Monday, November 26, 2007

Done...for now...

Some of you know that I've been working on a novel...and working...and working...

I just finished another draft. I sincerely hope this is the last draft, or at least if I have to do another one, it will be because some publisher wants to buy the thing.

It's been a long process. Frustrating, satisfying, exhausting, invigorating. Sometimes all at once.

I'm going to sit with it for a few days — maybe even a few weeks — before I send it off to the agent who requested the rewrites. No guarantees. We'll see. Depending on how that goes, maybe I'll blog about it some day. This agent really changed my perception of what agents do and the passion at least some have for their work — and this particular individual has been a joy to work with, regardless of the outcome.

In the meantime, here is a great piece on how provincial interests frequently trump Beijing's attempts to control environmental problems and conserve energy. It illustrates something I've talked about here on many occasions — the fragmented nature of power in today's China and the challenge of creating a consistent rule of law even as the central government attempts to continue monopolizing political authority. Have a look.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Picket Fences

For the first time in my life, I've had to cross picket lines, and I'm not liking it much. The Writers Guild of America is on strike. There's no threat or expectation that non-Guild members shouldn't cross; it's not that kind of picket line. Yet there is an odd resonance with labor movements past that I hadn't expected. The picketers wear snappy red T-shirts with WGA logos; there are special "strike" editions that I wish I could buy. The signs are good too, especially the 30s style with a lightning bolt ending in a fountain pen and the word "Strike!" superimposed over it. Reminds me of the old RKO logo.

The writers ask for drivers to honk in support. All day long I hear the horns, and when I have to cross the street, I see who is responding: drivers in Prius and MINIs and even BMWs. Toyotas and Focus and all variety of beaters. Truckers in particular blast their air-horns. The writers cheer.

I'm on the writers' side too, and I've honked when I've driven past. How could I not? The writers look like me. If my life had gone a different way, I could have easily been one of them.

Most of the people I work with support the writers as well. We all know what's at stake. As one Guild spokesperson put it, this isn't about the Rich versus the Richer, and there's a reason that truckers are honking in support.

Hollywood creates a lot of wealth, and what's focused on in the popular media are the extremes — the mega-salaries, the superstars, the cartoon excesses. What gets lost in such stereotypes is the reality for most people who work in the Industry. Hollywood creates a lot of decent-paying jobs that allow for reasonable middle-class to upper middle-class lifestyles. That's the bulk of the industry.

I found the following numbers in yesterday's Dead Tree edition of the Los Angeles Times and am thus far unable to find a link, but have a look:
Total paid in DVD/VHS residuals to WGA members in 2006: $56.6 million.

Severance package of Viacom's outsted chief Tom Freston: $60 million

Average production cost (excluding marketing) of studio movie in '06: $65.8 million

Compensation paid to CBS chief Leslie Moonves in 2006: $28.6 million.
Needless to say, it's tough to take management's pleas of poverty seriously when they pay a guy more than the annual total of all residuals paid to the WGA — for fucking up.

The writers' strike is about being fairly compensated in a very lucrative industry. It is about having some small ownership over the fruits of one's labor.

I've watched with increasing dismay, anger and outright horror the economic trends in this country. No less an expert than Warren Buffet feels that there is fundamental unfairness in our current tax structure. And this fundamental unfairness goes well beyond taxes.

We live in an oligarchy masquerading as a democracy. It's a rigged game, designed to funnel money out of the middle class (and upper middle class for that matter) and divert it instead to a handful of very wealthy people. Once you have that much wealth and power concentrated in so few people, it becomes very difficult for "ordinary" peoples' interests to be represented in any meaningful way.

Marx's notion of "wage slavery" seems all too descriptive these days.

I've never been a Marxist, and I believe in capitalism as an efficient mechanism to organize a society. But there's another necessary component, and that is social justice. There are as well values that transcend the marketplace — abstract notions of community that are not always easily quantified. I've never understood why so many social conservatives are market fundamentalists when unfettered capitalism is so destructive to traditional values. There are communal interests that both consist of and transcend the aggregate of individual ones.

So, go Writers Guild of America! Strike a blow for decent wages and the ownership of one's own labors! And let's all hope the strike ends soon. Otherwise we are faced with a season of "reality" shows like Farmer Takes a Wife and Clash of the Choirs.

Really. No one wants to see that.