. Larry Craig.

I have read a number of items concerning this nearly nonscandal (had this come out a month from now, he probably would have been able to get a way with it), and there is one point that I would like to put a slightly different spin on. It seems to be generally assumed that Sen Craig must be a closet homosexual in order for him to go poncing about men's restrooms looking for a bit of anonymous fun, however, I think that current researches into sexual habits and the attitudes toward sex exhibited by many of our citizens shows this assumption to be outdated.

When Sen. Craig says that he is not gay, he should be believed. (I'm not, by the way, excusing his abysmal record in the area of gay rights. His opinions there are as foolish and thoughtless as his habit of reaching under men's room stalls looking for whatever might find him.) To people of this ilk, the gender of their "partner" (and I use the term loosely, because the idea of two people being partners hits an existential wall when you're talking about a glory hole) is meaningless. The experience is the whole point.

People like Sen. Craig are, to my mind, simply obsessed with trying to drown the pain of their lives in the pursuit of an orgasm. The other participants in the act are more object than subject, a means to an end, if you'll pardon the expression. Love and humanity and compassion are irrelevant and almost quaint. They get caught up in the fantasies of pornography and become convinced that what they do is reasonable and not immoral. They are the great rationalizers, people who convince themselves that it is not adultery if intercourse never occurs or if they pay for it. They are sad and deluded people. But not necessarily gay.

I'm Sorry

Lately I haven't felt much like blogging. There doesn't seem to be much point.

In fact, this morning, I had intended to write one of my lengthy political essays, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it once I was faced with the blank screen. It's not the thoughts involved; I think I have some interesting points to make. It is simply that I've begun to question the value of spending hours--and my best posts take me all day--writing essays that few will read and fewer care about.

The situation is not really as bathetic as that last sentence might indicate. In terms of mood, I'm doing better than I can ever remember, thanks mostly to this great mood elevator called a multi-vitamin. Apparently my lifelong struggle with depression was a vitamin deficiency. Go figure.

In fact, it has been in the time that my mood has improved that my blog productivity has slacked off. I now find that I'd rather spend my writing time working on the novel or writing something that might be published someplace for--I don't know--money than I would in pontificating on social questions that my bloviating will never affect.

Were my platform more elevated, had I an audience big enough to bring my opinions to the ears of those who control us, perhaps blogging would be worth the time and trouble.

I will not be deleting this blog, and I don't know that I won't pop off from time-to-time. What I am describing is the situation at this moment, and moments have a way of morphing on us. Today's truth is tomorrow's delusion and tomorrow's delusion is next week's pleasant memory.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Michael Drayton, Detective Guy Blog Redux

I have revived the Drayton novel blog in a cynical attempt at increasing its marketability. And just the fact that I used the word "marketability" makes me want to go take a shower.

Anyway, in the future, for all your Michael Drayton, Detective guy news, head back to the Michael Drayton, Detective Guy blog. It's free, and, who knows, it might even increase your marketability.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Just in Case You Miss the Sopranos

This is my favorite piece from the demo for the Next in the Series radio show.

It's All Thanks to Tidiness

I found the following cartoon I had drawn while clearing off my desk this morning:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

You just never know what you'll find.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Back in My Day

And, from At Last the 1948 Show:

Everything You Know Is Wrong

More Firesign Theatre courtesy of Youtube. It's stealing, but at least I'm stealing from somebody I like.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Debating Debating

As the number of preprimary presidential debates has risen into the low hundreds, I've been thinking about the utility of this fairly recent and television friendly institution.

The problem with the debates is this: They are stupid. And pointless. And not debates. They are joint press conferences, and uninformative ones at that. The candidates easily sidestep saying anything that means anything and instead stick to the fricking talking points that dominate current American politics. This goes for all debates involving candidates from either party or both together.

The format is such that, even when a candidate slips up and says something that might give a glimmer of what they actually think, the other candidates and the moderators are so focused on their scripts that they can't do anything to explore the implications of the slip up. For example, in the second debate between Mr Bush and Mr Kerry in the last general election, the town hall-style one, Mr Bush was asked what Supreme Court decisions he thought had been decided correctly. Well, this question fell clearly outside what he had rehearsed, and, since he knows nothing of history or law, he was left grasping for the name of a case. The one he came up with was Dred Scott.

Now, for those who have forgotten their junior high school history class, Dred Scott v. Sandford was an important Supreme Court decision that occurred just before the Civil War. Dred Scott was a slave who sued to obtain his freedom based on tenures spent living in free states. The Supreme Court found that black people had no rights to citizenship according to the Constitution and found that Scott was not a man with standing to sue, but a piece of property without it.

This is the decision that Mr Bush thought was well-decided.

The amazing thing to me was that no one called him on it. Kerry, instead of jumping on that like a hamster on a pellet, ignored it. Bob Schieffer ignored it. The papers ignored. Everyone ignored it. Here he was, saying, by extension, that he thought slavery was a good thing and no one said anything. How could they? It wasn't in the script.

What I would rather see is a series of discussions. Match up candidates in a round robin of discussions. Make them sit across a table from one another and make them say things. Instead of asking questions, which can be phrased in prejudicial and misleading ways, offer topics. Iraq. Healthcare. The budget. Trade policy. Cuba. Whatever. Make 'em slug it out.

(Just for the record, true debates do not feature questions being asked of individuals. They start with resolutions, such as "Resolved: The national speed limit should be lowered to 55," not "What would you think of the death penalty if your wife was brutally raped and murdered?" These things aren't really debates.)

In order to have a discussion, you have to have an exchange of ideas. One person has to listen to the other. Since you can never tell what direction a conversation is going to go in, the answers can't be prepared in advance and memorized. And when the other person says that he thinks that Dred Scott was a good decision, you can take his measure, look him in the eye, and say, "Do you really?"

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Coffee, Coffee Everywhere

Again I've commented on a post of Stanley Fish's--a critique of Starbuck's and other such emporia--in The New York Times Select pages. It came out so good that I couldn't help but post it here. Sorry.

As I've let this controversy sit for a couple of days, I've had to modify my initial support for this column (#12). The fallacy of Mr Fish's argument is that he forgets that, even during the good old days, the consumer was always responsible for his own cream and sugar. (Except, of course, at Dunkin Donuts. In Rhode Island, for example, ordering a "coffee regular" gets one a cup that has already had a few splashes of cream and several shovelsful of sugar added. That's livin'.)

The legitimate point he raises concerns the shifting of labor in many venues of the American economy from the vendor ("May I help you?") to the consumer ("It's on aisle five.").

I'm no fan of the modern coffee shop. (My wife vehemently disagrees with me on this.) I agree with Professor Fish concerning the waiting--no matter how simple the beverage--with no comfortable area in which to wait. It would be a fascinating experiment to set up a camera in a Starbucks and document the intricate fandangoes people go through while waiting for their brew. It usually begins somewhere near the ill-defined slot in the counter where the drinks are delivered and ends somewhere near the Mens Room door.

He's also correct when it comes to the tiny counter with the myriad of substances with which one is supposed improve a drink a team of baristas has already labored on with an effort that would have done Sisyphus proud. For anyone with any manners or any sense that other beings exist in the world, it can be a test of patience. For anyone else, it must be like digging for the puck in the corner at a hockey game.

The ultimate thing that I have against Starbucks and many other such outlets has to do with the coffee itself. It's bitter. So bitter that it needs all these other ministrations just to make it drinkable. When all's said and done, give me Dunkin Donuts's coffee every time.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Drayton Update

I should have posted this about a week ago, but I've finished revising Chapter 13.

In other news, the university I work at is sponsoring a novel writing contest, and I think I'm going to submit. It's not a big deal, and the deadline isn't for months yet, so I should be able to revise the remaining chapters in the meantime.

In regards to that, I am brushing up the first several chapters quickly since the opening salvo in the contest is a 30-to-50 page chunk. I think I'm improving it, making it less jokey and more in Drayton's true voice.

Of course, the rewriting never stops, not until some publisher makes you.

After I finish this brush-up, I'll start on Chapter 14.

I might actually end up adding a chapter. I'm not 100 percent sure yet, but I had an interesting idea. It's just a question of whether or not it really belongs or if it's something I'm trying to force. We'll see.

Ain't It the Truth?

While watching Malcolm in the Middle over the weekend, we were treated to the episode ("Reese Joins the Army, Part 2") in which Hal gets put on trial for conspiracy to commit fraud at the company he had been employed by for many years. He is, of course, only a patsy, framed because he was unwilling to frame others.

He is saved from prison when Malcolm, who is a mathematics prodigy, realizes that every date that the prosecution has given for some allegedly nefarious incident engineered by Hal falls on a Friday. It turns out that Hal hadn't been to work on a Friday in 15 years.

And now to the point of this post. Once on the stand, as Hal starts to give his testimony, he says the following:

You know those nature shows where a wasp paralyzes a caterpillar, then injects it full of larvae? It stays alive for weeks, completely aware, feeling every little bite as the larvae devour it from the inside. I sat in a cubicle every day envying that caterpillar--'cause at least he got to be on TV. I hated that job. I was a crappy employee.

This is at once, to me, one of the funniest and truest things ever said on TV. I know I've lived it, to varying degrees, in the many jobs I've had over the years.

Some people are lucky. They make their living in ways that they love. I've found this to be almost unerringly true of engineers, for example. These are people who do what they do because they love it. If they don't like their job, it's the employer's fault, not theirs.

Most of us, however, make do. We get what jobs we can in order to make some money, no more, no less. As we've turned our colleges and universities and grad schools increasingly into trade schools, this has become more and more true for the so-called professions, as well. Most lawyers and, sadly, doctors today got in those lines of work simply because they were ways of making a comfortable living, not out of a desire to serve the community or a feeling of being called to it. If you take a quick gander at our current legal and medical industries, you can see how helpful that is.

I was lucky in feeling my call. However, I wasted many opportunities I had to pursue that calling through my own foolishness and pride and by putting earning a dollar too much ahead of following my own path. I've also envied the caterpillar.

Now, I'm not quitting my job or advocating that anyone else do so without the proper preparation. I am trying to get back on the path, one I diverged from many decades ago, and trying to do it in such a way that I do not ruin my family and bring more misery than peace. I don't know whether I'll ever make it. I just know that it is worth the trying.