Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Presidential Campaign

Ah, well, we had two primaries yesterday - Kentucky and Oregon. I went to the New York Times and Washington Post websites to see what the final results were. And I still don't know. Because the headlines in both papers were something to effect that Barack Obama has now declared that he has, essentially, secured the nomination. Both showed the final percentages in Oregon which Obama won, I forget by how much. Neither thought Kentucky rated even a single line for their results because it doesn't matter, does it? Hillary could have won by 30 points, and maybe she did, but the newspapers, the television commentators, the bloggers, the Democratic party and of course, Barack Obama himself, have declared him the winner so what happened in Kentucky is unimportant in the scheme of things.
The establishment of the Democratic party has got is way. It's been a harder struggle than they thought it would be, even with all the advantages they tried to give him. Obama still had a tough time sealing the deal (and some of us don't think he has yet) but we, the little people, I guess you could call us, don't have a prayer of prevailing when the power people have made their choice, not when Howard Dean and Ted Kennedy and Donna Brazile and Tom Daschle and Nancy Pelosi have made the decision for us. And Senator Claire McCaskill's daughter, for God's sake - who could ever go against that freakin' font of political wisdom? Well, obviously not her mother, who said she made her choice to support Barack because her teenage daughter loves him. Isn't it comforting to know Missourians that the good Senator's daughter is making the call for you?
I read that Hillary is going to Florida today to try to get those votes counted. But, of course, she'd be ahead in the popular vote if that happened, along with Michigan, so that would undercut Barack's claim of victory some - so she's pissing into the wind. It flatly won't be allowed to happen. But here's what will happen. Once it is completely too late and Obama is officially, and indisputably the winner, guess what? The Democrats will decide they want Florida and Michigan in there after all and they'll find a way to do it and they'll just all be so happy and oh, yes, UNITED, that's what they'll be.
Geez, what is it with women? The African-Americans support their guy by about 92 percent. Can anyone say monolithic? Well, what's wrong with that, backing a member of your own team? But we women would never do that. Oh, no. I can remember clear back when I worked in factories and belonged to unions how many of the women would rather suck up to the bosses than fight for the rights of their fellow workers. I can remember back to when there actually was a women's movement, a lot of women were the worst about saying they didn't want "no steenkin' equal rights".
We haven't changed much. The whole thing makes me sick.

Computer Failure

My computer quit last weekend. It warned me first, thank God. "Failure to initialize - shut down all programs immediately - exiting". Geesh, I quickly got out of the document I was working on and bailed, right before the computer went into a coma.
I called Mike Swango, my own personal computer guru, and left a message on his voice mail - along with a warning. "There's a 353 page manuscript on this computer that exists no where else. If you can't get it back for me, I'll most likely commit suicide."
I've known Mike since the very day he was born but still, I'm not sure how much he'd have been affected by my threat, however I figured, if nothing else, he'd do it for his Mom's sake. We've been best friends since we were juniors in high school. As soon as he got my message, he came over. He was able resuscitate my computer and recapture my documents, which he also transferred to my laptop so they'd exist two places. Gently, he suggested that I might want to back them up or put them on a thumb drive or something instead of living so dangerously. The next time I might not be so lucky.
The problem with the restoration of my computer was that it restored itself to a year ago so that all the programs I'd downloaded or upgraded since were gone and all the things I'd deleted were back. For instance, my year-ago version of Norton Anti-virus was now expired. When I went to Symantech's website to try to discover how to reinstall the yearly renewal I'd bought in October, I was informed, somewhat coldly, I thought, that unless I could produce the product key number they'd issued me with my purchase, I could forget it.
I have a file near my desk but it isn't very organized. I often throw paperwork in it helter-skelter, not paying much attention to whether the document matches very well with the folder heading. The Norton product key could easily have been in the "Computer Information" folder or the "House and Cars" folder (which contains lots of things that are only marginally related to house or cars but after all, the computer is IN the house) or the "Paid Receipts" folder or even in "Miscellaneous Stuff". Or it could have been nowhere at all because I'm capable of just throwing it away on the grounds that what were the odds I'd ever need it again?
As it turned out, the receipt was in "Computer Information" which was the last folder I looked in. Of course, I wasn't disgusted by this because I knew that it wouldn't have mattered. If I'd looked in "House and Cars" last instead of "Computer Information", then that's the folder it would have been in. These things are predestined.
Nothing was simple about bringing my computer programs back to life. I would sometimes get clear to the end of an install, only to be told that it couldn't be done because this upgrade required the upgrade of another program be done first. So, I'd have to exit that site and go to another one and start all over again, working my way through the bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo of computer authoritarianism. Not much different than working with a government agency, which I well know, seeing as how I am one, or part of one.
At the last, when everything else was working, my e-mail program wouldn't send my e-mail. It would receive but it wouldn't send. I tried everything, working for hours, torn between cursing and crying in frustration. I could have called technical support but that would have been admitting defeat. It wasn't even the same e-mail program because my old e-mail was so ancient (being at least a few years old), it was obsolete and Microsoft didn't even recognize it any more, which meant that all my contact addresses had disappeared into the ozone layer.
I felt a surge of pure triumph when eventually, my e-mail program admitted that I'd outwitted it and it gave up and sent my messages.
By Monday morning, everything was back to normal with my computer except that it had disappeared 24 hours of my life.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Music and Politics

Brenda and I went to the Embassy Theater in Fort Wayne the other week to see Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert. Lynyrd Skynyrd has long been one of our favorite bands. They make wonderful music and are great showman as well, so it was a thoroughly satisfying concert. No big surprise there.

What was a bit of a surprise was how much we enjoyed the opening act, Whiskey Falls. Usually, when you're at a concert because you're a huge fan of the star performers, you just kind of tolerate the opening act, waiting respectfully, but somewhat impatiently, for their part of the show to be over so you can get on with the main attraction.

It wasn't that way with this new, young band, Whiskey Falls. They were good enough that we were in no particular hurry for them to quit the stage. Whiskey Falls plays similar music to Lynyrd Skynyrd, basically, what I guess what we used to call southern fried rock. We emerged from the concert as Whiskey Falls fans.

On the way home from Fort Wayne, we talked about what that meant considering the current state of rock and roll. Where does a band like Whiskey Falls get its audience? Rock and roll radio stations in the 21st century seem to consist mainly of two formats: 1) classic rock or 2) rap/hip-hop/alternative. I'm not really sure of the ins and outs of these various modern genres because rock and roll lost me in the 90's. Even beyond Lynyrd Skynyrd's heyday, when they were young and fresh and so was I, I stayed with them and what were then new bands like U2 and INXS and Van Halen and ZZ Top. I loved Guns 'n' Roses and Motley Crue and The Scorpions and Def Leppard.

And then rock and roll just took off in directions I wasn't prepared to follow. Rap and hip-hop seemed boring and ugly. I hated the depressingness of grunge with its monotone despair. I wasn't a bit surprised that Kurt Cobain committed suicide. His music made me feel a little suicidal myself.

Well, all this is old age talking, I know. The kids have a right to their own music. They probably prefer me to feel the way I do because when you're young, who wants to idolize musicians who make your parents happy? When I was a teenager, I got off on the old folks tut-tutting over Elvis' hips and the Beatles' hair and asking how I could like Bob Dylan when he couldn't even sing, for God's sake! And Janis Joplin's screaming, good Lord! That wasn't music!

But, still, where does that leave Whiskey Falls and the people, presumably, even many young people, who still like the old kind of rock and roll? Where do they go to get played and where do their fans go to hear them?

Well, I'll tell you. It's to country music. Those of us who used to consider ourselves died-in-the-wool rock and rollers, who wouldn't have turned to a country station if someone held a gun to our head (because we were too cool for country) have gravitated away from rock and roll because the country stations have welcomed us and our music in when rock shut us out, if we didn't want to listen to music at least a decade and possibly three decades old (all of which I love but you do reach a point when you say, "enough already, I can't handle Stairway to Heaven one more time!".

Actually, there has been some entwining of the two types of music for many years. For instance, in the 60's or maybe it was the 70's, Bob Dylan recorded an album called Nashville Skyline. But in more recent times, the intermingling became more prevalent with bands like the Eagles going country. This year, Jon Bon Jovi won a Grammy - for a country song. And, that's where Brenda and I discovered we had to go to find Whiskey Falls.

All of this is fine. It has brought more country fans to rock and more rockers to country, both discovering music they might not have enjoyed if not for this ethnic musical joining of forces. But, I still think its sad that rock and roll basically threw us out and defined itself as selective to only certain desirable groups.

In a way, it sort of reminds me of the Democrat party of 2008. The new Democrat party, as defined by Donna Brazile, doesn't need us old working class types anymore, because they have the African Americans, the young and the upscale and those constituencies are enough to take them where they want to go.

Oddly enough, the music melds better than the politics. Although I love much country music, I still tend to think of the country attitude as being Republican, NASCAR, conservative whereas rock and roll was more anti-establishment, liberal, Democrat. That's still where I feel most at home so its a little like I've moved into a neighborhood where I don't quite fit in.

I'm trying to make it work with country music but that may be as far as I'm prepared to go. I can't see myself becoming a Republican so I guess, for the time being at least, I'm a political orphan.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

My New Favorite Author - Iain Banks

After being a lifelong voracious reader, I went through a spell of not reading as much, mostly a few pages when I went to bed. I became set in my reading ways. I read mysteries, period, and even those had to be by tried and true authors that I already knew I liked. No adventure for me. Forget the Chicken Cordon Bleu (or what the hell ever), just give me a hamburger, please.

When I began trying to wean myself from political obsession, I started reading more again. My favorite authors couldn't keep up with my demand. I had no choice but to branch out but I still stuck with mysteries. Until one day, I could find absolutely nothing in the library that sounded appealing. (I don't like insipid little mysteries that contain recipes) so I got an actual novel, The Steep Approach to Garbadale, by a Scottish author named Iain Banks, who I'd never heard of up to that time despite his being, for many years, one of the top selling authors in Britain.

I almost didn't read the book because, in the mode I'd been in for so long, I thought I didn't want to read anything that wasn't a mystery. In the end, I thought, "well, I'll try it and if I don't get into it, I'll just put it down." Steep Approach to Garbadale became my new favorite book and that isn't a designation I extend lightly. Previously, my all-time best book was Lonesome Dove, (oddly enough, another book I almost didn't read because it was a western - there's a point here somewhere about not getting stuck in a rut). Lonesome Dove held its position for years, maybe close to a decade. I remember reading it some time when I worked at the Sheriff's Dept.

Iain Banks' first novel, The Wasp Factory, has been voted one of the top five British books of all time. In addition to his mainstream stuff, Banks writes hugely popular science fiction under the name, Iain M Banks. The next book of his I read, Complicity, I got from the library By now, I've ordered most of Banks' other novels - Dead Air, A Song of Stone, Walking on Glass and his only non-fiction book, Raw Spirit, and have loved all of them. The Crow Road and The Bridge should be delivered this week. When I've read everything else, I'm actually going to venture into science fiction in order to have more Banks books to look forward to (geez, Vic, let's really live life dangerously here!).

Banks has never quite broken into the American market in the same way he has in Britain. I've read interviews and bits in books in which he expresses some puzzlement as to why that should be. Not that I think he cares all that much. It seems to be more curiosity than anything else. I can think of a few reasons:

In general, I think Americans prefer directness - a straightforward plot told in relatively simple language with a main character who is essentially black or white. America doesn't go in much for complicated shades of gray. This isn't true in every case, of course. We've had famous authors who broke this barrier and I acknowledge that but still, generally, I believe this is true. Meanwhile, the British seem to enjoy complex twistings and turnings and doublings-back. This is even the case with mystery writers. One of my best loved authors is Reginald Hill, who writes a series about two Yorkshire cops, Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe. Some of his literary references are so high-brow, I haven't a clue what he's talking about, and I occasionally have to drag down my dictionary to define a word I don't think I've ever seen in my life before.

This is the case in spades with Iain Banks. I sometimes think the kind of writing I do is like building little two-bedroom ranch houses. I think, for the most part, they are well crafted. The floors are all level and the plans are well laid out. Sometimes, I even add a bit of carpentry - a whorl here or a scallop there - that I think are particularly eye-catching. Having said that, what Banks does is build word cathedrals. Some of his sentences can go on for a paragraph. His spires soar into the sky. Climb to the top of some of his verbal bell towers at your own risk. Visiting his cathedral, you stumble onto hidden rooms and secret compartments, cleverly disguised behind fireplace mantels. You find elaborately carved altars and breathtaking muraled ceilings. In my little houses, a kitchen is always a kitchen but Banks' rooms are almost never what they, at first, seem to be. And his appealingly quirky characters are the same, either quite hero nor quite anti-hero.

Because I have so fallen for Iain Banks' writing, my mother insisted she wanted to read something he'd written. The only book of his I had here at the time was The Wasp Factory. "Mom," I told her, "I really don't think this will be your cup of tea." But she insisted. She made it to page 20 which contains a paragraph that reads: "...perhaps I would ask for one of those LED alarm radios, though I'm very fond of my old brass alarm clock. Once I tied a wasp to the striking-surface of each of the copper-coloured bells on top, where the little hammer would hit them in the morning when the alarm went off. I always wake up before the alarm goes off, so I got to watch."
She never even got to the part where the main character, 16-year-old Frank, explains that - "two years after I killed Blythe, I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different and more fundamental reasons than I'd disposed of Blythe, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda, more or less on a whim. That's my score to date. Three. I haven't killed anybody for years, and I don't intend to ever again. It was just a stage I was going through."

"I can't read anymore of that book. It's crazy," which was sort of the reaction I thought she'd have and the reaction many Americans, who prefer either/or, definitively white hats or black hats, would most likely have.

Iain Banks also includes some political rants in his books and mostly, those rants don't favor America. He seems to have affection for the America that could be, and is meant to be, but a great deal of disaffection for what America has become under Dubya. Like many foreigners, he seemed hardly able to believe we elected George the second time (a view I hold myself). He isn't much more tolerant of his own country. He once cut up his passport and sent it to 10 Downing Street in protest of Tony Blair's (whom he calls Tony Bliar) slavish following of America into Iraq. (He's since gotten another passport now that Blair is gone). Again, I think many Americans, the majority of whom are apolitical by nature, probably don't appreciate the insertion of politics into their entertainment and the fact that, America is most often criticized may not endear Banks to a wide American readership.

And, lastly, Banks is an avowed atheist and in America, this may be the worst of all sins. We like all of our heroes, from politicians to authors to baseball players, to profess their belief in and love of God (even if they consistently fail to live up to what that God expects of them). We can't quite bring ourselves to take anyone seriously who doesn't accept the One True Way (which may be Christian, Jewish or Muslim so long as it includes an Almighty of some sort).

Anyway, I love his stuff. Flat out love it. Right now, if I won a "Meet Any Famous Person You Choose", contest, it would be Banks hands down. I'd travel quite a distance to go to a Banks book-signing but that's not going to happen. He doesn't tour America and I'm damn sure never going to make it to Scotland. So, in the meantime, I'll just read what he writes and hope I can make a few American converts for him along the way.

My other favorite authors -

David Fulmer, the absolute best of the mystery writers. His books, Chasing the Devil's Tail, Jass, Rampart Street, The Dying Crapshooter's Blues, and The Blue Door are all just wonderful. His latest, The Blue Door, just sold out its first printing and well did it deserve to.

The aforementioned Reginald Hill. Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe are characters to fall in love with. His writing is classy and humorous.

Charles Todd, who writes a series about a Scotland Yard inspector, Inspector Ian Rutledge. Rutledge returned from World War I shell shocked. He underwent treatment prior to returning to Scotland Yard. What no one knows is that he carries guilt, in the form of the spirit of one of his men, whose death he's responsible for, inside his head.

Lee Childs - the Jack Reacher series.

Ian Rankin - back to Scotland with Inspector Rebus, although my favorite of his books, Bleeding Hearts, was about an assassin, Michael Weston.

Peter Robinson featuring Inspector Alan Banks.

Minette Walters - Her latest, The Green Chameleon, was her best.

Lincoln Child - The Special Agent Pendergast series, which are horror mixed with mystery.

Martha Grimes, Elizabeth George, Janet Evanovich, John Sandford, Jonathan Kellerman, Stephen White, Jeffrey Deaver, Lawrence Block (especially the assassin series, I have a thing for assassins and this also includes Stephen Hunter's sniper, Bob Lee Swagger).

Of the oldies, I practically went into mourning when Ed McBain died and I knew there would be no more 87th Precinct books. The same with Trevanian, (died in 2005) who wrote The Eiger Sanction, The Loo Sanction and Shibumi. I like Robert B Parker's Spenser series, especially if you're in the mood for something quick and witty.

Writing

Since I've taken a vow of political celibacy, I've turned my attention to other interests. Had to force myself to do it really in order to stave off a) insanity or b) stroke. While I took my sabbatical, I wrote two novels. I haven't been able to sell the one I'd already written but what the heck, I had a wonderful time writing these last two and I seriously am going to bear down trying to market them.

I didn't even mean to write the second one. The first - Sticks and Carrots - flowed so easily that I wrote 329 pages in approximately six weeks, working every spare minute that I didn't actually have to do something important, like my job. I was at the computer way early in the morning, no later than 3:00 a.m. and late into the night (well, late for me means 10:00). When it was finished, I had the germ of an idea for another book. I thought I'd get down that idea so I didn't forget it and just kept going which meant another approximately 340 pages in another month and a half.

It's ironic that my political disappointments lead to something that turned out to be so much fun.

I am also keeping my hand in with writing columns. I'm writing a weekly piece now for the Logansport Pharos-Tribune. (Anyone interested can go to www.pharostribune.com and put my name in the search box.) Mostly I've stayed away from politics in those columns too and kept with humor and human interest stuff. I truly am determined to break my political addiction.

Indulging in a Whine

* American soldiers killed in Iraq - 4072, includes 39 in March, 52 in April and 7 so far in May

I had to take a breather from this blog because the most fun I get from it is blowing off about politics. Politics has been my life's blood for as long as I can remember. My first published article was about politics; my main writing achievements have come in that area. But a few month's ago, I decided to take a sabbatical from politics. As I've written in other posts, that was mainly due to the presidential election and my anger at how the woman in the race has been treated from the beginning, by both the media and her own party. It was a disillusionment to see that while, race was, if anything, a benefit in running for office, sex was the same old impediment it has always been.

Once again, women were told in so many words that our place was, as always, back there in the back room stuffing envelopes and serving cookies, while we left the important stuff, like actually running for president to the men. Even when we'd worked our butts off all our lives and were scary smart and knew our stuff backwards and forwards and even when that man was young and inexperienced. I mean, he was male so naturally that gave him an automatic head start. Sad to say, even many women feel this way.

If a word that could be remotely construed as racist (or even if it couldn't) was leveled at Barack, the media and the Democratic leadership came roaring to his defense but say anything you like about the female and everyone shrugged it off. The media (and the Democratic party) have been trying to convince Hillary to just give it up and let that nice young man have it for months now, just as we women have always been asked to make the sacrifices for the men. When she was put down, beat up, screwed over - her own party (including many of the women) just sat there and kept their mouths shut.

At that time, I was reading 3-4 newspapers every day, as well as God knows how many political blogs, and the e-mail from my political discussion group. Reading them, my mood swung from furious to depressed and that was about the extent of it - so I decided to bow out, keeping only the narrowest eye on what was going on with the election. I gave up the newspapers and the blogs for the duration.

I discovered that the party I considered mine, the Democrats, is filled with assholes and gutless wonders. We never knew until this particular election just how pathetically incompetent they are. The way we apportion delegates is nothing short of criminal. (If the Dems assigned delegates the way the Republicans do, Hillary would have won the race months ago). But, no, we do it proportionally and in such a twisted manner that you can almost get more delegates by losing than you can by winning. We like caucuses as well as primaries although primaries are straightforward - everyone votes, then count'em - while caucuses bear no relevance whatsoever democracy. We disenfranchise two of the largest states because they moved their primaries ahead of where the Democratic power structure thought they should be. So we piss and moan for years about Florida voters being disenfranchised in 2000, then we do it again - only to ourselves this time.

My own view is that the Democratic leadership (which may be an oxymoron) wants rid of the Clintons because they crave the power for themselves. That makes sense, huh? Let's pitch out the only Democrats who've ever actually proven they can win the White House and leave the party in the cowardly hands of the Pelosis and the Kerrys. Let's not take advantage of the Democrats who have a proven track record on the economy even when the country is tumbling into a recession. I read on the internet (so maybe it's not true) that Donna Brazile said the Dems don't need the working people anymore. The "new" Democratic party is the party of the young and the hip and the affluent. So, that pretty much leaves me out all the way around.

At this point, the Indiana and North Carolina elections are over. Obama won North Carolina easily and Hillary barely won Indiana. The calls for her to do the right thing and get out will be louder than ever and I expect she'll do it sooner rather than later.

I am so discouraged that I may not vote in the presidential election. I can hardly believe I'm saying those words but, there you go. Maybe I'll change my mind, especially if the polls are close in Indiana and it appears that Obama needs my vote, but I've felt so unwanted and unappreciated, my instinct is to say - "the hell with you, Democrats - don't be sending me any begging pleas for money or requests for assistance in elections - call on the people whose butt you kissed during the election". Maybe I won't stay feeling that way. Any Democrat has to be better than the last eight years. Just the statistics about deaths in Iraq prove that. In the meantime, I'm turning my attention to other things. Politics is off my radar screen for a while.