Friday, February 27, 2009

Jindal's Strange Rebuttal

I know it's piling on to pick on Bobby Jindal's speech now that it's been so universally panned by critics and pundits on both sides, but I did want to make a quick point. His key anecdote was about an incident during Hurricane Katrina, when he walked into an office and found a local sheriff struggling to get help from the federal government. He swooped in and saved the day, the story goes, and this is supposed to show us that the government is inept. But here's the thing: He was a congressman at the time. Couldn't that also be a story about how government can be good? Also, how seriously should we take a critique of the government when the central narrative is one where a Republican congressman rescued a local sheriff from the inept federal agency run by... a Republican president? This could also just be a story about why no one should elect Republicans. You know, it just might be better for the Repub Party if it turned out that Jindal made the whole story up.

jindal2-muck - Share on Ovi

Oh wait. He did! Check it out!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Now Bill Kristol can be wrong somewhere else!

Let's take a little break from the 25 Random Lies About Me project (more to come) so I can return to one of my favorite subjects: the remarkable way Bill Kristol manages to always be wrong.

So Kristol got canned at the NYTimes and is now writing a less frequent column for the Washington Post. Look, I understand that papers want to find somebody to be their conservative voice, but George Will, Charles Krauthhammer, and David Brooks all do the job just fine without reading like... well, like Bill Kristol. And if people want a Neo-Con, they can read Christopher Hitchens. Bill Kristol is a Bush water carrier, and Bush has left for Texas, so he's a man without a platform.

Nowhere is this more evident than in his advice to Republicans today in the Post. He concedes that Republicans "need fresh thinking in a host of areas of domestic policy, thinking that builds on previous conservative achievements but that deals with the new economic and social realities." But he offers no ideas himself. Instead, he says they will have to be politically agile to make up for their lack of ideas. Then he offers his political strategy:

"Obstruct and delay."

"Obstruct and delay"? That's Kristol's idea for a Republican strategy?

A Republican friend of mine was telling me just the other day that Obama would lose in 2012 if the economy hasn't recovered. But we both agreed that the only way he could weather that is if the Republicans did nothing but obstruct and delay, thus earning the ire of every person who could possibly benefit from this government program or that one. And let's face it, we could all see a windfall from some government program. Obstructionism will hurt my friend, the conservative police officer just as it will hurt me, the liberal school teacher. It will hurt the assembly-line worker just as it hurts the CEO. When Republicans obstruct and delay, they take the burden off the Dems, who would have to be choosing winners and losers, and make themselves responsible for every loser. This is a political strategy bereft of both intellectual heft and political savvy.

Way to go again, Bill!

Monday, February 23, 2009

25 Random Lies About Me, issue eleven

11. Speaking of Australia, in 2004, when former Midnight Oil lead singer Peter Garret was elected to Australia’s House of Representatives...

peter-garrett-politician - Share on Ovi

...the other members of the band, which had officially disbanded in 2002, decided to search for another front man.

midnight-oil-beds-are-burning - Share on Ovi

Through some mutual friends and some interesting turns of events which would take too long to describe here, they found me. I was their lead singer for just over eight months, during which time we went on a world tour and starred in a reality TV show on the Australian version of the E network, which Australians spell “NetworkE”.

E-LOGO - Share on Ovi

My performances were mostly met with good reviews, though some critics felt that I skewed the band too heavily toward their later work, favoring songs from Earth and Sun and Moon over classics like “Beds are Burning”. Soon, it became apparent that I would either have to leave the band or end up serving in some high capacity in the Australian government...

kangaroo - Share on Ovi

As an American, the second option didn’t sit too well, so I came back home just in time for the birth of my son Noah, who’d been conceived right before the guys and I headed off to Tokyo. In fact, the dates are so close he might not even be mine, and may be the child of bassist Peter Gifford, who we called “Giffo”. Even my faithful wife Paige is not immune to the charms of bass players, and who can blame her?

Disturbed - Fuzz - Share on Ovi

Sunday, February 22, 2009

25 Random Lies About Me, issue ten

10. Though I’m not good at building electronic things, like Phil’s time machine, I’m pretty handy with older technology, and something of a history buff. Once, I decided to test out the theory that the people of Easter Island came there in dugout boats from South America.

easter-island - Share on Ovi

I created my own simple seafaring craft and set sail from the Oregon coast, intending to land in Hawaii, which is roughly equidistant.

dugout boat - Share on Ovi

I didn’t quite find it and sailed halfway around the world, finally arriving at a small city on the south side of Australia named, ironically, Portland.

Portland Australia - Share on Ovi

While there I became a walk-on member of their Australian Rules Football team, and in 2006 we won the Western Border Football League Premiership.

Team_Photo - Share on Ovi

I thought about staying, but got sick of the way people spelled things like “Centre” and “Theatre”, so I came home. The team went on to win the premiership again in 2007, which should make me happy, but somehow it just felt like a big FU from the guys, like they wanted to show that they didn’t really need my help.

true-football-fan - Share on Ovi

Saturday, February 21, 2009

25 Random Lies About Me, issue nine

9. As a child I loved Legos...

legos - Share on Ovi

...and would build replicas of medieval castles in order to perform enactments of historical events.

lego castle - Share on Ovi

My dad caught me reenacting the beheadings of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, and refused to believe my explanation.

lego heads - Share on Ovi

My parents took me to see a psychologist who happened to be a member of our church, and who offered to give them a discount.

freud - Share on Ovi

It turns out that discount child psychology isn’t as great as it sounds. The man decided that only shock therapy could control my urges to cut women’s heads off.

shock - Share on Ovi

It took me years to learn to control my facial ticks, and even now, if I shuffle my feet on carpet, I can touch people and give them small third degree burns.

Static shock - Share on Ovi

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

25 Random Lies About Me, issue eight

8. I once saw a dust-bunny under my desk hop a few times.

Dust_bunnies - Share on Ovi

Then it settled on a new patch of dust to chew on, but I could have sworn it looked over its shoulder as it did so, wary of any nearby dust-wolves.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

25 Random Lies About Me, issue seven

7. While my mother was pregnant with my younger brother, Joe, she would take me to the University of Illinois library.

u of i library - Share on Ovi

She liked the peacefulness and found that I could entertain myself easily there, thought I was only three years old. She didn’t pay much attention to what I was reading (it was an uncomfortable pregnancy, and as long as I was quiet she was happy), so she remains unaware, to this day, that the first book I picked up was one on speed reading.

speedreading-1-hr - Share on Ovi

After devouring it, I quickly made my way through almost half of the library’s ten million volumes.

books - Share on Ovi

Eventually, in the education section, I found a book which convinced me that speed readers often trade comprehension for speed. I became convinced that comprehension was more important just a few books down the shelf, and abandoned the project. Funny tidbit: Because of the design of the library’s stacks, I’ve read thousands of books about agriculture, and I’ve never read a single thing about the nation of Mozambique.

mozambique - Share on Ovi

Monday, February 16, 2009

25 Random Lies About Me, issue six

6. My favorite foods are mushrooms, oysters, and cooked spinach.
mushrooms - Share on Ovi

oyster - Share on Ovi

spinach - Share on Ovi

In fact, I really only eat things those food philistines among us might describe as “slimy”.

slime - Share on Ovi

I find this has a… dramatic effect on my digestion.

toilet trooper - Share on Ovi

Sunday, February 15, 2009

25 Random Lies About Me, issue five

5. One summer I had a brief but torrid affair with Claire Danes.

Claire Danes 1 - Share on Ovi

One night we had an argument while driving down 101 near one of her homes in Los Angeles (we frequently shuttled to her other home in New York, and sometimes made the tabloids when we made out in popular restaurants), and on this particular night Claire became violent, causing me to crash her BMW into a divider.

claire - Share on Ovi

She walked away from the accident, seemingly unscathed, but it turned out she suffered from some memory loss because she couldn’t remember me at all. She went off to Yale that next fall and I returned to college. I’ve completely recovered from the heartbreak, but my shoulder still hurts when it’s about to rain.

Friday, February 13, 2009

25 Random Lies About Me, issue four

4. I have a human eyeball in a box in my attic.

spacey in se7en - Share on Ovi

It’s a souvenir from a bar fight I got into once. I tried to poke the other guy in both eyes, but he blocked using the vaunted three-stooges-defense.

three stooges - Share on Ovi

It turned out my middle finger was longer than his four fingers were wide, and one of his eyes popped out onto the pool table. I grabbed his eye, along with the quarters we’d both left on the edge of the table (we were arguing about whose turn it was), shoved both in my pocket, and ran out of the bar. I kept the eye, but I think I spent the quarters on a parking meter.

expired meter - Share on Ovi

Thursday, February 12, 2009

25 Random Lies About Me, issue three

3. I was once abducted by aliens. I was on a greyhound bus ride from Cincinnati to Spokane. Somewhere in Montana the whole bus was picked up by a flying saucer...

UFO - Share on Ovi

...and transported into low-Earth orbit where the passengers were interviewed telepathically by small green creatures with over-sized heads. I’m not sure which passenger turned them off to our species (perhaps all of us disappointed them in some way), but they made it clear they were disgusted with us and would no longer have anything to do with our planet. Then they put the bus back down in South Dakota, lengthening our trip, which irritated the passengers more than anything.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

25 Random Lies About Me, issue two

2. I have a deep-seated and perhaps slightly irrational fear of microwave ovens.

microwave-oven-old-school - Share on Ovi

If I am in your house and you have one, and I still seem comfortable, you can be sure I lined my boxer shorts with aluminum foil that day.

Or I'm wearing these.
foil underwear - Share on Ovi

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

25 Random Lies About Me, issue one

As previously advertised, here are the 25 Random Lies About Me, presented as a serial.

1. Because I’m not good at physics, I’ve never built a time machine. My friend Phil Harrington built one on a whim one weekend in college.

Time Machine - Share on Ovi

After drinking too much I decided to try it out. As per the cliché, I thought I’d go back to kill Hitler.

valkyrie - Share on Ovi

I decided to go back to when he was a sixth grader, not because I like killing kids, but because that year he happened to be in the same school as the future great philosopher Wittgenstein, and I thought I could have a talk with him after offing the future dictator.

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Unfortunately, I forgot that time machines do not also move a person through space, so I spent a cold night in Spokane in the year 1911, then came back to the present and slept it off.

MtSnowVT - Share on Ovi

Saturday, February 07, 2009

25 Random Lies About Me, issue zero

You may have heard of this viral phenomenon on Facebook, the "25 Random Things About Me." If you don't Facebook (is that a verb yet?) then you might have been spared. You get a notice that a friend has tagged you (read: notified/obligated) with their own list. The note begins with a stock paragraph:

"Rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you."

Like how it has all that authority at the beginning? RULES! Then it ends with that desperate plea for more information. I mean, these are coming from people who are already your friends. Who can say, "Screw you, buddy! I don't want you to know any more about me."

But here's the thing; what if there isn't any more to know? My life hasn't been entirely boring. I've lives in a handful of places and had a few rare experiences. But 25? I don't think so. And the few I have had, I've told and retold to friends so many times that my wife, Paige, has heard all the stories a million times and has to kindly remind me when I'm telling them to another friend for the third or fourth time. Plus, I'm a blabber-mouth, for Blog-sake!

Feeling obligated to accomplish a herculean task, I found a solution when my mom sent me her list. Her final entry read: "I like to read fiction." I thought, well, I like to write fiction, so that could be my first one. And then it dawned on me; after that first entry, why not write 24 examples of things which never actually happened to me.

It sounded fun (and it was) but it took forever. Coming up with 24 spontaneous stories of things I've never actually done proved to be more difficult than I intially guessed. It took me three or four sittings, and in between I found myself making little notes during work about other possible lies I could tell about my life. Then, after all that, I went to post it and discovered that, true to the post's initial paragraph, you can ONLY send it to 25 people. I mean, these are my friends and family! They already know I'm a dork. What's the point if I can't make that clear to the whole world, right?

So I think I'll post them here, as a serial. "25 Random Lies About Me." I'm not a big fan of the term "random", probably because people beat it to death my freshmen year of college, but maybe it's essential to the viral success of the lists, so I'll reluctantly acquiesce. Stay tuned (does one tune in to a blog? Stay posted? No, I'm the one who posts. Stay WiFi connected? Webbed? Interneted?)...

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Writing the Perfect Query Letter

As is my habit, I've written another novel, then buckled under my overwhelming fear of failure in the face of the challenge of selling it to an agent, then a publisher. But this time, I decided to acquiesce in a new way; instead of giving up entirely, I'm asking for help creating the perfect query letter. Maybe, if I can gain enough confidence in the letter itself, I'll be motivated to repeat the process of sending it out and receiving regular, crushing rejection letters in my email inbox.

(Note to agents: I don't hold rejection against you. That would be like holding it against a reader when they struggle with an unwieldy sentence I've written. It's your job to reject the stinkers, just as it's my job to go back and agonize over that sentence until it's clear. I know I'm supposed to be thick skinned, but I'm sure you'll forgive me for not being Mr. Spock.)

Thanks to an article on asking folks to help write Obama's Inaugural Address, I found It's a service where anybody can go on and help edit a document, basically making your document a wiki or a Googledoc open to the world. I've decided to see if anyone would work on my letter.

So, if you are interested in giving me a hand, I posted the most recent draft of my query letter. I'm not married to any of it (even the book's title), so feel free to hack away, here.

Thank you!