Monday, April 27, 2009

State of fear

I last heard of swine flu back in the 70's when Jimmy Carter spent a ton of money to stockpile enough swine flu vaccine for every man, woman, and swine in the US of A. At least it seemed like a ton of money before Bush and Obama showed us what real spending looks like. Now, out of nowhere, the swine flu is back with a vengeance, and it's a good thing, too. More and more people have grown so numb to the constant drumbeat of fear about the economy that we no longer run around like our hair is on fire when Wolf Blitzer comes on the air and tells us how the next six months will make October, 1929 seem like a vacation in Maui. Thank God we can panic again. Health officials say we may be on the brink of the first global pandemic in a generation. As of today 20 cases of the flu had been reported in the US. 20! And this out of a population of 300,000,000! 

This may well become the feared pandemic Jimmy Carter warned us about thirty years ago. I pray it does not. My guess is that the swine flu will be this year's equivalent of the bird flu, that is, something the prophets of doom in the sensationalist news media tell us will be a dire threat to the survival of the species that turns out to be nothing of the sort. Therefore, in honor of the well coifed doomsday prophets of cable news, I now present my five favorite ways in which life on earth will be wiped out.

5. The Atlantic Ocean current will stop flowing due to the influx of too much fresh water into the ocean, therefore triggering a new ice age in which we all die.
4. An unknown comet comes hurtling toward earth, and our best efforts to stop it only split it in half. When it hits, we all die.
3. An asteroid the size of Texas comes hurtling toward earth, and since we do not have a team of Texas oil drillers to send up to stop it, it hits the earth, and we all die.
2. The core of the earth stops spinning, thus causing the earth's electromagnetic field to fail. Without this field, solar radiation cooks the earth, and we all die.
1. Grave robbers from  outer space invade the earth two at a time. The bring an army of the recent dead back to life, and when the leaders of the earth refuse to listen to their warnings, we go ahead and develop solaranite, which, when ignited, blows up the earth and the sun and we all die. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The death of free speech

I'm not exactly sure what date needs to be placed on the tombstone. April 19, 2009 is not that date. No, it was merely the latest evidence that free speech is dead and buried in the United States. In case you missed it, Miss California lost the Miss USA contest after answering a question regarding gay marriage. Rather than pander to the judges, and rather than fill the next two minutes with meaningless fluff that would offend no one (and not answer the question), she spoke her mind. Believe it or not, she answered the question. She exercised free speech. The openly gay judge who had asked the question was aghast. He later said that if she had won the title, he would have run up on the stage and ripped the crown off of her head. Later, on the Tuesday, April 21 edition of the Today show, he explained his outrage. In short, he said she should have answered her question in a way that would not offend anyone, except, of course, Miss California's own conscience. He basically told Matt Lauer, how dare she speak her mind! How dare she actually answer the question! How dare she speak freely!

The Miss USA controversy is only the latest round of criticism leveled at one who dares to go against the rising tide of accepted belief. We expect such dissent only from those on the far right fringe, from the Limbaughs and Becks of the world. Not from real people. I'm told that a law against "hate speech" is winding its way through the Congress. The law will bring into the legal code that which is already the prevailing sentiment. If and when the law passes, it will merely be the final nail on the coffin of free speech.

As I ponder the question of what killed the first amendment, I find only one logical answer. Political correctness did not kill it. Nor did politicians. And neither did bloviating social commentators on the left or the right. No, I think something far more insidious, something far more difficult to root out of the culture dealt the final blow to what was, in truth, a rather fragile right. I believe the collective immaturity of the American culture and people killed free speech. Tolerating dissent, engaging in an intelligent conversation with those who see the world in a completely different way, and allowing those with whom we disagree to speak freely and openly, all require a level of maturity America has not seen in nearly a generation. Instead we puff up like a toddler whose favorite toy was taken away whenever anyone disagrees with us. We shout and try to drown out dissenting opinion rather than enter into genuine debate. Worse yet, we feel personally attacked whenever anyone thinks in a way that forces us to rethink our own positions. 

I have long believed that independent thought is the most dangerous thing in the world. The angry reaction to one lone beauty pageant expressing something other than the company line shows how true this is. Since independent thought can only be expressed through free speech, we must eliminate the latter to protect ourselves against the former. The fatal blow was dealt long ago. Today we are merely free to say that which will offend no one, no one that is, except ourselves.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The week after

Two weeks ago I finished the first draft of my latest book. Unfortunately, that meant I hadn't actually finished anything. Finishing the draft is like the seventh inning stretch of a ball game. You stand up, stretch, sing a few bars of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," then you sit down and get back to work. I always watch "The Matrix" when I finish the first draft. I don't know why. I did it once, and now it is my personal tradition. I took a couple of days off after my Matrix viewing. Since it was the weekend, that only seemed like the thing to do. I also went to an actual ball game, a Thursday afternoon Reds game during the first week of the season. That too is a tradition. Then it was back to work, back to page one of the manuscript, time to rewrite, revise, re-evaluate what it is I love about writing. I love to write. I'm not so wild about rewriting.
A couple of days ago, in between creating this blog and tweeting on Twitter about how much I do not like rewriting, I finished the final draft. The book, a collaborative work called, "Don't Just Survive It - Sing!" comes out some time next year. The person for whom I wrote it loved it, which makes me very, very happy. And the publisher loved it, and since the woman for whom I wrote it owns the publishing company, I had a pretty good idea they would. Now I can finally relax. The book is done. The deadline was stretched, but I delivered. Book twenty-three now moves from my "works in progress" to the "finished books" file folder on my MacBook's hard drive.
Now it is Monday. No deadline. No stress. And I'm not quite sure what to do with myself. I have a new book on which I will start working as soon as my partner signs his contract. In the meantime I am going through deadline withdrawal. I have this nagging sense that I need to rush to my office and buckle down, only to remember the book is finished. I think I will spend this week reading. Writers love to read. Then again, I may choose to sit on the couch, a little dog at my side, and do nothing at all. It is, after all, the week after a deadline. I always enter such weeks with high hopes of accomplishing so much, only to discover my brain has rebeled after being squeezed a little too hard for a little too long. My dog is about to fall asleep. I think I will join him.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


A cardinal decided to crash into my kitchen window the other day. She liked the experience so much that she backed up, and crashed into it again and again and again. Her wings must have tired, because eventually she sat on the window sill and pecked away at the glass. I read somewhere that birds do this when they see their reflection in the window. Either this bird is pulling an A-Rod, and giving herself a little self love, or she isn't very bright. Come to think of it, the two are one in the same. The bird was really starting to get on my nerves until I looked deep into her dark little eyes. To me, she looked like a Maggie. Now that's her name. She isn't so annoying any more. In fact, everyone in the family looks forward to her visits. Maybe there's a lesson to be learned here. Maybe Maggie came to my house to teach us all about how building relationships allows us to move beyond focusing on one another's annoying little habits. Or maybe Maggie is just a less than bright bird that is too stupid to stop running into the bird flying right at her near my house.