"Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards." - Robert A. Heinlein

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Looking for Work in San Kafka or The Guardian at the Gate Might be a Bimbo

So, being a victim of the last eight years of our version of the Free(fall) Market Economy, I've had to hit the bricks and look for work. The last several years I've worked as a writer and so forth, but since those types of creative jobs have taken particular blows during this crash, I've had to fall back on my previous career - which was in management in a social service field.

Well...the social services has never paid much, but, like writing, it's something you do because a) you love it, and b) you're good at it. When I left the field several years ago, I did so with a pristine reputation, the respect of my colleagues and administrators, and a boatload of experience and training.

I fell out of the field during my transition from one time zone to another and fell into writing. At this point, I'm not falling. But to avoid plunging, I was seeking work back in that field in which I have much to offer. I guessed that here in progressive California, there would be a smooth, easy-to-access system full of conscientious social workers, searching for experienced employees.

*Falls over laughing.*

Um...no. Not so much. No, what I found is not that at all. I don't have the strength in my fingers to list all the odd and terrible things that have occurred from searching for a job in my field out here, but I must share some of the experiences I got from only company - in only one day, for one position.

(And must I point out that I have changed pretty much all the details in this - because I still might end up working for these yahoos?)

I found this agency online. They had several programs in several towns - and, ostensibly, several positions open. We shall call them Agency, Inc. I read their site, looked over their information, and did a bit of research on my own. Their reputation was pretty good - not the best in the area, but better than average. I printed out their multi-page application and looked over their list of available positions. None available were quite what I needed, so I chose the closest one (a management type) and wrote down the company's address.

The application, of course, was similar to those filled out be people wanting to make fries at McDonald's. Full of tiny little two-tone boxes and asking me what classes I took in high school. Good Christ, I'm 40. I'm lucky I remember what high school I attended, let alone what I took. Normally, when faced with this usual batch of entry-level stupidity, I would write in the cute little boxes and lines, "See attached resume." That's what you're supposed to do. That's what anyone with a resume is taught to do.

Not here. Agency, Inc.'s application (and most of the other social-services applications I've seen out here on the Left Coast) read: You must fill this out completely, even if you are attaching a resume. Because, you know, nothing says efficiency like having me write my qualifications in a 1 1/2 square-inch box. For the "Duties and Responsibilities" portion of one of the relevant past positions, I had room to write, "I oversaw all aspects of management of a 4-bedroom group home, including hiring, firing, budgeting, and everything else." That was it. That was all the room they left for me to sell myself. If you're asking if I wasn't impressed, you're right. Thank God I had a resume attached that they may or may not read.

On Monday morning, I dressed for success, took my resume and application, and drove 'a couple dozen miles' north to Agency Inc.'s location on Red Tape Road - as I was supposed to do. I made my way to their receptionist's desk and found this particular Guardian at the Gate - who had a nameplate that said she was an Executive Assistant. She had that hard-mouth look that said that no amount of charm was going to work on her, but the blasted blood vessels on the nose that said a bottle of good gin might do the trick. Anyone seen Barfly? Picture Faye Dunaway at her worst. The EA looked a bit like that, just not quite as hot. She had the look of a woman who had slept her way to a position 20 years ago, and had used blackmail to keep it since then.

She glanced over my application, dismissed my resume with the same glance, and then told me I'd have to drive north to San Kafka (really, anyone that doesn't get that this isn't a real place name should just stop reading now) and turn it in to their office there. San Kafka is about 70-odd miles north of where I live, and I asked why. She said that's where the Management-Like Position* applications were taken.

After some dithering, she finally was able to explain that the only Management-Like Position available was up in San Kafka, and if I wanted a Management-Like Position, I'd have to drive to San Kafka and apply for that one position. I told her I really couldn't travel 150 miles round-trip daily (and didn't mention - "not on what you're offering"), but said I was hoping they would take my resume and application. Perhaps another position closer would come open, or they would have a Lesser Position** open that I could fill.

Oh, but no, she said. My application was only good for that one position. Well, following their online instructions, I had written in one tiny little box on the top page of the application the name of the position I was seeking: Management-Like Position. She said she couldn't accept the application because I had already filled that out; it must go to San Kafka.

I thought a minute. (Actually I thought a second; I calmed down a minute.) I then asked if it would be a problem to cross it out and write another title. No, she said. They would throw away any application with crossed-out marks. Why? Because it looked unprofessional, and that I hadn't put any effort in it.

Allow me to reiterate that I brought my professional resume and they wanted me to fill in a McApplication to work. Again I refrained from violence and asked her if she could print me out a copy of Page One of the application. I'd be dee-lighted to fix 'my' error here.

No. They wouldn't do it. It was a paper-saving measure. If I wanted to turn in the application, I'd need to go home, print out the new page, find the new Lesser Position that was hiring at the moment, and take it to whatever address they told me to.

I thanked her, and that's exactly what I did. Another few dozen miles on the car in Cali traffic. I printed it out, found a Lesser position, and found the new address. I filled out Page One, including all the tiny little McBoxes, and headed back north - this time to San Diego proper.

I found the address and the main door. I went through a tangle of hallways until I find their reception desk - in the center of the office. A blonde surfer-bimbo-looking chick was at the desk. I told her I was dropping off a resume/application.

"Cool!" (Seriously.)

When I told her what the position was for, she said I'd need to go back outside and go another door, to another reception desk, to drop it off. Apparently they had two offices there, working for the same company, but only the other receptionist desk was worthy of holding my paperwork. I wandered out through the maze, back outside, found the other door, and wandered back inside a new maze of halls and desks - to another reception office, also in the center of a warren of cubicles. This receptionist had the librarian-bimbo look going on - glasses on her nose, tight sweater, the works. I told her I was dropping off my resume/application.

"Do you have an appointment?" Well, no. I was just following instructions and dropping off.

"If you want to talk to Dick, you'll need an appointment." (Yeah, his name wasn't Dick. Go figure.) I wasn't planning on talking to Dick.

"You were just going to leave that?" Yes, like the online instructions said to do.

"Would you like to talk to Dick?" Certainly, can I have an appointment?

She called Dick and said (and this is a quote): "There's a guy here who's dropping off an application that wants to see you. He doesn't have an appointment."

Thanks so much. I remind her that I also have a resume and didn't know I'd be seeing Dick. She ignores me and picks up my application. She looks at the job title, and then reads it to him: Lesser Position. She nods, says "okay", and hangs up.

"He's too busy to see you right now."

This is the moment that I thought I might not get away without SWAT intervention. Through not-quite-gritted teeth, I said, "But if I was looking for a Management-Like Position, he would have seen me, right?"

"Oh, yeah! He's real busy right now!" Really?

"Yeah! We need a whole lot of help right now!"

It took me about ten seconds to avoid laughing enough to squeak out, "You don't say."

"Yeah! Do you wanna leave that, or do you wanna wait and talk to him another day?" I think I'll just leave it.

"Okay! Oh, hey! Have you filled out the rest of the application?" No. She hands me another packet of paperwork that wasn't online: background checks and the like. More pages for that than were for the application itself (but they couldn't print out a spare page to save me 50 miles of driving). I told her I'd be happy to fill it out at home and come back tomorrow. Would Dick be around tomorrow?

"No. He's only here a couple days a week. He really works out of the Red Tape Road office. You know, we do have a Management-Like Position in San Kafka."


*In Maine, I worked as a Program Manager - nice and simple. The word manager is used in about 49 of 50 states to demonstrate the concept of, "one who manages." In Cali, they don't seem to use that term in Social Services. They call it Lead, or Specialist, or other ridiculous terms. I suppose that comes from living in a state where children's soccer teams are told that both teams won; it's just one team won with more points.

** "It's just like a Management-Like Position, but just with less money and you can't people what to do!"
On Wednesday, I spent seven hours driving around greater San Diego, going in and out of different social service agencies, putting my face on display, and doing what, in any other state, would involve me dropping off my resume to say "hi."
Not in Cali. All day, whenever I went inside these places and introduced myself - or told them I had appointments, which I did in many cases, they handed me a clipboard and asked me to fill out one of those damn applications.
I did it every time. The last two stops were different. I saved the last visit for my follow-up to see Dick at Agency, Inc. I'd been instructed to come back on Wednesday afternoon. It seemed a good time to do so.
My second-to-last stop was at one small agency. I went inside, explained that I had an appointment with the HR manager, and was escorted to her office. I introduced myself, handed her my resume, and she looked it over. I asked if I needed to fill out an application. She looked up at me, cocked an eyebrow, and said:
"You brought a resume. Why on Earth should you have to fill out an application?"
I nearly told her I loved her. We had a pleasant interview. She didn't have an open position, but slid my resume (not my application) to the top of the pile and said I may very well hear from her. That felt good.
But that goodwill was lost, when upon my return to Agency Inc., I wandered back to the bimbo receptionist, handed her the resume, background check, McJobAp, and said it was nice to see her again. She nodded like a bobblehead and then informed me that Dick had chosen to spend the day working at the Red Tape Road office all day. Even though they had requested that I come in to that office on that day to talk to that Dick, he couldn't be bothered to even let me know.
I left the packet of paperwork, felt a measure of relief at no longer having it, and raced on human legs out of the nest of cockroaches.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Contrarian Fan's View of "Dollhouse"

I suppose it's heresy to say this already: but I really don't like Dollhouse. So far, there's just been nothing really to love.

This isn't a review; it's more a lament. I wanted to like Dollhouse, really I did. I just don't. Visually, it leaves me cold. Conceptually, it leaves me wanting. Stylistically, it leaves me bored. If this is supposed to be the Second (Third?) Coming of Joss Whedon, I think it's not going to happen.

The cast is centered on Eliza Dushku, who is both of the show's greatest strengths and biggest liabilities. Put away those toy pistols, geeks. I'm as big a fan of Her Dushkuness as you are, but I think she's wrong for this. This is an actress who needs to be let loose to bite into a role, not be skating on the thin ice of psyche-swapping. So far, the only time we've seen any aspect of her that demonstrated her inner strength was that pre-imprinting bit in the first episode where she was clearly a bit out of control - while still being completely in control. It was very good, and what she's best at. Everything else has been wasted so far. Hostage negotiator? Outdoorsy chick? Do you want a list of third-tier actresses that could have done those? Why waste Eliza Dushku on those? Worse yet is the fact that her 'default' position is that of a vacuous, wide-eyed "doll." Wow. She is totally wrong for that. I don't buy her as a doll in any way, shape, or form. I think she has too much self-assurance shining through for it to seem realistic, and as bad as I hate to say it, she's not quite talented enough to hide her inner strength and be that empty husk. Very few actresses could do it. But, to me, it seems completely wrong to ask one of the most self-assured actresses working to act in such a contrary fashion as to undermine the entire illusion of the show.

Of the rest of the cast, Olivia Williams is perfect for the show, but seems surrounded by actors who can't quite seem to measure up to her. It's as if they can't find chemistry to work with her. Her fault or theirs? I don't know, but she impresses me more. Reed Diamond is basically playing Reed Diamond. That would have been cool eight or ten years ago, but now...not so much. I can't even be bothered to look up the kid playing the mensch scientist. He annoys me so badly, I was hoping he had died in a flashback. Lose him now. Oh, and fellow Angel fans - did we notice Amy Acker as Dr. Saunders? Oh, you did. Did you care? Oh, I didn't. Another wasted role for another talented actress.

The ones I liked were Tahmoh Penikett as Paul Ballard and Harry Lennix as Boyd Langdon, Echo's handler. I'll freely admit, Tahmoh's probably getting some spillover Helo-love from BSG, but he's just so good. I wanted to more of him and less of Echo, which is very strange, since I'm a very straight male. That means something has gone vastly wrong. Before I digress further, let me say that Lennix is the only part of the show I truly enjoy. His Langdon is complex, intelligent, warm, humane, tough, and so far beyond the rest of the cast he may as well be in another show - which, frankly, is where he appears to be. I don't know much about him, except that he's had a nice long career as a character actor. To me, it's paid off. He's outstanding.

Before I go any farther, I must say that I'm a contrarian Whedon fan. I love Firefly, but I never felt the need to wear a brown coat. I prefer Angel to Buffy, and I do think his patented dialogue occasionally...well...isn't all that. I think he's remarkably talented and infuses sometimes heartless characters with heart and soul, which sets him apart from other TV writers. With Buffy, Whedon brought horror to the 'burbs. With Angel, he peeled back the corrupt skin of corporate America to show the demons underneath (which is probably one of the reasons I preferred that show). With Firefly (and later, Serenity), he gave us an entire created universe, which we adopted as our own second home, surpassing the Federation as many geeks' favorite place in which to play.

With Dollhouse, he has given us...Angel again. Yep, smack back into corporate America. (Or actually, corporate Canada. This show so looks like it was shot on Stargate SG-1 backlots it's not even funny.) The Dollhouse itself looks like a back room of Wolfram & Hart and Paul's offices (or the hallways in which he prowls) could be in the very same building where Angel had his detective agency. Visually, this flops.

And I have to ask: are we supposed to believe that this quasi-corporate-government-hidden-Illumanti-kinda-Dollhouse group thing has its own SWAT team complete with helicopters and mass killings that no one knows about? For some reason, I can buy vampires in the 'burbs and board rooms much easier than I can the way they have set up Reed Diamond's Dirty Couple Dozen. Maybe it could happen, but it's been done badly. It seems wrong.

Even more wrong are the scripts. Writing is one of the hallmarks of Whedon's work; it is what sets him apart. In two episodes, there has been one line that smacked of his pen: (as Echo cocked a pistol and got ready for a fight) "I've got four brothers and none of them are Democrats." Now that's choice Whedon (or Whedon-style work). Dollhouse has given us one line in two episodes. Normally, there's be two lines before the first commercial break.

But it's not all about the lines. It's about the structure and the story, too. In two episodes, we've had a little girl kidnapped (a TV concept that was pretty well played out by the last time Miami Vice did it in 1986) and an Honest-to-God "The Most Dangerous Game" pastiche. And that was played out on in TV and movies by about 1965. Seriously? He wanted to hunt Echo? That was the best you could do? Dear God! That kind of lame episode would normally be tucked into the last six eps of season two. Instead it was frontloaded into the second episode. This can't bode well for what's to come. Oh, and there was a backstory about a psycho fellow doll who killed everyone around him (except Echo, of course) and was killed...um....escaped. Gosh. Does anyone else hear Dark Angel?

The more I think about it, and the more I write, the crankier I get, so I'm going to bring this to a halt. But not until I get in my major complaint:

If we're supposed to think that what the Dollhouse is doing to Echo (and the others) is wrong - by turning them into empty husks for imprinting - then what the hell are they doing selling cheesecake and skin shots of the girl during the commercial breaks?

If you haven't thought about, this may seem weird, but hasn't anyone else noticed that the show seems to be selling Eliza Dushku's skin more than anything else. We get shower shots, and slow pans of her back, and thighs, and other curvy parts. Normally I wouldn't mind.* But, as the audience, we know she's being manipulated and twisted. We should feel some disgust that the producers have opted to use the victim of the manipulation to manipulate the audience into watching the show. I actually found myself feeling a little bit ill everything they went to commercial.

And when I say that I'm not a prude...that may be the understatement of my career.**

Maybe I've thought too much into this; maybe I'm not watching it in the right frame of mind. I'm trying to find something about Dollhouse to like. Aside from presence of out soon-to-be-missed Helo/Paul, and the truly talented Harry Lennix, I really can't do it. With the been-there, done-that visuals, the yawner scripts, the borrowed concepts, the hit-or-miss acting, and that appalling "sell our victim's sexuality during the commercial breaks" concept, I think I'm done.


*Seriously, she's magnificent. I firmly believe that her role in Bring it On probably launched more boys into puberty than any 10-year run of Playboy magazine. Chances are, it's also caused more than a few young women to decide to try the fare on the other side of the buffet.

**I'm not a prude. I've watched shows for years simply because someone is on it. After 8 years, I still don't know what Smallville is about. But I know it brings me the tastiest collection of female yum-yum on TV. Strong women, too. If they wanted to show Erica Durance's skin during the commercial breaks, I'd be okay with it, because she is not set up as a victim.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Entitlement Mentality (A Case of Deserve Versus Desire)

For years, I had a bimonthly column where I mingled politics, pop culture, and opinion known variously as "From the Extremes" and "The Bipolar Extremist." This was one of my favorite columns, and it still reflects my opinion of The Way Things Are.

I find it both amusing and disgusting that the conservatives in this country are still trying to blame the poor for the the wreckage of our economy: "It's their fault for buying houses they couldn't afford!" Sure. Who offered them the loans? Banks and other predatory lending agencies. And who deregulated those agencies to the point where they could create this situation? Oh, yeah. The conservatives in power. The ones that were exhibiting this entitlement mentality six years ago.

This was originally printed in Jackson, Mississippi's Planet Weekly newspaper on February 12, 2003.

I saw the commercial again last night. An assured, masculine voice tells me that they could help me get the credit I deserve. That’s great; we would all like credit. But do I really deserve it? I can’t say that I do. I’m a fairly good credit risk, but I’ve never deluded myself into thinking I deserve credit.

According to recent commercials, I also deserve a refinanced loan, a new car, and a cozy little home for my family and me. I’m not exactly sure what the criteria is, but I’m fairly certain I don’t actually deserve any of this. I’d love to have it, but I don’t think I deserve it.

I’ve noticed over the past few years a tendency for people in this country to go from “I would like this” to “I deserve it.” It took me some time to figure out, but I think I know what’s brought us to this point.

The conservatives are in power. If ever a single group encapsulated the entitlement mentality, it is they.

But wait, you say! It is the liberal Americans who are known for this, and not the fiscally responsible conservatives. The damned left-wingers are always wanting to take our hard-earned money and spend it on society’s undesirables; like the poor and homeless, the physically and mentally disabled, orphans, the mentally ill, rape victims, and other sorts that the Compassionate Conservatives would just as soon sweep under the rug.

This is true. Liberals tend to want to raise taxes and spend it on those who need it. But no liberal claims that they deserve to do this. Deserve doesn’t enter into it. A liberal wants this done because it’s the right goddamn thing to do. It is wrong to let unfortunates fall to harm.
(Also it should be noted that rarely do the beneficiaries of these funds say that they deserve it, either. They tend to be thankful than now maybe they will not starve over Christmas, or that maybe now little Donny will get the medication he needs to keep him from jumping from a high building.)

Deserve is the purview of the conservatives. They deserve a new car, a financed loan, and a platinum credit card. They deserve tax breaks and tax shelters that the poor cannot afford. They deserve a way of life that they want the vast, overwhelming majority of this nation not to have. If they wanted everyone in this country to be equal, they would help finance the dream.
One of the slogans that built this country is “All Men Are Created Equal.” But most conservatives tend to believe that “All Men Are Created Equal, Except For Those Of Us Who Are Created Better.”

Our Constitution also says we have the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Only a true-blue right-winger could interpret this to mean the right to Life, Liberty, and a Platinum American Express Card With a 2.9% Introductory A.P.R.

You don’t deserve these things. You desire them.

The entitlement mentality of this country affects all aspects of our life. Otherwise rational men and women have ponied up big bucks to buy huge, ugly SUVs, convinced that they just might need to cross a rugged ice field on the way to the soccer game or the recycling center. The fact that these behemoths suck up petroleum products faster than any non-industrial vehicles in decades doesn’t matter to them. They deserve to drive an SUV.

We know that every dollar not spent by the American people at tax time means a dollar not spent on some unfortunate who might need that dollar to survive. We know this, yet we don’t care. We deserve that tax break.

Some even sit and cheer their agreement at a federal administration that rattles their sabers and spews jingoistic rhetoric, claiming that our religions are the right ones. We support this madness, because we deserve to be in the right.

There is a fine line between desiring and deserving. It is one thing to desire more money back from the government, or a new car, or even a chance to be right on the world’s stage. This is all wish fulfillment. We all wish. We all desire.

I wish that people would see that line and take one step forward, over it. Understand that desiring and deserving are two different things. Wishing for something makes us human. Understanding that we don’t deserve it makes us humane.


If you enjoyed this, I have linked to several other columns in the Washroom Annex (right-hand side column). Feel free to browse. I'll probably offend you.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

At Last, My First Rejection...

The first thing you have to know is: this story is true. The second thing is: seriously, it's true. Last month, I submitted an unagented manuscript to DAW Books. On Saturday, I found that dreaded Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope inside. Writers, you know what was inside - the form letter. I was rejected. It was a simple statement; they didn't think it would be a commercial success. I thought about it, and oddly, I wasn't devasted.

I say oddly, because until Saturday, I've never received a rejection letter. Don't pshaw. It's true - with caveats. I've rarely written fiction; I'm usually a non-fiction 'features' writer. I've written two pieces of short fiction and two novels - or, to be correct, one novel several times.

The first piece of short fiction, Wasteland (which is in the Annex and is terrible) was submitted on a lark to New Blood magazine and accepted. It was the first thing I ever submitted and the first place to which I sent a submission. The second piece of short fiction was called Morals. I submitted that to a contest held by TSR (the AD&D people). They accepted the 20 best submissions and were critiquing them at GenCon. Mine was selected. It wasn't for publication; it was just for the contest. One of TSR's senior editors, James Lowder, ended up critiquing it for me when I was unable to attend and sent it to me.

It was like he had bled all over the paper. There was red ink everywhere. I was devastated. But I was floored when he called me later and spent over an hour discussing it with me. It became my first-ever professional criticism, and was the single most defining moment in my fledgling writing career. One thing that he drilled home to me was that I was trying to tell a novel's worth of story in a short-story form. He told me that if I ever was to finish a novel, he would be happy to read it and consider it.

Some time later, I did finish one and submitted it. I happened to do so in the same week (or month - I'm not sure) that TSR was bought out by Wizards of the Coast (WOC). As wrapped up as I was in completing the novel, I was unaware of any of this and didn't know the fallout would include a shakeup of personnel. By the time I had submitted the manuscript, James Lowder was long gone from TSR - and a string of anonymous junior editors was in place.

I found out about this a month or so after submitting, but it was too late to do anything about it. When I did the writer's follow-up call to see if it had been read, the junior editor I talked to was almost horrifyingly rude and said that 'all submissions by authors who were not WOC authors were not being considered, since they were not professional.' (This is very much paraphrased, but the thrust is the same.) In fact, when I asked to have my manuscript returned, since times were very hard at the time, he refused and said he had more important things to do.

Angered, I entirely rewrote the novel, removing all aspects of the book that could be considered TSR-related. I finished it - and this was the last thing I wrote for several years. I worked in the field of developmental disabilities, and managing group homes took up all my time.

About a year after that first conversation with that rude editor, I received a phone call from WOC/TSR. They wanted to publish my novel. I told them it was not available. I told them to return my manuscript, and after they told me I was giving up a plum chance at working with the best in the business, I told them to go to Hell.

Three things written - no rejections yet.

Eventually, I left the field of human services and fell into writing for a community-alt-weekly newspaper. I took on some freelancing jobs, as well. I submitted probably three dozens queries. All of them were accepted, and all of the articles were published. Every assignment I had at the paper was published. I still had no rejections.

Believe me, I knew this was abnormal.

Eventually, I restarted my novel. I had reread it and knew it needed work. I finished the first 10 chapters and didn't like it. I restarted it again. It took about three years to complete. This was the novel I submitted to DAW.

I now have my first rejection. And I find I'm not upset. I really don't know why, but in my heart I suppose I knew I was due for this. Every other writer I know has been rejected, so perhaps now I really belong. I also find that I don't blame DAW. Particularly in this economy, and with all the issues publishers are facing today, I can understand why they would pass on my decidedly non-commercial dark fantasy novel (five main protagonists, lots of brutal violence, some sex, much swearing, a bit of baroque language, and over 200,000 words). Yeah, I get it.

I will say that DAW was one of the publishers I most wanted to work with; they are home to many of my favorite authors - Tad Williams and C.S. Friedman are two. I do feel a wave of disappointment that I won't be in their company, but that is ameliorated by the fact that perhaps there is another outlet out there for me, somewhere.

Red Leader Speaks

When I announced that I had sent this off, I did so in tongue-in-cheek form as Red Leader: http://thewriterswashroom.blogspot.com/2009/01/its-away.html. I wasn't certain what was going to happen, but my gut instinct said that I wasn't going to be Luke Skywalker, sending that manuscript in and making it happen. I'd hoped, but it was only hope.

For every book that doesn't get accepted at DAW, or Tor, and every other publishing house on the planet, that leaves a space available for another author to get through. So in the same spirit that I originally announced this, to all the other writers out there who are seeking publication, let me say this:

"Get set up for your attack run."


Edit: I have expanded and clarified James Lowder's position at TSR at the time of my submission. In the first version, I did not make it clear that he was no longer with TSR/WOC by the time I had submitted. My apologies for the confusion.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The First Church of Humanity (Orthodox) or Media Kills Her Children

I was participating on one of the interweb's many fast-paced discussion boards last night [a few nights ago] and one of the threads turned to Things We're Tired Of Hearing About. Yes, it's grammatically questionable, but it's perfectly understandable. As it has been acknowledged for close to a decade now, we live in a 24-hour world; we are inundated by news, sports, opinion, photos, videos, polls, and just plain gossip at all times. It comes by TV, radio, satellite, the web...probably by a site you've visited right before this one, or one you'll go to right after. And if it's opinion that's called into question, well then I'm as guilty as the next one for doling it out.

Under the category of Things We're Tired of Hearing About was the mother of 8, or 14, depending on what point the reporter was trying to make. (I prefer to call her Octopussy to her other Octo- names.) The Caylee Anthony story fell under the heading. Jessica Simpson's bulging belly did, as well. There were others; you can probably guess them.

All three of these "stories" disgust me for different reasons. In each case, I blame the media for much of it, but the amount varies. The most grotesque story of the lot, to me, is unquestionably Octopussy's story. When it became known that a California woman had dropped a litter of eight, every news outlet everywhere heralded this like it was reported the blast from the last trumpet. Of course, as everyone in the world now knows, this became a free-for-all when it turns out that she is a single mom who already had six kids, when it became clear that she's doing this with no money and less support from her family, and when - Oh, yeah! - it became clear that she's pretty much a loon.

Thank God for the media for bringing this to our attention! Truthfully, does anyone really care about this woman? Do you? Are you that perturbed that she's single? Does it really bother you that she will need assistance? Is your life so empty that you need someone like her to hate? The media thinks it is, so it's dishing out what you want - or what it wants you to hear. The big point that we all hear now is that she is trying to look like Angelina Jolie. Every news program shows reporters walking in the streets, showing their guy-on-the-spot with pictures of Octopussy asking the clueless masses who that is. And, lo, they all say, "Angelina Jolie?"

(You do know they edit out the vast majority of those respondents who answer, "That psycho chick in California who dropped a litter of pups a couple weeks back?")

She doesn't look like Angelina Jolie in the least. Fine, she's got puffy lips, but so do about fifteen other actresses I can think of off the top of my head. No, it's a media ploy to get attention to keep the story going. By keeping the story going they keep us talking about it - which I admit I'm doing, but I shan't do again after this. (And to be honest, Octopussy isn't the subject of this; she's more of a direct object - that's a little something-something for the grammarians out there.)

What makes this kind of media manipulation so annoying is that, in the 24-hour news cycle, we're hit by it at all times. We can't escape it; it's everywhere. To keep us glued to the news, they have to keep mentioning it. To keep us from getting bored with it, they have to keep varying the story. But while they vary the story, they burn us out on it much quicker. As such, as the media outlets pile the crap higher and higher, they're looking for that next palomino to back over us.

The Caylee Anthony one has bothered me for a long time, primarily because it's Nancy Grace that has been its particular harbinger of doom. To me, Grace is the worst kind of legal pundit. She spouts her opinions on legal matters at the drop of a hat, and they're always the same: "he's guilty!" She doesn't wait for evidence, or a trial, or even facts to get in the way. She's a shrill harpy that I would pay good money to watch fall off a cliff. By some estimates, when she declares someone guilty, she's right about 50% of the time. Guilty/not guilty = 50/50. Yeah, that's pretty good. She was right about that psycho Anthony chick, and pretty much everybody knew it. But it's turned Nancy Grace into a household name, and I hate that.

Worse yet, it's also brought this story out into the open and kept it out there. This is not the kind of thing that needed to be dangled in front of the public as long as it has. Casey Anthony is clearly a sick, guilty young lady, but it is her parents who have had to deal with protesters in their driveway. This isn't rational, well behavior by any standard, and possibly, just possibly, if HLN and Nancy Grace weren't beating the lynch-mob drum, this type of behavior wouldn't be happening.

With Jessica Simpson, one wonders, wow what horrible things has she done to be ridiculed so badly? Yep, she's put on weight. This one bugs the unholy out of me, because it is the same mentality, yet the complete flipside, that was used to justify the attacks on the young women on Gossip Girl and that new Beverly Hills 90210 last fall. They were "dangerously skinny," and Jessica is "a porker." But if you were to put them on the scales, you'd find there were maybe 20 pounds separating them. Yeah, by today's media's standards, these women have about a 15-20 pound bracket to fall into. Anything less or more and they're a figure of scorn or pity.

Why do we care? Some don't; I don't. I think that Jessica Simpson is still a stunning woman and I'd rather see a woman with more curves than visible ribs. But I also admit that that is nought more than personal taste. No, most people care because theyre told they must care. It's out there! It's in the media! She's too fat! That one's too thin! Dear God, you must care! Baa, they respond. Baa! I care!

Enough of that.

In the midst of this particular Things We're Tired of Hearing About discussion thread came a group who were tired of hearing about the Miracle on the Hudson. There were two sub-groups. One said, "Yeah, they landed the plane. So what?" The other said, "God saved them. Get over it."

If I could have climbed through my screen with a baseball bat in hand, I would have. And I would have thumped everyone in both sub-groups. Stupidity's borders hold no bounds for me.

Yes, the Miracle on the Hudson - the landing of US Airways Flight 1549 into the Hudson River - has been discussed frequently, and for good reason. How often is it that we hear of something that could have gone - that should have gone so wrong, end up so well? We don't. Even in the 24-hour cycle, we just don't hear it. So, yeah, I'd like to hear about it a little more. Tell me something good, mister.

But here is my caveat, and it is a non-negotiable one: do not tell me it was in God's hands. Do not take the credit away from those dozens of people who acted in unity, as one, and give credit to God for everything that went right. Don't do it.

By the time the air-traffic control tapes were released late last week, and we heard "Sully" Sullenberger's voice on the radio as he calmly told them that he'd had a bird strike in both engines and they'd probably be going down in the Hudson, it was clear that he was as calm and in command as we'd heard. But what we hadn't known was how calm and professional the air-traffic controllers were. We had no idea that the tower at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey was getting ready to allow Cactus 1549 to crash-land on their tarmac. We didn't know that these people were under such stress that, though their voices didn't break over the radio, they occasionally called the flight by incorrect numbers. We didn't know these things, but we do now.

What we know now is what we've learned over time, and all of it is good. We learned that before Cactus 1549 went in the water, NYC helicopter pilots were already moving to rescue and calling for assistance. We know that the ferry operators turned their boats to rescue, telling their passengers that they'd be late. We know that private boat owners moved to assist. We knew that day that, almost without exception, the passengers and crew of that plane acted as one, looking out for each other, taking care of each other. We know that Sully did the impossible, something that had never been done before, something that's not even taught in training. When you lose two engines, you crash. He just did it in a way that earned him a spot in history.

When I think of all that should have gone wrong, I then think of everything that went right. I realize that every single bit of it was because of human hands. From Sully's impossible task, to the sheer calm competence of the air-traffic controller, to the people at Teterboro who agreed to take the flight on their runway and certainly knew it was going to crash there, to the pilots of the helicopters and the ferries, and even to the passengers who stood on the wings over the Hudson and helped each other out of the stricken aircraft and into the cold air, where they stood together, unhurt, it was human hands that made this happen. God's hands had nothing to do with this.

Please, stop giving credit to God for humankind's fine work that day. If there was ever a time to give credit where credit is due, it was then and now. That was not an Act of God. It was an Act of Humanity. I still call it the Miracle on the Hudson and think it was. It's just that I think that any real miracles come from the greatest force we know, and that, my friends, is Humanity.

Now that I am ready to open the First Church of Humanity (Orthodox), I'm going to ask that we, as our first dogmatic act, consider a change in our behavior. Let us consider Media - the killer of its own children - to be one we must watch. It's not necessarily an enemy; it did bring us Cactus 1549 and it's brought most of us together. But she is a fickle mistress and must be watched.

Let's take what it tells us with a grain of salt. Let's not be led to believe all that we hear. Let's not let our opinions be formed by all that is Media. Let's feel a little pity for the woman in California with 14 kids; there must be something amiss inside her. I swear now to never again call her what I called her at the start of this post - which was four days ago. Let's feel a lot of pity for the parents of Casey Anthony. They don't deserve to have people protesting on their lawn. They've lost a grandchild and don't want to admit that their daughter is almost certainly a murderer. Ask yourself: could you admit that? Let's agree to let them be. They have a much bigger right to their grief than this "grieving nation" does. And, please, let's admit that the young female actresses and singers in this country are human, and if they put on a bit of weight, or get too skinny, they should be allowed to deal with this on their own, without us pointing and making snarky or pitying comments.

As Humanity, the architects of the Miracle on the Hudson, we should be better than that.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Uncovered! The Sarah Palin Memoirs, Part 1 (Transcribed Early Draft Version)

I've been working on this transcription for some time now. About a week ago, I discovered that someone had left a very rough draft of a manuscript on one of the sinks in the Washroom. After reading it over, and seeing what it was, I decided it was my duty to transcribe it. After removing all the OMG's, the LOL's, and the WTF's, and correcting as many of the spelling and grammar mistakes as I could (never before had my Spellchecker sent me a message: "Dear God, when will this end?"), I decided to post the first part here.


/Begin transcription now:

Destiny in Diapers

I came into this world on February 11, 1964, ready to change it for the better! My name is Sarah Heath Palin, and I was born in Sandpoint, Idaho, which would be a really nice town if it were in Alaska, but it’s not. I think it’s interesting that it’s on Amtrak’s Empire Builder line, since that pretty much defines me – Empire Builder, that is, not Amtrak. Amtrak is nationalized, which means socialist.

During my dynamic empire-building years as the mayor of one of Alaska’s most prosperous small towns, and then as governor of that same dynamic and really important state, I knew I was destined for greatness, no matter how impossible that may have seemed to pretty much everyone else. And in 2008, the Republican Party presidential candidate, John McCain, made my impossible dreams a reality.

On August 29, defying those pundits and that so-called short list, Senator McCain begged me to be his running mate. Some people said it was the Republican National Committee that made him take me, when he clearly wanted Joe Lieberman to be his Veep. Well, that can’t be right. Joe’s a Democrat, a Jew, and doesn’t live in the Real America. What good would it have done him to pick someone who the voters in the middle would have liked? Huh?

It’s also been said he chose me because I was the most qualified woman. Okay, really now, I’m not so deluded myself as to think that’s true. I mean, if he’d wanted the most qualified woman to run, why not pick Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison? I mean, gosh, I would’ve picked her, and I’m not the sharpest turkey grinder on TV. No, he picked me because Kay, as smart as she is, looks like an old foot. Conservative women always need to think they look good, and they all want to relate to someone else who looks good, so they relate to me – ‘cause I look good. According to strategists, that’s called motivating your base.

North to Alaska!

I was the third of four children (Charles, Heather, and Molly are the others, and if you want to know more about them, they should have run for office). Apparently, like the Republican Party, my parents were waiting on me to arrive. Three months after I was born, they packed up everything they had and moved to a place called Skagway, Alaska. There is no truth to the rumor that I was dropped on my head in the ladies’ room of a rest area in the Yukon Territory. That’s just lies.

Skagway’s a lovely place, even though it sounds like the back road in a trailer park, you know the one where you can pay for hookers with food stamps? It was once known as “The Gateway to the Klondike” and “The Northernmost City in Southeast Alaska.” But in 2007, its residents voted to dissolve the city and become a borough. We have boroughs in Alaska, just like in New York, but ours are filled with real Americans, not filthy, liberal New Yorkers. I thank thee, Lord, for that blessing. And I sure hope that vote had nothing to do with the economy or the governor.

As soon as we got to Alaska, I fell in love with it. Okay, that’s not really true. I was three months old, for Pete’s sake! No, I hated the place when I was young. It was cold, boring, and awful. It was only after I went up into a helicopter the first time and saw the magnificence that spread before me that I was able to grasp it: the beauty of the land, the sun setting over Canada, the vast wall of mountains in the distance, the loneliness of the great grey wolf below us, the weight of dad’s 30.06 in my tiny, pre-teen hands. We swooped down in the helicopter, and I shot it. We had to track it for almost a mile before finishing it off. I’m pretty sure I became a woman that day.

Now I only wish I could swoop down out of the sun in a silent helicopter like the Airwolf, and take out a few of those obnoxious celebrities, like Ashley Judd, who’ve never even seen the real America. I bet she’s never even left New York or Boston, or wherever on the East Coast she’s from. No, that bunch of Hollywood lefties probably really thinks that wolves and mooses aren’t really dangerous. They are, though! Wolves in Alaska are really mean, like in fairy tales. In fact, just last winter, I saw one blowing down a straw house and eating a pig inside. Yep, you have to keep the wolf population down, if only for the sake of Alaska’s pig population.

All That is Good About Me

My parents, Charles and Sarah Heath, came to Skagway to teach school. Mom was a school secretary and dad taught high school science. He was also a track coach! When we were growing up, between hunting for wild game and solitary tourists, the whole family used to run in 5k and 10k races. K’s are like miles, but not really. It was from my parents that I got all that is good about me: my well-known respect for education and learnin’, my preference for killing things with high-powered rifles, and thanks to running all those K’s, my spectacular, high-toned backside.

You think my butt looks good now? You should have seen me in high school, after all that cross-country running and basketball practice. Holy smoke, I could snap open a king crab claw with my ass!

By the time I was in high school, we had left Skagway and gone to Eagle River, which is so dull it doesn’t even have a nickname. It exists only to give fast-food joints a place to congregate. In fact, it’s so dull, when the Taco Bell opened you had to stand in line for two and a half hours to get a chalupa. I got one, and I still don’t know what it is. We left Eagle River and moved on to Wasilla, which also doesn’t have a cool nickname, but now it’s known as “The Home of Sarah Palin,” which is cool for it. Wasilla is located about 69 K’s north of Anchorage, which is like 800 miles in real miles. When you add in the fact that being up so far north changes north to northwest, because of the magnetic north pole’s location being to the northeast…you’ll realize that Wasilla is, in fact, almost in Russia.

I learned that at Wasilla High. Go Warriors!

In Which I Blossom at Wasilla High

Wasilla High was good for me. Unlike some stupid people, I liked going to school. I mean, I didn’t understand everything I learned, because they insisted on teaching stuff that wasn’t in the Bible, like science, math, history, and English. They taught me some stuff I didn’t really believe in, like that the world is older than 2000 years old, that the Grand Canyon wasn’t created by Noah’s flood, and that oil eventually runs out. To all that I say: nuh-uh.

I was really good at sports, though. I ran cross-country for a while and liked that, but after fifteen years of running all those K’s and no audience to watch me, I was a little bored. So I really took to basketball and no one really knew why. It’s time to let them know: it was the shorts. I looked good in my cross-country clothes, but there was no one around to watch me. Now, no one knows this, but I like to have an audience. So I started playing basketball. In Alaska, everyone comes to the high school basketball games. Well, in those shorts, my ass looked fantastic. I looked pretty darn good from the front, too, if you know what I mean. So I got out there and ran, and ran, and moved, and jumped, and all of the sudden, I was the team captain. And, wow, I just liked being looked at.

Sound familiar? That’s called playing to my strength.

So because I liked “competing” so much, the team started calling me “Barracuda,” and contrary to what some of the whores that had to ride the bench said, that had nothing to do with any oral fixation that I may or may not have had – even though I also started playing the flute and the trombone, and began an addiction to Carmex lip balm that continues to this day. No, I was a good girl. I ran the school’s chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which was a big deal to the three of us.

Have Faith!

Like everyone in my family, I’ve always found strength in my faith. I had faith that I’d marry a super-handsome part-Eskimo separatist fisherman, and that worked out! I had faith that I’d have gorgeous children who made me a grandmother at age 44 and that worked out! I had faith that I’d be the Vice-President of the United States, and if it wasn’t for the godless democrats and the confused people on our side that apparently couldn’t figure out which box to mark, that one would’ve worked out, too.

I was born into the Roman Catholic Church, but we got out of there pretty quick. I’m glad, because the whole confession thing is creepy. I don’t really like answering questions. Well, I do really, but I’m not very good at them, so I’m not sure having my soul’s final destination dependant on what a priest asks me is a good idea. I also am glad I didn’t have to spend a lot of time confessing during the Basketball Years…or the Pageant Years…or the Colleges Years. I think all that’s between me and God only.

Our family eventually changed over to Assembly of God, which is like the most liberal of the Pentecostal churches. I normally don’t like anything liberal, except for drilling rights, but I’ll make an exception for this. I am sure glad we weren’t raised Pentecostal. Those women aren’t allowed to cut their hair, or wear makeup, or really to look good at all. That just doesn’t work for me. They way I see it, God blessed me with what I’ve got, so I thank him daily by putting his fine work on display. If he’d wanted me to wear dumpy clothes and a nappy hairstyle, he should’ve made me look like one of those lefty college lesbians.

My First Dude (Well, Let’s Just Call Him That…)

I thank God daily for many things, but mostly that I never looked like one of those homely creatures. If I had, I might have gotten shot up here, mistaken for a moose. But more importantly, I never would have caught the eye of Todd Palin. I can’t lie; I had a thing for him the first time I saw him. Of course, being a good Christian girl, I didn’t show it to him. Not the first time, anyway. But he was so handsome. You know what he looks like now? Imagine him at 16!

Sorry, I needed a paragraph break there. Whew! Todd and I started dating in high school and I never seriously wanted anyone else. But that’s because he was the best-looking guy in school. I mean, come on, if there was someone else better looking than him, I’d have dumped him like a caribou turd, but there wasn’t, so he was mine. You know how handsome he is? When that funny bunch at Saturday Night Live started having their fun, they got Tina Fey to play me. That’s pretty cool, because Tina Fey’s almost as do-able as I am. But they never really got someone to play Todd. I mean, who are they going to get – that little freak that plays Obama? The guy with the eyebrows? The other guy? No, they’d just stick one of the losers in a racing suit and try passing it off. He’d always end up looking like a gay drag racer, and that’s just wrong.

You know, Todd’s as important to Team Palin as I am, just not as much. While I’m running the city or state, he’s running his commercial fishing business, which is a lot like being a fisherman, except that it’s not, and he’s working as an oil-field production operator for British Petroleum, which is absolutely, positively not foreign oil – even though they’re foreign and sell oil. “Foreign oil” means brown people sell it. Todd understands image almost as well as I do, which is why he races those snowmobiles and looks hot doing it. We’re a couple made for each other.

Next: The Colleges Years, Fancy Pageant Walking, and Putting a Finger Into the Pie of Local Politics

/End Transcription

I'll post the next part if it's ever transcribed. It might be tough, because it's written all in text-message form.

Digg my article

Monday, February 2, 2009

What To Do When Feeling Kinda Uncle-Ish

It isn't often that I admit that I have a few cracks in my armor, weaknesses that confound me, an Achilles' heel that undermines me...my own Kryptonite, dammit. Long ago, I knew a young lass who once gave me my all-time favorite description of myself. She said: "Underneath that armor and attitude you wear, you're nothing but a big ol' teddy bear...wrapped around a solid steel frame." She then proceeded to call me her Teddy Bear Terminator, which I still think is perfect. I can be all crusty, blustery, and mean-spirited, but there are a few things that crack open my shell and warm even my genially malicious insides.

Here are four of them:

The handsome gents in the top picture are Grant and Austin, my two Florida-based nephews. Joined by the dapper Arkansas fellow below them, Tylar, they form a sort of Three Musketeers of pure mayhem, of which only an uncle can be proud (and a parent can only tolerate). Next to her brother is younger sister Reilly, who it could be argued is meaner than the three of them together, and has the best fastball in the family. I'm not kidding.

They're good kids, all of them. They're the kinds of kids that gives one hope for the future (well, except for Tylar - kidding!) They're lucky, too, in that they've all got good parents who've brought them up right* and grandparents who have spoiled them rotten. In fact, one set of hands that does the spoiling is the same set that used to smack the crap out my brothers and me. But, in their defense, we usually did deserve it.

Earlier this week, I found myself feeling uncle-ish and wanted to share these, for no good reason whatsoever. I've always said I was going to keep my girlfriend, my folks, my brothers, and my sisters-in-law off the site - just to avoid the embarrassment of having to admit they know a writer. (It's the whole handwashing thing, you know.) But my niece and my nephews are young enough that embarrassment hasn't yet kicked in, and not yet worldly enough to have marred the concept of appearing on a fourth-rate blog as anything but "cool!"

Well, maybe. I'm kind of hoping for "cool," but I'll settle for "send him another card for Christmas. Just don't give him any more photos."

On that, I'm out. I love all y'all - even the ones I didn't mention by name.

*I was going to make a snarky comment about thanking God that the kids all got their looks from their mothers, but that would be genially malicious.