Category ►►► Scurrilous Scribblings
April 1, 2008
California's new kind of vehicle checkpoint
The California Highway Patrol announced this week that towns around the state will introduce a completely new kind of vehicle checkpoint.
Officer Oliver Brownstain, an agency spokesman, explained that officers will conduct intelligence tests of drivers and confiscate the keys of drivers who fail to pass them.
The checkpoint will be set up along the busiest sections of road in each city and could entail delays of up to 90 minutes for each driver, depending on how stupid they are.
According to Brownstain, “In January of 2008 SB 28284 took effect. This bill, popularly known as the 'Driving While Stupid,' law, mandates that California’s drivers demonstrate that they are intellectually capable of operating a motor vehicle. ”The law exempts some vehicles, such as Humvees."
He added, without cracking a smile, “If you think that this law is unnecessary, then we probably want to talk to you further.”
Motorists taking the test will first be asked to get out of the car and go stand in the corner of a circle. The assistant testing officer will offer to hold any small bags of marijuana that they may be carrying on their person while they take the test.
Drivers’ keys will be examined for scorch marks, a sign of the operator attempting to insert the key into the cigarette lighter instead of the ignition.
The test will not be a rehash of the existing driver’s test that most motorists are required to pass when they first apply for a license. It will consist of multiple-choice questions such as: If a homeless person holding a sign asking for donations stands at the on ramp to a freeway, do you:
- Put the parking brake on before you come to complete stop to give him some money?
- Pass him first, and then stop and go into reverse in order to give him a donation?
- iIgnore him and continue drivng?
Another asks: The best way to stop a car is:
- By shifting into reverse;
- By running out of gas;
- With your foot.
The law is considered a companion to a law that will take effect in July requiring motorists to use hands free devices when operating a cell phone.
Legislative researcher Hans Frei, after whom that law was named, explained the reasoning: “We figure that most people are really too intellectually challenged to figure out how to use hands free devices. So this law will catch them, too. You must realize that the purpose of traffic laws, contrary to popular belief, is to generate income for the state, not make people safer. We thought about lowering the speed limit on freeways to 35 mph, but this seemed to be less of a hassle to enforce.”
The new law is being introduced with a marketing campaign. Its slogan: “If you’re stupid, we want your car keys,” is starting to show up on billboards all over the state of California.
Brownstain emphasized that drivers seen sounding out the syllables on the billboards will be subject to being pulled over.
The campaign will include TV and YouTube personalities particularly associated with stupidity, such as Dom Deluise, Jessica Simpson, Lindsey Lohan, Jade Goody and Paris Hilton. Britney Spears is honorary chairman. At several large cities in the state local news anchors will take turns as honorary spokesmen. In New York a similar law is being introduced with Eliot Spitzer as celebrity spokesman.
Officer Brownstain conceded that these checkpoints may entail some inconvenience to motorists and might even possibly cause some people to miss airline flights, doctor’s appointments and funerals.
“That’s the way it goes,” he remarked.
When confronted by a reporter who asked if this wasn’t a callous disregard for the rights of motorists, he chuckled and asked the reporter: “Where are you parked?”
He then commented, “We’re taking a page from our TSA brothers who have long held that the more they make people wait in line and the more humiliations they subject them to, the more they can justify their salaries. And while I wouldn’t want to bring up the current budgetary problems in Sacramento, I’m sure we could make these logjams move a little less like molasses if we were paid a living wage. Just a thought.”
The law was passed after intense lobbying by Mothers Against Dumb Driving, and S.M.A.R.T. (Single Matrons Against Retarded Transportation).
It was opposed by YTYSM (You Think Your So Smart!) an organization dedicated to ending discrimination in the workplace on the basis on non-performance. YTSYM plans to have demonstrators at various checkpoints throughout the state.
“It’s bad enough that workers are required to be on time and do their jobs without mistakes. Now they are making it harder for us to get to work by making us know how to drive! It’s unfair!”
Officer Brownstain explained that CHP hopes to use the checkpoints as a way of improving public relations with local residents.
“We know that we’ll have folks as a captive audience so we might as well have a good time. We’ll serve refreshments, including doughnuts and coffee, which is always a big favorite with us.”
September 24, 2007
Cindy Sheehan's Day of Out-of-Tunement Manifesto
I rarely do this, as you know: I rarely link to some piece and say simply "read this." (I'm too in love with the sound of my own fingers typing on a keyboard.)
But here's an exception. Read Cindy Sheehan's Yom Kippur "sermon," delivered at Michael Lerner's Beyt Tikkun "synogogue;" you will be -- if not exactly glad, then at least agape. (Rabbi Lerner is Hillary Clinton's mentor, author of the Politics of Meaning and other works of Socialist agit-prop masquerading as theology.)
My response (I love this) is entirely contained in the list of categories I had to attach to this post.
(Well, one more thing. It has always been my understanding that Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, is a day for each person to atone for what he, personally, has done wrong -- not "atone" for his enemies failing to live up to his own lofty standards, apologize for all the times America hasn't followed his lead, or wallow in self-righteous indignation that nobody listens to him. 'Nuff said; read the list of categories above.)
July 31, 2006
Into the Briar Patch
Oh, give us a break already.
The newest eruption of the ubiquitous "language police" occurred when Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts had the effrontery to correctly use the phrase "tar baby"... which some hypersensitive souls incorrectly deduced must be a derrogatory term for blacks. Tar, after all; you know.
In fact, all it means is something that grabs hold of you when you try to touch it; the mere fact that tar happens to be black in color doesn't mean it has anything to do with black people, for heaven's sake.
In the original Uncle Remus story (I apologize for the atrocious printing!), Brer Fox puts tar -- actual tar -- and turpentine on a "contrapshun" and leaves it in the road where Brer Rabbit would find it. Rabbit ends up stuck to the tar.
Somehow, in the minds of people enfeebled by decades of hand-holding over race, this means that anyone who refers to a "tar baby," whether Mitt Romney or Tony Snow, must be making a racial reference. (I can only imagine the squeals of outrage if Romney were ever to refer to the funding of the Big Dig as a "black hole.")
Romney, naturally, was forced to apologize for failing to take into account lacunae in other people's literary education.
I reckon with some people, God was a bit niggardly in passing out brains.
June 12, 2006
Daughter of Kerry Von Münchhausen
Thomas Lipscomb's second installment of his series on John Kerry's military record, "John Kerry's Skimmer Scam," is up now on Real Clear Politics. Read it and shriek... with laughter, directed at the hapless former Democratic nominee for president.
Then shudder as you realize that he came within three percent of sitting in la Casablanca, deciding whether to kill Zarqawi -- or yank all the troops out because it was hopeless, because there was nothing we could ever do to stop the Jordanian madman.
Lipscomb's series is a clearing house of what is publicly known and actually on the record... as opposed to the lies, damned lies, and sadistics doled out, drip by drop, by the permanent standing Kerry campaign. The first installment, "The Truth, John Kerry, and The New York Times," can be read here.
June 9, 2006
Battered Conservative Syndrome: Defending Ann
All right, folks; put on your manly gowns, gird up your loins, and go tell the Spartans: I'm about to defend Ann Coulter. And not by sweeping her words under the rug and blubbering "but she's a good girl in spite of the horrid things she says!"
No no, not Big Lizards style. I defend the very words she used and bat the ball right back across thet net at the liberals and their conservative "enablers."
But first, let's jump in the wayback machine and speed back through the ages to 1991. Connie Chung had just had her special on breast cancer the year earlier, in which she first floated the meme -- with never a shred of scientific evidence -- that silicone breast implants cause breast cancer.
Oh just read on, for heaven's sake.
We are the evidence!
In 1991, Oprah Winfrey had a show on the topic, and she invited a spokesman from Dow Corning, against which the anti-breast-implant mob had already begun to file the thousands of lawsuits that were to drive the company into bankruptcy just a few years later. What Oprah did not tell the spokesman was that the entire audience had been packed with women who had gotten breast implants, gotten breast cancer, and believed with the fervor of the mad that the one caused the other.
This was the first time I encountered what, fifteen years later, Ann Coulter would call "the Left's doctrine of infallibility," "using their grief to make a political point while preventing anyone from responding." (The link is to a transcript of Coulter's appearance on the Today Show with Matt Lauer; tuck it away in your grey matter, we'll come back to it at the end of this post.)
The premise of these Oprah women was that, since they suffered from a terrible disease, therefore any pronouncement they made about its cause was not open to argument.
It made no difference what the Dow spokesman said; they could not care less about the scientific evidence he cited. He noted, as his basic point, that if silicone breast implants were in any way implicated in breast cancer, then the rate of such cancer among women who had silicone breast implants would necessarily have to be higher than among women who did not have them.
Any rational human being should be able to understand that much. You don't need a PhD in oncological research. If smoking is implicated in lung cancer, then smokers should have a higher rate of lung cancer than non-smokers... and by golly, they do; much higher. That is why no serious medical researcher in the last forty years has disputed the point: the statistical argument is unanswerable.
Curiously, however, women with silicone breast implants have an identical rate of breast cancer as women who have saline implants or women with no implants at all. There is no difference; a hundred studies have shown this, and not a single one has shown the opposite. This is almost irrefutable evidence that there is no connection.
When the Dow guy brought this out, the women responded by booing. One leapt to her feet and shouted, "nobody ever studied me! Why don't you study me?" And the mass cheered in response, just as they might have cheered a coherent argument.
Then, in a surreal display that brought to mind Franz Kafka (or George Orwell), they actually rose in near unison and began chanting "we are the evidence, we are the evidence!" Whenever the Dow spokesman tried to speak, he was shouted down. He was accused of not caring about them. Women stood and burst into tears, accused him of "harassment" because he dared to defend Dow Corning's product.
Thus the infallibility of grief in action: these women suffered a tragic loss -- and that immunizes their every pronouncement from response.
A decorated war veteran who lost three limbs in the Vietnam War
Flash forward a few years, to the 2002 senatorial re-election campaign of Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA) against Rep. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA).
During the election, Chambliss raised the issue that Cleland was too liberal for the state of Georgia; to make that point, Chambliss aired some hard-hitting ads saying that Cleland's policies -- in particular, his opposition to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security -- benefitted terrorists and dictators, like Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. As the names were mentioned, the Chambliss ad showed brief images of their faces:
The ad says that Cleland does not have the "courage to lead" at a time when "America faces terrorists and extremist dictators." The evidence? Cleland voted against the president's version of the still-pending Homeland Security agency 11 times.
Now, the point is arguable; many Republicans didn't like the idea of the new department as well, calling it "just another layer of bureaucracy" and "shuffling boxes around the org chart." But Cleland did not try to argue it... instead, he and his surrogates in the antique media swiftly trotted out the point that he was a decorated Vietnam veteran who has lost three limbs:
Cleland, a decorated war veteran who lost three limbs in the Vietnam War, blasted the ad, accusing his GOP rival, Rep. C. Saxby Chambliss, of trying to wrest political advantage from the war on terrorism and the impending conflict with Iraq. "Accusing me of being soft on Homeland Security and Osama bin Laden is the most vicious exploitation of a national tragedy and attempt at character assassination I have ever witnessed," the senator said in a statement.
The infallibility of grief, take 2.
Of course, Cleland did not actually lose his legs and part of one arm "in the Vietnam War;" he lost them during the war, in a stupid accident: he was hopping out of a helicopter that was taking him and other soldiers on a "beer run," and a grenade slipped either from his own vest or someone else's. He bent over to pick it up, and it exploded. His grievous injuries were not attained in combat; and indeed, none of his decorations were for that incident (he, personally, never claimed they were; but he, personally, also never corrected the record when others claimed Cleland lost his limbs in combat).
The meme was launched, not just by the Washington Post but virtually every other newspaper, magazine, and television network: Saxby Chambliss, how dare you question the patriotism of a guy who lost three limbs?
The club of grief
The phenomenon Coulter describes is far more despicable than anything she has said in attacking it. "The infallibility of grief" is used to silence opposition by exploiting basic human decency.
Among con artists, there are two kinds: those who exploit human greed by tricking their marks into thinking they can con someone else (like the "dead millionaire Nigerian dicatator" spam) -- and those who exploit human pity by pretending to some tragedy that causes the decent to want to help them out (the classic "my rented baby is hungry, can you give me $5 for some baby food?" scam).
The latter are much more repulsive; if a greedy guy thinks he's scamming someone else and gets fleeced himself, who cares? He got what was coming to him. But to rip someone off by attacking his empathy and goodness not only punishes the victim for his goodness, it also makes him cynical -- and makes it that much harder for people who really are in trouble to get help. Once bitten, twice shy.
But those who practice the infallibility of grief scam are even worse
- They affect the much larger arena of public policy via irrational appeals to emotion;
- They twist tragedy for their own ends;
- They pervert the deaths of their own loved ones (recall the funeral of Sen. Paul Wellstone);
- And they create backlashes against those who really have suffered great tragedy, but have chosen not to use grief as a weapon... a backlash that is itself exploited by the "griefarazzi" as a weapon against the Right.
Coulter argues -- and I completely agree -- that by using their grief as a club to batter their opponents into silence, they have willfully and irrevocably forfeited the right ever again to use it as a shield.
"Mother" Sheehan (as she likes to be called, aping the religious without actually stooping to practice religion) has been relentless in retailing the death of her son Casey for political purposes wholly at odds with what he, himself believed. By using the doctrine of the infallibility of grief as an offensive weapon, she has forefeited any right to fall back on her grief when her politics are attacked.
So has Michael Berg, who has taken to the airwaves to argue that President Bush, not Musab Zarqawi, is responsible for the beheading of his son, Nick Berg. Look what Bush made Zarqawi do!
His only call for making such judgments is his certificate of authenticity as a man who suffered a terrible tragedy. Berg uses victimhood as a badge of authority to batter down any response under a sledge hammer of faux guilt: how dare you defend Bush against my attacks? I lost my son!
And now at last this brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Ann Coulter vs. the Jersey Girls.
Enjoying their husbands' deaths
Here is what Coulter wrote in her newest book, Godless, that has provoked such a fury of denunciation... not just from the left, but from the right as well:
These self-obsessed women seem genuinely unaware that 9-11 was an attack on our nation and acted like as if the terrorist attack only happened to them. They believe the entire country was required to marinate in their exquisite personal agony. Apparently, denouncing Bush was part of the closure process....
These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefparazzies. I have never seen people enjoying their husband’s death so much.
Very hard words; but I stick up for Coulter even here. Read above: the Jersey Girls have used their grief as an offensive weapon against Republicans and in support of the candidacy of Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA, 100%)... and that means that by their own actions, they forfeit the right to use their personal tragedy as a shield against attack.
But who are the "Jersey Girls?"
The Jersey Girls or Jersey Widows (Kristin Breitweiser, Patty Casazza, Lorie Van Auken, and Mindy Kleinberg) are four women from New Jersey whose husbands were killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks....
The Jersey Widows testified for hearing led by congresswoman Cynthia McKinney on July 22, 2005 . In Lorie Auken's statement she said this of the 9/11 Commission Report:
And finally, without compromising our national security, it would have reported all of its findings, with its redactions blacked out and submitted to the American people. In essence, the Commission could have produced a final product where the resulting conclusions and recommendations could be trusted. Instead, at the end of the day, what we got were some statements that truly insulted the intelligence of the American people, violated our loved ones’ memories, and might end up hurting us, one day soon.
One such statement is that 9/11 was a ‘failure of imagination’. A failure of whose imagination? What exactly does that mean? When you have a CIA director with his hair on fire, a system blinking red, 52 FAA warnings, an August 6th, 2001, PDB entitled ‘Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the United States’, leads on several 9/11 hijackers including Alhazmi, Almihdhar and Marwan Al-Shehi, warnings from many foreign governments, a Phoenix memo warning of Islamic extremists taking flying lessons, the arrest of would-be terrorist Zacarias Moussauoui, facts imparted to one agent, Agent Frasca at the RFU at the FBI, 9/11 was truly a failure alright.
What else did they do? Was that it? Not by a long shot. From the Today Show exchange, here is Coulter on the Jersey Girls' politicking... facts which none of Coulter's critics have troubled to dispute. (This is a hallmark of the infallibility of grief, by the way: Cleland didn't try to argue that his votes against the DHS were right... he simply denied Chambliss the right to criticize him at all because of the tragedy Cleland suffered in Vietnam.)
They were cutting commercials for Kerry. They were using their grief to make a political point while preventing anyone from responding.
In a Hannity and Colmes segment yesterday (no transcript, I just watched it), she elaborated, noting the television shows and magazines that had featured them, the Democratic fundraisers they attended. I myself recall them sitting on some panel on terrorism, as if they were experts by virtue of grief. The Jersey Girls were not "grieving widows," for they were not grieving... not unless, as Coulter put it, "denouncing Bush was part of the closure process."
They are not grieving widows; they are crusading widows. The difference is colossal.
Matt Lauer's snide questions are almost tailor-made to prove Coulter's point, for not once does he ever bother responding to anything she says; instead, he spent the entire interview subtlely undermining her moral credibility and her decency for daring to challenge the crusading widows in the first place:
His first words, before even reading what she wrote:
- Do you believe everything in the book, or do you put some things in there just to cater to your base?
After reading the excerpt where she concludes "I have never seen people enjoying their husband’s death so much”:
- Because they dare to speak out? [At least, thank God, he didn't say "dare to speak truth to power." -- the Mgt.]
Here are the rest of his "responses" to Coulter:
- So grieve but grieve quietly?
- By the way, they also criticized the Clinton administration. [Lauer gives no examples.]
- So if you lose a husband, you no longer have the right to have a political point of view?
- Well apparently you are allowed to respond to them. [Said while he attacked her for responding to them.]
- What I’m saying is I don’t think they have ever told you, you can’t respond.
- No. I think it’s a dramatic statement. “These broads are millionaires stalked by stalked by grief-parazzies”? “I have never seen people enjoying their husband’s deaths so much”?
- The book is called “Godless: The Church of Liberalism.” Ann Coulter, always fun to have you here.
There you go: content-free invective. Lauer never responds, refutes, debunks; he just denounces. This is practically a classroom demonstration of the infallibility of grief at work.
In the same article in Editor & Publisher, the Jersey Girls themselves (plus Monica Gabrielle) respond (they get the last word, of course; Coulter is not allowed to respond to their response). Amazingly, their response also reinforces Coulter's original point:
We did not choose to become widowed on September 11, 2001. The attack, which tore our families apart and destroyed our former lives, caused us to ask some serious questions regarding the systems that our country has in place to protect its citizens. Through our constant research, we came to learn how the protocols were supposed to have worked. Thus, we asked for an independent commission to investigate the loopholes which obviously existed and allowed us to be so utterly vulnerable to terrorists. Our only motivation ever was to make our Nation safer. Could we learn from this tragedy so that it would not be repeated?
They then append a list of eight Democratic-Party talking points, the exact attacks that Minority Leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 95%) and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 100%) make against President Bush and the Republican Congress.
Ask yourself this question: what reason is offered for us to accept the analysis of the Jersey Girls about what's wrong with our response to 9/11? Why listen to them, instead of (for a wild example) Big Lizards?
The only reason put forward is that 9/11 "tore our families apart and destroyed our former lives."
That's it. If they conducted "constant research," they certainly didn't demonstrate any in their response, nor on any of the media lollapalloozas they basked in for months: the television appearances, the spread in Vanity Fair, the Kerry campaign rallies and fundraisers they attended, or the commissions where they spoke.
Their sole authority to declaim upon Bush's failures is that they lost their husbands on September 11th; their sole response to critics of their political activities is "we did not choose to become widowed on September 11, 2001."
But they certainly chose the path forward from that point. They buttered their bread; now they refuse to sleep in it.
Battered Conservative Syndrome
Yet rather than stand up to the bullying use of victimhood as a weapon, many pundits and bloggers on the right have instead joined the liberal dogpile on Ann Coulter. The response of conservatives matches that of Matt Lauer: who cares whether Coulter's critique is right or wrong? Those poor women have suffered! How dare she add to their grief?
They join the liberals in attacking Coutler for malfeasance of rhetoric; in this, conservatives are showing classic symptoms of Battered Spouse Syndrome. Huddled in a defensive crouch, they labor to prove that they are too decent, they are so sympathetic -- they attack Coulter to prove their own chivalric honor. They become "enablers" of liberal griefarazzi.
Many conservatives have let themselves be ensnared by the "infallibility of grief" gambit. Like suckers who give money to the woman with the baby she rents by the hour, conservatives who attack Ann Coulter, without regard to the point she makes, prove the utter truth of that point: the reflexive, Lorelei power of the whimper of whipped dogs. And like Odysseus, if they don't stop their ears or lash themselves to the mast, they will wreck upon the rocks.
The Left wallows in that whimper, in the infallibility of grief; they use it to bypass argument, substitute for evidence, and take the place of moral courage. To argue with the grief-mongers makes ordinary, decent people feel like they just yelled at Grandma and made her cry. And the Left shamelessly exploits that basic human guilt.
I grew up in a Jewish family, and I had that trick played on me too many times. My family and culture burned out that autoresponse circuit in me; sorry, but like Jo Dee Messina, my give-a-damn's busted:
You can say you've got issues, you can say you're a victim
It's all your parents fault, after all you didn't pick 'em
Maybe somebody else has got time to listen:
My give-a-damn's busted
If you're a human being, you feel sorry for people who have suffered great tragedy. But if you're a reasoning human being, you don't allow empathy to leap up your throat and strangle your brain: you control it; you take a step back and ask whether We are the evidence ever means anything more than "Shut up," she explained.
June 5, 2006
Kerry Von Münchhausen
This is a follow-up to our post Lying About Lying About Lying, in which we take on the fabled New York Times (by "fabled," I mean it doesn't really exist) and its sudden desire to charge once more into the breach, dear friends, on behalf of Sen. John "Fitzgerald" Forbes Kerry (D-Beacon Hill, 100%).
The Times article was written by the hapless Kate Zernike, who appears to have snoozed through the entire investigation of Kerry's record two years ago... though she has assiduously read the CliffsNotes version -- which was evidently written by Kerry himself (say, just like the Bronze-Star after-action report!)
Today we learned that we are not alone. A fellow name o'Thomas Lipscomb has decided to take up the smart man's burden and write a series of articles for Real Clear Politics, setting straight the Kerry military record as it stands now. The first article is up now... and it's a doozy. A snippet:
But there was plenty of evidence in the work of other news organizations that some of the charges, and the Kerry military records themselves, were worth examining seriously. I found numerous problems with Kerry's records on his website in my own reporting for the Chicago Sun-Times: a Silver Star with a V for valor listed that the Navy stated it had never awarded in the history of the US Navy, three separate medal citations with some heavy revisions in Kerry's favor signed by former Navy Secretary John Lehman who denied ever signing them, to name two.
Additionally I found by examining the message traffic with experts that when the Swift Boat Vets charged that Kerry had written the Bay Hap after action report, by which he received his bronze star and the third purple heart that was his ticket out of Vietnam, the evidence showed that it was indeed probably written by Kerry himself. Zernike seems to have totally missed this in her reporting. Zernike is content to refer to Kerry's claim that "original reports pulled from the naval archives contradict the charge that he drafted his own accounts of various incidents," none of which she cites, provides, or analyzes.
If the aptly named Lipscomb intends to comb through the entire edifice of Kerry lies, then this series of articles will be longer than Upstairs, Downstairs. For the moment, however, we shall be content if he confines himself to the lowlights:
- Christmas in Cambodia;
- The magic hat, given Kerry by a "CIA guy" (who on alternate Thursdays was in the Special Forces);
- The "Boston whaler" incident (first or last Purple Heart);
- The single dead VC, with or without loincloth (Silver-Star incident);
- The Bay Hap Massacree (Bronze Star and another of the Purple Hearts);
- The other other Purple Heart, which I forget just now;
- The Mystery Lehman Signature;
- The late discharge;
- The filching of Tedd Peck's combat experience in command of PCF-94 before Kerry took over (following Peck's serious wounding in January, 1969);
- And of course whether Kerry actually carried water for the Viet Cong and for North Vietnam while he was still on active duty in the United States Navy.
Here is Lipscomb's last word on Kerry (for this installment):
It is time we all got to see a picture of the famous Kerry "lucky hat," rather than another account by the latest star-struck journalist. It is time for Kerry to stop alluding to "records" and start producing them. And it is time media assigned reporters with military experience or the resources to analyze this record and see just who is lying about what.
Keep your eye skinned for future installments on Real Clear Politics.
May 2, 2006
Entrepreneurial Freak of the Week
Yesterday in our post $500,000 Retread, we introduced you to teenaged "author," Kaavya Viswanathan. Ms. Vis somehow wangled herself a two-book contract for $500,000 while still in high school; the then-seventeen year old published the first book... which was found to be riddled with plagiarized passages from several other books -- mostly from a couple of books written by Megan McCafferty, but Meg Cabot and Sophie Kinsella also found their prose making a cameo appearance in Viswanathan's book.
Today, Little, Brown not only dropped this book (which has already been pulled from the shelves), they have also canceled the entire contract. And then AP dropped an absolute bombshell, though even they didn't realize it... and suddenly everything falls into place for me. They wrote:
Viswanathan, who was 17 when she signed the deal, did not immediately return calls seeking comment Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for Alloy Entertainment, a book packager that helped Viswanathan shape her narrative and shared the book's copyright, said the company would have no comment. Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, a literary agent who represented both Viswanathan and Alloy, also said she would not comment.
Let me translate this into normal English: evidently, Viswanathan was offered the contract by Little, Brown on the basis of a few articles she wrote while interning on the Bergen County Record, a local newspaper. She signed... but evidently, she had little confidence in her ability actually to write two novels.
So either without telling the publisher, or more likely, with the publisher's connivance, it appears as though "Viswanathan's" novel was subcontracted out to a book packager, Alloy Entertainment. Having worked for similar packagers myself (though I've never heard of Alloy, and I always wrote under my own name), I can guess what probably happened next: Alloy picked one of its stable of freelance writers to actually write the books; this writer was likely paid a flat fee on a work-made-for-hire contract, and was probably given a deadline of three or four weeks to produce a clean, finished novel.
(If Viswanathan set this all up herself -- if she got the contract then simply hired someone to write the books for her -- I would happily expel her from Harvard and recruit her into Harvard Business School. What an entrepreneur!)
Perhaps the ghostwriter, whoever he or she was, had too much on his, her, its plate... so ghostwriter copies passages more or less verbatim from other novels, thinking no one will notice. Certainly nobody in the editing or publishing chain of custody noticed, and the book was published.
Maybe Viswanathan helped somewhat in writing the book; or maybe it was entirely ghostwritten, and all she supplied was a Cover-Girl head shot, a bubbly book-signing personality, and a cool name. In either case, she probably did not even read the whole book all the way through, let alone write it... which may well explain why she was so dumbfounded at the revelations of plagiarism: she literally had no idea, because she really wasn't familiar with her novel.
Whenever a packager says it's "shaping" a project, it means either they're editing so heavily they may as well be an uncredited co-author, or else they're just writing it themselves in-house and skipping the middleman. Particularly when they actually share copyright: I wonder if Viswanathan was supposed to receive royalties, or if she, too, was on a work-made-for-hire contract....
In any event, we should soon find out whether this was a one-shot for Viswanathan, or if she made a habit of "writing" her earlier newspaper pieces the way she "wrote" this novel:
Editor Frank Scandale said The Record, which has written several of its own articles about the plagiarism allegations, will hire a service to vet the dozen or so light features she wrote while one of about 18 interns at the paper.
Scandale recalled Viswanathan as having strong writing skills for a high schooler, and as an upbeat, affable young woman.
"To us she was a bright young kid that seemed to have the makings of a good writer. There were no alarms; nobody had ever questioned any of her stories," he said. "We have no reason to believe there's anything wrong with her copy. But in light of what's going on, we thought we should check her stuff out."
I hope for her sake that she's clean, and the copycatting was a product of the ghostwriter, not her. If I may plagiarize a bit of doggeral here from the Scribe of Scotland, the Wizard of the North:
When first we practise to deceive!
May 1, 2006
I know you all read -- then forgot -- the tale of the teenaged author who was caught plagiarizing an earlier novel. Kaavya Viswanathan apologized, insisting that she had "internalized" the novel and didn't realize she was copying it. It was "unintentional" and "unconscious." Then she was gone and forgotten like the rest.
You may find this odd coming from a published author, but I really couldn't care less about the plagiarism. I don't care if some celebrity is busted for drunk driving, or even if some state legislator is caught dipping into the till.
No, really. I'm not a Christian, but they're right that this is a "fallen world;" wretched people do wretched things.
The part that centerpunches me right in the breadbasket is what came before she was caught and released: the fact that this girl got a five hundred thousand dollar advance for two novels, sight unseen, never having written a book in her life, while still in high school.
If you've never labored over a novel, only to see the publisher piss on it, shuffle it under some dead-fish potboiler playing "lead" that month, blow off any publicity or marketing, do nothing more than list the bloody thing in the catalog that they shovel quickfast into the hands of the chain buyers, like the ink was smearing their hands... if that is not part of your world of experience, then it's hard to convey --
-- just what a betrayal of the art it is for those same despicable publishers to throw money like that at an unproven performing monkey, just for the shock and awe of --
-- the PR jackers screaming "half a mil for the little girl!" while they spit-up their last fifth of Jack Daniels like an unburped baby, across the literary "children" of writers who have just been told --
-- they're lower than the latest six-day, zit-speckled wunderkind's crayon fist-scribbled orgasm of self-indulgence on a roll of butcher paper.
L'artiste cut and pasted from her favorite teen angstfest, and she didn't see anything wrong with it, because she's a "writer" like the memory-thief at Touchstone who said "hey why don't we remake H.B. Halicki's Gone In Sixty Seconds, star Nick Cage and Angelina Jolie, and pretend we created something!"
But she still walks with the $500,000. And she couldn't care less how many genuine originals die broke and drunk. Bitter? Oh, yeah.
Sometimes bitterness is the only honest emotion. Capice?
April 26, 2006
Try this on your English-Lit prof.
William Shakespeare wrote a number of plays in which girls disguise themselves as men (not too many where men drag-up as chicks). I have a theory why this worked then but seems absurd today.
I actually developed this thesis long before the movie She's the Man -- an updating of WS's Twelfth Night, or What You Will -- came out; but it's a good example. So is the Merchant of Venice, in a more serious vein.
But why did this plot device work so well in 1600, yet seem so ludicrous today? Why would anyone have believed Viola could get away with posing as her brother (albeit twin brother) Sebastian in Twelfth Night, or Portia posing as Balthasar in Merchant? You and I have no difficulty telling a hart from a hind... couldn't people do the same ca. 1600, when those two plays were written?
I started pondering this in 2002, when I saw a play by French 18th-century novelist and dramatist Pierre de Marivaux (actually, Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux), a contemporary of Voltaire. In this play (first printed in 1732, I think), a princess inherits a throne that she thinks rightly belongs to a self-exiled prince, who she secretly loves. The prince has renounced romantic love, and he resides in a compound with an old philosopher and his old sister -- the only woman in the joint.
To worm her way inside, the princess masquerades as a young man. What amused me was that she easily fools the old philosopher and sister... but the younger men quickly realize she is a woman disguised as a man and begin not-so-subtlely courting her. Why, I asked myself (silently, for which other theater patrons thanked me, or would have, had they only known) why do the cross-dressing gals in Shakespeare always get away with it, while in Marivaux, they're seen through as easily as a "pro-defense" Democrat?
And then it struck me: back in Shakespeare's day, there were no woman actors in the theater. The role of Viola in Twelfth Night and Portia in the Merchant of Venice were played by men. (You all saw the movie Shakespeare In Love, right?)
So in fact, what you had was a man cross-dressing as a woman cross-dressing as a man... or (snipping out the unnecessary intermediary) a man pretending to be a man. Even I would have no trouble believing that! Certainly, it would seem perfectly normal that the noble Olivia would fall in love with the fake-Sebastian -- who is, in fact, played by a man: a woman falling for a man is easily believed.
But today, when that play is staged, Viola (hence the fake-Sebastian, when she disguises herself as her brother) is played by a woman, of course: the über-sexy Amanda Bynes in She's the Man, and a woman in every production of the play itself that I've ever seen, probably at least a dozen. So when we contemporary audience members watch Twelfth Night, and Viola hams it up as her brother, it looks obvious, and we conclude that Olivia is either a moron or a metrosexual. But back in the day, it made perfect sense: Viola looked just like a man because "she" was a man!
But I believe that by Marivaux's day, 140 years later, in the French Comédie Française and Italian Commedia dell'arte, the female roles were probably played by actual women. So when the princess in the Triumph of Love butches up, she's still obviously a woman.
(In fact, Marivaux might be slyly mocking Shakespeare, as Cervantes both mocked and bowed to the romantic, chivalric novels of his day in Don Quixote.)
Since the audience sees her as a woman dressed as a man, any character who fails to figure that out is supposed to be a dolt. Which is just how Marivaux played it: the inability of the philosopher and his sister to notice tells us that they're classically over-educated, intellectual eggheads who can't balance a checkbook or remember their telephone numbers. We're supposed to laugh at them, not with them.
At least, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it!
February 20, 2006
Europeans Fake Their Stand On Principle
Across the Moslem ummah and in many European countries, Moslems run riot over a handful of cartoons. The European newspapers that published them stand strong on the great principle of freedom of speech, insisting that people must be free to speak their minds, no matter how offensive it may be or who may be offended -- that freedom of expression is the most basic human right of all.
It rings a little hollow, now that Austria has just sentenced fake historian David Irving to three years in prison... for denying the Holocaust in two 1989 speeches.
Right-wing British historian David Irving was sentenced to three years in prison Monday after admitting to an Austrian court that he denied the Holocaust - a crime in the country where Hitler was born....
State prosecutor Michael Klackl declined to comment on the verdict. In his closing arguments, however, he criticized Irving for "putting on a show" and for not admitting that the Nazis killed Jews in an organized and systematic manner.
(Interestingly, Irving was arrested "on charges stemming from two speeches he gave in Austria in 1989 in which he was accused of denying the Nazis' extermination of 6 million Jews" -- under a law passed in 1992. Another interesting point to ponder about European ideas of justice.)
Let's start with the basics: Irving is not merely wrong, he is willfully lying because of his agenda; and his agenda is without question antisemitic, whether or not he himself personally dislikes Jews.
But... what should we make now of that freedom-of-speech defense by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, the one that ran as an editorial along with the cartoons? Will they likewise denounce the conviction and prison sentence of David Irving as another violation of freedom of speech?
What about the literally scores of European newspapers that have reprinted the cartoons in France, Germany, and even Austria (countries that definitely do criminalize Holocause denial), each claiming it published the images to defend -- er, what was that principle again?
And why did the Italian Minister-Without-Portfolio Roberto Calderoli begin distributing t-shirts of the cartoons and even claim he was wearing one "under his suit?" Holocaust denial is prosecutable as a crime in Italy, according to Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic Magazine -- which is not skeptical at all about the Holocaust but supports the orthodox theory, as do I:
Switzerland, Belgium, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, Sweden, and Australia have similar laws and statutes on the books. These laws are all ambiguous enough to allow courts to interpret various Holocaust deniers' activities as illegal.
Is Holocaust denial a crime in Denmark? I don't believe it is, but I am fascinated to find out. I put in a call to the Danish consulate, but you cannot get through directly: I left my number for them to call me back. I also sent an e-mail, but they haven't responded as yet. I will update this post when -- if -- I receive any answer. But from what I have read, Denmark, at least, is not hypocritical in this sense.
But will Jyllands-Posten denounce the sentencing of David Irving? I would like to see them do so; it would make their earlier posturing rather more believable.
Denying the Holocaust is also a crime in other European countries, including France. It is potentially a crime throughout Europe by dint of the Council of Europe's 2003 Additional Protocol to the Convention on cybercrime, concerning the criminalisation of acts of a racist and xenophobic nature committed through computer systems, whose Article 6 reads:
Article 6 – Denial, gross minimisation, approval or justification of genocide or crimes against humanity
1 Each Party shall adopt such legislative measures as may be necessary to establish the following conduct as criminal offences under its domestic law, when committed intentionally and without right:
Distributing or otherwise making available, through a computer system to the public, material which denies, grossly minimises, approves or justifies acts constituting genocide or crimes against humanity, as defined by international law and recognised as such by final and binding decisions of the International Military Tribunal, established by the London Agreement of 8 August 1945, or of any other international court established by relevant international instruments and whose jurisdiction is recognised by that Party.
Note how wide a net this article casts, which would also include the crime of "minimizing" the Rwanda massacre or trying to "justify" anything done by Augusto Pinochet while fighting Communism in Chile. However, signatories to the convention are not obliged to enforce this article. Is there a list of which countries do?
From the Wikipedia article on Holocaust denial:
At times, Holocaust deniers seek to rely on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of expression, when faced with criminal sanctions against their statements or publications. The European Court of Human Rights however consistently declares their complaints inadmissible. According to Article 17 of the Convention, nothing in the Convention may be construed so as to justify acts that are aimed at destroying any of the very rights and freedoms contained therein. Invoking free speech to propagate denial of crimes against humanity is, according to the Court's case-law, contrary to the spirit in which the Convention was adopted in the first place. Reliance on free speech in such cases would thus constitute an abuse of a fundamental right.
This argument strikes me (I am Jewish on my parents' side) as disingenuous to the point of offense. Free speech clearly does not cover actual incitement to riot, fraud, or some other offenses (e.g., you cannot rely on "freedom of speech" as a defense against ordering a hit on someone). But if freedom of speech means anything at all, it means the right to express political or factual opinions, no matter how offensive -- and no matter how outlandish.
That is precisely the principle that European nations rely upon defending the Danish cartoons... a principle simultaneously denied by many of the very countries repeating it. Is it any wonder that Moslem nations reject such an argument coming from mouths that, with the next breath, reject it themselves? "Do as I say, not as I do" indeed.
The greatest gift that the Jews gave to the world was a universal God Who procaimed a universal law: what was a crime for a pauper was also a crime for a prince. Kings of Israel were denounced by the prophets for failing to obey the universal laws of God (Saul, David). We claim still to believe this today; the expression "no one is above the law" has its parallels in every European language. There can be no principle that allows some expression to be criminalized but protects all other expression. Such hypocrisy has the poisoned taint of pure tribalism: my tribe can speak, but not yours.
Europe must finally decide: does it actually stand on this principle, which is a bedrock of freedom in the United States -- a country which does, in fact, extend such freedom even to odious neonazis, antisemites, and Holocaust deniers, yes even including David Irving, whose work is readily available here? Or does Europe believe that offensive speech can and should be censored to avoid upsetting listeners and readers?
And they had better decide quickly, because a "principle" that applies only when one agrees with the person invoking it has no more force than the rush of hot air from the mouths of European ministers-without-moral-portfolios.
January 12, 2006
In Defense of (Some) Elitism
The only charge against Judge Samuel Alito that seemed, at the end, to animate the Democrats crouching on the Senate Judiciary Committee was the revelation (should we say confession?) that he was a member once of a group called the Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP), which he described in a November 15th, 1985 job application to be Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Reagan administration (duh), as "a conservative alumni group" (page 3).
Naturally, this charge is meaningless without an included charge that CAP itself was disreputable somehow. CAP's raison d'etre was to demand that Princeton rebuild the ROTC building after ungrateful radicals burnt it down. The Princeton Board of Trustees had refused to rebuild, presumably out of exaggerated deference to campus radicals, which appeasement was then occurring at many elite higher institutes, according to Robert Bork.
Of course, few today would hold it against a man that he was a member of a group that supported rebuilding a fire-bombed ROTC building (unlike in the early 70s, when such membership would be a black mark indeed); so the Democrats had to scratch somewhat deeper.
CAP was a very traditionalist social-conservative group, and they opposed other changes: for example, they opposed quotas for racial minorities. But again, this is currently a pretty mainstream opinion, hardly conducive to ginning up a lynch mob against Judge Alito. The Dems dug hard and deep.
Besides being pro-ROTC and anti-racial-minority-quota, CAP also demanded that "every humanities and social science department include one or two conservatives," according to a New York Times article of 1974, available only as a smeary pdf, unless you're anxious to fork over some money to "Pinch" Sulzberger.
The group is calling for a more active alumni role in decision-making, a greater representation of conservatives among the faculty, more regulations governing students' academic and social lives and more-favorable treatment of athletes by the Admissions Office.
But again, little of this agenda seems destined to rouse the peasants to descend, with sharpened torches and burning pitchforks, upon the Capitol steps demanding the exile of Judge Alito. Sens. Biden (D-DE), Schumer (D-NY), and especially Kennedy (D-Margaritaville) kept up the spadework, finally breaking out in China, where they dangled upside-down from the hole they'd dug. No matter, they had found their final line of attack.
Back in 1969, Princeton -- until then an all-male Christian university -- began to admit some women. As a compromise, however, they required that 800 admission slots be reserved for men -- a male quota. As total admissions were likewise capped, this amounted to a de-facto ceiling above which the number of female admissions could not rise.
But in January 1974, the Board of Trustees voted to remove the reserved slots for men. As the Times put it:
The subsequent adoption of an equal-access admissions policy last Jan. 19, along with the decision to retain undergraduate population at current levels, are expected to result in a decrease in the number of males matriculating each year.
CAP opposed this change to the traditions of Princeton, as its founders had opposed the original decision five years earlier to admit women at all (though CAP did not yet exist at that time). CAP was pro-quota for males (and the spawn of Princeton alumni), but anti-quota for racial minorities... which the Democrats of 2005 see as a contradiction. (They are of course untroubled by Wellesley College or the racially separtist Congressional Black Caucus, but that isn't the point here.)
The past is prologue; this line of attack by the Democrats on Judge Alito failed, producing only one direct casualty (Mrs. Judge Alito, who was driven from the hearing room in tears by the calumnies flung at her husband by weasels) and likely several indirect casualties come November. I'm more interested in the underlying question: is there a non-racist, non-sexist argument in favor of the CAP position?
Actually, I have no difficulty coming up with one -- which paradoxically relies upon the central organizing principle of the contemporary Democratic Party. I argue that exclusivity -- elitism -- is an essential element of a commitment to "diversity."
A libertarian of the Right would argue that the only diversity that matters in an anti-racist, anti-sexist society is diversity of thought. Unless the Left is formally willing to embrace pure racism and racial separatism, they would be forced, however reluctantly, to agree.
But thought does not arise in a vacuum. It is not encoded in our chromosomes how we'll think about certain issues: some identical twins think alike, but others do not, which clearly implies the relationship is more complex than simple genetic determinism might suggest. This is just a roundabout way of saying that how you think is to some extent a product of your raising... the environment in which your thought processes form.
Environment comprises many layers: there is the overall "gloss" of being a human being; call that Layer 0. Overlaid upon Layer 0 is one's time in history (people in 1506 think differently than people in 1006 or 2006), one's country and language, and one's general social and physical stature. Call these collectively Layer 1. But beyond these macro-layers, there are also more localized micro-layers, from state and city to neighborhood, family, friends, to the university faculty and fellow students, in the present case. Let's call this Layer 2.
And finally, there is Layer 3, which is one's individual "self," the Ego that uniquely identifies each person. For shorthand, we can call these the universal, class, local, and individual layers of environment, respectively.
The problem is that it's unclear how these layers interact, or even whether they interact in roughly the same way for each person or wildly diverge from individual to individual. But it's clear that Layer 0 is completely unchangeable without massive genetic engineering of the species; Layer 1 is uniform for vast gulps of people (in the millions or tens of millions); and Layer 3 is pretty much beyond the reach of the Princeton Board of Trustees.
And that leaves only Layer 2, the Local Layer, that can be affected by university policies; in particular, by the selection of an individual student's professors, classmates, and the staff with which he must deal.
The first, naive method for creating diversity of thought that typically occurs to folks is to require that every university's staff, faculty, and student population exemplify diversity of thought. In other words, trying to hire one of each school of thought for each department.
The problem with the simplistic method is that some philosophies (usually socialist) are specifically designed to be extraordinarily attractive on first glance; it's only later, after hard, rigorous thought, that the implicate flaws and absurdities emerge. Alas, the untrained mind of a typical university freshman is not inclined to do the heavy mental lifting required to achieve enlightenment. As the old saw puts it, a man who is not a socialist at twenty has no heart; a man who is still a socialist at forty has no head.
Too, since flavors of leftism tend to bifurcate endlessly, eventually there are hundreds of branches. Conservatives are by nature conservative (duh again), so they tend to shun schismatics. Thus, trying to represent every school of thought that claims independence usually means the faculty includes fifty-seven varieties of socialist, from Stalinist to Bakuninite to Kropotkian to Keynesian to Deaniac to Kerryite to bush-league collectivists like Hillary Clinton -- versus one center-right conservative à la Walter Williams. Sheer weight of numbers overwhelms one whole school of thought.
But there is a better way to establish diversity of thought in the nation: encourage universities as universities to develop a "way of thinking" that is similar across the campus -- and then encourage a diversity in these various similiarities. Thus, there would be a "Yale" way of thinking, a "Harvard" way of thinking, and a "University of Chicago" way of thinking, each (one hopes) significantly different from the others. Kids and their parents could select the style of thought they will be encouraged to adopt by selecting the particular university to attend.
Since the university would hire according to this mode of thought, most of the faculty would represent it. Thus, even if the philosophy were not immediately accessible without serious pondering, the faculty would work together to force students at least to think hard enough about it to have an informed reaction: if the economics program at the University of Chicago pounds the ideas of Milton Friedman into its students' heads long enough, they'll at least understand monetarism well enough to accept or reject it on its merits, rather than because "hey hey ho ho Western Civ has got to go!"
The biggest danger to this technique is if all the schools begin to think alike. Then you have, not universities, but uniformities.
At the moment, and even more so back in 1974, the normative mode of university thought was liberal: pro-racial minority, anti-white, pro-female, and anti-male. (It was never "pro-equality of opportunity;" that's a myth. Liberalism always chose sides.) As Layer-1 environmental glosses, a student's sex and racial/ethnic background likely have an impact (at least) on how he thinks. Hence, an all girl campus, an all boy campus, and a co-ed campus will likely have differing modes of thought. Similarly, campuses that are mostly white, mostly black, mostly Hispanic, mostly Jewish, and racially and ethnically mixed will probably have notable differences in their cultures of thought.
So CAP could argue that they were trying to preserve at least one university as a bastion of white, Christian, male thought, in order to increase diversity by giving students an opportunity to choose to attend Princeton instead of, say, Yale or U.C. Berkeley.
I actually have a lot of sympathy for this effort, though I suspect it's doomed: universities will always more or less reflect the Layer-1 worldview of the larger society surrounding them; as King Canute demonstrated, you cannot command the tides. But it's not always clear whether certain changes are actually a "tide," or merely transient fads and whims: it's best to fight vigorously for any university's unique character, even if some others find it repugnant, to retain it as an option for future generations of student body.
(The only exception would be modes of thought that our society finds so dangerous that we really do want to eradicate them: an all-male student body doesn't equate to misogyny, and a mostly white student body doesn't equate to racism; but an explicitly misogynous or racist campus -- one that teaches that women or minorites are inferior -- is something that should be obliterated. But that does not describe the Princeton that existed in 1968, which is the Princeton to which CAP wanted to return.)
If a certain thought pattern become discredited enough, applications to its schools will plummet, and they'll go out of business; so it goes -- it's a free market. But until that happens, it's an extraordinarily stupid idea to artificially limit our diversity of thought by pushing for uniformity among universities -- stripping uniqueness in the name of "relevance" and "access."
January 1, 2006
Upcoming Horrors From Big Lizards
As if the world were not frightening enough, now comes a brand new novel from the Big Lizard himself... and I'm actually going to use the blogosphere to help me sell it!
In my dark and checkered past, I used to be a novelist; I still think of myself as such -- I'm just slumming with all this political stuff. I managed to get eighteen novels published, God knows how. Many were Star Trek books, and of course I co-authored the four Doom novels with Brad Linaweaver (not the novelization of the movie; that's erstwhile cyberpunk John Shirley, I think... remind me someday to tell the story about how Shirley said the most offensive and insulting thing anyone has ever said to me).
But I also tricked various publishers into bringing out seven completely original novels, all long out of print: two fantasies (Heroing and Warriorwards), two science fictions tarted up as fantasies (Arthur War Lord and Far Beyond the Wave), and three young-adult adventure novels (Swept Away, Swept Away: the Mountain, and Swept Away: the Pit, from Harper YA).
But none was a hard-core science fiction, and I longed to write one (since that's what I like most). I finally got a contract and began writing the Pandora Point. Alas, part way through the book, the publisher went belly-up, and I was stranded. I got to keep the signing half of the advance (I never turn down honest money), but what I wanted was publication. I went ahead and completed the book anyway, figuring someone else would pick up the contract.
The Pandora Point takes place on an O'Neill colony, a self-contained cylinder in orbit, rotating to give some artificial gravity and housing several hundred thousand people. It was kicked into a highly eccentric orbit a long time ago... and now it only approaches the Earth once every 400 years. It's doing so now -- but nobody on the station has ever seen the Earth, or even the sun except as a pinpoint star in the sky. As the space colony approaches and the star (our sun) gets bigger and hotter in the viewports, all hell breaks loose... literally.
Fair warning: there is a lot of politics, though I don't let it get in the way of the action. There is also some, um, peculiar sex, and some violence. And some sports -- it helps if you were a fan of American Gladiators!
Double-alas, the reason the publisher went bankrupt was the same reason that nobody wanted to publish the Pandora Point: the SF publishing world decided that nobody wanted to read real science fiction anymore -- so they no longer publish it. Even such stalwarts as Gregory Benford, I hear, have hung up their jump-jets and declared they're out of the business.
The New York Science Fiction Literary Mafia declares that none of you is interested in reading books with original science-fictional ideas. They say that the readers would rather get their science fiction by watching Battlestar Galactica and Firefly/Serenity and no longer have any interest in the printed word.
I say that's a load of fertilizer. I love TV and cinema science fiction... but that doesn't stop me from liking to read, too! I say it's the science-fiction publishers who are no longer interested in original SF ideas... and they're just projecting their own tastes onto the readers (which, to be fair, is really all they have to go on). Since they don't publish any really original SF, it's not difficult to prove it "doesn't sell."
I predict that if someone were to publish real science fiction, written in contemporary literary style, but with the same hopeful, pro-futurist point of view that SF used to have -- and of course, with actual original science-fictional ideas, interesting in and of themselves (even apart from the books that contain them) -- that there would still be a market for it.
Like all my predictions, I'm prepared to test this one in open court. I'm in the process of negotiating with a publisher friend of mine who runs an "instant press" to bring out the Pandora Point in a few months.
The way instant press works is that they typeset the book, but they only print copies "just in time" in response to orders. They usually don't appear in bookstores, but they're available on Amazon.com. The advance is pretty low; but I already got an advance the first time it was sold; and the royalties are larger than normal, which can make up for it, if the book is successful.
When you buy such a book, it's the same as any other book you buy from Amazon: it will be either hardcover with a dust jacket or a trade paperback; it will have a nice cover painting (if we can find a good artist), be professionally printed, copy-edited, and so forth. The only difference is that you can only get it through Amazon (or directly from the author or publisher, of course).
My secret weapon for selling more copies than are normally sold by instant presses -- is the blogosphere; yup, you guys! In a little while, when the printed copies are available, I will start sending review copies to a number of authors of influential and widely read blogs. I want to stress I'll be looking for straightforward and honest reviews: if the blogger hates the book, that's the review he should write... though I hope he would explain why he hates it: he might hate it for the exact reason someone else will love it.
Because the reviews will be honest and uncoerced (yeah right, coerce the blogosphere), if a blogger says he loves it, you can trust him; credibility is everything in our world, so nobody is going to "do me a favor" by writing a good review for a bad book.
Once some reviews begin appearing, it will be up to you guys... and I'm counting on you. If the Pandora Point sounds (from the reviews and the sample chapters I'll put up here on Big Lizards) like something you'd enjoy reading, please order it through Amazon. There will of course be a link on every page of Big Lizards, possibly ads on other blogs (depending how much ad budget I can wheedle out of the publisher), and I might even get the link tattooed on my forehead.
I'm hoping to demonstrate Hugh Hewitt's maxim that blogs are the new paradigm for sales and merchandising -- and of course to make some honest bucks for myself at the same time.
And let's show the SF Literary Mafia where they can stick it!
(While I'm at it, I think I'll also talk to Alan about bringing those out-of-print books linked above back into print... why not?)
Thanks, and I'll keep you apprised as this project progresses.
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