Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day... almost over, slipping past well under my personal radar.

I'm not a father. Well, as far as I know there are no offspring of mine out running around. And I'm sure I would have been informed by now.

PARENTHETICAL CLOSE-BUT-NO-CIGAR NOTE: My ex-wife is a mother, with at least one child. But she waited until after we decided to divorce -- but possibly not before she moved out of our unhappy abode* -- to get pregnant.

All of which is fine by me. By the time the issue of raising bambini came up, I was not against the notion as a general concept. I simply didn't want to make babies with her.

After that, every woman with whom I might have wished to enter a state of parenthood** proved to be either unwilling or infertile. Or both.

And now it's too late. My days of considering making an addition or two to the world's population appear to be behind me, though my enthusiasm for practicing making babies is undiminished. Tony Randall I'm not.

My father has been gone for more than 20 years. I don't miss him. To indulge in a hoary cliche, I missed him when he was alive. I won't bad-rap him, but the past is not changeable, and our relationship was not especially wonderful. Or even good.

I do, however, admire fathers. Fathers have, after all, created all the women I loved/love, people I admire, inventors, producers of great art, music, literature, all my friends.

Of course fathers also cursed our world with mass murderers, crooks, tyrants, malcontents of all kinds, and politicians. Fatherhood does not have a 100% record of success.

On balance, though, I have to take my hat off to all the men who have, at one time or another, earned the honor of being called "daddy." Without fathers, this would be a damn barren planet.

So I'll say it: Happy Father's Day to all.

* I was informed of this by a trustworthy person who admitted having heard it directly from ---- some time after the divorce was final. And, let it be said, she did marry the presumed father....

* Marriage, too...I'm old-fashioned that way.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Writer's block.

For as long as I've had an online journal -- which has been a fair number of years -- I've told anyone who cared to read my words that I'm a writer. A capital-W Writer, thank you very much, one who has made a living -- tenuous, poor and inconsistent, perhaps, but my continued existence more or less attests to it -- grinding out words.

And, despite my wish to step away from the monster that has consumed me for so long, such money as I've earned in the last few months has come from writing.

Pathetic whore that I am, I suppose I would return to it full-time if the opportunity presented itself. I would rob banks if I possessed the necessary skills, too. Money talks. In my case, it screams.

But I've learned something, and it is a bit painful: I will never be a decent fiction writer, one whose books carry the "x Weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List!" line atop the cover and/or get made into big-grossing movies featuring Big Stars.

I guess I've known that for years, but reading a book that bears both distinctions and a Famous Author* has simply driven the point home like a red-hot rivet shot from a pneumatic gun.

Let it be said that I did not sink to my knees in abject wonder while reading it. No, I am not going to sing the praises of this book. Just the opposite, really; I found it poorly constructed, full of interminable paragraphs formed from fast-drying cement and situations that stretch the definition of "improbable" to new lengths.

And that doesn't even take the stereotyped characters, vapid dialogue and predictable scenes into account.

But hey, it sold. Big buckaroons for author and agent. Zillions of people raved about book and movie.

I am a mercenary kind of guy. Writing the Great American Novel holds no appeal for me, unless it brings me into reach of a Great American Fortune. Having been approached on several occasions to write non-fiction books within my own little field (and turning each offer down), I am aware of the financial details attending authorship, particularly as they relate to factual works.

Had I accepted the ego-stroking offers, I would have reached my current state of whimpering poverty much faster.

It is possible that, with practice, I could learn to emulate some best-selling writers, to adapt their vapid, semi-literate styles -- can you say Clive Cussler? -- for my own, and put myself in line for a pile of spondulics. I'm good at mimicry when I put my mind to it.

But I know, deep down, that any discerning reader would swiftly realize that I was faking it, and would be properly scornful. And would put the book right back on the shelf, unsold.

My own "style" wouldn't work in book-land. In writing for magazines, I learned to create economical prose that fits into small, well-defined spaces. The twists, turns and side-trips of a novel are as foreign to my way of writing as producing original manuscripts in Chinese.

Changing my written ways now would be a monumental task, a case of the-leopard-changing-his-spots much more difficult than I can manage while having to deal with all the other negative nonsense life continues to throw at me. Better -- and faster, and easier -- to become an expert on, say, String Theory.

Oddly enough, I have a couple of embryonic plots for novels stewing in my head. One is based on true-life people in a true-life place**, and would become fiction simply because not enough is known about the protagonists' real lives to come up with 40,000 words about them. Someone tried. And failed miserably.

The other is seems better. Coincidentally, I think it has greater commercial possibilities as well. But I can't write it. I am not "in touch" with the main characters in terms of the lives they would have led, the patois they speak in certain circumstances, or how they would react and adapt to the situations the story would set them in.

All is not lost for the latter idea, though. I know a writer who could produce it with grace and sensitivity***. From time to time, I jot a note or two about it in hopes that I can convince this writer (a friend, mind you) to take a stab at it.

If that never happens, these ideas will simply join many others that formed in my brain, blossomed and withered. Unlike the Unknown Soldier, they will never be memorialized, but will simply end up in some anonymous landfill with other artifacts chronicling my existence. "Pas de biggie," as the French are smart enough not to say....

There's definitely another factor at work here, but I won't go into it. I've written about the fallacy of the "starving artist" argument in the past, and don't want to waste a lot of time exploring the psyche of the emotionally starving artist, even if I think that plays a part in my current inability to write dancing, singing, balletic stories. Stories people would read. Would pay to read.

This has been one of those "inside-baseball" posts that no one in their right mind should read. If you've gotten this far, I feel kinda sorry for you.

If I was a better host, I would have filled this space with jokes.....

* Since I have no desire to be a literary critic, or to displease those who may enjoy this writer's work, I will leave the author blissfully -- and well-set financially -- anonymous.

** My original intention was to write a musical about them. But musicals seem to be out of favor these days, so a novel is the only possible alternative.

*** This writer can -- and does -- write rings around me in any case, even when confined to short-form work. I do sink to my knees in abject wonder when reading anything this person writes.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sympathy for BP?

Naaah. Never. No way. They have made a mess the likes of which we have never before seen, one that will have bad effects for decades, probably centuries.

But I came close to feeling a twinge of compassion for BP's Tony Hayward today. Damn close. Poor ol' Tony had to appear before a congressional committee today.

Frankly, I think I'd rather be forced to go out naked to scoop the noxious sludge from BP's shattered well than be grilled by the unprincipled, generally senile, always self-important and beyond-clueless loons who populate the halls of Congress.

I had no idea they are all experts on the mechanics and engineering aspects of oil drilling and disaster preparedness. No inkling that a superannuated hack from Michigan, a public-trough-guzzling drone from California or the rest of these buffoons could manage a pair of shoelaces without help from one of their hordes of well-paid flunkies, much less spout technical buzz-terms so freely.

In fact, they can't. Said flunkies burned the midnight oil to come up with rhetorical questions for their bosses to throw at Hayward. Always in the most self-righteous, angry tone they can muster*. Looking carefully, one could see the Congress-crooks' eyes dipping to the cheat sheets before them when they asked about the details that led up to the disaster.

Meet any one of them on the street and ask about "blow-out preventers" or types of concrete well-shafts and their eyes would glaze over.

Granted, Hayward didn't come out of the hearing smelling like roses. He was evasive, scripted and woefully uninformed about what his company did and is doing. Not my idea of a proper CEO, he came across as slightly lower than a conscienceless P.R. hack trying to excuse massive corporate idiocy.

In his defense, he had Eric Holder, the so-called Attorney General peeping over his shoulder muttering threats about criminal prosecutions**. Anyone in that situation would be smart to take the fifth whenever inquisitors try to pin them to stupid/illegal/unethical activity.

There were two questions within the mental capabilities of the freeloading Lords (and Ladies) of Congress and, so far as I know, neither was asked of BP today:

1. How and when will the damn flow of oil be stopped?

2. How and when will you clean up the foul mess?

No matter how and when, I suspect it'll cost BP far more than the $20 billion they have committed to pony up. Good. Whatever it takes. They made the mess, they must clean it up.

Of course I hope we'll see how that money is doled out. I don't trust anyone even remotely connected to the government to pass it along honestly and fairly.

But what I want to see now is steady, total concentration on the only two goals that mean anything at this time: stopping the flow of oil and cleaning it up before it destroys more of our environment. That attitude is, sadly, beyond the ideologically motivated leeches in Washington who, in the final analysis, care more about advancing their own agendas and covering their own sorry asses than protecting citizens and the environment.

At the moment when the oil rig caught fire and started belching out an uncontrolled flood of oil, BP bore sole responsibility. Now, almost two months later, they share culpability with hideously incompetent jerks in the government who, in a rush to make political hay out of an unspeakable disaster, have dredged up every possible obstacle to a speedy resolution. And have lied, singly and collectively, about their roles.

If anything could divert any of my anger away from BP, it is the unconscionable antics of the president and both parties in congress.

Obama calls this a "war," a meme that has spread like wildfire among the chattering fools in the political world. It is a war he is unfit to lead and Congress is incapable of conducting.

Had these inept partisan hacks been running things in December, 1941, we would have responded to the Japanese attack. By 1950, if we were lucky.

If ever we have needed genuine leaders and doers, it is now. We don't have them. Tomorrow, next week or next month is too late.

* The tone of voice they generally save for members of the Opposition Party or constituents who dare ask them to justify their actions.

** The same threats he has so far managed not to make to some genuine criminals, but hey, the law is flexible, don't you know....

Friday, June 11, 2010

I don't know what the hell gets into me...

...but I was thinking of this song tonight.

The last time I heard it? It was circa 1964, in Flagstaff, Arizona*.

I thought it was funny as hell back then. Now, it has a strange appropriateness....

* Just to show how deeply weird I am, I remembered the lyrics as I listened. All of them. I could have sung along. If I could sing....

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Oil, politics and incompetence.

As a general rule, I try to avoid subjects about which I know little or nothing. While I'm pretty good at looking like an idiot, it's seldom voluntary.

So I probably should avoid saying anything about the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

But it's frighteningly clear that Barack Obama doesn't know a damn thing about the situation either. Neither does his pet Coast Guard admiral who is "in charge." Same goes for Congress and the trained seals of the news media. Neither, apparently, does British Petroleum.

It's not hard to understand the basics: BP and its contractors managed, through gross incompetence, to foul the Gulf. The flow of crude continues from the broken well after nearly two months.

And what is the government's response? It stages media events, the President goes out for photo opportunities, meets with incompetent bureaucrats and yammers about "kicking ass," and Admiral Allen comes on TV daily to sputter about speeding up BP's payments to people affected by the sea of oil.

Excuse me. There are only two vital issues here: the first is to stop the damn flow of oil. The second, is to use any and all means to clean up the oil already spreading from Louisiana to Florida.

It's that simple.

Granted, drilling for oil more than a mile below the surface of the ocean presents enormous difficulties. It may be more problematic than "rocket science." If a company chooses to do so, they had bloody well better have emergency techniques developed and ready for use.

BP didn't. They created a gooey, stinking Frankenstein's Monster, and they should be doing more to fix the damage. They must pay for the mess they've made, a mess they should not have been allowed to make in the first place.

But the response from our President, a man who, in my view, has proven himself a grossly incompetent leader, totally unqualified for his job, has so far been disgustingly political and completely unacceptable. He is wasting time -- and our money -- on hollow posturing.

We don't need babble about "developing new energy sources," face-saving "investigations" into possible illegal activities on BP's part, Justice Department meddling into BP's business operations and endless meetings that don't provide either actions or solutions.

If we had a real President, he or she would have gotten on the horn to BP executives 50 days ago, and would have sent them the following message: stop the oil flow from the well, and clean up the mess. Now. Said executive would have mobilized all governmental resources instantly, would have accepted all offers of assistance from private individuals and countries that have dealt with similar, if smaller, crises in the past, and would have suspended or streamlined government regulations that slow emergency actions.

Instead, the Chief Executive has thrown hundreds (if not thousands) of desk-bound, politically motivated bodies at the crisis and has made endless, repetitive speeches. Action? He seems not to understand the word.

The time for palaver and political calculations ended when the oil platform exploded.

Numerous methods for both capping the well and soaking up the oil have been put forth over the past 50 days. Wasting time letting government officials and members of Congress discuss them (in front of TV cameras, naturally) is pointless; those that don't increase the possibility of worse damage -- and that includes almost all I've seen -- should have been put into action immediately. Most strike me, a non-expert, as sensible. Even if they don't work as well as their proponents suggest, any improvement would be better than the current disaster.

Once the flow is stopped and the oil is sopped up, the recriminations can begin. At that point, Obama can point fingers, assign blame to everyone but himself and make excuses for his inability to lead to his heart's content. BP can makes excuses and its CEO can tell us how sorry he is. The company's cash can and should be distributed to those demonstrably hurt by the mess.

All those things are important. But they pale in comparison to the immediate issue, which is that oil is flowing, uncontrolled, from the ocean floor. It must be stopped, by any means necessary.

BP and our current government have failed miserably. Until people who put reality ahead of politics, action ahead of image, and humanity ahead of personal advantage are put in charge, we can be sure the BP disaster is only the beginning.

Those responsible should lose their jobs. That includes those in charge at BP and the company contracted to run the platform and the government officials who have mishandled the situation. Sadly, the President bears sufficient responsibility to merit dismissal as well. Gross incompetence is intolerable in a situation where lives and the environment are at stake.

After the damn oil flow is stopped and the mess is cleaned up.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Somebody up there...

...must be laughing his/her/its ass off at me. It's the only thing I can figure.

All y'all know I've been job-hunting for quite a while. Years, actually. The hunt has continued since I've pulled up stakes (or, to be accurate, had the stakes pulled up for me) and relocated. I've looked here, there, and a whole bunch of other places. Not everywhere; I have ruled out a return to California unless offered a genuinely obscene income should I do so.

So this last week, I was offered a job, indirectly through the good offices of a couple friends who happen to be former colleagues. They both recommended me to a P.R. person in a nearby large city; I talked with him, sent along a resume, and felt somewhat encouraged by my reception.

Ah, yes. The job: it was a freelance writing gig, which took me all of two days to complete. It was also in the same subject area where I toiled for 24 long years.

My closest friends probably got damn tired of hearing my oft-repeated rant since April third: "No more freelance writing! No, no, no! Never! And certainly no more writing about ----*!" They could probably reproduce the tremulous indignation and determination in my voice with devastating accuracy.

I took the job. Naturally. It was money**.

Money is not a pressing issue for me at the moment. Yes, I owe more than the Gross National Product of five South American nations, have a long list of pretty essential items for which I need a substantial sum of spondulix, and would like to lay aside a few coins for my doddering old age. But right now I'm ahead of the immediate game. Until, that is, the excreta next hits the rotating ventilation device....

I am comfortable in my present location. I may be here a while, and that won't be a bad thing. In fact, it'll be a good thing.

Except for one major issue: I want a job. And I have my doubts that what I'd most like to do will permit me to stay in this place.

But it is nice to be able to relax. I'd forgotten how that feels.

However: I do hope the Universe got its quota of chuckles from offering me a very temporary return to my old ways and will lay out something steadier and more remunerative for me next time around. Once was kind of fun in a twisted way; a second time may not be.

* What I used to write about....

** Not what I would call a whole hell of a lot of money. Not as much as I would charge if I was in a position to turn down work.