BURIED DEEP INSIDE this presentation by John Cleese on creativity are the answers to all of your questions. Are you creative? Do you have talent? When should you write? Where should you write? Should you be writing at all? How should you handle writer's block?
Unfortunately, the only question Cleese doesn't answer is the one most undiscovered authors are asking: Will your book ever sell?
I RECEIVE REGULAR missives proposing that we rewrite the Constitution. You've probably seen them, too. They come in chain letters passing from computer-to-computer around the Internet. They originate with members of both sides of the ideological divide. I don't pass them on because, more often than not, their concerns are rooted in their ignorance of constitutional law. The problem is that schools today are staffed by teachers who were never properly educated in the Constitution. How can they possibly teach anything they so poorly understand themselves?
There hasn't been much attention paid to the Constitution in our schools since this episode of Schoolhouse Rock, “The Preamble”, was aired in 1975. Civics has disappeared from most school curricula. Today, civics education testing is required in only nine states for graduation from high school. Citizens are urged to vote to fulfill their civic responsibility, but there is no emphasis placed on their responsibility to understand what they are voting for.
I don't suppose that anyone would be thinking about the Constitution if it weren't for the Tea Party. Much maligned as racist, homophobic, Islamiphobic, etc, the truth is that they have at least brought the Constitution into the public conscience. People are talking about it. Some few may have even read it. In essence, it has come back into our lives. It's been absent far too long.
As a student of law and history, I have frequently been frustrated in discussing anything across the ideological divide because few others know anything about the structure of our government. They want to change what they do not understand. When I ask them to explain their understanding, they become frustrated by their ignorance.
The Public Broadcasting System has chosen this moment to stimulate the dialog. They are producing a four-part series, Constitution USA, that will begin airing on May 7th at 9:00 pm EDT (check local listings).
I can't say if the PBS program content will be fair and unbiased. Many argue that PBS management is biased towards a liberal/leftist/progressive ideology, and there is evidence that this may be true. However, in my opinion, any discussion of the Constitution must be helpful. Even if PBS distorts it, those distortions may then serve as talking points from which future dialog can grow.
So, mark it on your calendars – May 7th. Watch the series. We can get together afterwards and debate. However, if you are inclined to argue that the present Constitution is out of date, in need of reform, or should be replaced, you should first understand the one we already have otherwise I won't lend much credence to what you have to say.
PJTV host Scott Ott produced a fair overview of the U.S. Constitution. It can be viewed in eighteen bite-sized pieces of four minutes or less each. Unfortunately, only Chapter 1, embedded above, is available free on YouTube. You'll have to subscribe to PJTV to view the other seventeen. If you can get through them in a month or less, it will only cost you five dollars (US). That's a small investment for such an important subject. However, if you put at least this much effort in learning about the Constitution, you will be better able to form opinions on current events and defend them, especially when you encounter someone like me.
TRADITIONAL WISDOM WAS that anyone caught in a shooting should drop and take cover. That hasn't worked out too well, has it? How many mass murderers have calmly stalked their chosen venue, shooting and killing whomever they found until they met resistance? I know. That's what I told my children, too. Based on recent experience, law enforcement officers have changed their tune. They now advise citizens to run, hide, or fight
They're also advising armed first responders to take immediate action. In the past, the first policemen to arrive on the scene of a mass killing were instructed to secure the area. Don't let other potential victims wander into the killing zone. Wait for SWAT to arrive and deal with the situation. This hasn't worked very well either, has it? Indeed, think of how often we hear of the perpetrator turning his weapon on himself when faced with armed resistance. Better that the first police officers responding enter the killing zone and encourage this outcome before other innocent citizens become victims.
Recently, as crowds gathered for the Long Beach Gran Prix, which occurred shortly after the terrorist bombing at the Boston Marathon, I saw a police official warning spectators to be aware of their surroundings. Report suspicious activity to the nearest uniformed officer. Even though they had taken every conceivable precaution to prevent a terrorist attack in Long Beach, officials were willing to admit that a perpetrator could slip through the safety net and that each person should take responsibility for their personal safety.
Times have changed. Law enforcement officials seem to be recognizing their limitations. “To protect and serve” appears on many of their patrol vehicles, but they would be more accurate if they used the opening line of the popular Law & Order television series.
The police investigate crime. They are rarely on hand to protect us from it. In rural areas, the first responder to a call for help may be a half hour or more away. Even in major cities, where response times may be measured in minutes, the blood has long since stopped flowing from bodies before they arrive.
I was disappointed when President Bush told us to hunker down following the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11. Don't worry. He was taking the fight to the terrorists. We attacked in Afghanistan. We attacked in Iraq. The Patriot Act was passed and a new army was loosed on the streets of America. I was prepared to accept the attacks on foreign soil so long as they were directed at terrorists and their supporters. I was reluctant to see our forces hanging around to build new democracies. My disappointment grew into distrust with the Patriot Act. I hardly trusted President Bush with such sweeping powers. I am totally distrustful of the current President with them. He has schooled me to fear that some future President may use them to become a tyrant.
Am I paranoid? We've now seen the Patriot Act perverted. Homeland Security is being equipped with armored vehicles and weapons more commonly found on conventional battlefields. Furthermore, Congress and the President are vigorously attempting to disarm us. Maybe some degree of paranoia is healthy, especially when so many of my fellow citizens are succumbing to fear tactics. I wonder, why can't they see the hypocrisy of these lawmakers. Witness the testimony of Diane Feinstein who has led the most recent charge to disarm us even though she admits that she raced to arm herself when faced with danger.
Local law enforcement agencies appear to have gotten the message. Witness the actions cited at the beginning of this article. Indeed, many sheriffs and police chiefs have publicly announced that they will not enforce efforts to disarm American citizens even if Congress and the President succeed. A few have begun organizing community militias. Thirty-eight states now have chapters. The few remaining states that are willing to submit to Washington, and entrust their protection to others, are those that have already done everything in their power to disarm their law-abiding citizens. Even though these jurisdictions have the worst crime rates, they refuse to accept reality and continue to do what they believe ought to work regardless of any evidence to the contrary.
HAVE YOU BEEN following the news? “Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Wednesday that she was briefed before the release of a controversial intelligence assessment and that she stands by the report, which lists returning veterans among terrorist risks to the U.S.” What is going on here? Veterans should be feeling like Christian Scientists with appendicitis? I am.
Alert: DHS Rounding Up Veterans, Throwing Them In Mental Institutions – Aug 24, 2012 – Infowars
Granted, a couple of these sources are open to scrutiny. Many may argue that they are colored by political or ideological agendas, however the same may be said of every news source. But many are quoting members of Congress and respected attorneys. Thus, we have to look everywhere, even at new sources we may find disagreeable, to ferret out whatever shard of truth hasn't been trampled in the debate.
Before you dismiss me as a wacko conspiracy theorist, give me a chance. I don't believe in secret cabals and alien bodies stored at Area 51. We simply aren't capable of keeping a secret in this nation. My final posting in the Army was as the Operations Officer at a Strategic Communications Center where secrets of the highest levels passed through my hands. Amazingly, the greatest ones that I ever saw became front page news in little time despite our best efforts.
Thus, my concerns aren't based on anything secret. I'm more worried about everyday things that are happening right under our noses, like the stories mentioned above. Our government seems to be treating those of us who served as enemies.
Obviously, there is a strident minority who are opposed to the government's campaign to change America and the Administration must be concerned about them. Look at the recent arming of Homeland Security. Inasmuch as the military is predominantly composed of conservatively-oriented Americans sworn to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution”, the Administration must have its doubts about using them to subdue citizens. Thus, they have directed Homeland Security to deploy an army equipped with armored vehicles and manned by heavily armed “operatives” onto the streets of America.
What enemy was Homeland Security anticipating when they decided to deploy armored vehicles on the streets of America? No individual, no matter how well armed, can resist an organized assault by a well-trained team. Surely, they don't need a war wagon for that. Are they afraid that Americans will organize militias that might represent a greater challenge?
It's reasonable to expect that Americans who fear a growing threat of tyranny might then form community militias to respond to well-organized threats more effectively. If Americans begin organizing militias, who will train and lead them? I suspect that they will turn to our veterans. Former soldiers might even gladly volunteer. I would. At 70 I wouldn't be much use in the trenches but could at least help with the organization and training of militias.
Imagine yourself as a President who is on a mission to change America and fear resistance. Wouldn't you suspect that veterans would be enlisted to help that resistance? What would you do? It seems that someone is already doing it. Explore these links and let me know what you think.
However, we must wonder if this isn't just another waste of time and, more importantly, the nation's dwindling wealth. Are militias being formed? I haven't heard of any. What else would Homeland Security do with its fleet of armored vehicles? Stage a grand demolition derby? They certainly are helping to demolish the economy.
Lacking the threat of organized militias, isn't the government simply overreacting? Federal agencies have been able to handle fringe group militias in the past using the resources already available to them. Local police and sheriffs have SWAT teams fully capable of subduing armed criminals and mobs. Look at how well the LAPD responded to the riots in Watts when Rodney King's persecutors were acquitted. Why do we need a domestic army? To intimidate us? That is, after all, what Homeland Security is becoming and that is what they are doing.
Finally, what threat would organized militias represent if they are dedicated to preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution? Remember, the Second Amendment affirms that “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state...” not only reminds us that citizens have a natural right to arm and defend themselves, but also to organize themselves into militias.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED to you, Senator? I have long celebrated your courage and your service, both in the military and elected office. However, your stance on gun control escapes all logic. It's as though you have been replaced by someone, the polar opposite of the hero I knew. It flies in the face of all wisdom. We know that prohibiting certain categories of weapons just because they appear dangerous has never accomplished anything. Good heavens, just writing that sentence reminds me that the people who believe that one gun "appears" more dangerous than another exposes how little they know about guns.
Most importantly, please remember the oath you swore on that day when you were commissioned. I swore it also under similar circumstances and later served in Vietnam. I can still recite it. Can you? "I will preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution..." It's virtually the same oath you swore when you entered elected office. Sir, the 2nd Amendment is an integral part of the Constitution, possibly the most important part because it allows all citizens to defend it.
Please, Senator, remember your heritage. Remember how you suffered in the defense of the nation you loved. Any attempt to infringe on the 2nd Amendment will be applauded only by America's enemies as well as its criminals. Prohibitions of all kinds have only ever favored them. Prohibitions gave rise to the major crime syndicates of the past as well as today. Imagine the black market that will arise in guns and ammunition when this one is passed. Imagine how the law abiding will suffer when they stand defenseless against the well-armed criminal. Even worse, imagine how tyrants may be tempted to inflict themselves upon America when its citizens are laid bare.
Please, Senator, please reconsider your stance. Be a hero again.
BEST SELLING AUTHOR and screenwriter Andrew Klavan and film producer Bill Whittle discussed this question on a recent program on PJTV. (I'd love to embed a video of it here but it's only available to PJTV subscribers. So, click here to view it and invest five dollars (US). That will get you your first month's viewing. It's a good investment.
Klavan and Whittle concluded that heroes aren't as interesting because, most often, story-tellers lie about them. Klavan observed that heroes are even boring because they're always “square-jawed. Courageous. They don't feel fear. They don't feel lust. Of course they're boring. Nobody's like that.”
I had reached this same conclusion while very young. My birthday coincides with George Washington's and my birthday cakes were invariably decorated with cherries to commemorate his virtue, he could not tell a lie. Yeah, Sure. It didn't take long to dispel that notion as I began to study the real Father of our Nation. Funny, I discovered that he was far more interesting than the demigod to whom I had been introduced in school.
It was a short hop from George Washington to the truth about all the other Founding Fathers (excuse me, “Founders”). I came away with a new appreciation for them and a challenge. As demigods, their accomplishments were beyond the reach of mere mortals such as I. However, as flesh and blood men, their courage and dedication became accessible to me. Why couldn't I serve a good cause as well as they?
When it came time to write my first novel, I never considered for a moment that my protagonist should be a hero, not in the classical sense. Interestingly, “heroes” in ancient Greek legends were all demigods. No, I gave Nick Andrews a very human assortment of character flaws when I wrote Rebels on the Mountain. Now, as I'm writing a prequel to his story, I'm providing a basis for those flaws. Although I only hint that he was an abused child in Rebels on the Mountain, the prequel will literally describe that abuse. It will also describe the source of the guilt he carries in Rebels from his early experiences killing and maiming enemies on the battlefields of Korea.
Nick also knows fear. After all, courage is not the lack of fear, but rather the willingness and ability to do what is necessary despite fear. Think back over the heroes you have read in books or seen in popular films. How calm they seem even when awash in bloodshed. I can't help but laugh when I remember that the only character in Star Wars who exhibited fear was a robot, C3PO.
The lack of fear in the human characters is even more unbelievable to me than the fanciful tale of science fiction.
Digressing to Klavan and Whittle, they were challenged by a PJTV subscriber to discuss, “As story-tellers, how do you break the banality of decency in a culture that celebrates the antihero?” In examining this question, Klavan observed that the real problem is not so much “the banality of decency”, but rather that we tend to lie about decency. Real human beings have urges and what makes them decent is the restraint they exhibit in not succumbing to them, whereas villains do. (As I said, this program is well worth the price, especially for writers.)
Klavan went on to discuss one of America's favorite story lines, wherein the villain evolves into a hero. (Well, a sort of low-grade, nickel-plated hero.) I could not help but agree with Bill Whittle who cited the example of Al Swearengen from the TV series Deadwood. Here is a saloon owner, a murderer, a pimp of the vilest sort, who begins to display signs of humanity as the series progresses. One scene stands out in my memory, wherein Swearengen assists the suicide of a preacher who is suffering greatly. He cradles the man, almost as a father comforting his child, as he smothers him and whispers, “Go now, brother”.
These are the moments in stories that make them great.
Swearengen's foil, the protagonist, Marshall Seth Bullock also frequently succumbs to his baser urges. Although Bullock is more often motivated by righteous indignation, he is little more decent than Swearengen.
No boring characters in Deadwood, that's for certain. Likewise, I have attempted to preclude any boring characters from Rebels on the Mountain.
EVERYONE LIKES TO THINK that they're smart or, at the very least, clever. Me, too. But, let's be honest. We all do stoopid things. I don't care how smart we are (or think that we are). No, I'm not going to write about my first wife and the incredible stupidity of marrying her (although that would be an excellent example). And, no one can really screw things up like a computer user.
In my previous posting in this blog - “Do you moderate comments to your blog postings? Should you? - I mentioned that I had decided to alter my weblog settings and require approval before comments would be published. I mentioned some very good reasons for this.
Interestingly, I continued this dialog on another blog hosted by Bruce Sullan where he argued...
He was responding to my original motivation for moderating comments on my blog; to eliminate comments that had no purpose other than to pirate my visitors to other websites/weblogs. He did not persuade me. Some of these pirates are very clever. They can inject their links into seemingly innocuous comments that no automated filter would exclude.
What then did I do that was so utterly stupid? I became the typical computer user. I utterly failed to approve legitimate comments and even went so far as to accidentally delete a few during my first attempt at being a moderator. I took a simple, intuitive system and mucked it up. I annoyed the technical support team at my web hosting service with repeated complaints that their system wasn't working properly. (You may note that I repeated that complaint publicly in my comment on Bruce's blog.)
Thus, I am making a public apology to iPage and their staff. (Incidentally, they followed up the experience with a survey asking if I would recommend them and why. Isn't it a bit coincidental that I should receive that request immediately following this experience?) Yes, I would and do, frequently.
At the very least the experience was educational, as well as humbling...
BLOGGING CAN BE time consuming. I used to post to my blog every day. It was a chore, but I enjoyed it until I realized that it was detracting too much from my other writing. So, I gave up the practice. Sure, my weblog traffic suffered. It's now about half of what it used to be. However, visitors are spending more time exploring past postings and commenting more.
Unfortunately, some “visitors” appear to be taking advantage of “open commenting”. That is, their comments are added automatically without my approval. Some are non-responsive to the blog posting content. For example, in response to a posting about my battle with survivor's guilt, the following comment appeared:
It was also claimed he could project his thoughts from several meters away, or without using the cylinder
Some appeared to be nonsensical machine-generated combinations of words.
Then there are those that a blatant attempts to attract visitors to other websites. For example:
This is the first time i hear about CDPH. What does CDPH stand for? Anyway, i hope someday we can find out a kind of vaccine which can prevent virus HIV and a cure for AIDS.
Some related comments seem to be encoded conversations (between terrorists?).
My website notifies me by email every time anyone posts a comment to my weblog and I attempt to respond to each, if for no other reason than to thank the person for visiting my weblog and taking an interest in it. However, the nonsensical ones have left me baffled and I haven't responded to them.
Recently, I received a notice from SiteLock that a link in one of my web pages was connected to a site that was blacklisted by Google and, therefore, my web page containing that link was also blacklisted. I removed the link and was once again blessed by Google. This caused me to rethink my policy on leaving my weblog open to any and all comments. Thus, I changed my policy to “moderated”. From this time forward, comments must be “blessed” by me before they appear to prevent anyone from taking advantage of my weblog whether it be for their own advertising, as a platform for terrorist communications, or malicious mischief.
If you too have a weblog, you may want to consider the lesson of my experience.
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