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Saturday, July 16, 2005
HIGH? HILLARY HILARITY!
or, HIGH HILLARY? HILARITY?
or, HIGH HILLARY HILARITY, et al.
An Open Letter to The Honorable Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D,NY):
Hi, Hillary! Hilarity!
I just saw your latest headlines, and I have to wonder -- as one of those who has been disgusted by the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy's pre-emptive strikes at you. You know, I almost cancelled my subscription to VANITY FAIR when I read the slimy book excerpt they ran in the Nicole Kidman "Bewitched" cover issue a couple months back.
I guess what I don't understand is how feminists got the idea that there was anything politically "sexy" about censoring "sexy" stuff.
Censors have been the bane of suffragists and feminists for a long time in this country, which is why I was wondering.
I mean, Margaret Sanger only managed to defeat uber-censor Anthony Comstock by outliving him. He literally chased her into exile in France because she gave out (gasp!) birth control information.
You remember Margaret? She personally introduced the diaphragm and the IUD into American society, smuggling them back from France hidden in wine bottles. She's the one who financed the development of the pill and was one of the founders of Planned Parenthood.
I know that the last anti-contraception measures were only struck down in 1965 by those awful liberal activist judges of the Warren Court:
from: "Natural Law, the Constitution, and Judicial Review"
by Robert P. George
"In 1965, the Supreme Court, by a vote of seven to two, invalidated a Connecticut anti-contraception law on the ground that it violated a fundamental right of marital privacy, though nowhere mentioned or plainly implied in the constitutional text, found in "penumbras formed by emanations" from various "specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights." Writing in dissent, Justice Hugo Black, accused the majority of indulging in 'the natural law due process philosophy' of judging."Hilarity, Hillary?
Because no cause has served the Right Wing better than censorship. For a good chunk of the Nineteenth Century and the Twentieth, Comstock and his 'goodness' goons stomped their godliness over the cultural landscape. You know, Comstock hounded Ida Craddock to death over a pamphlet whose "obscenity" was that it suggested foreplay as a necessary prelude to sexual relations. It was entitled something like "The Marital Bed" and was advice to newlyweds to, hopefully, keep their sexual lives from turning into a train wreck.
You know, it was a more innocent age, when most men and women went into marriage without so much as a clear idea as to what the genitalia of the other looked like. The boys had as much idea what to do as a caveman in a neurosurgery theater, and the girls likewise. (Oh, and an awful lot of them WERE boys and girls. Ages of consent of 14 or even younger were common, then.)
But it wasn't censorship that brought needed information on contraception and the prevention of venereal diseases into common knowledge. It wasn't censorship that stripped the shame away from talking about those things, and women (and the Women's Movement) have benefited immeasurably thereby. Heck, ALL of us have benefited from the freedom from dark fear that sexuality represented.
An older friend of mine once told me about a friend of his, a contemporary, who committed suicide over masturbation (his own). The suicide, evidently, couldn't stop and couldn't shake the seeming-knowledge that he was corrupting himself with a horrific, soul-destroying sin.
Censorship aided and abetted his self-murder.
Now, we live in a world where any kid with a mild interest can find hard-core pornography over the internet. To the best of my knowledge, the generation that has come of age since 1995 (the first web surfers) have NOT gone collectively insane, have no higher incidence of sex crimes, nor have they exhibited any weirder tendencies in any direction than any other crop of teenagers, unless you want to lay off body piercing and tattooing on the pernicious influence of the internet. (Or, perhaps, in the interests of remaining au courant, to bloggers).
So, what is to be gained by censorship?
I thought that Democrats were the party of First Amendment liberties, but then again, Tipper Gore DID lead the "Washington Wives" on their crusade against 2LiveCrew and dirty lyrics. That sure helped.
Now, you've decided to go after "GRAND THEFT AUTO: SAN ANDREAS" along with Tipper's husband's running-mate, good ol' Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. I guess what bothers me most about it is that you didn't bother saying anything about the game when it was about stealing cars, running down pedestrians, buying drugs or slaughtering opponents and cops with an excess of gore and a surfeit of weaponry.
That was OK.
But it was revealed that a little "mod" called "Hot Coffee" could unlock a secret cache in the program, allowing the player to have "virtual sex" with various female characters within the game universe.
Frankly, Hillary, I've SEEN the screen shot of the "sex" part, and it's really, REALLY, lame, Hillary. It's hilarious, Hillary. Evidently one presses the "up" and "down" buttons on one's player console (whatever it happens to be) as substitutions for "in" and "out." There is a horizontal bar "satisfaction index" and when the little white piston travels the length, left to right, the virtual female tells your virtual avatar, "You da man!"
Or some variant thereof.
Not exactly internet porn, Hillary. Hilariously, Hillary, it probably only works when you're high, Hillary.
But I see you're in high dudgeon over it, and getting those all-important headlines (while Rove spins his satanic slipperies supply, seeding seedy scribes, surreptitiously).
But censorship, Hillary? Hasn't that been consistently counterproductive? Caution! Corruption cedes the censor civic civility far less often than it creates cultural corruption and criminality.
As wars on drugs only raise the prices and profits for the wholesaler, censorship tends to create sales for the censored, and jacks prices up.
GRAND THEFT AUTO was already the best-selling game of the year. Now, thanks to you, it will be purchased by people who'd never heard of it before you started your crusade.
Anthony Comstock sought to ban prints of "September Morn" -- a tasteful nude he'd seen in a New York gallery window -- and it became the best-selling art print in America, selling an ASTONISHING number of prints.
So, if you're mad about what they manufacture, why are you helping them to manufacture a lot more of it?
But the thing that I think bugs me the most is this: Why do you implicitly subscribe to the view that thought IS deed?
I mean, we've made a clear distinction between what you think and what you DO for thousands of years. It is one of the fundamental underpinnings of all Western thought.
Thinking about strangling your boss is perfectly OK. Doing it is quite a different matter. Aren't we really making a mistake by acting as if both actions are equivalent?
But the Censor has held, for centuries -- often backed up with "interrogation" techniques sort of like those most recently engaged in by our troops in Guantanimo and Abu Gharib prison -- that exposure to bad thoughts or ideas automatically creates bad behavior. This seems to implicitly embrace a view diametrically opposed to our cherished notion of "free will" -- or, the ability to choose our actions, and our responsibility for those choices.
We, as a civilization, have tried, rarely successfully, to maintain that what a person thinks is their own business, but what they DO, acting on those thoughts is something that we hold them accountable and responsible for.
For instance, I don't have a problem with Anthony Comstock having narrow, priggish, and yes, even twisted ideas about the human body and human behavior.
But I adamantly object to any legal basis for his actions. You might remember that, during the Civil War, young Comstock was utterly incensed by the gambling, drinking, cursing, and casual attitude towards matters sexual and prurient of his fellow soldiers.
And you might recall how he arose from the New York "League of Decency" to become the postal inspector under the so-called "Comstock Act" -- having the power to open anyone's mail, to see if it was indecent.
Frankly, his actions repel me to this day. He destroyed lives, imprisoned Sanger, and those like her, and terrorized the nation with his disgusting concept of "decency" for decades. His grave is one well urinating on, by way of political commentary.
And, even more than the "war on sex" this mentality is still responsible for making Mark Twain's HUCKLEBERRY FINN a steady entry on the Most Censored Books list for a century and more.
HUCKLEBERRY FINN? Hilarious, Hillary? Or horrible and hateful, Hillary: which is it? This is what I read (of the hundreds of articles) about Senators Lieberman and Clinton:
From the REGISTER (UK) Published Thursday 14th July 2005 09:51 GMT: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/07/14/hillary_clinton_gtaIt gets pretty British-raunchy after that. But you get the idea, Hillary. The Brits think your presenting yourself as a paragon of virtue is hilarious, Hillary, and not in a happy way for you. The Right Wing will probably have a field day with this as well -- even though they would undoubtedly dearly love to censor every 'objectionable' thought they can lay their thumbscrews on. I just get this feeling that their idea of 'objectionable' forms a Venn Diagram that only intersects at this singular point with your ideas.
It might just be political opportunism, of course, but, Hillary, are you sure that this is the vein you want to mine for electoral ore? Most Democrats that I know are less inclined to censor lame video game sex than they are frightened of having their thoughts and opinions censored themselves: like those non-violent protesters who are looking at serious prison time for having exercised their supposed First Amendment right to protest their "president" on one of his private "loyalty oath" soirees.
Is this computer game really the danger? It is a greater danger than censoring thought because we decry the deed? Once that slippery slope is on the hiking trail, isn't it a short step to "wartime censorship" and the increasing chill that's come over "free" speech?
I mean, you have to go to a lot of trouble even to FIND the lame "sex games" on GRAND THEFT AUTO. First, you've got to plunk down your cash for the game. Then, you've got to go searching for a download of the "Hot Coffee" modification. Then you've got to apply the mod, and for what?
Something that pales in comparison to what any clever eight-year-old can find on the most "Net Nannied" computer in the world in about three minutes?
I guess you'll be going after that one next.
But censorship in virtually any form leads to unforeseen consequences, including the consequence that I don't vote for, or contribute to the campaigns of prudes, bluenoses or censors.
I'm sure you can offset this loss with Pat Robertson's vote.
Sincerely, your pal,
Thursday, July 14, 2005
NOC NOC JOKES
or, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
"Yet Plame's association with a non-official cover (NOC), by default, means that she was covert, pure and simple."
Happy Bastille Day.
"He's home boys! Kick in the door!"
After floundering for several days, the White House sleaze machine has finally hit on a strategy for covering up the revelation that it was, in fact, Karl Rove who "outed" Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as political payback for Wilson's having had the temerity to point out that Bush's knowing lie that Saddam Hussein was seeking "yellowcake" uranium in Niger during the State of the Union speech was, in fact, somewhat disingenuous.
If that sentence seems torturous and labyrinthine, then it accurately reflects what's been going on.
The Sleaze Machine has decided to a) muddy the waters and call the whole scandal "just politics," and b) continue to smear Joseph Wilson.
But let's back up for a minute and remember what this is about. This was BEFORE the invasion, before the war, remember. Vice President Dick Cheney's office asked the CIA to send someone to Niger to assess the accuracy of what turned out to be forged documents.
The CIA chose Joseph Wilson, a career diplomat, who, you might recall, was the last US diplomat to face down Saddam Hussein, and who voted for Bush the Younger in 2000.
excerpted from: http://www.dkosopedia.com/index.php/Plame_Leak_timeline
1988I would strongly suggest that you read the rest of the timeline.
[Did you catch the little fillip that Rove was fired for leaking to Novak in 1992 by Bush the Elder? He had, you will recall, been fired from the Reagan/Bush campaign in 1980 for leaking to ... Robert Novak, as well.]
READ THE REST OF THE TIMELINE! http://www.dkosopedia.com/index.php/Plame_Leak_timeline
On July 11, 2003, Robert Novak (in a column labeled July 14, 2003 -- ironically, Bastille Day) blew Valerie Plame's cover, almost certainly at Rove's behest, writing: "Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. I will not answer any question about my wife, Wilson told me." But Novak decided to ruin her career anyway.
Now, you need to understand that they didn't just "out" Valerie Plame (ruining her career and exposing all of her contacts). You need to understand that she was trying to trace WMD's, like, say, the nukes that disappeared from the Soviet Union during the fall of Communism.
No, her "company" -- the false front that they operated under, making overseas contacts -- "Brewster Jennings & Associates" was also outed, or "rolled up" by the revelation, because Plame had made a $1000 contribution to the Al Gore campaign in 2000 (remember, her husband, Joseph Wilson, voted for Bush). She had to list her employer, and the ever-weaselly American press gleefully dug up the information and widely disseminated it.
In August of 2004, investigative reporter Wayne Madsen reported: (from http://www.copvcia.com/free/ww3/081104_winds_change.shtml)
Troubled Waters Ahead For the Neo Cons, by Wayne Madsen
Make no mistake about it: the violation of the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 by the disclosure of Plame's identity and that of her non-official cover corporate umbrella organization (Brewster, Jennings & Associates) along with its official counterpart, the CIA's Nonproliferation Center - had a disastrous impact on the ability of the United States to track the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction around the world. At least one anonymous star (representing a covert U.S. agent killed while working abroad) placed on the CIA's Wall of Honor during the past year was reportedly a direct result of the disastrous disclosures from Cheney's office. The political vendettas of the neo-cons in exposing Plame's dangerous work and retaliating against Wilson's revelations about Bush's use of bogus intelligence regarding a fanciful Iraqi uranium shopping spree in Niger ensured that America's military-intelligence complex was going to seek a final accounting with the neo-cons. And a final accounting they are getting, in spades.Sherlock Google reports on DailyKos, Sun Jul 3rd, 2005 at 13:08:38 PDT: http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2005/7/3/16838/88864
Not often talked about is how the traitor Robert Novak also exposed Plame's CIA Front Operation that she helped run: Brewster-Jennings & Associates (this phony company has nothing to do with the real Brewster Jennings, a founder of Mobil Oil). OVer decades, the CIA had built up the fake firm and through it insinuated agents to keep an eye on not only WMD, but also ARAMCO, Saudi Arabia and their oil production and politics. Hundreds of agents have worked for Brewster Jennings and Associates.
Finally, Madsen reports this week:
ROVEGATE -- July 10, 2005 --Newsweek magazine is reporting on the contents of a July 11, 2003 email between reporter Matt Cooper and Time Washington bureau chief Michael Duffy that was handed over, along with other email and notes, to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Although the email shows that Rove talked to Cooper about Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife, there is no mention of how columnist Robert Novak obtained the information on Brewster Jennings & Associates, the carve out brass plate firm that was used by Valerie Plame and her colleagues and which was rolled up as a result of the leak. Rove and his lawyer are trying to limit the spin to Rove "not knowing" Plame's name, let alone that she was a covert CIA agent. Yet Plame's association with a non-official cover (NOC), by default, means that she was covert, pure and simple. Brewster Jennings reportedly "suffered greatly" as a result of the disclosure, according to a knowledgeable source. Another source reported that at least one Brewster Jennings NOC operating in a hostile intelligence environment was executed by counter-intelligence agents as a result of the White House disclosure. Other B&JA assets were forced to abandon their ongoing operations to identify networks involved in weapons of mass destruction proliferation. The CIA has been working on a damage assessment report on the Plame/B&JA disclosures. If no indictments of White House officials result from the Fitzgerald investigation, look for parts of that highly classified report to be leaked and then look for more imprisonments of journalists who refuse to divulge the source(s) of those leaks. Word from intelligence sources is that the damage assessment report is "devastating."So keep your eye on the ball. Rove and Novak, to attempt political payback against Joseph Wilson for daring to speak out against lies being used to drive us into war with Iraq exposed perhaps hundreds of agents, and untold numbers of their contacts overseas. Madsen's intelligence community contacts (and he seems to have very good contacts "inside" have told him that at least one anonymous star at Langley represents a dead agent, Rove and Novak's handiwork.
Undoubtedly, like the cooked 'casualty reports' from that war (from the timeline: July 10 2003: Wilson noted a story co-written in 1990 ... by Novak and suggested that Novak "check his files" before writing about him. Wilson went on to claim he was "hardly anti-war, just anti-dumb-war." Novak apologized.) the number of agents and contacts assassinated because of Rove's ham-handed need for revenge against the truth is undoubtedly much higher.
So keep your eye on the ball, folks. Rove and Novak materially contributed to the murder of at least one US Agent trying to track the weapons of mass destruction (that we are RIGHTFULLY afraid of) and rolled up a long-standing operation involving hundreds of agents over many years to do so. The damage was UNDOUBTEDLY "devastating."
And the Bushies, for good measure, have decided to castrate the CIA, to boot. Whether this is from fear or because the CIA hasn't been compliant enough, we won't know until the first round of memoirs is published, some years hence.
Now, let's look at what the Rove Boyz have been doing to protect their beloved Karl.
First, they have gone on the attack against Wilson (an absurd proposition, considering that Wilson can only FURTHER damage them if they make him the issue -- as I write this, he and Sen. Schumer are holding a press conference, and he was on the TODAY show this morning after the Rove-ites brought out such stalwarts as the criminal G. Gordon Liddy to defend Rovegate yesterday!)
Here's today's Re-thug-lican talking points from the RNC Website (astonishing that the RNC would stoop to personally attacking a single, private citizen!).
[Tomorrow, we'll look at how they're trying to spin the whole thing as merely a partisan vendetta. You can stop reading whenever you start to feel nauseous.]
Note, these are nearly ALL distortions or outright lies, but space prohibits taking them in detail:
But keep asking yourself, as you read this: What on EARTH does this have to do with Rove and Novak destroying the Brewster-Jennings anti-WMD operation and exposing CIA agents to assassination?
Thursday, July 14, 2005 (from RNC site, unedited)Knock knock ...
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
or, I'D RATHER SWITCH THAN FIGHT
"I'm not a real cowboy, but I'm one hell of a stud!"Sometime during the night, it stuck in the forebrain that if we keep on down the oily path to petro-wars, we're headed for an inevitable confrontation with China.
Think about it: a generation ago, the Chinese were forced to adopt mandatory abortion as the only way to survive the population bomb. While we fight over whether to allow legal abortion, the Chinese had to make the tough decision to make it mandatory: one child per family. One might add that "God" had nothing to do with it, it was sheer survival that forced them to adopt laws that are in direct conflict with the stated "morality" of the Catholic Church, and who can argue it? Overpopulation would doom them to starvation and worse.
And so, functional reality trumped theoretical morality. Here, we have the luxury of pretending that overpopulation isn't a problem, and can blither and dither our way through endless abortion 'wars' with a large claque arguing that the inherent 'cuteness' of babies demands infinite fecundity: fertility as destiny, one might say.
So, the Chinese were forced into the draconian measure of adopting the dictum of only one child per couple. And then, technology screwed them. Since they could only have one child per family, and they preferred boy children to girl children, pregnant Chinese women would have ultrasounds done. If the fetus was a boy, fine. But if it was a girl, a large percentage of families would opt for abortion, and try again until, hopefully, they could have a boy.
As a result, we have an entire generation of Chinese boys, and very few girls. This might seem, at first blush, to be an amusing conundrum for them, but I'd suggest that you better be a little afraid.
The Chinese are rapidly moving into a modern technological society, and they want the perks. They want the cars, the computers, the electronic gizmos and all the trappings of a consumer society, and that takes oil. Lots and lots of oil.
And the world, if we are to believe the conclusion of a growing body of scientists, either has, or will soon approach peak oil production. In other words, oil is going away. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of our lives.
On the other hand, we have a generation now beginning to come of age in China that is going to be HIGHLY competitive, and more than a little belligerent, given that a large number of males are not going to have mates.
Put on a pure hormonal level, we will soon see an excess of testosterone in Chinese society, with a minimal amount of estrogen to mellow out the documented aggressive tendencies of the former.
Now, I've maintained for a long time that testosterone may well be the single most dangerous drug on Earth. Males under its influence (say, teenagers) have a disquieting tendency to be VERY belligerent, bellicose, and love to engage in "extreme" forms of male dominance and confrontational behavior.
Which is, if you think about it, why we have adopted football as our national religion. (It has the tremendous social value of channeling all that excess testosterone into the sales of beer and tortilla chips.) Originally, as the need for Junior to help out on the farm or in the family store dwindled, we turned to after school sports as a way of channeling all that excess testosterone.
Now, consider an entire nation of over a billion persons, hopped up, wired to the gills on an excess of testosterone, and consider that we're now going to be competing with that nation for the Earth's dwindling oil supply.
Hmm. I'd say that, on a sheer biological level, we're headed for an inevitable confrontation (probably nuclear, eventually) with an increasingly belligerent China.
Two mega-civilizations squaring off over one limited resource? Think of the apes at the waterhole in 2001. And then give them not bones but nukes.
This is par for the course, and I'm sure that the pussies of the Bush Administration would LOVE to swagger out like the phony cowboys that they fancy themselves to be, and have a fine old shoot-out at the I'm-NOT-OK Corral.
But I think there is a necessary paradigm shift here.
Do we really want to head down this path? Is a global confrontation really what has to happen? Do we really have to fight it out with a nation that we're separated from by over 7,000 miles of the Pacific Ocean?
I would offer an alternative.
When I was a young pup, green in the gills, and wet behind the ears, I was thrown into a roiling competition with all the other young writers of Los Angeles. We all competed madly for every rare writing job available. Most, being much more social and/or connected than myself, had a leg up on me in the competition, and I was forced to rely on wits and cleverness to make up for the difference in our relative competitiveness within the field.
Nowhere was this more apparent than at the Los Angeles TIMES Book Review section.
I managed to get a review in the "short shorts" section: one column inch to the side of the page, for which I had to wait six months, and only after persistently querying for months to get a place in line.
To tell you the truth, I don't know how long it would have taken to graduate to somewhat longer reviews. Why? Because I realized that my position was untenable. I was competing with every other would-be and wanna-be in LA, and six months' hard work for barely three sentences in the mighty TIMES seemed utterly futile.
So, I went to the HERALD-EXAMINER.
I had the luck of timing, but I managed to get to the new arts editor, who had books as part of his baliwick, and he told me an amazing thing: "No one else has ever asked."
That sentence has always stuck with me: all those writers, all that desire, all that mad competition, and no one ever ASKED? I felt like Parsifal at the Grail Castle.
After running it by the editorial board, I became the first HERALD-EXAMINER freelance book critic in recent institutional memory. They probably had them in the 40s, 50s and/or 60s, but no one could remember if they did.
In a city filled with would-be writers, no one had asked.
All right. This isn't a brag. It's just a fact. And the point is this: I had -- to avoid the inevitable mammal-on-mammal competition for "turf" -- decided to adopt the evolutionary approach, rather than the confrontational approach.
And, by happy accident, I had moved into the unoccupied evolutionary niche, which opened a whole new vista not just to me, but also, accidentally, to countless OTHER frustrated freelancers. Within four years, they'd swarmed over the HERALD-EXAMINER.
And, like those wacky miners in "Paint Your Wagon," I was, once more, forced to move on to greener, ungrazed pastures. (Ironically, their book pages had proven so successful that they hired the book editor away from the TIMES, and he promptly gave me six month wait times for niggling little spaces again. Plus ca change.)
But the point is that, in choosing the path of evolution and not confrontation, intrigue and competition, I'd served both myself and society. Everyone benefited by having more than one paper in town that reviewed books. More books were reviewed, more writers could write them, and I usually got half a page on Sundays.
Now, I would humbly suggest that this country adopt the same approach to the inevitable confrontation over oil: let's make it evitable.
Let us take the evolutionary approach. Let's find the evolutionary niche that's unoccupied and move away from oil. We will benefit all humanity in so doing.
If we remain on our current track, we may well manage to destroy that same humanity. Certainly we will destroy a great part of it, and a nation drowning in human flesh probably won't mind sacrificing a large part of it to obtain their ends and gas up their SUVs.
No: really. Think about the horror that inevitable awaits us if we choose to proceed down the road we're on, and think about the potential Golden Age that awaits us if we choose, as a society to evolve.
There used to be an old commercial for Tareyton cigarettes (before we outlawed them). There was someone with a phony black eye, holding their Tareyton cigarettes. Underneath it, emblazoned, or, for those old enough to remember the heady days of TV cigarette commercials, a chorus would sing the jingle: "Tareyton: I'd rather fight than switch."
Well, frankly, that was just plain dumb. What imbecile would get in a fight over something so absurdly trivial. But it was surely a reflection of all those macho would-be alpha male types who engaged in confrontation games at the drop of a hat, hyped to the gills, like junkies, on an excess of testosterone.
Yeah. Sure: let's FIGHT over cigarette brands fer chrissakes. (Geez.) But, when you think about it, it isn't much more idiotic than skipping blithely and dim-wittedly down the road to an oil war. (Us Oil Guzzlers would rather FIGHT than switch! Yowzzah! Woof!)
Evolution (for those of you who aren't so stoooooopid as to literally believe in childish creation myths) means that you seek the unoccupied niche. When you do, you open that niche up for everyone. And that happy accident doesn't just save your own hide. It benefits, ultimately, everyone.
Your "monopoly" won't last -- as mine didn't at the old HeX: a writer I'd sent them stabbed me in the back by claiming that HE knew more about such and such than I, and eventually, he and the various other specialists had stripped me of huge chunks of literature and history -- but that's not the point. The point is to evolve. I moved on and kept on moving (and founding book sections in newspapers).
Evolution means constant movement. If you stop swimming, like a shark, you drown. We need to evolve by moving beyond old petro-technology, lest we, too, become like the dinosaurs we keep pumping out of holes in the ground.
[Here's an idea I'll toss at you parenthetically: The Universe is NOT a thing. It is a process. It is a process that endlessly and uniquely changes, moment by moment. The "world" is an abstraction. We need to move beyond the materialistic concept that our 'behavior' is perfect behavior in a timeless, abstract landscape, and recognize that it's inevitably our best response to a unique moment in that process of creation and destruction that the "universe" process represents. We remain mired in a mechanistic way of thinking that we need to move beyond. Think about it ... later. For now, let's stick with evolution ...]
Even explaining where oil comes from sounds absurd and primitive. We're receiving more than enough solar energy to cover all our needs every day. And there is a wide array of technologies that AREN'T deadly radioactive for millions of years (please, NO NUKES, we don't need to travel down that evolutionary dead end).
But we need to choose now: confrontation or evolution.
You know how to evolve, right?
Because if you don't, somebody's going to punch you right in the nose, and I'm not sure that even swaggering drug store cowboys would like that.
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
LEECH, LEECH & LAMPREY, LITERARY AGENTS
or, BACK INTO THE TOILET
This will be a snark, but not, I believe, an unwarranted snark. The subject is one I've been loathe to approach ever since several very bad experiences with a sub-genus of the order "commerce" within the phylum of "literature."
I'm speaking, of course, of literary agents.
A little background: I've been a professional writer since 1976, and a published writer since 1973. In that time, I have written and sold screenplays, novels, short stories, contributed to non-fiction books, written interviews, articles, short stories, service pieces, columns, gossip, news, essays, movie reviews, and, since 1978, have been regularly a literary critic. My blurbs are on a plethora of books, including at least one National Book Award winner (John Casey's SPARTINA). I've edited novels, magazines, trade magazines. I've written PR and sales letters; brochures, resumes, curricula vitae, et al, etcetera, ad nauseum, ad infinitum.
Usually, when I'm asked what I do, I honestly tell them that I'm a writer. Inevitable, the follow-up comes: "What do you write?" Years ago, I learned to cut off the chitchat with the simple "Anything they pay me for." This is sometimes all, but if they press it (as they often do) I then say: "I haven't written a cereal box yet." (I hold out the dream.)
This is as universal as it is, well, RUDE.
If a plumber is asked what he does for a living, no one then follows up the query with "Well, what have you plumbed?" The same principle holds for secretaries, lawyers, truck-drivers, green grocers and even, heaven help us, actors. (In this latter field, of course, the actor is invariably THRILLED to tell the listener what he's acted in, if the question is, unwisely, pursued.)
I was raised NOT to toot my own horn, not to brag about my accomplishments, and not to crow about achievements real or imagined. This is a venerable American tradition, and every time that I've made the mistake of straying from it, I'm accused of being a braggart, and, worse, a liar, even though I have almost invariably played down the actual significance of the event. I don't name drop, I don't boast, I don't sing my own praises. This may be unusual, but I was born in a less self-absorbed culture, perhaps, and it was considered the height of rudeness to glorify one's self.
All of which brings us to the subject of agents.
I've got two books to sell. One is non-fiction (this blog, with some auxiliary materials and conclusions -- you didn't think I was doing this entirely out of the goodness of my heart, did you?) The other is fiction. Or, one might say, a Roman a Base Clef. It is a fictionalized memoir of another time that has recently become "au courant" among the dilettantes of the literati. Thus, for reasons I'll limn later, an agent has become a necessity.
And, happily, since I first looked for one in 1977, they haven't managed to change a whole lot -- although many now have that latest technological wonderment, an e-mail address.
Note, though, that agents are often firmly rooted in the Nineteenth Century, as attested by this from the article "Agents Share Their Secrets" by Robert Lee Brewer (@ writersmarket.com): "[Contact me via] A one-page query letter with a #10 self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) is the preferred method, although we also read one-paragraph queries by e-mail if they don't have attachments."
Another Agent: "I prefer an author contact me with a query letter via regular mail, including a SASE for my response."
I remember visiting my publisher in 1987, then the largest publishing house in the United States, and being astonished at the sheer cheesiness of the operation. The front desk was seemingly manned by a high-school intern, the "decoration" consisted of a couple of flat paperback covers push-pinned to the wall, and the Editor-In-Chief's office was remarkably untainted by, er, well, um, BOOKS!
At the time, I thought that Charles Dickens wouldn't find much in modern publishing that differed from what he knew -- other than the general subliteracy of the editorial staffs, and the lack of BOOKS present in publishers' quarters. Since then, publishing has become the poor step-sister of "media" with the big offices and the nice carpeting going to music, television and movie divisions of the many-tentacled media conglomerates. Face it: if you're shunted to head the publishing division, you've been relegated to corporate Siberia, and want to get OUT of the doghouse as soon as possible.
At the time (1987) we, on the West Coast, were increasingly doing our business via computers, but on the East Coast, though I'd brought a novel and a short story collection on floppy disk in good old WordStar, no one I ran into in New York knew what a PC WAS! I finally figured out that I could bribe an employee of a Manhattan Radio Shack to print out some of the pertinent information, but, alas, no one was interested in my stuff, so it wasn't necessary.
The one agent I almost managed to see, I have later learned, was busily snorting his entire practice up his nose at the time, which was why I waited two days for him to show up, but he remained "indisposed" -- to quote his secretary -- and I flew back to LaLa Land, unread and unimpressed.
Happily, the publishing industry now knows what computers are, but, they are loathe to turn in their quill pens or replace their trusty candelabras with Mr. Edison's invention.
But Agents moved boldly forward into the Twentieth Century. First, they replaced the "slush pile" readers as THE gatekeepers of the book biz. Where, formerly, slush pile readers would look at manuscripts that came, unbidden, over the transoms, AGENTS were able to move into the "slush" role, as publishing houses consolidated and began to REFUSE to read any manuscripts NOT submitted via agents.
Secondly, they decided that ten percent was not enough. Even though they'd managed to increase fees, as negotiators -- else, what the hell good is an Agent? -- they increased PERCENTAGE as well. By the mid-80s, many (but not all, because ten percent was the ancient and venerable figure, accepted as all), many had upped their percentages to fifteen percent.
Not that they did anything more, mind you. They just felt that they needed a raise from the writers, already mostly not making a living -- an increasingly difficult, if not to say IMPOSSIBLE, financial undertaking. For the first time in American memory, working writers ceased to be the backbone of the industry, and amateurs predominated. Along with Agents.
Now, as I assay the wasteland before me, I note that many agents are charging TWENTY percent commissions, and fifteen percent is the "quaint" holdover from a more innocent age.
But let's look at what they say:
"I'm still moved most by great writing. And it's so hard to find. Frankly, I'd try to sell the telephone book if the author was a great writer. I really look for a strong voice in the writing because that in turn leads to an intriguing mind. That's what catches us when we read and keeps us reading when we really should turn out the light and go to sleep."
"Trying to be a salesman never works for me; the material has to speak for itself. A writer who tells me everything he or she is going to do to promote a book doesn't work either. Tell me what you've already done, not what you want to do. Other than Jonathan Franzen, I've never known an author who said, 'I do not want to be on Oprah!'" [ibid.]
Well and good -- although he would herein find an author that is nauseated at the idea of being on "Oprah." Sounds great doesn't it? "I'm still moved most by great writing."
But it's sheerest bullshit. When push comes to shove, our twenty-percenters change their tune:
"[I] look for clients who are stellar advocates for their work -- clients who are able to defend their work passionately and promote it tirelessly." [ibid.]
And therein, to quote the Bard, lies the rub.
The Twenty Percenters (hereinafter TeePees, for short) want YOU to do the selling. I speak from experience. I have known many a new author who wanted to promote his or her book, and found, to their dismay, that the publisher and the agent were not willing, in the least measure, to assist them in so doing.
Frankly, one wonders what publishers and agents are, then, FOR?
I didn't become an author because of my vast business acumen. Given the economic strata that authors inhabit nowadays, I would think that the mere choice of profession would be prima fascie evidence that I DON'T know a damn thing about business. The only professionals paid worse than writers these daze (sic) are radio announcers, and even their prospects have picked up mightily in recent years.
Now: after blowing this pious verbiage past the WRITER'S DIGEST sycophant, let's see what these TeePee windbags REALLY want:
"If the author is writing nonfiction, I want the author to already have a strong platform, such as a syndicated newspaper column, 40-plus paid speaking engagements per year, and solid credentials. If the author is a novelist, I'm looking for a strong, assured narrative voice and character development that happens by way of plot. It's amazing to me how many first-time novelists haven't read deeply in the field in which they're trying to write. Before a novelist attempts to write and market her novel, she should steep herself in her genre by reading literally hundreds of her competitors' books." [ibid.]
When you think about it, it's a Catch-22 (originally a Catch-18, but that's another story): in order to write non-fiction, you have to be an expert and a lecturer. But, if you know anything about the lecture and "expert" circuit, then you know that you've got to have a book, in order to qualify for it.
Surely this dimbulb, this self-inflated buffoon, this puffer-fish of "liter-ah-tooore" knows that. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. But no. The point is this, and all you would-be writers take notice, because THIS part hasn't changed in the thirty-two plus years that I've been engaged in rhinoplasty on this grindstone:
The AGENT, the TeePee, is hiring YOU. You, sir or madam, are UNWORTHY of that sanctified TeePee taking one dollar of your every five. Five authors make him as rich as any one of them. It is the MasterCard and Visa of employment. The only scam I can think of offhand in the workaday world that's worse is that of the temp agency (which most of us writers end up working for on and off for a very long time), which loves to double your price and take half: say $12 an hour for which you're paid $6).
And we wonder why the world of letters has gone to hell in a handbasket.
The "Runaway Bride," meantime, has a cool half-million book deal to "write" a book about her Q-rating. Er, I mean her "experience."
Some impoverished "ghost-writer" will undoubtedly write it, based on her taped blatherings, and some agent will extract twenty percent of his/her niggardly "writing-for-hire" fee. All royalties will go to the "Runaway Bride" of course, which could be a load of cash, assuming that she makes it to Oprah. I have little doubt that she will.
And an agent, or a "book producer" will grab twenty percent of THAT. (A book producer is basically an agent that takes a much larger chunk of the cash and control. For those of you who HAVEN'T been typesetters and graphic artists and worked in print shops and publishing houses, lo, these three decades, I will hip you to something: publishing a book is bloody EASY, and takes not very much talent or skill. Mostly, it takes all the writers' profits, if common practice is to be used as our benchmark.)
Ambrose Bierce wrote at the turn of the century: "The immemorial relation whereby the publisher was said to drink wine out of the author's skull has been rudely disturbed by the latter demanding some of the wine for himself and refusing to supply the skull--an irritating infraction of a good understanding sanctioned by centuries of faithful observance." [* I'm quoting myself here. For a shorter take on this subject, please see "The Obligatory O.J. Column" at http://www.hartwilliams.com/!archiv3.htm]
Now, we're finally to my real snark.
You see, the agent is the employee of the author. The profession arose so that the writer could be freed to write, without constantly having to hawk his wares like a carney barker at a fishmarket. But, as agents have, like movie critics, presumed celebrity and importance by the mere association with celebrity and talent, so, too, they have risen above we mere mortal scribes, Olympian figures forever taking lunches with Mighty-Thewed Publishers in chic restaurants on the Isle of Manhattan, ofttimes, with their very own tables.
Awesome to waiters, a Bulwark to Cocaine dealers, a Boon to publishers, the Agent sits bestride the Colossus of His Own Hype, radiant in the firmament of reflected glory.
Meanwhile we, poor pitiful scullery knaves toil at our typewriters (OK, damn it, our WORDprocessors), to keep these Glorious Agents in nose candy.
Here. Let us return to our text, as the humble scribe asks the crucial question:
"How can a writer convince you that you should represent him?
"[AGENT]: You can't convince me, in that regard. It's like asking, "How can I make so-and-so fall in love with me?" Certainly, I want a strong writer, a professional, ideally someone who has a track record in some regard, and is an expert or has access to experts, and who is an intriguing mind. It's not just about selling a book, but ideally helping shape and develop a writer's career."
"Helping shape and develop a writer's career"?!?
The ARROGANCE, the sheer PRESUMPTION of this statement beggars the imagination.
Who the f*** does this nitwit think he is? Did I slave all these years, writing, reading, researching, typesetting, learning, growing so that this oft-times semi-literate horse trader can "shape and develop" me? Would I have become a writer had I need of a Svengali?
The hubris of the comment beggars this writer's imagination. I am not literate enough, nor have sufficient grasp of the eloquence of concerted obscenity to remark meaningfully upon his audacious impudence.
Well, I might take a stab anyway: "And the horse you rode in on, Dude." (And I mean "dude" in the venerable sense).
Merely looking through the few websites for agents (remember, my website is in its tenth year, now, and was, by no means, among the first online) one runs into the snooty, unbearable, minimizing, debilitating and belittling attitude of these Bards of Pretense.
One of the reasons that I have been writing this blog has been to, for JUST THIS ONCE, say what I think without editorial interference, without being second-guessed, without being told that my carefully considered and observed opinions have NO VALIDITY in the face of PeeCee and/or WingNut bumper-sticker ideologies.
I have never fit comfortably into any pigeon-holes, which is probably why I became a writer. I originally became a writer because I believed -- foolishly, as it turns out -- that I would be adjudged on the basis of my writing, and not on who my daddy was, on the color of my skin, on my ancestry or on the basis of my genitalia.
Just ask George Sand. ("My profession," said George Sand, "is to be free.") Or James Tiptree, Jr.
Alas, since I dropped out of college (which had, by the end of my junior year, PROVEN itself incapable of further educating me in my chosen profession), a "degree" has become a necessity in proving one's mettle as an author, and I must confess that I have only my autodidacticism to fall back on -- a vice in America that had formerly been a great virtue.
A victim of the times and styles, I plead.
But the point is only this: the Agent now hires the writer. The Publisher now uses the Agent as the Gatekeeper, which makes the Agent beholden NOT to the Writer (or, quaintly, the "Client") but to the Publisher.
I found this out the hard way, when I had my first, inherited agent, help himself to 15% of my first $8000 advance, and correctly sending $1000 to the writer who'd originally obtained the contract that I was fulfilling (due to a debility on his part as regarding writing about human organs NOT being splattered by chainsaws) but then sending $1000 WITHOUT my permission or approval on the SECOND novel, which I had obtained on my own, without help from writer OR agent. But I grow bitter, and bitterness is not the point here.
The point is this: if we would like to see better writing (and who can not argue that American Letters have gone to hell in a handbasket, lo, these thirty years since Watergate?), then we'd better stop treating writers like chattel, like indentured servants or, if you can actually visualize the reality and not the cliche: like galley slaves, chained to our oars while the "captains" drink their wine on the quarter-deck above us.
I will forego how Johnny Carson single-handedly relegated authors to the back of the cultural bus because ninety-minutes was "too tiring" for him. I will not discuss the manner in which publishing has managed to create the "authorless" book, and any moron, simpleton or "star" finds themselves throwing "autograph parties" in every Borders and Barnes & Noble at every Mega-Mall in Amerika when they can barely even spell their autographed (and often contrived) name correctly thrice running, let alone "write" a "book."
I will also forego the nauseating spectacle of watching these self-infatuated toads talking about how "hard" it was to "write" their "memoir."
Because, you see, I want to keep my lunch down.
Now, I seek an agent so that I can devote my time to writing. If the egotistical nonsense of the agent and/or the publisher, and the demands of "marketing" and "promotion" steal my writing time from me, then I will write and damn them all to hell anyway.
Because I'm NOT an agent. I'm NOT a publisher or a publicist, and were I one, I wouldn't have time to be a writer.
There. That's simple enough.
Even an agent ought to be able to understand it.
Monday, July 11, 2005
CONTROVERSIES! GET YOUR RED-HOT CONTROVERSIES RIGHT HERE!
or, BLONDE CHICKS IN ARUBA SLIP OFF THE RADAR
Video game sex scenes prompt investigation, denials and outcryNEWS ITEM:
Matt Cooper's Source -- What Karl Rove told Time magazine's reporter.breaking news from the SKIING UPHILL FAKE NEWS DESK:
Controversies Over Secrets Spreads
Dateline July 11:
by Desiree Spamm, Skiing Uphill Features Reporter
A government watchdog group has accused the makers of a highly popular political game of encoding secret levels into the retail version that millions of teenagers have been exposed to.
Using a free download posted by an Italian hacker, the popular game, GRAND THEFT GOVERNMENT: DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, contains free games of treason that can be unlocked by gamers.
The game's producer, Vast Right Wing Conspiracies, Inc. was not immediately available for comment, however, the watchdog group's spokesman, Tyler McFarland, speaking for the Citizen's Coalition for Democracy in Democracy stated: "There is no question that this ultra-violent game contains elements of treason and vendetta that do not justify its PG [Pretty Gullible] rating. We have gone to the ratings board to demand that the game be re-examined in light of these new revelations."
The controversy erupted when an Italian hacker, Massimo Kirk, posted a "mod" -- a code that modifies the game -- on his website as a free download. When the code is applied to the game, an entirely new level of gameplay is activated, as players can rig elections, "leak" classified materials to smear opponents, alter and shred military records and court documents, and -- in the most controversial aspect of the "secret" game levels -- collude with foreign governments to invade other countries, and then circumvent law and Geneva Conventions with secret prisons, torture chambers, kickbacks to cronies, and wholesale looting on un-audited "reconstruction" contracts.
"This is just outrageous," Mr. McFarland declares. "This game, played by children and families all over America, turns out to have secret levels that completely undermine the whole concept of 'democracy' and will warp millions of impressionable young minds. The game should be re-classified from PG to WN."
Game industry analysts point out that, while a "PG" rating guarantees widespread distribution, the "WN" [for "Wing Nut"] rating ghettoizes a new game to the few stores that carry such titles. Many retailers, such as WalMart and Target, refuse to stock WN-rated games.
Mr. Kirk, in an exclusive interview, explained that his "mod" only unlocked the hidden elements of the game, and did not, as a Vast Right Wing Conspiracy news release claims "add new content" to the game. "These levels were already present in the code," says Mr. Kirk. "I didn't add anything. I just altered one toggle in the code sequence of the executable file, and all the secret levels appeared. These hidden games were already in the code of the retail version." For whatever reason, he explains, the makers of GRAND THEFT GOVERNMENT, chose to suppress the hidden levels in the final version.
"Is that Chanel Number 5? No? Really. Call me Massimo," Kirk concluded.
According to Stuart Trenchmouth, a game designer with Astonishingly Unhip Games of Falmouth, New Jersey, "This is something more than just an "easter-egg," which is a secret "add-on" in a game that a player can find through a careful examination of levels. That's a really nice sweater, Miss Spamm. Tight and form fitting. Are you cold?"
What the secret levels might represent, according to Mr. Trenchmouth, are "beta" levels that were originally easter-eggs in the test versions of the retail version, but which were ultimately rejected by the company's designers for the final release. "They probably didn't have time to remove the code," he says. "If you're not cold, does that mean you're happy to see me?"
Still, the "easter-egg" theory doesn't explain the depth and complexity of the "secret game."
(Mr. Trenchmouth would have explained further, but had to excuse himself for a quick visit to the emergency room to see a sick friend.)
According to Mr. Kirk: "The complexity and depth of the secret gameplay sections simply can't be explained as an 'addon' when the mod download only consists of 17.76k."
Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, Inc. did not return our phone calls by press time.
But a spokesman for the government-gaming industry disagrees. According to Jacquelyn Turnbow, "The Citizens Coalition has been unremittingly hostile to Vast Right Wing Conspiracy releases, and have been calling for their removal from shelves for years."
She notes that this controversy "is just the latest in a long string of charges. Wow. Are those real?" Ms. Turnbow states that the PG rating is entirely appropriate, and the game has been wildly successful ever since the first version, GRAND THEFT GOVERNMENT: TALK RADIO was released in 1986.
"If they're not," she concludes, "You've got a great plastic surgeon. Do you get backaches?"
The Ratings Board has agreed to re-evaluate their initial evaluation, but, according to Mr. McFarland: "They very rarely change a rating, once it's given. That's been the pattern for years: claim to investigate and hope it will go away. In all probability, nothing will be done."
Mr. McFarland noted that the loud protests over the earlier release GRAND THEFT GOVERNMENT: IMPEACHMENT were ultimately met with inaction by the ratings board, even though the game was voluntarily removed from distribution by its manufacturer, following widespread consumer protests.
In its most recent press release, Vast Right Wing Conspiracies, Inc. notes "Our games have always been controversial, but we have always acted in a responsible manner, believing that our games are not appropriate for players under the age of 12. This warning is prominently displayed on our boxes, as the Citizens Coalition well knows. We stand by our statement that serial groper Massimo Kirk added these subroutines to our game, which is harmless fun, and did you know that Kirk flunked out of college, and lives with his mother? Pretty strange if you ask us. You should check into what a slimebag this guy is. Really. We have a COMPLETE dossier on him that you can download at .... [URL suppressed]."
Ms. Turnbow had intended to make an additional observation on the subject, but a pressing medical appointment cut the interview short.
Sunday, July 10, 2005
THE LESSONS OF SALAMIShart williams
or, LAND OF THE FRAIDY CATS?
Friday, we started talking on the radio about the "War on Terror" (or, as Bush enunciates it, the "War on Terra" -- which is more to the point). And while there was not enough time to go into it, we did get to the matter that the war only "succeeded" by keeping us terrified -- on both the "good" side and on the "bad" side.
Now, I'm going to go a bit afield, but I assure you that this will make sense by the end.
After receiving my THIRD review copy of Barry Strauss' history, "THE BATTLE OF SALAMIS, The Naval Encounter that Saved Greece -- And Western Civilization," I kind of figured I'd better read it quick, before my house fills with review copies and I have to start a small distributorship just to get rid of the excess. Not being so commercially inclined, I read it.
It is a 'good' book, although not one that I'd recommend unreservedly. The story is an important one, and if you don't know it, you should, for our entire tradition of Western Liberal Democracy faced then its darkest hour.
Strauss is an engaging writer, and there are passages in it that burn with lambent fire. But it is a decidedly flawed narrative, and you need to have a few filters set before you start to read it. Still, it IS worth reading, and far more worth your time than that abomination "TROY" that's playing on the premium cable channels this month.
Now, here's the bad news:
Strauss' use of pseudo-novelistic effects is particularly grating: the pretended knowledge of what is in a "character's" mind; the "set the scene" descriptions, and the rest of the phony dramatic clutter that poisons so much of modern historical writing all are flaws that cannot be ignored. There is also a tendency to gush about how wonderful some point is, or how awful some other thing is.
And some of this is, perhaps, necessary. To write a book about one battle, some padding may be required, and I think there is a good deal of padding in the book. I tend to agree on Strauss' enthusiasms, but I don't believe them to be history: the past is what it was, not what it is today.
Strauss' tokenism regarding Queen Artemisia, endlessly praising her because she's a woman, and how he needs to bring things into "modern" context is particularly galling, and gives a clue that too much ideological bias has rose-colored his glasses to take him as entirely authoritative -- most especially since, by the end, Artemisia emerges as one of the most vicious and unscrupulous villainesses since Snow White's evil stepmother. History has been warped to contemporary ideological needs, a sure tipoff that things may not be entirely "fair and balanced."
Naturally, this bit player is prominent on the back cover blurb, and in the Press Release, evidently so that the "women's market" will buy the book. Suffice it to say that Artemisia could have been left out of the story entirely without fundamentally affecting our understanding of the Battle of Salamis -- a sure tipoff that demographics have triumphed over scholarship. How sad.
And there is the inevitable internal debating that is less an illumination than an annoyance. For instance, at one point, he engages in a long, pointless blither as to whether the Greeks had a navy of 378 ships, 368 ships or 400 ships. Several pages later, he notes that the Persian fleet had "well over 100,000 men," which begs the question, who CARES exactly how many ships the Greeks had? The difference between a high of 400 and a low of 368 seems so inconsequential as to be meaningless. Quick! Imagine 400 ships. Now, imagine the same scene with only 368 ships.
I do not know if it is Postmodernism or Television that has turned our scholars into nitwits, but the fact that clear thinking has all but vanished from our land is self-evident. That no editor said "This is pointless" and blue-penciled the offending passage (and others) is a testament to the loss of professionalism in publishing that has attended my entire writing career. Such a passage would never have "made the cut" before 1970, say.
Finally, he relies very heavily on Herodotus (the 'father' of History) which is fine, except that he's constantly defending Herodotus as a good historian against a sea of detractors in some debate to which we are not privy. Evidently Herodotus comes into and goes out of fashion on a regular basis. Plutarch and the playwright Aeschylus are cited, abetted by various contemporary and archaeological sources, but, fundamentally, it's Herodotus. (There is a long acknowledgement of all the books ABOUT Herodotus that the author has read).
At least, Aeschylus actually fought at the battle, as a 45-year-old soldier, manning the shore to assist Greek survivors and spear Persians swimming away from wrecks. (A decade before, he fought at the Battle of Marathon, as well). But Strauss is not keen on Aeschylus.
All right: now that I've finished snarking, let's look at the story, which is one of our most important NON-mythological inheritances from Greece, and which is eerily contemporary, as history repeats itself over and over again. (Strauss would undoubtedly disagree with the hoary wisdom of the old cliche, but history DOES repeat itself with frightening regularity).
The "Terror" in this case was Persia. After Darius had invaded Greece a decade before, only to be turned back at the Battle of Marathon (whose distance from Athens still forms the distance of our modern-day Marathons), Darius' son, Xerxes returned to Greece with the largest and most ethnically diverse army seen in the world to that time, to avenge his father, and finish the job.
Avenge his father. Finish the job. Sound familiar?
The famously bickering Greeks manage to form a small impossibly-rare coalition, Athens and Sparta standing side by side with a handful of other city-states, but the majority of the Greeks fought for the Persians. Only twenty-two Greek states were represented on the "Greek" side at Salamis.
"All told, there were fifteen hundred Greek city-states. Yet only a relative handful -- only thirty-one city-states -- joined the coalition against Persia. In fact, more Greek city-states fought on the other side. Persia was too strong and loyalty to the idea of Greece too weak to make the Hellenic League any more powerful. Athens, Sparta, and the few other city-states that stood up to Persia spoke harshly of Greek traitors, but most Greeks would have shrugged their shoulders at the charge." [p. 16-17]
And so, the few legendary Greeks began the defense of their homeland that would stop the Persian advance once and for all, and lead to the "Golden Age" of Greek Civilization and democracy that still influences our Western systems of government to this day.
We are astonished at the sheer brass of these few, proud freemen standing against the largest empire that the world had yet seen, refusing to capitulate to the easy path of a light Persian rule and tribute, but, instead, staking their lives, families and cities on being able to defeat the technologically superior, vastly more numerous and immeasurably more battle-tested Persian coalition, with troops from as far away as Afghanistan, Africa and Egypt.
The Greeks surprised the Persians at Artemesium, their 271 warships charging a Persian fleet of 700 (with another 200 coming up from the south) and inflicting severe losses on the Persians. The Persians started with about 1400 triremes -- triple-tiers of oars on very fast, but very narrow and not very seaworthy warships. By the time they got to Salamis, after Greek attacks and devastating storm losses, the Persian fleet numbered around 650 triremes.
The hero of the piece is Themistocles, the Athenian politician/warrior. And the story really is about a man who has to trick his political opponents, his city, his fellow city-states, and, finally, the Persians, to win the battle.
The reader is reminded that it is a sad truth of democracies that one must often battle as obstinately with one's own "troops" as with the enemy.
Opposed at virtually every turn by bickering politicians, citizens, admirals and other Greeks, Themistocles somehow managed to bring about the battle of Salamis at the time and place of his choosing, his last trick having pushed half the Persian fleet into the narrow strait where their lighter, more maneuverable triremes fought at a disadvantage, where the heavier Athenian and Greek triremes held an advantage of a battle of ships ramming ships.
The various coalitions were subject to treachery, and changing sides at the drop of a hat, and the Persians had been highly successful at bribing Greeks to switch sides at crucial moments. Themistocles played on this, too, brilliantly.
"The key to misinformation is telling people what they want to hear. [Themistocles' slave] Sincinnus did precisely this. Sincinnus did not tell the Persians to fight a naval battle at Salamis. He did not need to ... [he] did nothing more than to precipitate the timing." [p. 116]
And we note the manner in which Ahmed Chalabi was able to convince the Bushies to invade Iraq, by telling them that the Iraqis would welcome them, famously, "with flowers." This little trick of misinformation works quite well in the present-day, as well.
But the finest hour of the war, and the real crux of what I'm getting at is the decision that the city of Athens took, and when they carried it out, after learning that the Spartans under King Leonidas had died to the last man at Thermopylae delaying the Persian army.
I want you to read this, but I want you to think about the United States of America under "attack" and our response to that attack: fear, panic and terror. The Direktor of Fatherland Sekurity, after last week's London attack, told us that it was a "Terror Alert," or, literally, that we should be terrified to an Orange extent were we on a bus or train, but only terrified Yellow otherwise.
And it continues:
Homeland Chief: 'No Perfect Security'or, just from Googling today's news:
The ObserverCompare this with the "terror alert" the Athenians faced in 480 B.C. (Straub doesn't use the current PC term B.C.E. or, "Before Current Era" I note.):
The largest army in the history of the world was now bearing down on Athens, unchecked and unstoppable on a cleared road, to execute the stated purpose of Xerxes to punish Athens, and they would most likely slaughter any Athenian found in the environs, or, at best, send them in chains to the slave-markets of the Middle East to be sold.
Were the Athenians terrified Yellow?
The Athenians voted to evacuate the entire city-state (about 150,000, says Strauss).
"Nothing so became the land of the Athenians as the manner of their leaving it. In light of the common criticism of democracy as soft and submissive, it is worth appraising the price that democratic Athens was willing to pay for freedom. The Athenian assembly voted not only to send its young men out to battle but to uproot its elderly, its women, and its children ... Later generations would revere the decision for exile and inscribe and reinscribe it in stone. They celebrated its daring, and they were right. While most Greeks surrendered, while their Peloponnesian allies tried to abandon them, the Athenians thought it a high honor to resist Persia. Rather than flee Greece, says Herodotus, "they stayed behind and waited courageously for the enemy to invade their land." The day they passed a motion to evacuate Athens, the Athenians decided that not only their soldiers and rowers stood on the watchtowers of history, they all did." [p. 65]And, with few exceptions, they all did.
The Athenians were anything BUT terrorized.
Contrast this with our democracy and its response to terror. Did the Athenians panic? Did the Athenians give in to their very real and debilitating fears? And, more importantly, do we have the courage of the Athenians? Are we willing to all man the watchtowers?
Therein hangs our tale.
Oh, and Artemisia? She escaped being rammed at the battle of Salamis by treacherously turning her ship and sinking the Persian ship next to her, thus convincing the Greek commander bearing down on her that she had switched sides. None of the unfortunate ship's crew survived (perhaps due to the archers on board the Queen's trireme), and in the fog of war -- and the "spin" of Artemisia's circle -- Xerxes was convinced that she had fought gallantly in the disaster that Salamis was for the Persian navy. She gained greater favor in the Persian empire. The Persian admiral, by contrast, was given a spindle and distaff. "In Greece, it was a symbol of womanhood. So to give a distaff to a naval commander was surely an insult." [p. 215]
Artemisia was given the prize for bravery in battle. "The story is told that Artemisia received a full suit of Greek armor as a sign of her achievement." [ibid.]
Not exactly what one would call a feminist role model.
Unless, of course, one is running for governor.
No. Seriously: Courage.
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