Monday, July 31, 2006

Li Datong Speaks

The latest chapter of the Li Datong and Freezing Point controversy gives us cause to hope. Li Datong himself weighs in, and he's optimistic. I'm reprinting his essay in its entirety — it's short and nicely summarizes the controversy for those who missed it:
A remarkable incident has emboldened mainland Chinese journalists. The government suspended publication of the Bingdian Weekly newspaper supplement this year, provoking unprecedented open protest that received extensive media coverage worldwide. Even more surprisingly, the government, under the pressure of public opinion, allowed Bingdian to resume publication. The editor-in-chief and his deputy were sacked, but the open questioning of the legitimacy of the government's regulation of journalism is bound to have a profound impact.

Foreign observers are prone to associate the incident with other recent crackdowns on China's mass media, and to conclude that journalistic freedom is a hopeless cause on the mainland. There has been no significant change in the government's system of regulating journalism during the almost 30 years of its open-door policy in other areas. On the contrary, it has become more rigorous and covert.

But I still have faith that subtle changes are occurring. For example, a prerequisite for effective control of the media is that those who are controlled should accept the controller's ideology. But today, the Central Propaganda Department struggles to maintain ideological control through internal notices and issuing warnings by telephone - which are widely scorned. More importantly, even the regulators themselves have ceased to believe in obsolete and rigid doctrines. I recently met an official working for a provincial Department of Propaganda and was impressed by his bold and straightforward comments on current affairs.

For their part, producers of news have long since ceased to believe that news should be propaganda. I started my career with China Youth Daily in 1979 and have experienced the whole process of China's opening up and reformation. My generation of Chinese journalists broke from traditional communist ideas about journalism by the mid-1980s, through extensive reading of western journalism. Younger journalists have been exposed to western journalistic ideas from the very beginning of their training. This is a crucial change, and it is the fundamental reason for an increasing number of genuine news items and commentaries in the mainland media today. Market pressure has also been important in pushing the mainland media to embrace change.

Contrary to foreign perceptions, only a handful of publications - for example, People's Daily, Guang Ming Daily, and The Economic Daily -- still rely on government funds. China Central Television depends mainly on its advertising income, with only a symbolic fraction of its massive budget covered by the government.

To be sure, political information remains rigorously controlled. That puts a premium on harmless recreational, entertainment and sports information. This has resulted, in the short run, in an embrace of low journalistic standards. But many metropolitan newspapers that have thrived on such "infotainment" have seen their circulations fall in recent years. Sooner or later, readers will start to buy newspapers that can truly inform them and give voice to their opinions.

In fact, it is such tabloids, responding to market pressure, that have started to take on responsibility as public watchdogs. On many occasions in recent years, they have been the first to break sensitive news.

Thus, even without any change in the current system of regulation, it's become common to see extensive coverage of disasters, judicial abuses and citizens' pursuit of their statutory rights -- along with a questioning of policies from the public perspective.

Such progress is slow and full of frustrations, for it reflects the incremental evolution of the system. But it is nonetheless real progress, indicating the growing influence of the mainland media and pointing to China's becoming a country of "free expression".
Hat-tip to China Digital Times — what would we do without them?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

No words left...

From the AP:
The U.N. Security Council called Sunday for an end to violence in Lebanon and expressed "extreme shock and distress" over Israel's bombing of civilians in the village of Qana which killed 56 people, almost all of them women and children.

But the presidential statement, adopted unanimously by the 15-member council in an emergency session, stopped short of condemning the Israeli airstrike Sunday.

The council said it "strongly deplores this loss of innocent life and the killing of civilians in the present conflict" and called for the council to work without delay to adopt a resolution for a lasting settlement of the crisis....]

...Attempts by Qatar, the only Arab nation on the council, to strengthen language in the statement prolonged discussions late into the evening before the statement was passed.

But U.S. Ambassador John Bolton opposed any condemnation of the attack.

Bolton repeated the American insistence that any statement must address what the U.S. says is the root cause of the conflict — Hezbollah's continued grip on southern Lebanon and its attacks on Israel.

"Our view for quite some time has been and remains that we need to work toward a permanent solution to the problems in the region and that obviously we are converging to try to find a way to reach that solution," Bolton said.

In the three weeks since fighting began, the Security Council's only response has been a weak statement expressing shock and distress at Israel's bombing of a U.N. post on the Lebanon border Tuesday which killed four unarmed U.N. observers.

The United States, Israel's chief ally, has blocked stronger statements because it does not want to press Israel for an immediate cease-fire.
Okay, four words.

Go fuck yourself, Bolton.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Wonderful World of Writer's Market

I'm trying to take a somewhat proactive approach to selling the book I just finished, as opposed to waiting for the second and final established contact that I have not to pan out (I'm really not cynical. Really). For one thing, I think this book might have a shot at selling, unlike...well, unlike just about everything else I've ever written.

So into the breach go I. Specifically, I've started exploring Writer's Market online for potential agents and publishers.

From my explorations thus far, I have learned some interesting things.

1. There are a lot of publishers asking for "Lesbian Fiction"
2. There are a lot of publishers asking for "Christian-themed" work.

Question: does this mean that Christian Lesbian-themed fiction is a slam-dunk?

Here are two of my favorite publishing entries:

Hyacinthe L. Raven, editor


We are a small press, and publish chapbooks and chapbook-sized works. VDP concentrates on helping those who are suicidal and depressed by publishing works of catharsis. All works we publish are dark, painful, anguished. Currently emphasizing scholarly nonfiction, essays and literary criticism.
Give me a few more weeks of searching Writer's Market, Ms. Raven, and I'll be right there with you.

Favorite #2:
Ellora's Cave Publishing

All must be under genre romance. All must have erotic content or author be willing to add sex during editing.

Recent Titles:
Caught!, by Lorie O'Clare
Eden's Curse, by Elisa Adams
Immaculate, by Kate Hill

"Our audience is romance readers who want to read more sex, more detailed sex. They come to us, because we offer not erotica, but Romantica™. Sex with romance, plot, emotion. Remember Ellora's Cave is a Romantica™ site. We publish romance books with an erotic nature. More sex is the motto, but there has to be a storyline--a logical plot and a happy ending."
And whatever you do, don't forget the Romantica™...

One more thing I have learned...

"Glitz" is a genre. Did you know that?

Paging Hyacinthe Raven!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The slaughter continues...

It's very hard for me to comment on what's going on in Lebanon with any kind of equanimity at this point. Clearly the neocons running Bush Adminstration foreign policy see Israel's incursion into Lebanon as a chance to get their war on — as if the ones we've got going in Iraq and Afghanistan weren't enough already.

There are so many commenters out there in the blogosphere who are more knowledgable and eloquent on these topics than I am. Here are a few: Billmon, Larry Johnson and Susan Hu at No Quarter, and of course, Juan Cole. Salon has also been doing consistently solid reporting.

But here is a story that broke my heart.

From the Los Angeles Times, an account of the Lebanese ambulance drivers who in spite of incredible dangers continue to bring comfort to the wounded:
In the burning haze of the missile strike, Qasim Chaalan thought he had died. But piece by piece, he noticed that he was still there, inside the ambulance. He could still feel his body. He opened his eyes, and discovered he could see.

He and the other medics were lucky: They had survived the blow of an Israeli missile. Dazed and slow, one of the men fumbled for the radio and began, "We have an accident…. " He didn't finish the sentence. A second missile smashed with a roar into the ambulance behind them.

Six Red Cross volunteers were wounded in the Sunday attack, and the injured family they were ferrying to safety suffered fresh agonies. A middle-age man lost his leg from the knee down. His mother was partially paralyzed. A little boy's head was hammered by shrapnel.

Perhaps most dangerous of all, the attack blunted the zeal of the band of gonzo ambulance drivers who have doggedly plugged away as Red Cross volunteers. Young men and women with easy grins and a breezy disregard for their own safety, they have remained as the last visible strand of social structure intact after days of Israeli bombardment.
See, this is the thing. I know it's somehow wrong of me to think this way, but I can't help it. Here's a society with a strong cosmopolitan streak, where women are participating alongside men, and I'm rooting for them. My emotions run more strongly because I can identify to a greater degree with these people and what they are trying to achieve. The whole Islamic fundamentalist program? Not so much. As a confirmed secular humanist liberal pinko, I find Islamic extremism frightening and incomprehensible, and as are most fundamentalist religions, based on the oppression of women. So believe me, all historical justifications for these movements aside, I'm not in their corner.

All civilian deaths are a tragedy, but how is it that the American government stands mutely by, supporting the dismemberment of a multi-cultural democracy, weak as it might be, but one where different religious groups, where traditional and modern people are trying to make a go of it, in spite of the weight of history against their success. Isn't that what our government claims to want in the Middle East?

And yet our leadership — and not just the White House, our Congressional leadership as well — stands by while the government of Israel destroys Lebanon, targets a United Nations observation post and continues its project of dismantling the Palestinian Authority on the one hand and punishing the Palestinians when they are unable to bring order to their Bantustan-like territories on the other.

Yeah, I know. I'm an "anti-Semite." And un-American to boot.

Here's more of the LA Times article, because even as it breaks your heart, it moves you to celebrate the incredible bravery and resiliency of the ambulance corps:
They came to a stop on a stretch of battle-pocked roadway in Qana.

The medics favor that spot because the ambulances, with their trademark red crosses emblazoned on the roofs, can be seen clearly from above. They thought it was safe.

They climbed down, removed the patients from the other ambulance and slid them into place. They moved fast; everybody was nervous.

Then the roar and smash of the missiles shattered the summer night. Both ambulances were hit, directly and systematically, by Israeli bombs, the medics said.

Everybody else must be dead, Chaalan remembered thinking as he slowly came to his senses. He called out his first medic's name, and got an answer. He called out the second man's name. Silence. "We lost one man," he thought.

The grandmother had crawled out of the ambulance after the first missile strike, but the medics didn't realize that. There was no way the adults could have survived, the medics decided.

So they grabbed the little boy and took shelter in a nearby basement.

Most of the houses on the street stood empty, abandoned by families who'd heeded Israeli evacuation orders and fled north. More bombings continued to puncture the night.

Huddled in the darkness of the basement, they ran their hands over their own bodies, checking for injuries. The boy's head, full of shrapnel, was bleeding badly. They used T-shirts to bandage his wounds.

Then they waited in the darkness. They managed to get through to the Red Cross station from their cellphones. An hour and a half dragged past.

Finally, Hillal and the other medics made it to the scene. "It was a disaster," he said.

"The cars had exploded all over the place. There was one man so badly injured we didn't know what to do for him."

At first, the Red Cross had considered whether to stop making ambulance runs altogether, he said. Then the organization thought better of it and recommended that the teams only stop driving south. Hillal didn't know what would happen. He only knew that the ground rules had been blasted away — the medics had been stripped of their sense of safety.

"When we were driving in the ambulance before, we did not feel we are safe 100%," Chaalan said. "But now it's direct on us."

On Monday, medics and the wounded family were all in the hospital. The grandmother lay on her side in a hospital bed, face turned to the sky outside her window.

"Give me something for the pain," she groaned. "I'm going to vomit." A son and grandson were unconscious in the intensive care unit. Her son, whose leg had been struck by the missile, lay under a tangle of tubes. The sheet reached just below the knee. His calf wasn't there anymore.

Chaalan was bleeding from the ear, and stitches bound his chin and a leg. He needed a few more days to recover, but he insisted on going home.

He peeled off his bandages before stopping by to kiss his mother.

And then he was back at the Red Cross station, padding around in a Las Vegas T-shirt, insisting that he was ready to get back to work.

"I prefer to die when I'm helping people," he said. "Not when I'm hiding."
Here is a link to the International Red Cross' efforts in Lebanon. You can find a link to donate, as well as a link to the Lebanese Red Cross Society. The Lebanese Red Cross posts a bank account number for donations but isn't clear about how to actually donate. You can however donate through the ICRC and earmark your donation for Lebanon, if you are moved to do so.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

"It Goes to Eleven"

A story I missed last month but stumbled onto thanks to China Digital Times: "China Rock's Troubled Renaissance." It's an interesting roundup of the state of China's rock scene, including the recent problematic launch of Rolling Stone in the PRC. An excerpt:
In many ways, the rock scene in China has never been healthier. Beijing has loosened up considerably toward big rock concerts. A dozen or so rock stars have become successful even by Western standards. Big rock concerts are now an established part of Chinese life. But most of the young could-be indie rock stars of tomorrow still face an uphill climb. Even though Beijing has backed off, there is still a lingering political prejudice against the messages and sounds of many rock bands. Culture czars still censor lyrics and song lists and keep TV and radio play to a bare minimum. And the industry—the state broadcast media and the largely private producers and record companies that support the music—has shown a marked propensity to promote catchy pop music rather than the often discordant sounds of genuine rock bands. After all, they say, that’s what the majority of listeners wants.

The result is that many young rockers intent on keeping their artistic freedom have to keep to the so-called underground rock scene—a day-to-day existence playing in clubs and low-budget rockfests and posting their songs for free download over the Internet. Although underground rock is where the most vital music is being played, these bands find it hard to connect to many young people, say local critics, in part because they can’t reach a wider audience. (Rolling Stone, ironically, is the kind of thing that may have helped propel smaller rock bands into the mainstream.) “Rock in China has evolved into a sort of space of nonmainstream freedom,” Cui told NEWSWEEK in an interview last fall. “But many bands still feel they have to trade off the criticisms and doubts [in their music] for the sake of bigger opportunity, when that should be the very basis for their commercial success. Authorities realize that there’s more to rock that they can use to their advantage than there is that threatens them.”
As an example of how the China rock scene has matured, they now have sleazy promoters of their very own:
Perhaps the reason governments are so willing to tolerate rock is because pop-minded promoters are now doing the job that the Communist Party apparatus used to do. Stadium shows still tend to be tightly controlled affairs. A case in point: the three-day rock gala just this past weekend in the blue-collar northeastern city of Shenyang, staged to mark the 20th anniversary, was a disaster for attendees and performers alike. Cui helped pick the lineup, which paired representatives among the old guard—Cui, progressive rock pioneers Tang Dynasty, and soft rock pretty boy Wang Feng—with the some of the hottest young prospects of Chinese electro, metal, emocore, grunge and Britpop. Yet the local promoter did not plug the newer bands in the promotions and paid them meager wages. The postpunk foursome Subs, reigning darlings of the Beijing club scene, got $62.50 a member to play, plus a hard-seat train trip up (others, including ska-punk giants Reflector, balked at the same deal). Tickets carried a warning to concertgoers not to stand during the show. Opening the fest, Subs front woman Kang Mao complained: “Today is a holiday for rockers, but the sad thing is, you’re all sitting down. In my mind, rock is music for standing up!” The venue only held 2,000 people, so local promoters jacked up day passes to $48 and up—pricey for teenagers anywhere, particularly in China. The crowd peaked at just barely over half full for the last act (Cui). Due to a dispute over video rights right afterward, they said, the promoter seized Cui’s sound equipment and withheld his plane ticket. “It used to be government controlling us,” says Reflector bassist Tian Jianhua. “Now it’s these [expletives deleted] promoters.”
We can relate, dude.

Last year I wrote about my friend Paul and our small role in bringing decadent Western rock and the dreaded "disco dance" to Beijing in 1979. You can read about that here.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Comment Issues

I've had reports from several people that the comments aren't working or are timing out over the last week or so. I've tried testing, and it's worked for me, so I have no explanation.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Same as it ever was...

Tonight I went to a Spanish wine tasting. Unlike a lot of tastings I've been to in LA, where the portions are small, the wines are few, and the whole thing is fairly controlled, no doubt due to both cost and liability concerns, this one was kind of a bachanal. I'm kicking myself for not taking notes, but who knew there would be all this wine that wasn't on the info sheet? Barrel tastings, single bottle samples and lots and lots of wine, poured primarily by representatives from the wineries in Spain, some of whom didn't speak English, all of whom had those charming Castillan accents, so different from the west coast Mexican Spanish I grew up with (which I like very much - don't get me wrong!). Oh, and it was only fifteen bucks for more wine than even I could possibly drink, and snacks. Great event.

It was good timing for me, because I'd had a kind of weird day. Because I don't blog about work (why would I? I'm there 45 plus hours a week as it is - why would I want to dwell on it any further?), I won't get into the weird employee situation I'm going to have to deal with tomorrow. I'd just gotten a project out, which felt good. I'd also just gotten one of the expected rejections I mentioned earlier. But I couldn't really feel too bad about that. Like I said, I'd expected it. And the person on the other end is somebody who is so much more gracious, friendly and enthusiastic than most in her position that she always manages to soften the blow.

The rejection went something like this: very enjoyable, characterization very good, writing solid. Unfortunately, the imprint in question is "incredibly" commercial, and what I wrote, well, just isn't so much.

You know, I always have this problem. I start out thinking I'm writing something commercial or silly or trashy or what have you, and it never quite turns out the way that I thought it would.

The gracious editor concluded by saying that there are lots of other imprints out there, and that she hoped I would be able to place this with someone else.

Me, not being quite as bashful as I used to be, now that I'm in my gut-spreading middle ages, wrote back with a hearty "thank you" and an additional, "hey, if you've got any suggestions regarding more appropriate imprints, would love to hear them."

So right now, I have one more easy contact, and if that doesn't pan out, I'm going to have to go through the hard work of querying and pitching and trying to sell this thing.


I have to do it, I know. And I need to start something new.

Right now, my mind is turning towards China. Weird how that works. For all the problems, I can go there and be stimulated. I'm never bored. I have friends there, I make new ones easily.

Not that I don't have friends here. I have plenty. Family as well. I love them dearly. I love my little house, by the beach in Venice. I'm sitting here on my couch, my cat sprawled out, purring next to me, staring at the rice paper shades, the framed Chinese posters on the wall. It's generally very quiet here, and I love that. Most mornings, aside from the asshole motorcyclist who guns it past my house, every morning at 8:30, mostly what I hear are birds, and a few barking dogs. I so enjoy walking around my neighborhood, seeing the strange little houses, with their idiosyncratic details. I am a Californian, and I love it here.

But these last six years have been hard. I've had called into question every assumption I've ever made about my country, and it's not like I was particularly naive to begin with. But every day brings a new outrage. This latest, watching the destruction of Lebanon, at times feels like more than I can bear. I feel so helpless. I can't do anything about it. I grasp the possibilities of how this might fit into larger global strategies, how it's all about Syria, or Iran, or both, and how Israel is acting as America's surrogate, or how perhaps America is doing Israel's bidding, and let's not forget the House of Saud, here, how any lip-service the current Administration has ever given the notion of Middle Eastern democracy is clearly nothing more than that...

Well, yeah. Whatever. There's nothing I can do about it, other than adding my little drop of opinion, of objection, to the cosmic idea pool.

See, that's part of the attraction of China. No matter how fucked up the government is, no matter what heinous and horrible stuff they do - hey, it's not my problem! It's not happening in my name, and I don't have to feel responsible for it.

By the way, this book I just wrote, in addition to being set partly in China, also features the Iraq war and Christian mega-churches. You don't think that's a problem, do you?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

No Moral Equivalence

Americans Evacuating Lebanon

From AFP:
US Ambassador John Bolton said there was no moral equivalence between the civilian casualties from the Israeli raids in Lebanon and those killed in Israel from "malicious terrorist acts".

Asked to comment on the deaths in an Israeli air strike of eight Canadian citizens in southern Lebanon Sunday, he said: "it is a matter of great concern to us ...that these civilian deaths are occurring. It's a tragedy."

"I think it would be a mistake to ascribe moral equivalence to civilians who die as the direct result of malicious terrorist acts," he added, while defending as "self-defense" Israel's military action, which has had "the tragic and unfortunate consequence of civilian deaths".

The eight dead Canadians were a Lebanese-Canadian couple, their four children, his mother and an uncle, said relatives in Montreal.

The Montreal pharmacist and his family had arrived in Lebanon 10 days earlier for a vacation in his parents' home village and to introduce his children to relatives, they said.

Three of his Lebanese relatives died too, a family member told AFP.

"It's simply not the same thing to say that it's the same act to deliberately target innocent civilians, to desire their deaths, to fire rockets and use explosive devices or kidnapping versus the sad and highly unfortunate consequences of self-defense," Bolton noted.

The overall civilian death toll from the Israeli onslaught in Lebanon since last Wednesday reached 195, in addition to 12 soldiers, officials said. Twenty-four Israelis have also been killed since fighting began last Wednesday, including 12 civilians in a barrage of Hezbollah rocket fire across the border.
With 195 Lebanese civilians dead to Israel's 12, what must the proportion be, for those deaths to be considered as morally repugnant as Israel's losses?

If the United States government wanted to demonstrate that it doesn't regard Arab lives as all that important, it could hardly have done a better job than by giving Israel a carte blanche to continue its bombing campaign against Lebanon and having its officials utter crap like Bolton's.

Sure, condemn Hezbollah. They are worthy of condemnation. But the sheer idiocy of standing by without a word of criticism while Israel bombs Lebanon, the Bush Administration's "success story" in its Middle Eastern "democratization" project, back into the civil war from which it only recently emerged, can scarcely be overstated.

I've heard the counter-argument. Hezbollah fires rockets into Israeli territory. Israel has the right to defend itself. But as Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen writes:
The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake. It is an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable, but the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now. Israel fights Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south, but its most formidable enemy is history itself.

This is why the Israeli-Arab war, now transformed into the Israeli-Muslim war (Iran is not an Arab state), persists and widens. It is why the conflict mutates and festers. It is why Israel is now fighting an organization, Hezbollah, that did not exist 30 years ago and why Hezbollah is being supported by a nation, Iran, that was once a tacit ally of Israel's. The underlying, subterranean hatred of the Jewish state in the Islamic world just keeps bubbling to the surface. The leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and some other Arab countries may condemn Hezbollah, but I doubt the proverbial man in their street shares that view.

There is no point in condemning Hezbollah. Zealots are not amenable to reason. And there's not much point, either, in condemning Hamas. It is a fetid, anti-Semitic outfit whose organizing principle is hatred of Israel. There is, though, a point in cautioning Israel to exercise restraint -- not for the sake of its enemies but for itself. Whatever happens, Israel must not use its military might to win back what it has already chosen to lose: the buffer zone in southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip itself...
That would put Israel smack back to where it was, subjugating a restless, angry population and having the world look on as it committed the inevitable sins of an occupying power. The smart choice is to pull back to defensible -- but hardly impervious -- borders. That includes getting out of most of the West Bank -- and waiting (and hoping) that history will get distracted and move on to something else.
Well, it seems that instead, Israel has chosen to wave the red flag at the big bull of history, and our leadership, in thrall to PNAC and AIPAC, is content to play the role of rodeo clown.

The little girls in the photo (from Reuters) are American citizens, some of the 25,000 Americans living or visiting Lebanon. I have to wonder, at the end of this, will there be a country in the Middle East where Americans will be welcomed as guests?

UPDATE: I'm reading an interesting article about Hezbollah - a more nuanced group than you might expect. That's not an endorsement, by the way!



Okay, putting aside all of the big issues - you know, war and peace, Constitutional crisis, national security, global warming...

This is just embarrassing.

This is our President, sneaking up on the German Chancellor, giving her a "back-rub" like that creepy guy in the office you always tried to avoid, back in the days before sexual harrassment policies made that kind of behavior so very uncool.

Now excuse me while I go wash out my eyes with bleach.

(you can find photos and video of the incident all over the web; this particular version comes from Josh Marshall)

Monday, July 17, 2006


Here's my problem: finishing things. Not actually finishing them. But figuring what to do after I've typed "the end."

I'm not even talking so much about trying to pitch and sell them, though it must be said that I pretty much suck at that. It's figuring out what to do next. What to write. Some people have a list of projects they'd like to do. I have a writing buddy (and she knows who she is) who's just a machine - a shark - she lives to write, generally on three or four projects at once, with a whole string of projects piled up behind the ones she's working on like box cars on a very long freight train. Not me. I tend to obsess on one project, even to the extent where the original idea spawns sequels, and I just have to keep writing it till it burns itself out.

So when I finish something, it's kind of a drag, because I really don't know what to do next. After finishing my latest project, something that at times I thought was costing me way too many brain cells, I thought, well, maybe I'll try something commercial and in a clearly recognizable genre. A Hollywood murder mystery! There's a world I know. The Hollywood part, I mean. Really.

Er, well, anyway, I've made a stab at it. Got about three pages in. And I couldn't be less interested. I tell myself, I always find it rough going in the early pages. I really don't feel like doing it. I force myself to, because eventually, when I've put enough time in, the story takes shape in my head, the energy I've put into it turns the engine over and the thing starts going down the road.

But at the beginning, I'm just pushing a dead car.

I just read an interview with T. Jefferson Parker, who if you haven't heard of him is a well-known mystery/suspense author. A good writer too. Some of the stuff he said really resonated with me:
For me the starting place is some kind of internal atmosphere that I want to understand. A mood. Then, I find a character who will fit that mood and call him a hero. As soon as you give your hero a goal and impediments to the goal, you've got a story going. Most people don't realize how much of a novel is simply made up as the writer goes along. You hit at the plate. Sure, I've got an idea where I'm going. I know the general shape I want. But getting there is the novel. When I'm done, it's always different than I expected. It always surprises me a little.
So, okay. A mood. An internal atmosphere. What do I want to understand, right now?

Lately I've been writing a lot about trauma and politics. About how trauma isn't something that just goes away by the next chapter, how instead it reverberates through a person's life. As for the politics? Well, I've always been obsessed by politics, and so-called "big" issues. Which is not to say that my understanding of such things is necessarily sophisticated or informed. As an example, the first long project I ever tried to write, oh so many years ago, was about malls. I only vaguely understood the forces malls represented. I just knew that the conformity of them, the way they colonized small businesses and open spaces, really freaked me out.

Something else Parker said that was even more on the nose for me:
"I guess my main writer's block is early on, before I've started. It's figuring out what to write about."
At the moment, I don't know what's next. I've been posting a little more regularly on the blog, because it's something to do, and it's a way to take my frustration, anger and sense of being overwhelmed and made helpless by current events, and turn them into something, even if that something is only a half-assed rant. I don't think that I am that great at commentary or essay-writing or anything very analytic or academic, to be honest. There are so many great commenters out there in the blogosphere who are way more adept than I will ever be at that sort of thing (rather than naming them here, just check out my blog roll. You'll figure it out). I think instead that I have some small knack for turning isues into fiction. Of expressing dilemmas through characters. I'm not going to claim to be a genius at that either, but I know how to write dialog and compact narrative, anyway.

So here I am. I just finished a draft of a book that was about a lot of things that really piss me off (and a few things I love). Right now, it's out to a couple of places, which means I am preparing myself for the likely rejection that will follow (cynical? me?). I'll probably have a lot of business stuff to do if I'm serious about shopping this book (assuming that my easy contacts don't play out), and that in itself is a big job. But what's more important to me is figuring out what I'm going to write next. What's that mood I want to express? What's that issue that's pissing me off? What's the idea that's the grit in the oyster?

Right now, I really don't know. I'd like to think that it will come to me, eventually, but I know that waiting for inspiration is generally a form of procrastination. At some point, I'll just have to decide. Put the metaphoric gun to my head, sit down and get to work.

For now, join me in a margarita?

Time for a New Tinfoil Hat

Because when moderate, restrained sorts of bloggers like Steve Clemons speculate that an attack on US citizens being evacuated from Beirut by cruise ship might be used to provoke greater American involvement in a Middle Eastern regional war...well, the one I've got obviously has a few holes in it:
Bill Kristol is not the only one who wants America dragged into a worsening conflagration in the Middle East.

Militants who want to test American resolve and further bolster their legitimacy in the eyes of a frightened, frustrated, and weary public may want to trigger the military involvement of the United States on another front in the Middle East.

Now comes the news that the U.S. is going to evacuate Americans caught in the crossfire in Lebanon by cruise ship on Tuesday.

I don't believe that the neocons would ever try to sabotage our rescue of Americans via a cruise liner. That would be too cynical of me -- and they are ideas people, not military practitioners.

But there are players on all sides of this conflict that may find a floating, slow, and poorly defended elephant of a ship too tempting of a target. Real or contrived, any potential attack would look like a Hezbollah attack.
Pass the Reynolds Wrap, please...

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Self-propelled Independence

I'm sitting on my couch, still sweating a little at 11:15 pm. It's been really hot here in Southern California the last few days, humid as well, even in Venice and Santa Monica, where there are very few days you'd even think about turning on an air conditioner. Of course, even if I thought about it, I don't have one, so it's as many open windows and doors as possible and a couple of fans.

I might also be sweating because in the category of, "what was I thinking?" I decided to ride my new bicycle to an afternoon barbecue a few miles away. I bought the bike last weekend, as a part of my "Operation Lose This Gut" campaign. I really prefer to walk over just about any form of transportation, but there are times when walking just takes too long, and I still don't want to drive. The planet is heating up, the Middle East is in flames, and I have this stupid, middle-aged spread that I want gone by the next time I take a vacation that involves a bathing suit.

The downside to riding a bike in LA is that you have to deal with all the cars, and what can I say, cars scare me. As I got dressed, I pondered the likelihood of ending up in an emergency room courtesy of some SUV driver on his/her cellphone. Still, I put on my shoes and headed off.

It's not precisely true that you never forget how to ride a bike. I hadn't ridden one regularly since junior high, and there were plenty of things about it that I'd forgotten. Like, shifting. And going over rough road, and down hills.

What I did remember was the sense of freedom a bike had given me, back when I was too young to drive. Growing up in San Diego, where things are pretty spread out, having a bike meant that you could suddenly get where you wanted to go, without parents driving you there. It meant freedom, and independence. I spent one memorable summer, biking from the apartment where we were living (a Hawaiian Tiki fantasy, with great sweeping wood roofs shaped like giant outriggers, four foot tall Tiki masks and torches) down to Ocean Beach to hang out with friends. Ocean Beach was not precisely reputable, in those days. It was where the "hippies" were, the remnants of hippy culture, anyway. There was an ice cream place called "Father Nature's" and a head shop called "The Black." Going into The Black felt like the height of rebellion to little straight-laced me. Bongs! Rolling papers! Black light posters! Not like I was smoking pot or anything, or even listening to music much more radical than Cat Stevens, but the contact high of illicit culture was still pretty powerful.

Anyway, I plotted out what seemed like the most logical and least car-infested route to the barbecue and set off. It took me about 40 minutes or so. On the way over I decided that I needed to buy some additional bike accessories: a rear-view mirror for my helmet, a very loud horn, and gloves, because I sweated so much that the handlebar grips got slippery. It really was hot out. Besides, I sweat a lot. It's just one of those things I've learned to accept about myself. Sweat happens.

But it was interesting, how empty the streets seemed at times. How quiet. Every now and then I'd see another cyclist pass by, on the opposite side of the street. It was like, the streets were actually ours, the motorists who whizzed past us did not really possess them in the same way that we did, with the hard-won knowledge of the road's actual topography, the bumps and cracks and subtle hills. It was a variation of the sense I've always had when I walk someplace, that I know this landscape in a way that someone driving through it never will.

The barbecue was fun, the ride home much easier than the ride there, as it was cooler out and mostly downhill.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Third Rail

From Glenn Greenwald comes the news that William Kristol has come right out and explicitly stated the premise that has always underlain the Neocon foreign policy. In Greenwald's words:
that the U.S. should view the threats to Israel as threats to the U.S., because the enemy is the same, and should join Israel in the destruction of these enemies. Kristol actually argues that President Bush should immediately abandon the G-8 summit in Russia and fly to Jerusalem in order to stand by Israel, in "our" new war, which should be waged against Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, for starters.
In case you think Greenwald might be overstating Kristol's argument, here's a link to Kristol's column.

Look, I don't want to write about the Middle East. I'm not that knowledgable about Middle Eastern history and culture. I am made very uncomfortable by the religious fundamentalism that seems to drive so many of the actors there - not just the "Islamofascists" but Israel's messianic settlers and our own Rapture-obsessed wingnuts. But if the war in Iraq is a tragedy, we need to come up with some new adjectives for what's happening now.

"Brave little Israel" is bombing central Beirut, targeting Lebanon's infrastructure and threatening to smash that country's fragile democracy along with its bridges, harbors and airports. Oh, and its children. Collateral damage, right?

And now the Neocons are finally saying what they've thought all along: it's time for a region-wide, Middle Eastern war to "settle" things, once and for all, and in Israel's favor.

Israel is the "third rail" of American public discourse. If you criticize Israel, you're labeled an "anti-Semite" - or, if you happen to be a "Semite," a "self-hating Jew." Few of our politicians are willing to confront Israel on its treatment of the Palestians or suggest that American foreign policy might be a little more evenhanded in how it addresses the situation. Now, even as Israel attacks Lebanon, a country touted as a "success story" in this Administration's Middle Eastern "democracy project," our President says nothing but the usual rhetoric about how Israel has the right to defend itself. And before anyone lectures me on Hezbollah rockets launched into Israeli territory, let me repeat what others have said: Lebanon does not deserve to suffer for Hezbollah's sins. And that deliberately sticking one's hand into a hornet's nest does not, to me, constitute a particularly effective defense.

I for one do not think that a majority of Americans are willing to fight a region-wide Middle Eastern war on the behalf of Israel and our own military/industrial complex. Moreover, Israel's national interests are not the same as America's. If our leaders are not willing to say so, then those of us who share these sentiments must.

Yes, I know. Israel is our best friend in the Middle East. A democracy in a region of corrupt authoritarian regimes, surrounded on all sides by enemies. But Israel has become the tail that wags the dog of American policy towards the Middle East. And we can see how well that's worked, in recent years...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Definition of Madness

I'd like to call your attention to this excellent analysis of the crisis in Lebanon and US policy as it relates to Israel in general. Ray Close is a former CIA analyst in the Near East division, and member of the organization, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. Here's a part of what he has to say:
One of the definitions of madness is the repetition countless times of the same action, always expecting a different result. For more than half a century, the Israelis have been applying the tactic of massively disproportionate retaliation to every provocative act of resistance attempted by the Palestinians, expecting every time that this would bring peace and security to all the people of the Holy Land. Every single time they have done this this, it has backfired. Every single time. The national philosophy (it is really deeper and more significant that just a military tactic) that underlies this devotion to massive over-reaction, and particularly its corollary, collective punishment, is obviously and demonstrably foolish and futile. It does not intimidate or deter the Palestinians, and it never will. It hardens their determination to resist and to defy. I don’t care whether you consider the Palestinians to be terrorists or common criminals or freedom fighters or national resistance heroes. If you are an intelligent and sensitive human being, you learn from your past mistakes and you make a rational decision to try something different. The Israeli leadership for all these many generations has been incapable of performing that really rather simple mental and moral exercise.
Though I lack Mr. Close's expertise (to put it mildly), I couldn't agree more with his analysis. He tells it like it is, with a candor and clarity rare in discussions about the US and its relationship to Israel. Go read the rest.

Here's my two cents: that the US is standing by while Israel bombs Lebanon's airport, infrastructure and civilian population is unconscionable. This needs to be condemned in no uncertain terms, rather than justified using the same old, "Israel has the right to defend itself" rhetoric. Defend itself? Two kidnapped soldiers is a threat to national existence?

An armed Hizbollah is a bad actor and a threat to Lebanon's fragile nationhood. But Israel's disproportionate response is simply criminal.

Of course, the so-called "Bush Doctrine" was a page right out of the Israeli playbook, so I'm not execting condemnation from those quarters any time soon.

A Note

A commenter asked why I only posted a link to the news about Hao Wu and offered no further elaboration, given the number of posts up here and at TPD and elsewhere about his situation. I explained that I had gotten the news right as I should have been leaving for work, and that was all I had time to do. I was gone all day yesterday and am just now back at home, on my couch, with my laptop competing for space on my lap with a cat.

But also, I don't really have that much to say at this point. I don't have any information or particular insight to offer. I am just very, very happy for Hao and his family.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Hao Wu Released!

More information on Free Hao Wu.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Thumbs Up

Thumbs Up
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

Xiamen, China, May 2006

My Soldier

Last month, I wrote about a wrenching Washington Post article about the appalling lack of basic supplies for American troops in Iraq and the tragic consequences. In addition to this lengthy feature article, the journalist and the father she profiled participated in an online chat at the Post. Brian Hart, the father of a soldier who died after being shot riding in an unarmored Humvee, emphasized that American soldiers still needed support, and not just slapping a yellow "Support the troops!" magnet on your SUV bumper either. He recommended several blogs that gave information on how you really could support the troops.

Anyone who knows me or who has followed my blog for any length of time knows that I am utterly opposed to the Iraq war, that I think it is an appalling waste of lives, American and Iraqi, and quite possibly the biggest strategic blunder in the history of American foreign policy. It is a moral travesty, one of many committed by an Administration whose corruption and lust for power seem to have no limits.

But I was touched by this father's plea. I started exploring the blogs he mentioned. In some ways, it was a disturbing trip. This was just a day or so after the two kidnapped US soldiers had been found, tortured and killed, their bodies booby-trapped with explosives. The front-page poster on one of the blogs, a woman (a soldier's wife? a soldier's mother? I don't know), began her post, "Now can we kill them?" or words along those lines. The level of violent anger, of hatred she expressed was so white-hot that I couldn't get through the post. I wanted to respond, to say something about how sorry I was, but didn't she get it yet? That sentiments like hers were a big part of what was fueling this wretched situation? Now, in light of revelations that those soldiers' horrific deaths may have been to avenge the rape and murder of an Iraqi teen and her family, it's all too easy to discern the pattern, the vicious cycle of hatred, barbarism and revenge.

But. And yet. The soldiers who are fighting this war are fighting in my name as an American, whether I want them to or not. They are frequently living in miserable conditions, under constant threat, in a war with no boundaries, no battle-lines, no clear-cut enemies and few certain friends.

So I found a website called Soldiers' Angels, where you can "adopt" a soldier who may not have a good support system at home and could use letters and care packages and the like.

I signed up. Committed to writing a letter a week and sending a care package every month or so. Shortly after filling out the forms, I received an email back from the organization with a message from "my" soldier. I won't tell you his name or where he is; we are supposed to keep that information private. But here's a part of what he wrote:
I don’t really need much but we don’t really have a lot of food and hygiene products. I have lost almost 30 pounds because of not eating that much. We have mre's but you can only take so much before you get sick of eating them."
The heat, he added, is almost unbearable.

I got a letter out right away and the first care package two days later. Of course it's hard to know what the reality is of a situation that I can't verify. I could be getting a line of b.s., who knows? But I assume he's telling the truth. And I wonder, how can the wealthiest country in the world have soldiers in a war zone who do not have enough to eat? We are not talking about the days of trench warfare here, with people cut off from supply lines and having to live out of cans because there's no way to get them other food. Particularly when KBR and friends have constructed permanent bases, small towns with Pizza Huts and ice cream stands and taco bars, how is it that guys elsewhere are only getting MREs?

I may never know. I'm told not to expect to hear back from my soldier. I may, I may not.

It was an odd feeling, packing up a box of stuff for a guy I've never met and know virtually nothing about. I sent a tub of cookies, packages of beef jerkey and trail mix, some sunscreen, toothpaste, dried fruit, paperbacks, a Sudoko book. I've got another half-full bag for the next package. I mean, how can you not want to send food to a guy who's lost thirty pounds, who's trying to survive getting shot at in 140 degree heat?

Writing letters to a person you don't know is odd as well. The organization asks that you keep the letters positive, "light" - the last thing these guys need is bad news from someone who is supposed to help support them. I would never write about my own feelings regarding this war. He doesn't need to hear that from me, I figure. But I'm not going to indulge in a bunch of "hero" rhetoric either. I can't. I just can't. Instead I talk about, well, pretty trivial stuff. The weather. The San Diego Padres winning season. Stuff like that. I wish him and his buddies well, and tell him I'll be writing again soon.

I went to mail my second card the other day. There's a post office station in a sundries store close to where I work. It's run by Korean ladies. The older one is generally pretty brusque; the younger, sort of softer and shy. She doesn't speak much English. The younger woman was there the day I went to mail the letter. I had to buy a book of stamps too, and I figured, I'd just use one of those. But the clerk, seeing that this was going overseas, to a military post office box, selected a stamp for me. A Purple Heart stamp.

Seeing this, I just wanted to cry. Thinking about this young man, a stranger, over there, the appalling, horrific waste of it all, it fills me with despair.

Tomorrow or Tuesday, I will buy a couple of things for the second care package, to supplement the crackers and beef jerky and trailmix I already have. Some razors and deodorant, maybe, and toothbrushes. And another tub of cookies. The troops really like cookies, I'm told.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Hao Wu article in Wall Street Journal

Journalist Geoffrey Fowler has written an in-depth report on Hao's situation, linking it with the larger issues of artistic freedom and the phenomena I like to call "the invisible line" — the line between what is acceptable and what is not, that you won't see until you accidently cross it:
Mr. Wu's story illustrates how blurry the boundaries of personal freedom have become in China. In surprising ways, China today is far more liberal than it was in the years following the 1989 student protests in Tiananmen Square. In an old Beijing munitions factory that's now full of galleries, artists sell sculptures lampooning Mao Zedong and depicting Tiananmen Square covered with plastic army figures. The country has its own feed of MTV, encourages students to travel overseas and allows a small but growing group of human rights lawyers to practice within its legal system.

Yet Chinese authorities have also moved aggressively in recent years to censor the Internet, suppress political protests and stifle the press. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists counts 34 Chinese journalists behind bars at present, including 16 Internet writers. Over the past year, the government has closed or tightened control over several newspapers, Internet blogs and publications that have made a name for themselves writing about corruption and other sensitive topics. Last Friday, the official Xinhua news agency announced that China would further tighten controls on blogs and search engines to "purify the environment" by blocking "illegal and unhealthy information."

The government's reluctance to spell out precisely what is and isn't forbidden has created a gray area. Most Chinese censor themselves amid the uncertainty and vague intimidation. Elite artists, writers and filmmakers who push the boundaries do so with scant legal security.
The irony with Hao's case, as has been often remarked, is that Hao did not consider his work political and believed that with time, the Chinese government would continue to evolve into a more democratic, representative system, counseling patience as opposed to confrontation.
Friends say Mr. Wu felt he was protected by his own journalistic standards. "He really believed that because he himself was being objective about all of this, that he wasn't doing any harm. He wasn't supporting any particular group that China has a problem with -- he was just filming their views," says a Western friend who has known Mr. Wu since the filmmaker arrived in Beijing.
Hao even joked about this on his blog, writing:
I'll gel my hair and wear my Banana Republic sports jacket every time I go filming. And I'll tell the cops I'm from the "foreign media". That should get them to show some respect. :)
Free Hao Wu has more excerpts from the article posted, should this link stop working. Free Hao Wu also reminds us about what we can do for Hao — write your elected representatives, sign the petition and put up a blog badge if you haven't already. With the publication of this article, it strikes me that now would be a very good time to renew the letter-writing campaign. I plan on doing so and including a copy of this very fine piece.

Kudos to Geoffrey Fowler for doing such a thorough job and to the WSJ for publishing it on their front page.

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Cleaning out my closet

Damn, I have a lot of T-shirts. Some cool ones too. A psychedelic Che, another celebrating the revolutionary women of Nicaragua. A stretched-out, cheap tee depicting John Paul II in his Pope-mobile, with the caption, "Welcome, Holy Father!" Souvenirs from political events. "The Congressional Black Caucus Speaks for Me!" from post-election 2000. A Shadow Convention shirt. A couple of Jerry Brown items. Ancient rock n' roll T-shirts: "The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads," from a live show at UCLA in 1978. Various "X" and "Clash" tour shirts.

And baseball. I have an entire drawer full of San Diego Padres T-shirts (plus one from the minor league Lansing Lug-nuts). Some Charger shirts as well, one of which I'm wearing right now, a reprint of a Union-Tribune photo of Natrone Means after the winning game which sent the Chargers to the Superbowl.

I do this closet thing every now and again when I buy new clothes. It's like, buy something new, toss something old.

But there are things in my closet I never wear that I still won't throw away. Weird, funky vintage clothing. A red Tiki patterned blazer. An "Arctic" Hawaiian style shirt, with igloos and polar bears. Stuff I used to wear, before I had a corporate job and a corporate title. Stuff I'd wear to gigs, back in the band days.

Not that I've exactly gone corporate. My version of corporate tends to be Patagonia, you know, clothes you can sleep in on airplanes. I work in a creative industry, and I could still wear Converse hi-tops if I wanted to. But still...

I miss the days when I could throw on a funky T-shirt and a weird jacket over it, put on some baggie shorts and Converse high-tops. Back when I was playing music and writing and everything I did to earn money was just a day job. Just a way to pay bills until...

Until, you know, the Fame Fairy came and tapped her magic wand on my shoulder.

Okay, I was never completely naive. I didn't want to live on somebody's couch and eat Ramen, right? And I hate being bored. Hate boring jobs. So out of a combination of practicality and necessity, I worked my way up. To the exhaulted mid-level management position in which I find myself today.

Sometimes I wonder if that was due to a failure of imagination as well...a series of compromises. Not really "going for it."

But who knows? I make room in my closet for my Patagonia shirts. And switch Converse for Crocs, not like that's much of a trade-off. I live from tax refund to fall bonus. Plot vacations that I can't exactly afford but crave to satisfy the latent adrenaline junky in my head. Look at my 401K every once in a while and wonder, how much pension will I get? Could I keep this job until I'm eligible for early retirement? Will that make my head explode, or will I get there before I know it?

Two weeks ago, I typed "The End" on my latest book. Today, I really finished it, at least for now, after going through the whole draft and cleaning up a lot of little things, tweaking a sentence here and there. The first three chapters are off with an editor I "met" when I submitted a book to her two years ago. Ultimately, they didn't buy that one, but she left the door open to future projects. We'll see how this one goes over. I'm not exactly optimistic. What I wrote is really on the edge of the genre handled by this particular editor. But we'll see.

In the meantime, I'm exercising as much as I can, trying to lose this stupid gut I've acquired in recent years (too many hours, sitting on my butt, staring at a computer). I'm thinking about what to write next. This latest book came out of an immense well of rage that's been filling up in me over the last six years. You can guess what that might be about. I still have plenty of rage left (is it 2009 yet?). But I don't know if I want to tap it again for my next project. I'm tired of drinking from that well.

Today, I'm going to take a walk to Costco. It's about two miles from here, and I don't feel like driving. The weather's too perfect. I'll drop off some photo negatives to get reproduced, and maybe buy a bottle of wine if I see anything interesting. Whatever I get has to fit into a small backpack, in any case.

And I think I'll put on one of those old T-shirts. One I don't wear to work.