Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Night & Fog

I still remember the movie though it was a short one by modern standards -- only about a half hour long. It was called "Night and Fog" and it was a chilling tale of how the Third Reich 'disappeared' its political enemies.

In 1941 Hitler issued the "Nacht und Nebel Erlass" (Night and Fog decree) to insure that political enemies, Soviet prisoners and other unwanted folks just vanished without a trace.

To quote the Wikipedia entry on the outcome of the decree:

"First, distinct actions against the German government were made far more difficult, because the exact cause of interment or death, indeed whether or not the event had even occurred; was obscured. It kept the Nazis from being held accountable.

The decree and hidden events afforded the Nazis the ability to act cruelly and unjustly without public decry.

It allowed an across-the-board Silent Veto of International Treaties and Conventions: one cannot apply the limits and terms of humane treatment in war if one cannot locate the victim or discern his destiny."

You folks know where I'm going with this. Our beloved democracy is being razed to the ground by those who swear they are trying to keep us safe. In so doing, they have caused irreperable harm to our way of life and have 'disappeared' both the innocent and the guilty. Are all those who were subject to 'rendition' innocent? Probably not. But if they are guilty, then put them on trial in a legal court of law, not behind closed doors. That has always been America's hallmark, our system of justice. To hold someone in custody for over three years without charges being filed and, in the case of Padilla (an American citizen), without being able to see a lawyer for a good portion of that time, is what I'd expect of a dictatorship. Hitler did it, so did Stalin. Our Rule of Law has always been the standard. Now it's being swept aside for 'our protection.'

Warrantless wiretapping was just one of the by-products of this regime. They're not worried if the wiretapping is legal. The prisoners aren't likely to see the inside of a court room. They just disappear into the night and fog.

It is time to clean house and put elected representatives in our government who understand what it means to be an American. Personally, I don't care if they're Republican, Democrat or whatever. It is time for "We the People" to take back our freedoms and keep ourselves safe from the fanatics both within and without.

If we don't save our democracy, the bad guys will win. And we allowed it to happen.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Back from the Land of the Verbs

I note I've not posted in a very long time. My apologies. I plead writer insanity. The book mentioned in the previous post has zinged its way to the publisher and now I'm regrouping and trying to deal with writer withdrawal. I see heads nodding out there. You guys know what I mean, at least those of you who do this writing thing with some frequently. You new guys will learn quick enough. Writing is a virus. It gets in your blood and replicates. It must be fed.

Right after you hit "Send" or drop the tome into the mailbox, that euphoric flush of victory flows through you. A few doubts linger; maybe you should have removed that cigar-smoking clown in scene four and made him a lawyer instead. You get the picture. The euphoria lasts a couple of days in my case and then cold, hard withdrawal sets in. What to work on next? Mind you, I've just spent 8 months on this book, creating the work in 2/3's of the time I usually spend. I'm emotionally, physically and mentally tired. And I'm already spinning plots for Book 2.

I've forced myself to stay away from 'the work' this last week. It's been penance. I mucked out my office (lots of garbage bags full of stuff), organized my reference materials for the Victorian books and even brought my business finances up to date to file the taxes. And yet, my mind is still screaming like a toddler who spies a big jar of M&M's just out of arm's reach. "Wanna write!" it shouts, kicking its legs and pounding its fists onto the carpet.


I took refuge in Terry Prachett and his Diskworld Series. The books are always sharp, satirical and outright funny. Mr. P. is one of the rare authors I don't feel the need to mentally edit. I'm too engrossed in the story to bitch about how the book opened or why he chose to make a point-of-view shift at that moment in the story. Other authors drive me nuts. Mr. Pratchett entertains me. He keeps me sane and that's saying a great deal. May his life be long, fruitful and full of endless creative wit. Maybe someday I'll have the opportunity to thank him in person.

Next week I will begin work on the rewrite of my first fantasy book and start the "noodling process" on the second book in the Victorian Time Travel/Shapeshifter series. The characters are muttering amongst themselves and I suppose I should sit in on a couple of their strategy sessions before they get too far ahead of me and create a nightmare of a plot.

I've had my rest. It's time to get back to work. I can only stand the screaming toddler for so long.


Friday, October 07, 2005

And The Words Go On

Between all the natural disasters and political upheavals, this writer has kept her nose to the keyboard. Impossible position, by the way. I'm "on deadline" as we writer types like to say, to finish the latest tome. This being the 7th or 8th book I've written (3 in print) I can see the pattern now. I know I've reached a certain stage by my emotional state and my degree of confidence in my writing. For those out there who are writers or are considering joining the craft, here's my timeline:

1) Initial flush of an idea.
2) More fleshing out of original idea.
3) Begin book with worry this isn't going anywhere.
4) Book takes off. The euphoria/rush is unlike anything else except for really excellent chocolate or sex. (Yes, I've run tests on this).
5) Middle of book -- Is this going some place?
6) This so SUCKS! The heroine is lame, the hero is a wimp and where is the bad guy?
7) Okay, maybe this isn't so bad.
8) First draft completed. Sigh, print out manuscript. Geez this thing is long!
9) First edit. Boy does this thing have gaps. Lots of gaps.
9) Nerves set in -- honest concern this thing might stink.
10) More nerves -- really worried this thing might stink.
11) End of first edit. Okay, this is better. Still got some plot holes -- okay, LOTS of plot holes, but parts of this thing are freakin' brilliant.
12) Repeat from #9 through #11 for the next two edits.
13) Send out to critique partners and gnaw fingernails to the knuckles.
13) Manuscript returns. Fix the bad stuff, beam over the good stuff.

Another book done.

However this time there is another step in the mix -- send book to editor. Yes, this time I'm being traditionally published and hence there is an editor (Gwen) in the mix. I'm hoping we can find common ground and make this work fabulous.

Writers live with their own personal demons. We veer from pole to pole in a matter of minutes -- this is the worst thing I've written, this is the best I've ever written. Or as Steven King's wife once put it, "Stop being so *#$@#$ needy!"

We're needy because our characters are. THEY, at least in my world, run the show. They take the story in the direction they want and heaven help you if you fight them. It is their story after all. I'm just the scribe.

And now back to the first edit and the indecision. I like to think that I'm always striving for perfection. No doubt others think all we writers need is really effective prescription medication.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Invoking the Other "I" Word

A previous post mentioned Impeachment, a word I'm still very fond of. This one is about Incompetence. There's been so much of that particular "I" word that even I am astounded. I expect politics to house a few incompetents -- where else would they get jobs? Even revelations about Mr. Brown's resume and lack of disaster planning experience didn't come as a shock. I could be head of FEMA with his qualifications. At least I've participated in disaster training and, at one time, was an EMT.

He wasn't just a Republican problem, either. Democrats gave this guy a rubber stamp when he came up for the job. Apparently, no one asked, "Hey, are we missing a page of your resume? I don't see anything resembling emergency management experience here" or better yet let the guy tell you how he intends to supply an entire city with food/water/security for a week or longer.

Disaster planning requires an inventive mind willing to break the rules -- take the worst case scenario and then find a way to make it more horrific. Then do it again and then yet again. Never assume someone is riding to your rescue. Never assume everything is going to work like you think it is. Assume the very worst and if you're lucky, it won't get that bad.

Sadly, in the case of New Orleans, it did.

Did we learn anything? Hurricane Rita will be the test of that. Let's hope it all works right this time. We've lost too many Americans to that other "I" word as it is.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

American Crossroads

In 2000 Bush took the presidency from Al Gore. Most of those who have studied the election believe that Gore won. If he'd pressed his case, America would have gone in another direction and I can't help but wonder how that would have played out.

9/11 most likely would have happened. Gore might have taken us into Afghanistan. But he wouldn't have taken us into Iraq and a war that has cost us so much. Wonder how much? Go to and see how much the war is costing America and where that money could have been spent on a state by state basis. It's like watching a train wreck.

Gore understood the problems in New Orleans and I believe he would have kept the money in the Corps' budget. Would that have mitigated the disaster? Somewhat. Would the response have been better? I willing to bet it would have. Gore would not have put incompetant buddies in such positions of authority nor would FEMA been solely geared toward terrorist attacks.

Instead America has Mr. Bush who will go down in history as having fundamentally altered the country in ways too sad to contemplate.

But for a moment, let's look to the future.

The recovery of the dead in the south continues. And from our 'leaders' were advised not to play the 'blame game'. And they intend to have hearings (some closed door) to determine what went wrong.

I suggest that the best people to judge what went wrong are American's citizens. WE should hear the facts and make the judgment calls. We should not trust the whitewash and politics that will flow out of Washington. It's obvious there was failure on ALL levels. However, no matter how bad a state or local emergency response plays out, the Feds damn well better know what they're doing.

And so, folks, 2006 & 2008 are looming. I tend to vote Democratic, but have jumped the fence more than once if I felt the candidate on the Republican (or Libertarian) side had more savvy. It's time to set partisan lines aside and vote for candidates who is compentant, intelligent, honest and willing to weigh dissenting views. No more cowboys, no more cronyism.

Use the Bush administration as your benchmark of how bad it can get. Remember the war dead in Iraq and the bodies floating in New Orleans. Demand answers from your legislators and vote for the best person.

America can't handle many more years of stupid government. It's time to show the bums the door.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Please Don't Die in Front of the Cameras - It Ruins the Photo Op

There's been plenty of ink spilled on the Katrina disaster and I would be remiss in not adding mine. It beggered belief to watch it all go wrong from the start. In the wake of the horrors, America is diminished because we let our fellow citizens down. Despite the heroic efforts of the police, fire and EMS, they never had a chance.

I have an 86-year-old mom-in-law. I absolutely adore her. While the disaster was playing out, all I could think of was what it would have been like for her if she couldn't have left New Orleans, too poor to get out when there was time. Though a survivor by nature, I know she would have died. The thought haunts me because others have lost their beloved relatives for reasons that make little sense.

If Homeland Security can't handle a disaster that took days to unfold, one they knew was coming, how in the hell can they handle another 9/11?

The lesson out of this mess? Platitudes and photo ops, news conferences and sound bites don't cut it. If you're incompetent, people die, whether that be in the sands of Iraq or the fetid flood waters in New Orleans.

Or as The New Orleans Times-Picayune wrote:

"We're angry, Mr President, and we'll be angry long after our beloved city and surrounding parishes have been pumped dry.

"Our people deserved rescuing. Many who could have been, were not. That's to the government's shame."

Can I get an "Amen"?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Reno & The War

Just returned from the annual Romance Writers of America conference. Always a big deal. 2500+ women all in one hotel. It's something to experience. The conference was good in many ways. I had the opportunity to sell all the fantasy books I brought with me at the charity booksigning. $60K was raised for literacy. That's cool. And I had the opportunity to reconnect with friends, meet and greet agents and editors and learn a few new tricks.

A couple telling moments during the trip. The first was during the RWA's 25th anniversary awards ceremony. Someone had put together a video montage of images from the 1980's, '90's and 2000's. The crowd would react as they saw fit when an image appeared. When President Clinton's face appeared, the crowd cheered and clapped. Someone behind me shouted "Bring him back!" Shortly thereafter, Pres. Bush II's video clip appeared. The reaction was totally different. Nobody booed, at least no one near me. It was the near silence that caught my notice. No clapping, no cheering. Given that many of the women in that room have children or grandchildren serving in the Middle East and some of those will not come home alive, I'm not surprised.

As a counterpoint to that moment, I was sitting the Reno airport waiting for my flight to board when a group of folks assembled with signs and balloons to welcome a couple of the local boys home from Afghanistan. When the soldiers marched out the jetway, passengers rose to their feet, cheered and clapped. The two soldiers looked embarrased, to say the least. A few folks shouted, "Well done!" and the crowd kept clapping until they disappeared into the airport.

We're stuck in a ugly war we had no reason to fight. At least this time we're not blaming the troops thought somehow I suspect that will be cold comfort for the families who have lost their sons and daughters.

Friday, July 08, 2005

New York, Madrid, London....

I am a frequent visitor to London and at one time or another I've been through most of the tube stations that were devasted in the bombings, especially the Aldgate-Liverpool area because of my research in the East End. During most of my trips it was the IRA that was the concern. But when I was there in 2001 and 2002, I had the other guys in mind, as well. Now, to show their utter contempt for their co-religionists, they bomb a train near the predominantly Muslim East End. Repeatedly they've shown the only god they worship is that of death. That is not what the Koran teaches no matter how they twist the scriptures.

Thomas Friedman's article "If It's a Muslim Problem, It Needs a Muslim Solution" presents a solid argument that until the average Muslim says "enough!" and shuts down the radical fringe elements, the world will view Islam with suspicion. Innocent people will be targeted as potential terrorists, rights will be trampled, all in the name of fear. All our work in Iraq and elsewhere is for naught until the madmen are cut adrift.

As Friedman says, "Only the Muslim world can root out that death cult. It takes a village. What do I mean? I mean that the greatest restraint on human behavior is never a policeman or a border guard. The greatest restraint on human behavior is what a culture and a religion deem shameful. It is what the village and its religious and political elders say is wrong or not allowed. Many people said Palestinian suicide bombing was the spontaneous reaction of frustrated Palestinian youth. But when Palestinians decided that it was in their interest to have a cease-fire with Israel, those bombings stopped cold. The village said enough was enough."

The link to the full article is here:

With true grit the British picked up the pieces and went back to their lives. Of all people, they know how to survive horrors we Americans have never faced. Where our New York tragedy was unimaginable, the Brits survived nightly bombings by the Luftwaffe for months. As one told me, "If you woke up in the morning, it was a good day."

The killers will fail because eventually the world will say, "Enough." We need our fellow citizens, the Muslims, to take the lead.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

War? No Way!

I figured it was only a matter of time before those who opposed the war would take the blame for the recruiting shortage. Now a number of Republican senators are blaming the media and other lawmakers for the fact the armed forces aren't meeting their recruitment numbers. It is, they say, because of the "negative media out there," according to Senator Inhofe. Inhofe went on to add that other senator's criticism of the war has contributed to the propoganda of our enemies.

It's the old, "If you ain't with us, you're against us," diatribe.

If I'd been born male, I would have been in Vietnam as my number was pulled. That's always given me much thought. But for a small chromosonal change, I could have been wading hip deep in the rice paddies trying to kill Charlie.

War is a brutish, ugly hell that either kills you or scars you for life. Some wars are necessary, some aren't. Iraq is an unnecessary war costing us valuable men and women, crippling our economy and teaching our foes how best to kill us. Iraq is now an incubator for terrorists and we're paying for the training, just as they learned from the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Perhaps the reason the enlistment numbers are down is because people don't believe it's worth sacrificing their kids in the sands of Iraq. Maybe it's because they see this isn't making us safer, isn't what we should be doing at this critical juncture in American history.

The lack of keen recruits willing to expose their bodies to IED's in Iraq is not because of negative media or subversion lawmakers. It's because people are wising up and saying, "No way."

I'm willing to make a prediction, one that will probably come back to haunt me. If an attack occurs on US soil, the enlistment numbers will rise again. Why hasn't there been an attack? Partly because of our law enforcement folks and partly because I believe the bad guys know not to go there, at least until Iraq is settled. They have the better edge right now. So if an attack occurs, keep an eye on the dynamics of the moment. A true cynic would say that an attack would benefit us more than them...

Bring the troops home, folks, as soon as humanly possible. We're losing too many good people and ruining too many lives.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Invoking the "I" Word

"I" as in impeachment. It is an impeachable offense to lie to Congress. A couple former presidents have stumbled over that law in the past. And now the buzz surrounds our current president and whether he misled Congress in to a war based on falsehood.

The fact that there is a call to have hearings regarding the 'Downing Street Memos' by both congress, and by the public, is heartening. When military families get involved (many of which who have lost sons and daughters in the conflict) then matters are becoming serious.

If the decision to go to war was made lightly and under false pretenses (and I believe it was) and the public and our elected representatives were deliberately misled, then heads should roll. America is strong enough to handle that. We survived Nixon's scandal and that didn't involve body count. This war has bred the horrors of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay, damaging our image as a fair and humane country. It has served as the ultimate recruiting poster for Bin Laden and his ilk. It has tumbled over the hive, sending a torrent of enraged bees swarming throughout the world. If we were sent into that war based on a lie, we need to know that and insure that sort of travesty never happens again. Too many soldiers and Iraqis have died to hide the truth.

I recently read an article that made a number of things very clear to me. Unfortuntately it received little notice when it was published last October. The article discusses Mr. Bush's biographer and what the president told him during their interviews in 1999. The biographer, Mickey Herskowitz, was eventually replaced as the prez's handlers didn't feel he was shading the book in a way that made Mr. Bush look good.

From the article:
"He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999," said author and journalist Mickey Herskowitz. "It was on his mind. He said to me: 'One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.' And he said, 'My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.' He said, 'If I have a chance to invade·.if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I'm going to have a successful presidency." Herskowitz said that Bush expressed frustration at a lifetime as an underachiever in the shadow of an accomplished father. In aggressive military action, he saw the opportunity to emerge from his father's shadow. The moment, Herskowitz said, came in the wake of the September 11 attacks. "Suddenly, he's at 91 percent in the polls, and he'd barely crawled out of the bunker."

If you're up for more, the link is below. It's worth the read if nothing more than to send a cold shiver up your spine.

Do I believe this? Actually, I do in light of other unrelated incidents involving Mr. Bush. When the word came that our forces were moving into Iraq, according to reporters present, the president pumped his hands in the air and cheered. It so unnerved the reporters given the solemnity of the moment, they didn't tell the public, feeling it was highly inappropirate as our soldiers would be dying in battle. I can't imagine Lincoln or even Bush I being so callous. But then, according to Rev. Pat Robertson, Bush II honestly believed there wouldn't be any casualties in the war. That is indicative of a man who is dangerously out of touch, solely focused on his own agenda.

In another blog down the line I'll chat about the conspiracy theories around 9/11, including the one that believes that certain key members of our government knew about the terrorists plans before that day and chose not to intervene. When the terrorists got 'lucky' and the towers fell, the imagery was even more graphic. Now even I don't want to contemplate that a president of the United States would allow such a horrific thing to happen solely to insure his presidency was a raving success. Is it impossible? No. Johnson made sure to engineer the Gulf of Tonkin incident to get us into Vietnam. It's been done before. I just hope 9/11 wasn't one of them.

That sort of revelation would do incalculable damage to our trust as a nation. I prefer to think that fate handed Mr. Bush a moment of glory and he milked it. Yet, he should be careful. Those who claim they want to create a legacy invariably do, but not in the way they intend.

For further info on the Downing Street Memos and how the Brits saw the Iraqi disaster coming and that Washington wasn't listening, please visit:

Monday, June 13, 2005

Losers? I think Not....

According to an interview with Newsweek, Paris Hilton plans on hanging up her 'career' in a couple of years for motherhood and the quiet life. To be honest, that's not soon enough for me. Paris (and her ilk) are a constant embarassment and the sooner she's out of the limelight, the better. (And no, the cynic in me doesn't believe she'll just melt away.)

But I digress...

From the Newsweek article due out on June 20th (and according to

"I don't enjoy going out anymore... It's such a pain. It's everyone saying, 'Let's do a deal! Can I have a picture?' I'm just, like, 'These people are such losers. I can't believe I used to love doing this.' " she is quoted as saying.

Losers? Oh, honey, where do I start? Are you truly that clueless or is that just P.R.? You're sitting on a pile of cash you didn't earn and don't use for the common good and you think other folks are losers? Sigh...

And now on to my rant. I don't do these very often, but certain spoiled types have been chafing my behind for a very long time. Being rich and famous comes with responsibility. Bill Gates & spouse understand that, even if you can't stand his software. Paul Newman gets it. George Soros gets it. So why not Paris and Britney and J.Lo? Another recent example; Jennifer just rec'd a cool $1 million dollar engagement ring from her hubby even though they've been married a year. Romantic? Yes. Socially responsible? Not close.

What I want to see is a celeb who takes that $1 million and donates it (anonymously) to food pantries, endows an inner city school or underwrites the budget of a homeless shelter for a year. Then you'll have my respect. Oprah frequently whips out her check book and helps out. That's what money and fame are for, folks.

Is this sour grapes? Not at all. The gap between wealthy and poor is widening, the food pantries and homeless shelters are pushed to the max. If the rich set the standard, others will follow.

Clunk... off my soapbox. And now back to the writing while wishing Paris' two years will seem like 2 days...

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Agony & The Ecstasy of Words

Most folks, at least those who aren't writers, believe an author's life to be pretty exciting. You drop a few words into the computer, send them to the Big Apple and lo, you're sitting next to Mr. Cruise on Oprah comparing notes about pharmecuticals. Alas, it's pretty much not that way. The average writer has two jobs; the one that pays the bills and keeps them from eating the household pets and the other one; writing. If you're really fortunate, the latter will generate enough cash to pay for the paper and ink cartridges you will blow through in a year.

At present I'm enjoying the aforementioned Agony & Ecstasy of mushing verbs around the page. Three projects are in the works, two of which have a contract attached to them so there are deadlines to be made. Project #3 is in quest of another contract. It's been a particularly remarkable year for this author, to say the least.

But now I have to deliver. Previously self-published, I wrote for my husband's company and set my own deadlines. Now those due dates are set by someone else, for the most part. Welcome to the real world. I also see the work more as a job now than before. The actual work hasn't changed, only my perception of it. Since I have a high boredom factor, change is good. Writing a new story is like a new love affair. Thrilling at first, but eventually you decide it's done and let your beau go and begin the hunt for another frog prince to flirt with.

The struggle is to constantly better your prose, find the perfect word for the sentence, create a scene that leaves your reader breathless. T'aint easy, folks. But then bending steel and racing into burning buildings isn't either.

That's my job. Some days the words are magical, some days they are moldy and stale. I call it 'pushing the boulder up the hill.' Fortunately, the view at the top makes it all worth it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Evolution or Intelligent Design?

Oy. Just when I thought this had been put to bed, back we come with the question of evolution and just what constitutes 'science'.

G*d gave us brains for a reason, people, and to not use them is a sin in my mind. The Almighty puts information in front of us and expects us to decide what's right for us. Ideally, what's right for us won't harm our fellow humans, but that's a notion we mortals are still having issues with.

To discount the theory of evolution because it supposedly leaves a Divine Source out of the equation doesn't wash with me. Dinosaur bones are infinitely older than 6 or 10K years. To say it's all wrong because it doesn't fit your 'calendar' is amazingly arrogant.

I, personally, have no trouble reconciling evolution with G*d's creation. I've seen the muscles and bones and arteries working inside a human body and am awed by the complexities of life. I find it inconceivable to discount evolution as a process simply because it supposedly leaves G*d out of the picture. Just how long was one of the Almighty's 'work days' in Genesis? Is it not possible that The Eternal Source has a hand in the evolutionary process?

The solution is simple -- teach evolution in the science classes, teach Intelligent Design in comparative religion classes where it belongs. And while you're at it, show how other religions view the Creation. Then the students can form their own opinions and use those brains that G*d so lovingly fashioned. Redefining science is not the answer to life's most intriguing question.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Balance of Power

For those of us who are students of history, watching the events playing out in America is much like a train wreck. Frightening, but fascinating nonetheless. When you have the House majority leader (Tom DeLay) advocating the impeachment of judges because their rulings weren't what he and his ilk required, you are seeing one of the final strengths of democracy washing away in the tide.

As per an article in the NYT April 8th -- (DeLay Says Federal Judiciary Has 'Run Amok,' Adding Congress Is Partly to Blame) --

"Mr. DeLay alluded to Congressional authority to "set the parameters" of courts' jurisdictions and its obligation "to make sure the judges administer their responsibilities."

The organizers of the conference and Congressional staff members who spoke there called for several specific steps: impeaching judges deemed to have ignored the will of Congress or to have followed foreign laws; passing bills to remove court jurisdiction from certain social issues or the place of God in public life; changing Senate rules that allow the Democratic minority to filibuster Mr. Bush's appeals court nominees; and using Congress's authority over court budgets to punish judges whom it considers to have overstepped their authority.

"I am in favor of impeachment," Michael Schwartz, chief of staff to Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, said in a panel discussion on abortion, suggesting "mass impeachment" might be needed."

Senator Cornyn from Texas took it a step further as cited here in the Washington Post.

"Sen. John Cornyn said yesterday that recent examples of courthouse violence may be linked to public anger over judges who make politically charged decisions without being held accountable.

In a Senate floor speech in which he sharply criticized a recent Supreme Court ruling on the death penalty, Cornyn (R-Tex.) -- a former Texas Supreme Court justice and member of the Judiciary Committee -- said Americans are growing increasingly frustrated by what he describes as activist jurists.

"It causes a lot of people, including me, great distress to see judges use the authority that they have been given to make raw political or ideological decisions," he said. Sometimes, he said, "the Supreme Court has taken on this role as a policymaker rather than an enforcer of political decisions made by elected representatives of the people."

Cornyn continued: "I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection, but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. . . . And I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters, on some occasions, where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in, engage in violence. Certainly without any justification, but a concern that I have."

The prisoner in Atlanta who killed a judge, a court reporter, a deputy and a civilian wasn't pissed about the judge's political 'decisions.' He wanted to escape, pure and simple. To attribute a higher cause to his actions is an insult to the dead and to their families as if in some way they deserved their fate.

It's time for the Republicans to clean house, starting with DeLay. The man has no ethics and would castrate our Constitution and the protections embodied therein just to curry favor with a few fantatics. If you think this isn't such a big deal, time to polish off your history books and study the rise of totalitarian regimes in Germany and Russia. The overthrow of basic freedoms was a gradual one, not an overnight coup.

Hopefully the Republicans will "Newt Gingerich" this guy and send him back to Texas along with Cornyn. Compared to these two guys, Bush II is looking pretty harmless.


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Right To Die

The Terry Schiavo case reminds me of a conversation I had with a country doc a couple decades ago. The doc was a wise fellow and when we were talking about heroic measures (CPR, feeding tubes, etc.) he said he wanted "DNR" (do not resuscitate) tattooed on his chest. "I don't want any S.O.B. standing between me and the Almighty," he said.

There are a lot somebodies standing between Mrs. Schiavo and the next life. Her brain is gone, her body continues. Personally I wouldn't want to be around in that case. I have a Living Will and will be updating it again to try to keep abreast of the current legal standards. But the bottom line is Terry Schiavo's husband is her legal guardian and he knows what she wants. The parents' devotion is touching, but unrealistic. Best to let Terry go onto a new life.

To bring the federal government into the mix is flat out horrifying. Don't like a state court ruling -- appeal to Congress who is always willing to pander to their constituents. But only a narrow band of voters are "pro-life" in this case. The majority of Americans believe they wouldn't want to be in Terry's state and are appalled at the government's intervention. They don't want to see their private family issues played out in a media circus in Washington. I blame the politicians and Terry's parents for that.

On the flip side, countless children in the world are starving to death... by the minute. I don't see Congress puffing up about them or the president flying back from Crawford to sign special legislation to keep them alive.

We need a little perspective, people.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Where's Robin Hood When You Need Him?

Gee, who says $40 million dollars in political contributions doesn't buy you anything? Our esteemed government is about to gift the credit card industry with a new law that makes it harder for the average Joe and Jane (that's us, folks) to file for bankruptcy. Attempts to insert exclusions for service personnel in Iraq, the poor and elderly, those with serious medical problems, fell on deaf ears. So if you're sent to Iraq and your family runs into financial trouble because your salary is a tenth of your civilian life, you're screwed, even though you're risking your life dodging IED's. However, just to show they're not without heart, our esteemed lawmakers did not fiddle with the loopholes that allow the rich cats to shelter their assets when they file bankruptcy. Hey, it's an ownership society, folks. That means someone is doing the owning and if you haven't figured it out yet, it ain't you!

The credit card industry, which made $30 billion in profits last year, is whining that they need these protections to keep people from running up high credit card debt and then filing for protection against those debts. Admittedly, there are probably a few folks who do that. But over half of bankruptcies are due to illness or job loss. This legislation kicks people when they're down. As one Democrat put it, "This is just mean-spirited." The man's got it right.

Given the steady stream of card offers that flood into my door, the credit card industry needs to take a great deal of blame. My parents both died in 1999. I still get offers for each of them to acquire their very own "X" card at some ridiculous low rate of interest. The industry has made it too easy to obtain credit... period. And Americans are too hooked on their cards... period. I suspect there is worse to come -- if the housing bubble shakes out, this is going to get really ugly (the new law won't exempt your house if you've owned it less than 3 1/3 years.)

Welcome to the leaner, meaner American society. I'm glad my parents have crossed over. They would be appalled.


Monday, February 28, 2005

ShevaCon Post Mortem

ShevaCon, for those of you not in the SF&F world, is an annual convention in Roanoke, VA. Never been to Roanoke before and where I didn't get to see that much of the town, the delightful drive through the mountains to get there was quite nice. It's rather brown this time as year as spring hasn't taken hold, but on the whole, it was a pleasant trip.

ShevaCon offered a number of delights; reconnecting with friends such as authors Laura Underwood, David Coe, Steve Miller & Sharon Lee. All of these folks are just really high on the 'neat' meter. Also spent some time shooting the breeze with Stephe Pagel, head honcho at Meisha Merlin (an Atlanta publisher.) Stephe's always got good war stories. And I made the acquaintance of Tee Morris, noted scoundrel and author. Tee's a thespian and hence, lives large. Not in frame, mind you, but in cracking jokes and generally carrying on. Never dull. I interviewed Tee for a DIY Author Show in my makeshift hotel room studio so our general silliness has been immortalized. In general, the company at ShevaCon was some of the best I've encountered in a long time.

The panels were nifty, as well. Lots of senior folks around with decades of good wisdom to share. And Nth Degree's party was well worth the time to drop by, mix up a Rum & Diet Coke (I know, I should be shot) and nosh on their Oreos. Always a good combination - rum and Oreos.

In a couple of weeks, I'm off to Greensboro for StellarCon and then over April Fool's weekend, it's MidSouthCon in Memphis. Yup, the con season is in full swing which means my suitcase never really gets unpacked. Oh well, it beats staying home and stripping old wallpaper. But that's another story...

For those dying to check out the authors and others mentioned above:

Laura J. Underwood --
David B. Coe --
Sharon Lee & Steve Miller --
Tee Morris --
Meisha Merlin Publishing --
Nth Degree - The Fiction & Fandom 'Zine --


Friday, February 11, 2005

Fairy Tale Come True: Charles and Camilla

I am extremely pleased to see that Prince Charles and Camilla will be marrying in April. Despite all the hoopla about Charles and Diana's supposedly 'fairytale' wedding, the truth is life doesn't always end 'happily ever after.' A real marriage is based on the ability to adjust to each other over the decades, not in the short term. Both Charles and Diana came to their wedding day with entirely different goals, neither entirely realistic. Both had internal issues that the other only aggravated. Did Camilla drive them apart? No. They were apart to start with, the marriage doomed the moment Diana said 'yes.'

I wish Charles and Camilla the best. They're run the course and deserve some happiness in their future.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Stiffing the Vets -- Again

Just in time for our service men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, our government (mostly Mr. Bush) is hunting ways to 'trim' the federal deficit and the Vets are about to get nailed. Though a few loyalists in the Vet's Administration say the president has been very generous in the past 4 years, the onslaught of services needed by the mentally and physically wounded from our Operation Freedom will tax the V.A. System beyond its capacity.

For the V.A.'s current situation, check out some of the Vet boards. They'll let you know about the hospitals being closed and the long waiting lists for services.

For those of you who have never stepped inside a V.A. Hospital and think it might be like your private hospital, let me set you straight. I can tell you what the V.A. was like in 1976-1977 so you judge how 'generous' out government has been in the past.

As part of my practical 'in hospital' training as a student nurse, I rotated through the V.A. Hospital in Iowa City while also providing care in private hospitals. I spent six weeks in the 'Locked Ward' - the psychiatric facility - and six weeks doing floor duty on their regular medical floors.

Mercy Hospital (a private hospital) had semi-private rooms and was clean, cheery and bustled with staff. The V.A. hospital had 16 bed wards, a throwback to an earlier time. The needles were the kind you sterilized and reused, sharpening the tips if they became dull. The hospital was busy dealing with Vietnam Vets as the war had just ended in 1975. The whole situation was depressing as hell. It was a tremendous eye-opener for me. I had always thought our country would give our Vets the best and I couldn't understand why my dad said he didn't want to go into a V.A. Hospital. Thankfully, he never did.

Do I blame the Vet's Administration? Not really. You can't improve the quality of your facilities and services without $$$. They do wonders with what they're given.

The fault lies at the government's feet and at present, on Mr. Bush's desk. Cutting services, increasing the fees we charge our Vets for the 'privilege' of using the services and long waiting lists are an insult to the men and women who've risked everything for us. The ultimate insult. It tells them they're mere cannon fodder, easily replaced by a new crop of eager recruits. Well, the recruits aren't so eager any more as the Iraq mess drags out. Meanwhile, we're creating a new generation of war-damaged soldiers who will need assistance for decades to come.

Lest you think this isn't a problem for society as a whole, according to the NY Times, 25% of the homeless on the streets of L.A. are veterans. Alcohol or drug addictions pull them down and often there is no way back up. Crime rates rise and our streets become increasingly dangerous. More police are needed as charitable organizations struggle to feed and aid those without a safety net. A recent article on AOL highlights the issue --

Our country had a cash reserve when Mr. Bush took office. He's spent it unwisely and now he wants to stiff the Vets for their work on his behalf and on behalf of our country. It's time to retrench, reverse those tax benefits for his rich friends and put the money into our armed forces.

To do any less is criminal...

Thursday, February 03, 2005

What, Another Crisis? So Soon?

Ah yes, another crisis -- this time it's Social Security. The solution sounds so soothing -- why not let folks put some of their $$ in a private account for retirement? If not, hey, the whole system is bankrupt by 2042.

Wrong. We already have the option of investing money in private accounts (like an IRA) and the system won't be bust by 2042. It'll be hurting, but not defunct.

And now the fine print (and something Mr. Bush isn't mentioning): When you retire, you will be required to use part of your 'private' account to buy a lifetime annuity FROM THE GOVERNMENT. Okay, you say, what does that mean? It means that you will receive a certain set amount each month until you die. Your children will not inherit what's left in the annuity (unlike a traditional savings account). That's contrary to what Mr. Bush is touting. So if this truly is a private account, why is it you can't use the money at your own pace, drawing it lump sum or passing it on to your family once you no longer need it?

And another kicker -- (and I cite this example from an MSNBC article)

If you put away $1,000 a year for 40 years and that bundle of cash earns 4 percent annually, your 'nest egg' would grow to $99,800 in today's dollars. Unfortunately, the government would keep $78,700 (approx 80%) of the account. The remainder ($21,100) would be yours.

That's like asking for change for a ten and only getting two bucks back. Just how does this make you better off?

And just to hammer the point home, check out what happened when Britain privatized retirement accounts for their OAP's (Old Age Pensioners) and you'll find the whole plan was a disaster. Their retired folks suffered and the country ended up having to spend more money to keep their aged from starving.

For Americans, there are two ways to solve the Social Security 'crisis' -- have folks who earn up to $200K pay into the program and increase the percentage we have to pay a wee bit. Both will go a long way toward alleviating the problem and neither will add trillions to our otherwise bloated debt.

The returns from Social Security may not be grand, but so far they're 'guaranteed.' Nothing about the stock market is a sure thing. Just ask those folks who got caught in the Tech Wreck or the aftershocks of Enron/WorldCom, etc. For future generations it could mean the difference between a stable retirement or a bleak existence.


Monday, January 31, 2005

And the Writing Goes On

Besides all the news of the day (Social Security 'reform', the elections in Iraq, SpongeBob being 'outted') this author has kept her nose to the keyboard. Not an easy position, by the way. But it's what I do.

For those of you not familiar with the writing process, it consists of a lot of work. You dream up a story, put it on paper, realize it sucks, rewrite it, realize it sucks and rewrite it again. Some author's books spring to life with minimal fuss. Most have to bleed on the keyboard. At present, I'm rewriting/editing a paranormal romance that features a Wiccan (witch) and a Irish Catholic P.I. They find common ground investigating the murder of a little six-year-old boy. The paranormal part? The witch does Light work -- escorting the souls of the dead into the next life. So I'm balancing paranormal elements with a romance wrapped in a mystery. Yipes. And trying to keep the size of the book within the publisher's guidelines.

You heard right, this one is being sent to NY for consideration. Will they publish it? Don't know. It's a crapshoot. If the editor finds it worth her time, then I'll make the leap from self-pubbed to NY-pubbed. And make the transition from self-pubbed hassles to NY-style hassles. The publishing industry today is pretty much rooted in the 20th century. Where technological innovation has raged through other industries, publishing lags behind. In many ways, it's as arcane as the airline industry.

Here's how it works -- the publisher pays the author an advance against sales but retains a certain percentage for unsold (remaindered) books. The key number for the author is 'sell through.' What percentage of books actually sold. The publisher will print "X" number of books (let's say 20K) and the bookstore reps will place their orders. What books don't sell are returned to the publisher for credit. Mass market paperbacks have their covers ripped off and the actual book is pulped as it's a waste of money to ship them back to the publisher. Trade paperbacks (the bigger ones) and hardcovers are returned. It's up to the publisher to 'guess' how many books will sell and eat the remainders. Not a good use of resources.

Now what about that sell-through thing I mentioned? If an author's sell-through is low, their next book will not have as many printed, despite the fact it might be a better book. Of course, less books, lower sales. It's a downward spiral. Add into that mix bad weather during the debut week, national catastrophes, botched print runs, etc. and the author eats all of that. Bottom line -- the sales have to be good. And getting bookstores to order MORE than they did the previous time is a hassle even though they have the option to return the books.

And lest you think author advances are generous, only the big names get the big bucks. Depending on the publishing house/imprint, the advance can be as low as $1000. Average for some of the romances is $5000-10,000. Hey, you're thinking, that sounds good. How hard can it be to pen a romance? For today's readers, a lot harder than you might think.

Depending on the size, it can take nine months or more to turn out a finished book. For me, it's close to a year. I'm getting faster, but there is a LOT of hours involved. Would I be better working at McD's? Dollar-wise I would. Especially after you cut a check to your agent (if you have one) for 15% of the advance.

I write books because the voices in my head drive me to the keyboard. They want to tell their story. It's an obsession. But on the order of things I could be doing, this one's relatively harmless.