Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sarah Won't Sue Joe. You Can Bank On It


I have been fond of saying over the years that "discovery is a bitch," that is that the pre-trial phase of a lawsuit in which each party can obtain evidence from the other, can be more important -- and damaging -- than the trial itself. Which is precisely why, to my knowledge, Sarah Palin has never made good on her threats to sue adversaries real and imagined.

Palin has most recently threatened to sue Joe McGinniss for defamation because of The Rogue: Searching For the Real Sarah Palin. The unflattering biography of the former vice presidential candidate, half-term governor and possible presidential candidate is long on rumor and not so long on confirmed incidents, but the likelihood of her following through on a lawsuit is zero to none.

This is because:

* Certain incidents, including her one-night stand and relationship with future NBA superstar Glen Rice is confirmed cold, as are other affairs for which McGinniss has multiple, if anonymous sources.

* Chief among the rumors is that Palin is not the birth mother of Trig Palin. Under discovery, McGinniss's lawyers would be able to subpoena Palin's obstetrician, nurses at the hospital where Trig was allegedly born, and require DNA tests of Sarah, husband Todd and Trig.

* Palin is nothing if about making money, and the bad publicity that would accrue the Tea Party darling could impact on her FoxNews and celebrity appearances. As it is, her star is in eclipse. A recent documentary film about her bombed and while she still has a small and fervent base, she is trailing badly in presidential preference polls.

"The final work that was published contains most of the stories that Mr. McGinniss complains were nothing more than 'tawdry gossip' that amounted to the wishful fantasies of disturbed individuals," Palin lawyer John Tiemessen wrote to Crown, the publisher of the book. "Since both your company, and the author, clearly knew the statements were false, admitted they had no basis in fact or reality, but decided to publish in order to harm Governor Palin’s family, you and Mr. McGinniss have defamed the Palins."

While we're on the subject, several critics have panned The Rogue.

I have read only excerpts and skimmed through the rest of the book, but the criticism does not stand up to scrutiny and is a part of a larger pattern: The news media's unwillingness to give Palin the kind of scrutiny that, for example, John Edwards got over the affair and lovechild and Barack Obama got over claims that he was not an American citizen.

The news media is scared of Palin. Thank goodness McGinniss is not.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Alternative Energy In America Is A Promise Delayed, But Not Failed

The check from Metropolitan Edison arrived, as it always does, at mid-month. You see, we don't pay our local utility for electricity. It pays us for the surplus electricity we generate from the 20 photovoltaic cells on our south-facing roof, which is more than enough to light our house, run our appliances and heat our water.

The installation of the system was not cheap, but because of generous federal and state tax rebates engineered by President Obama and his ally Ed Rendell, whose stepped down as Pennsylvania governor in January, it was an investment well worth making and one that will pay off in tiny increments in the form of those Met Ed checks and then pay off big time when the system is paid off in a little less than 10 years.

Our happy story aside (as well as a neighbor's who installed a 28-panel system after being impressed with ours), these are tough times for solar as tax incentives begin drying up and the industry undergoes a shakeout that has forced Solyndra, a California solar tube manufacturer that received nearly $600 million in federal loans under the 2009 stimulus bill, to file for bankruptcy. Others are likely to follow despite the unrelentingly happy picture being painted by the green energy movement.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government is investing heavily in solar production and that has forced down product prices worldwide, while the market in green-conscious Europe is booming. (Our solar control panel, which has a lifetime guarantee, is made in Austria.)
New Jersey had just six solar power systems when it launched incentives in 2001 and now has more than 10,000 solar installations alone with more than 400 megawatts of installed capacity (our system is a mere 4.5 kilowatts). These huge arrays typically are on the rooftops of factories, warehouses and shopping malls.

The densely populated Garden State is close to attaining its goal of getting 2 percent of total electricity generation from solar by year's end and seemed to be on the way to embracing wind power with equal enthusiasm, but in June Governor Chris Christie announced that he planned to scale back the state's renewable energy goals and ambitious planned wind power farms off shore from Atlantic City are likely to take a hit.

The upshot is that the state's previous goal of 30 percent of total electricity generation from solar and wind by 2021 has been scaled down to 22.5 percent.

In 2009, the most recent year for which national figures are available, wind and solar combined made up a measly 1 percent of all U.S. energy production and 0.8 percent of all consumption, according to the Energy Department.


Tapping into these alternative energy sources require big up-front investments with the payoffs down the road, but that is anathema to a nation addicted to instant gratification (and fossil fuels) despite austere times, and while the U.S. should be taking the lead in green energy, it is China and Germany who are well in the lead and eventually will reap the benefits.

The sun continues to shine and wind still blows, but we as a people seem fecklessly incapable of taking advantage of it.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE SAND PITS . . .

Anyone who thought that it would be a whole new ballgame when it came to energy and the environment when Barack Obama took office is bound to be disappointed. While the president has moved aggressively to promote green initiative including solar energy and has pushed back against Republican efforts to gut the Environmental Agency, his record on fossil fuels is decidedly mixed.

Then there are instances of behind-the-scenes backscratching between government agencies and Big Oil, including the State Department becoming involved in the proposed $7 billion Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

The pipeline would allow an enormous supply of a particularly dirty form of oil, locked up in Alberta's tar sands, to reach refineries in the Gulf of Mexico and markets around the world.

In June of 2010, in the midst of the BP Gulf oil disaster, someone deep in the bowels of the State Department was considering a two-year delay in the pipeline project, according to documents released last week. Public concerns about the oil industry were peaking, and the pipeline was getting a closer look.

At one point, The Guardian reports that State even asked a lawyer for TransCanada, the Alberta-based company that was trying to get a federal permit to build the pipeline, to provide an assessment of how such a delay would impact the company.

What happened to that request -- or to the idea of possibly delaying federal approval of the pipeline -- remains a mystery.

Cartoon du Jour


Mike Thompson/Detroit Free Press

A Spatial History of Trapdoors


MORE HERE.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

They're For Life Except When They're Against It: Observations On Today's GOP

I am still having a difficult time getting my head around this, but it appears that today's Republican Party is adamantly against abortions for the unborn, adamantly against health care for the newborn if their mother chooses not to have an abortion and lacks insurance, adamantly for letting an adult with serious health issues die if they lack insurance, and adamantly for executing people even under the flimsiest of evidence.

Have I got that right? Yes I do, but the question arises as to how the GOP got itself tied in such seemingly contradictory knots.

That's easy: Obeisance to ideological purity no matter the circumstances, an unwillingness to listen to the views of others and a win-at-all-costs mentality as the GOP continues to devolve from a traditional political party to something resembling a religion.

* * * *
When Bill Kristol is sour on the Republican presidential field in its entirety you know the 2012 election is still Barack Obama's to lose.

His take on Rick Perry in the Florida debate last week:

"[N]o front-runner in a presidential field has ever, we imagine, had as weak a showing as Rick Perry. It was close to a disqualifying two hours for him."


* * * * *
A grifter is a con artist, hustler, bunko practitioner, swindler, flim flamer and bamboozler.

Sarah Palin is without a doubt the very definition of a grifter as a new SarahPAC fundraising letter makes clear in asking supporters to "send your best, one-time gift to . . . show her that we support her if she decided to run."

Well, I keep going back on forth on whether the Quitta From Wasilla will run, but it is clear that Palin has become an expert at milking virtually everything she does for cold cash. And if she decides not to run or makes a brief primary appearance before for bowing to the inevitable you can be sure SarahPAC will return the unspent money. (Cough, cough.)

* * * * *
Politifact's latest ratings on the truth of statements by Republican presidential candidates are out and show . . . this is simply shocking, that virtually every time Michelle Bachmann opens her mouth she is lying.

* * * * *
I have written over and over that the GOP's disdain for minorities will prove to be an electoral disaster in the long run because, like it or not, blacks and other people of color are the fastest growing block of new voters. Then there are gays.

Poll after poll shows that a growing number of voters accept homosexuality and a goodly number support gay marriage, both being anathema to virtually every Republican politician of consequence.

Not even so-called "moderate" Jon Huntsman supported the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. Not "sensible" Rick Perry. Not "libertarian" Ron Paul. And not one of them except Huntsman came to the defense of a gay soldier serving in Iraq when he was booed by the more repulsive people in the audience at the Florida debate.


* * * * *
Finally, Charles P. Pierce at Esquire's political blog:

"It is not possible to run for president as a Republican these days without at some level having to become a parody of yourself. Running within a radicalized, self-contained universe with its own private, physical laws and its own private history, with its own vocabulary and syntax that has to be learned from scratch almost daily, requires an ongoing manic re-invention that can do nothing but make the candidate look ridiculous to people outside that universe.

"This is how we get Mitt Romney, with his $290 million, telling an audience that he doesn’t 'try to define who is rich and who is not rich.' Here’s a hint, Mitt. You’re rich. You’re filthy, stinking rich. You reek of money. You belong on a card in a Monopoly set, okay? Buy a damn monocle already . . . "

Cartoon du Jour


Jeff Danziger/New York Times News Syndicate

Monday, September 26, 2011

Musings On The Autumnal Equinox

AT THE MOUNTAIN HIDEAWAY -- And so we bid a not so fond adieu to the hottest and wettest summer since record keeping began in the late 19th century. But don't go blaming global warning, oh no!

How hot and wet was it? Too hot or too wet on most weekends that for the first time since forever we did not make a single trek to the Delaware shore, making this the second strangest summer of my acquaintance.

The strangest would be the summer of 1994 when my plans for a long trip to Colorado with my kids were quashed with the discovery of two bodies on the walk outside a condominium on Bundy Drive in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. Some 18 months, two entire summers and several hundred newspaper bylines later, I finally was able to shed the ball and chain of the O.J. Simpson murder case. Never mind that it took America a while longer.

* * * * *
It has, however, been a boffo summer for tomato plants because it was hot in June when they were flowering and then hot and wet in July, August and September when they were fruiting.

Two of our plants became so top heavy that I had to drive steel bars into the ground to keep the plants and the wire cages cosseting them from toppling.

* * * * *
When my kids were still kids they didn't particularly share my taste in music with two exceptions -- Third World and REM.

Third World I could sort of understand because of the infectious reggae beat, but I never quite figured out what drew them to REM with its complex melodies, layering and often eclectic lyrics.

Their fondness for REM became apparent on a trip to Colorado the summer after the O.J. saga when they asked me to play the band's great Out of Time album . . . uh, perhaps 25 times. Before long they had memorized all the lyrics, and I have an especially fond memory of looking into the rear view mirror and seeing my eight-year-old son and five-year-old daughter swaying back and forth in the back seat as they sang along with "Shiny Happy People."

So I was kind of sad in a personal way when the band announced the other day that it was breaking up after 30 years.

* * * * *
What a difference a year makes. This time last year Christine O'Donnell was getting enormous attention because of her lunatic ravings about witches, masturbation and such. Now no one pays her the least attention.

* * * * *
My big mission this first fall weekend was to repot two large cacti. One is what, for want of a formal name, a Western movie cactus. You know, the kind with lobes that at the uppermost tips look like Mickey Mouse ears.

Anyhow, I wore gloves when I depotted this cactus and repotted it, but still got some tiny needles embedded in my hands and fingers. What to do?

What I did was call a friend who lives out in the desert in Utah. A quick consult with his love elicited the following advice: I was to cover my hands with Elmer's Glue, which I would let dry and then peel off, taking with it the needles.

It worked!

* * * * *
One of our chocolate Labrador retrievers is now connected to that band of geosynchronous satellites that make GPS units work. That would be Nicky, whom I describe as a nose followed by a 65 pound dog.

You see, there is a 40,000-acre wildlife preserve outside our front door and we let she and Jack off their leashes so they can have a good run. Jack never goes far, but occasionally Nicky catches a scent and she's outta there. She has always come back, but . . .

And so we purchased a GPS collar and handheld monitor unit so we can find where she is if, heaven forbid, she gets lost. The unit can track her anywhere, even if she ended up in Arizona, heaven forbid. Then again, if she ended up in Arizona she could bite Sarah Palin
IMAGE:
"The Return of the Herd" (1565) by Peter Breugel the Elder

Cartoon du Jour


Steve Benson/Arizona Republic

Friday, September 23, 2011

GOP To Disaster Victims: Drop Dead

When historians look back at America over the three years following the historic 2008 presidential election among the patterns that will emerge is all of the once sacred cows that the Republican Party slayed at the altar of obstructionism.

They have called the president unpatriotic, some have questioned whether he is even an American while some have not so subtly attacked him for the color of his skin.

They have criticized the Federal Reserve for trying to bail out the economy.

They have chosen to twice shut down the federal government -- backing down only at the last minute -- rather than make a good faith effort to keep it running, and are on the verge of succeeding on the third try.

And they have scorned the honorable American tradition of providing prompt disaster aid to the victims of hurricanes, fires and earthquakes.

The death of that last sacred cow is perhaps the most egregious. Washington has always been there for these victims no questions asked, but Republicans are demanding that there be spending cuts to offset disaster aid.

The specter of a shutdown after Saturday loomed large after the Senate easily defeated a House spending bill on Friday.

The Senate voted 59-36 to set aside the bill, with a handful of conservative Republicans joining with Democrats. Democrats oppose the bill because they believe that it does not provide enough relief for victims of the never ending disasters this year -- including wildfires, a hurricane and an earthquake or two -- while the Republicans felt that their House colleagues had failed to cut deeply enough.

House Speaker John Boehner played hardball as House members left for a scheduled recess, stating that the only way to advance the legislation, which would replenish the nearly empty coffers of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and finance the federal government through mid-November, would be for the Senate to capitulate and accept the House bill.


Cartoon du Jour


Matt Davies/Westchester (N.Y.) Journal News

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Handicapping The GOP Field: Is Rick Perry's Window Of Opportunity Closing?

Political polls are snapshots in time and the results of poll 14 months before Election Day must be viewed in that context, but the new USA Today/Gallup poll of Republican presidential nomination preferences are bad news for everyone except Mitt Romney, but perhaps especially bad news for Rick Perry.

Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich have, for all intents and purposes, tanked. This should mean that after two widely viewed presidential debates, Perry should be opening a lead over Romney. But he isn't.

Perry's performance in the debates was, for the most part, lackluster and evidence that he has some ideas that may be too over the top and an intellect perhaps not quite ready for prime time. Additionally, new donors are not flocking to him in appreciable numbers, and the window for him to take a sizable lead is closing, if it has not already closed.

Perry led the poll field with 31 percent of respondents saying that they preferred him. Romney was at 24 percent, Paul at 13 percent and Bachmann, Paul, Gingrich and Cain all at 5 percent. Bachmann's standing is calamitous considering she was only 13 percentage points behind Perry in the August poll.

The bad news for the Texas governor is that he only slightly increased his overall lead compared to the August poll, while Romney has narrowed the gap from 12 percent to 7 percent.

Reading between the lines, this is an indication that while they might not be saying so out loud, a fair number of Republicans believe that Romney is more electable than Perry. Some 53 percent of poll respondents said that they would prefer a nominee with the best chance of beating President Obama, while 43 percent said they would prefer a nominee who agrees with them on most issues.

This bad news represents a potential opportunity for Sarah Palin.

I had written off the former half-term governor off after Bachmann's strong showing in the Iowa straw poll last month, but her nose dive leaves Palin as the one potential candidate with platinum Tea Party credentials, Perry's being somewhat suspect because of his record on immigration, among other issues.

Meanwhile, there are another round of rumors circulating that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is considering entering the race despite zero evidence that is the case. Besides which, it is hard to picture the Republican base getting excited about a RINO.

Cartoon du Jour


Matt Davies/Westchester (N.Y.) Journal News

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Review: S.C. Gwynne's Magisterial 'Empire Of The Summer Moon'

The desert wind would salt their ruins and there would be nothing, no ghost or scribe, to tell any pilgrim in his passing how it was that people had lived in this place and in this place had died.
~ CORMAC McCARTHY
The horses weren't much to look at in comparison to the immense steeds ridden by the royalty and cavalries of England, France and Germany. They were light colored and small, barely 14 hands high with concave Arabian faces and tapering muzzles. But they were smart and fast and did not need grain-heavy diets and frequent waterings.

This was the Iberian mustang that Hernán Cortés brought to the New World in the early 16th century, and it prospered in Mexico. As the Spanish conquests spread, so did their horses, but the indigenous tribes that the Spanish subjugated showed little interest in learning to ride them. Besides which, they were prohibited from doing so.

It was not until the 17th century that the Apaches of New Mexico began to adapt themselves to the horse. It was even later that the Comanches, long disparate and primitive bands of hunter-gatherers, would master the mustang, master the demanding skill of horse breeding, and in doing so master the buffalo.

This was one of the great social and military transformations in history and the Comanches become in effect a Native American superpower. They ruled over 26 million square miles of the lower Great Plains and 20 other tribes with a political and economic deftness and were so ferocious that it took thousands of American troops and militiamen 40 years to finally subjugate them.

This is one of the two major back stories to S.C. Gwynne's Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History, a 2010 book that tells in masterful style the story of the battle between the Comanches and white settlers for control of the West. The other back story is the epic saga of the pioneer woman Cynthia Ann Parker and her mixed-blood son Quanah (photo, upper right), who became the last and greatest Comanche chief.


I have read a goodly number of great history books. There are Battle Cry of Freedom (McPherson), The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (Lawrence), American Prometheus (Bird and Sherwin) and Fire in the Lake (Fitzgerald) to name but a few of the best, and Empire of the Summer Moon belongs in that magisterial pantheon.

* * * * *
It is a temptation to forgive the Comanches for their savagery because the whites who settled in Texas and elsewhere in the Comanche empire were equally ruthless, but the Indians were warlike by nature and were warlike long before Columbus made the scene, and this was especially so west of the Mississippi.

Gwynne writes that:

"This sort of cruelty is a problem in any narrative about American Indians, because Americans like to think of their native aboriginals as in some ways heroic or noble. Indians, were, in fact, heroic and noble in many ways, especially in defense of their families. Yet in the moral universe of the West -- in spite of our own rich tradition of torture -- a person who tortures or rapes another person or who steals another person's child and then sells him cannot possibly be seen that way. Crazy Horse was undoubtedly heroic in battle and remarkably charitable in life. But as an Oglala Sioux he was also a raider, and raiding meant certain very specific things, including the abuse of captives. His great popularity -- a giant stone image of him is being carved from a mountain in South Dakota -- may have a great deal to do with the fact that very little is known about his early life. He is free to be the hero we want him to be."

Gwynne, however, does not take sides and it grates (on me, anyway) that General George Armstrong Custer, whose troops were decimated by the Sioux at Little Big Horn, has iconic status primarily because of some deft public relations by his widow while until now Quanah, a hunter and raider of staggering skill, has largely been a footnote.

* * * * *
Empire of the Summer Moon opens with the May 1836 Comanche raid on the Parker homestead near present-day Dallas. These Illinois pioneers represented the leading edge of white westward expansion, and the Comanches made quick work of the clan, killing most of the men and taking captive two women and three children, among them nine-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker.

Gwynne explains that Parker was not killed because the Comanches needed women to keep their buffalo economy going and their birthrates were abysmally low because of miscarriages prompted by life in the saddle. The child was hustled away to Comancheria, a beautiful if hostile high plains region where she was welcomed into a band, probably the Nokoni Comanche.

Parker found life in Comanche camps to be anything but darkness and devastation.

Colonel Richard Irving Dodge, one of the first Americans to observe the Comanches close up, wrote that he "is a noisy, jolly, rollicking, mischief-loving braggadoccio, brimful of practical jokes and rough fun of any kind."

Women, of course, were second-class citizens, and captive women had even fewer rights. Parker's mother was the sexual slave of her master and anyone he chose to share with with, and a maltreated servant of her master's women.

* * * * *
The Comanches did not defeat the Spanish, their initial white foes, so much as render them irrelevant by making them prisoners in their own missions and presidios, their attempts to attract colonists and convert Native Americans abject failures, and Gwynne writes that "their carefully calibrated system began to break down" the further north they pushed from Mexico City. The 80,000-strong Spanish army stayed in the south and was mainly used against the Mexican people.

Next came the Texas settlers, who compared to the Spanish were tougher, meaner and willing to take huge risks to secure their little pieces of frontier paradise.

None of them were meaner than Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, who assumed the presidency of the infant Texas Republic in 1838, two years after the raid on the Parker homestead and a time when relations between the Comanches and settled had reached the boiling point.


One of Lamar's first acts was to move the state capital from the swamps of Houston to Austin, the edge of Cherokee country. Another was to rally Texas around the extinction, or at least the expulsion, of the Comanches.

There followed a series of clashes in which neither side got the upper hand. Then in 1839 Buffalo Hump, a Comanche chief, had a vision: The Texans would be driven into the sea.

On August 1 of that year a thousand Comanches rode down from their hunting ground toward the towns and settlements of the blackland prairie of south-central Texas. By the time the raids were over, the Comanches had swept the entire region from San Antonio to Matagora Bay of horses while burning several towns and killing dozens of people.

"The sheer number of horses," Gwynne writes, "you can think of in modern terms as sequences of one-thousand-dollar bills deposited into your checking account."

* * * * *
This eye-for-an-eye warfare continued for years, and then in 1846 Cynthia Ann Parker, who would become known as the legendary "White Squaw," gave birth to a son and named him Kwihnai ("Eagle"), which means that Quanah was a nickname. His father, Peta Nocona, was a war chief. Parker gave birth to a second son two years later whom she named "Peanuts" because of her childhood love of the legume, and a daughter Toh-tsee-("Prairie Flower") the year after that.

White views of Parker were colored by the belief that there was no such thing as Indian culture.

"It's all Tristan and Isolde," Gwynne writes. "Cynthia Ann is seen failing in love, wandering through fragrant, flower-strewn fields, discussing the prospects of connubial bliss with her warrior swain, and so forth."


Quanah was 12 when his mother was taken by Texas Rangers in an 1858 raid in which his father was killed in hand-to-hand combat. He and Peanuts were able to escape. Meanwhile, Cynthia Ann, who was "rescued" along with her daughter, would spend the last 10 years of her life trying to escape back to her adopted people, and it was obvious -- although not to the whites with whom she returned to live -- that the tragedy of her life was not her first captivity but her second.


Quanah became a full-fledged warrior at age 15 and began raiding white settlements to avenge his mothers capture and father's death. And, because it was the Comanche way, to take large numbers of horses.

Because of his mother's genes, he was large and long-limbed, and at 6 feet was much taller than the average Comanche, as well as stronger. "He also was strikingly handsome," Gwynne writes, "fully dark-skinned Comanche but with piercing light gray eyes that were as luminous and transparent as his mother's. . . . He was also, as he would prove conclusively later in life, extremely intelligent."

It was a pivotal time in the history of the southern Great Plains. Whites began arming themselves with the new repeating rifles and revolvers, countering the Comanches' once superior bow-and-arrow and flexible lance weaponry, and the Army later employed lethal mountain howitzers and later still deadly Spencer rifles. Railroads also began popping up. The Iron Horse made mass buffalo slaughters and the transportation of their valuable hides to Eastern markets profitable and the Comanche empire began to crumble. What the white man couldn't do his diseases -- including measles, whooping cough, influenza, syphilis and most especially cholera -- did.

There was something else as well: With the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, the Mexican republic ceded all lands north of the Rio Grande, which along with the earlier Louisiana Purchase filled in much of the continental U.S.

Gwynne:

"The problem for the Comanches was that, where once they existed as a buffer between two huge land empire, they now stood directly in the way of American nationhood."

For all intents and purposes, the Comanches would have been subdued in the 1850s and not two decades later had it not have been for the profound incompetence of Washington bureaucrats in charge of Indian affairs who wanted just wanted the problem to go away, and the inefficiency of the U.S. Army troops sent to replaced the Texas Rangers, who had effectively copied Comanche horse-borne tactics and then began gaining the upper hand with the new six-shot Colt .45 revolver.

"Over a decade, [the Army] managed to engineer a retrogression of astounding scale and proportion," Gwynne writes. That took the form of dragoons, heavily mounted infantry who rode horses to the scene of battle but fought dismounted. And more often than not were slaughtered.

* * * * *
When Cynthia Ann Parker died of influenza in 1870, the Army had nearly subdued the Comanches and would have done so a few years earlier had it not been for the Civil War. Many bands signed treaties with the white man, but not Quanah, who eventually joined and then led the Quahadi ("Antelope Eaters"), which became the largest Comanche band in the waning days of the tribe's empire.

The last great peace conference was held in October 1867 at a campground at Medicine Lodge Creek 75 miles south of the present site of Wichita, Kansas. (See sidebar.) Under the terms of the treaty signed at the end of the conference, the Commanches and Kiowas were restricted to a reservation of 2.9 million acres. The land was huntable and arable with decent water resources, but it was tiny when compared to the 240 million acres the Comanches controlled at the height of their empire.

Gwynne:

"Medicine Lodge provided the framework for the last great betrayal of the Indians by a government that had betrayed and lied to Native American tribes more times than anyone could possibly count. . . . Shockingly, Medicine Lodge had not provided for Indian rations, and so the government had nothing to give them. Nor did it have any of the promised annuity goods.

"The Indians were disgusted, and furious. They believed that the white men had lied to them. They were also hungry, because it [now] was winter and they had counted on government food to help them get through the hard season."

Within two years two-thirds of the Comanches, Quanah among them, had left the reservation and resumed raiding.

* * * * *
The last gasp of the Comanches came in the harsh winter of 1873-74 when there arose among the tribe a medicine man, magician and in all likelihood a con man known as Isa-Tai. This 23-year-old had a vision of a new order on the plains that would restore the Comanches to their former glory. He soon expanded his evangelism to include the Cheyenne, Kiowa and other tribes, and with Quanah at his side -- the magic man and the tough man -- they roused the Comanche nation into a frenzy of hope and expectation.

The modus operandi was to be revenge raids on Texas that would begin with white buffalo hunters, who were slaughtering the beasts by the millions with their powerful, long-range Sharps rifles, then the Tonkawas, who had defected to the white side and become scouts for the Army, and finally white settlements.

But Isa-Tai's magic did not hold and the Comanches were repelled after attacking a buffalo hunter compound at Adobe Wells, where the Comanches had been repulsed in 1864 by a force led by the legendary Kit Carson.

Gwynne:

"The effect on the Indians was devastating. It was not so much the carnage -- fifteen were killed that day and many more wounded -- as the shocking failure of Isa-Tai's magic. That was the first great demoralizing blow. The second was the wounding of Quanah, who was rescued by his people and brought out of the range of the buffalo guns."

The massive revenge scheme spooled out over the ensuing weeks as Comanches, joined by a few other tribes, destroyed wagon trains, stations and settlements from Texas into southern Kansas. These predations exhausted the last of the white man's patience and ruined forever the arguments of the peace advocates. A protracted Army offense against the tribes commenced and by the time it was over there were fewer than 3,000 Comanches alive and only a few hundred hunter-raiders.

Quanah and what remained of his band surrendered to Colonel Ranald Slidell Mackenzie, a brilliant Indian fighter, on June 2, 1875, near Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and Quanah was informed of the death of his mother. Mackenzie was normally ferocious, but he admired the Quahadis and when he learned they were giving up he wrote his commander, "I shall let them down as easily as I can." And he did.

There commenced a remarkable friendship between the colonel and the chief. While the reservation was a shattering experience for the Comanches, Quanah -- who now called himself Quanah Parker -- decided to take the white man's road.

Gwynne:

"Just as important, he would strive to lead his often recalcitrant, retrogressive tribe down that road. . . . He would remake himself as a prosperous, tax-paying citizen of the United States of America who dressed in wool suits and Stetson hats and attended school board meetings. And he would try to haul the rest of the Comanche nation along with him. . . . Quanah saw the future clearly. On the high and wild plains he had been a fighter of jaw-dropping aggressiveness; now he would move just as resolutely from the life of a late Stone Age barbarian into the mainstream of industrial American culture."

* * * * *
The last Comanche chief drew his last breath on February 23, 1911. He was about 65 years old.

Gynne concludes Empire of the Summer Moon noting that:

"Quanah never looked back, an astonishing feat of will for someone who had lived in such untrammeled freedom on the open plains, and who had endured such a shattering transformation. In hard times he looked resolutely forward toward something better. That sentiment appears, obliquely, on his gravestone, which read:

Resting here until day breaks
And shadows fall
And darkness disappears,
Is Quannah Parker, the last chief of the Comanches


"His school-educated daughter probably wrote it, based loosely on a verse in the song of Solomon, a book of the Old Testament that settlers, among them his forebears, carried with them into the lethal West, where Stone Age pagans on horseback once ruled the immemorial land. Quanah would have been pleased."

Chief Ten Bears: 'We Wish Only To Wander On The Prairie Til We Die'


The last conference between the white man and Indians took place at Medicine Lodge Creek, about 75 miles southwest of the present site of Wichita, Kansas in October 1867. The participants were the U.S. peace commission, which tried to persuade the Indians to accept life on reservations, and representatives of the Comanche, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Kiowa Apache tribes. S.C. Gwynne write in Empire of the Summer Moon that the conference was the last great gathering of free Indians in the American West.

"The event was magnificent, surreal doomed, absurd, bizarre," Gwynne writes, "and surely one of the greatest displays of pure western pageantry ever seen."

Representative from each side spoke eloquently, but the speech by Ten Bears (above, left), the aging chief of the Yamparika band of the Comanches, was the show stopper:
My heart is filled with joy when I see you here, as the brooks fill with water when the snows melt in the spring, and I feel glad as the ponies do when the fresh grass starts in the beginning of the year . . .

My people have never first drawn a bow or fired a gun against the whites. There has been trouble between us . . . my young men have danced the war dance. But it was not begun by us. It was you who sent out the first soldier . . .


Two years ago I came upon this road, following the buffalo, that my wives and children might have their cheeks plump and their bodies warm. But the soldiers fired on us . . . so it was upon the Canadian [River]. Nor have we been made to cry once alone. The blue-dressed soldiers and the Utes came out from the night . . . and for campfires they lit our lodges. Instead of hunting game they killed my braves, and the warriors of the tribe cut short their hair for the dead.


So it was in Texas. They made sorrow in our camps, and we went out like the buffalo bulls when the cows are attacked. When we found them we killed them, and their scalps hang in our lodges. The Comanches are not weak and blind, like the pups of a dog when seven sleeps old. They are strong and farsighted, like grown horses. We took their road and we went on it. The white women cried and our women laughed.


But there are things which you have said to me which I do not like. They were not sweet like sugar, but bitter like gourds. You have said that you want to put us on a reservation, to build us houses and make us medicine lodges. I do not want them. I was born under the prairie, where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures and everything drew a free breath. I want to die there and not within walls. I know every stream and wood between the Rio Grande and the Arkansas. I have hunted and lived our that country. I live like my fathers before me and like them I lived happily.


When I was in Washington the Great Father told me that all the Comanche land was ours and that no one should hinder us in living upon it. So, why do you ask us to leave the rivers and the sun and the wind and live in houses? Do not ask us to give up the buffalo for the sheep. The young men have heard talk of this, and it has made them sad and angry. Do not speak of it more. I love to carry out the talk I get from the Great Father. When I get goods and presents I and my people feel glad, since it shows that he holds us in his eye.


If the Texans had kept out of my country, there might have been peace. But that which you now say we must live in, is too small. The Texans had taken away the places where the grass grew the thickest and the timber was best. Had we kept that, we might have done the things you ask. But it is too late. The whites have the country which we loved, and we wish only to wander on the prairie til we die.
But it was even to late for that, as the Indians knew better than anyone.

Cartoon du Jour


Glenn McCoy/Universal Press Syndicate

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What Happens When Traditional War Rules Are Overtaken By New Realities?

Nineteen died in a June drone attack on a suspected terrorist
training camp in Pakistani near the Afghan border
The question is simple but provocative: How does the United States fight the war against terrorism using the rules of traditional warfare? The answer is complex and far from a settled thing.

White House, State Department and Pentagon officials are are debating the question anew as Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the tribal regions of Pakistan, which are the terrorist organization's traditional haunts, continues to by weakened through Special Forces operations and drone and cruise missile strikes ordered by Barack "Weak On Defense" Obama in the wake of the death of Osama bin Laden in May.

Meanwhile, the battlefield has shifted to Yemen and Somalia, two essentially ungoverned lands separated by the Gulf of Aden.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was responsible for the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009, while the Shabab, an Al Qaeda affiliate, operates in Somalia.

There is a consensus among government and military officials that the operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan should continue. The question is whether the U.S. should continue to go after only high-level leaders of the Arabian Peninsula groups who may be personally linked to plots to attack the U.S. or whether it can also attack the thousands of low-level foot soldiers for the terrorist leaders.

Complicating this slippery slope of a question is that the U.S.'s European allies tend to believe that the terrorism battlefield does not extend beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan, while the legality of an unconstrained "global" war under international law is cloudy.

My own view, which rather uncomfortably and coincidentally is that of Senator Lindsay Graham, the Senate's leading legal authority on military matters, is that restrictions on the definition of the battlefield, let alone the combatants, ultimately will impede the fight.

This, of course, flies in the face of of the time-honored notion that the U.S. does not have the right to kill people in countries with whom it is not at war. But with the 9/11 attacks freshly on our minds because of the 10th anniversary just passed, it should be noted that we were not at war with Saudi Arabia, where most of the hijackers came from, but that should not have been a bar against going after them there -- or anywhere else.

And hey, why not get Congress involved in the debate? On second thought . . .

Monday, September 19, 2011

Veep Joe Biden On The Parlous State Of American Politics: This Too Shall Pass


I met the future Vice President Joseph R. Biden when I was 12 and on my way to junior high school and he was 17 and entering his senior year at a Catholic boy's school. I was pretty much clueless and he a gangly kid with no apparent social skills and a stutter. We played beach volleyball together at the Delaware shore for a couple of summers and his folks and my folks became friends. Delaware, you see, is even smaller than it looks on a map.

Biden went on to the University of Delaware, where he excelled at political science in a department later chaired by the late Jim Soles, who was to attract the future managers of both the 2008 Obama and McCain campaigns to Delaware as undergrads. I followed Joe to Delaware where I excelled at nothing except getting in trouble with the dean of men for locking horns with the university administration as the editor of the student newspaper.

Although I sort of kept up with Biden through my parents' friendship with his, our paths didn't cross again until 1972 and my second election as a voter when I pulled the lever for a Joe who had long left behind the traits of awkward adolescence.

He upset a longtime Republican U.S. senator and within days of the election suffered the tragic deaths of his wife and baby daughter in a horrific traffic accident. Persuaded by Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield of Montana to not quit, the following month he began the first of six terms in Washington characterized by hard work, foreign relations expertise, a willingness to compromise and a successful hair weave, as well as a tendency to shoot from the lip that he has carried over into one of the more successful vice presidencies in American political history.

In all, this ticket splitter has voted for Biden seven times (no other candidate comes anywhere near as close), the last time in 2008. Next year with be the eighth and I presume last time.

Fast forward to last Friday when Biden returned to his alma mater to donate his Senate papers to the rare book and manuscript library where I work.

The papers will fill 3,000 manuscript boxes, a box being about the size of a case of 12-ounce beer bottles, and include thousands of electronic files and ephemera. It will be a treasure trove for scholars and is especially strong on materials from his tenure as chairman of the Foreign Relations and Judiciary committees.

Italic* * * * *
Biden's day had begun in flood-ravaged Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, where he was born. He then visited the family of a New Castle County, Delaware, police officer who was shot dead on Thursday night. After touring our manuscript and rare book library, he gave the first annual James R. Soles Lecture on the Constitution and Leadership to a standing-room crowd.

A recurring theme during his one-hour address was that politics was a contact sport at the outset of the republic and has been intermittently since. While it is hard to see beyond the current political strife in Washington, He noted that there has been gridlock before and things will eventually sort themselves out. Biden, inspired by two extraordinary professors at Delaware that I also had, went on to law school where he specialized in constitutional law, which he taught part time early in his Senate career, and the lecture was timed to coincide with Constitution Day.

"The true accomplishment of our founders was not that they spoke with one voice but that they brought together many voices to forge the Constitution," Biden said. "That is the genius of the document."

As has been proven time and again, the Constitution doesn't provide certainty, he said, adding that the founders knew they couldn't create a document that would settle all questions that might ever arise. "But they could be settled by the institutions to which the Constitution gave rise and power. . . . They built a framework for government that allowed many disparate voices to be heard."

The vice president got in a few jabs at obstructionist Republicans and the Tea Party in particular.

If Americans trust the process of government, he said, today's generation will successfully get through "this temporary period of political paralysis."

With Republicans continuing their hostage taking, most recently with President Obama's jobs bill, it is difficult to see that the paralysis will end anytime soon, and in my view it will only end when the GOP takes such a thumping in future elections that moderates are able to take back the keys to the car.

Photograph by Evan Krape/University of Delaware

Cartoon du Jour


Ted Rall/Universal Press Syndicate

GOP Speaks Up For Poor Millionares


For once leading congressional Republicans have it right. Taking to the unquestioning Sunday morning talk shows, they decried the proposed minimum tax rate for millionaires rolled out today by President Obama as "class warfare" and an insidious way to portray the GOP as being indifferent to the many hardships being faced by ordinary Americans. Which, of course, is exactly what they are.

The outpouring of bombast was not unexpected, but for the Republicans to portray themselves so accurately is, perhaps, a chess move gone awry in the party's ongoing effort to avoid joining their Democratic colleagues and the president in actually helping govern the U.S. out of unrelentingly dire economic times.

The award winner among the talking heads for sheer hubris was Representative Paul Ryan, the author of a dead-on-arrival deficit reduction plan that would have rewarded those poor, defenseless millionaires while impacting on the middle class, elderly, poor and infirm in a way that recalls Sherman's march through Georgia. Oh, and would remove virtually all regulatory controls on Wall Street.

Ryan, shriller than usual, told his friendly host at Fox News Sunday that the millionaire tax rate "adds further instability to our system, more uncertainty and it punishes job creation," which if nothing else certainly gives meaning to the term pretzel logic since the notion that the moolah the wealthy generate "trickles down" to we mere mortals has been widely discredited.

Astounding. Absolutely astounding.

Obama beat the income inequity drum loudly during his 2008 campaign but has allowed himself to be shouted down by the disloyal opposition and some Democrats as well when he has broached the idea of increasing taxes on the rich.

But this time it's going to be different.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Oh Those Wild & Crazy Italians: Kind Of Like The French Without The Fries

If you need a break from the serial hijinks and buffoonery of the American political scene, look no further than Italy. What's going on there is hilarious if you overlook the fact that Prime Minister Silvio "Bunga Bunga" Berlusconi could well destroy what is left of the economic stability of Europe, which makes our own economic difficulties discreto (not so bad).

A couple of things have focused my attention on Italy -- its incestuous relationship with semi-deposed Libyan strongman Moammar el-Qaddafi and my love affair with Tuscan cooking, which has replaced takeout pizza as a comfort food and is considerably tastier and more nutritious.

So I have been reading up on contemporary Italian history, which pretty much revolves around Berlusconi, who has been in power for most of the last two decades while amassing billions with time out for scandals, including his ongoing trial for paying for sex with a minor (a 17-year-old prostitute and belly dancer), as well as his "bunga bunga" parties, which is a cute way of saying orgies and has no comparable phrase in English. Nor needs one. Makes politicians like David "Diaper Dave" Vitter and Larry "Wide Stance" Craig seem positively virtuous.

Despite Italy's extraordinary cultural history and being home to some of the most forward looking manufacturers in the world, the country has been running on fumes for years.

No one has been willing to make tough choices, austerity programs keep getting put off, a recent New York Times article stated that in a pungent example of jobs for votes, a tiny Sicilian town with virtually no traffic has a fulltime traffic cop and eight part-time assistants while an astonishing 15 percent of all Italians work for the government, and the attitude of voters borders on the somnambulant . How else to explain why the U.S. has had 12 governments since World War II and Italy an astounding sixty-freaking-three. (That is not a typo.)

This begs a Roman Coliseum-sized question: Why do voters keep electing people like Berlusconi? The short answer is that there is nobody better waiting in the wings.

The world community can be grateful, I suppose, that soon to be 75-year-old prime minister would rather play with young senoras rather than, say, a nuclear arsenal or that that oil-laden supertankers bound from the Middle East for the U.S. don't have to transit Italian waters.

At the end of the day, the Italians kind of remind me of the French without the fries. In awe of the past and pissing all over the present. But when it comes to prime ministers, the Italians have the French beat by a parsec.

Cartoon du Jour


Christopher Aqurette

I Could Care Less . . . But


I could care less if Sarah Palin had a one-night stand with a basketball player when she was a sports broadcaster back in 1987.

I could care less that the player was future Miami Heat star Glen Rice, who was playing for Michigan and was in Anchorage for a tournament.

I could care less that 6-foot-7 Rice is an African-American.

I could care less that Rice is said to have confirmed the tryst for Joe McGinniss for
The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin, his forthcoming book.

I could care less that she broke a cardinal rule of journalism in sleeping with one of her sources.

I could care less that the future half-term governor was seeing future husband Todd Palin at the time and is said by friends to have freaked out when she realized what she had done.

I could care less if she and Rice continued their relationship through telephone calls.

I could care less if the salacious allegation was being aired by a less scrupulous reporter than McGinniss, who rented a house next to the Palins while researching the book.


But I do care because Sarah Palin, who endlessly preaches abstinence and has raised hypocrisy and obfuscation among politicians to new heights, remains a contender for president of the United States.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Are We Still Capable Of Outrage?

WikiLeaks document dumps over the last year or so on the quagmires in Afghanistan and Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and State Department diplomatic cables, among others, begs an important question: Are we still capable of outrage?
The past decade has been a carnival of disasters beginning with the 9/11 attacks and followed by the fool's mission in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression with a slo-mo jobless recovery, a deeply fractured body politic roiled by renewed class, culture and race warfare, the BP oil spill, and as the document dumps make glaringly obvious, a government that excels at lurching from crisis to crisis.

Speaking only for myself as an employed, high and dry veteran with good health insurance who has been able to work up a good case of outrage in years past, bombshells just aren't what they used to be. I'm feeling outrage deficient and also suffer from a bit of empathy overload (well gee, why should you be surprised if you chose to live at the beach and your house is swept away in a hurricane?) and that's worrisome because it's just a short ride from those places to outright apathy.

Have mused long and hard on this state of affairs (actually, it crossed my mind in the shower the other day), I believe that the root of my semi-malaise, which seems to be shared by a good many of us, is because we feel disempowered.

We don't think the country is headed in the right direction. We don't trust our government because of its capacity to screw up. We don't trust liberals because, if they were right they would have had more converts. We don't trust conservatives because many of them have lost their minds. We don't trust the news media because of its capacity to be led as if it had a big ring in its nose. We don't trust big business because it would rather make obscene profits than hire workers. We don't trust banks and other financial institutions because they and only they control the economy. And to air a personal gripe, I don't trust the food-industry jackals who reduced the size of my favorite shredded mozzarella cheese from 10 ounces to 7 ounces while raising the price.

Add to that the fact that even the most fervent Barack Obama supporters, including myself, feel . . . well, let down and you've got a perfect storm of disempowerment.
Image by Miki

Cartoon du Jour


Tom Toles/Universal Press Syndicate

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Random Thoughts On A Writerly Life

This month marks the 45th anniversary of my debut as a writer -- that is someone who got paid for writing -- and I recall that my first byline was a story on a local Marine drowning while on combat maneuvers on Okinawa.

I was paid 15 bucks for that article; that is 15 bucks for each Saturday that I toiled in the newsroom of my local rag writing mostly obituaries. As compared to the sweet 100 grand and six weeks of paid vacation that I negotiated my way to while covering the O.J. Simpson murders and criminal trial five days a week for 16 straight months in 1995-96, as well as writing a syndicated column on the Trial of the Century.
Early on, I found it relatively easy to write for others as a rewrite man who would take notes from reporters in the field and then craft deadline stories under their bylines in their voices. But I have no idea when I found my voice as a writer. I just woke up one day and realized that I had one.

That voice is familiar to readers of this blog: Edgy and fairly simple language and sentence and paragraph structure with an occasional 10 dollar word thrown in because, doncha know,
sometimes a big or obscure word can make a sentence more interesting and sometimes even lyrical as it rolls through the reader's mind.

As far as an ethic, I try to get out ahead of a story by explaining what might come next, not what already has happened. And when expressing my own view, doing so provocatively.

The hardest thing I ever did was write the obituary of a newspaper columnist friend who was stabbed to death by a punk while waiting in line at a Seven-11. It was harder than climbing a 13,000 foot mountain in Colorado or hiking out onto the South Rim of the Grand Canyon with blister-covered feet. It was hard because I not only adored Russell and was heartbroken, but I was told to write the obituary in the voice of the paper's obituary writer, who was not up to the task although the obit would carry his famous byline.

Oh, and by the way, every story can be told in 25 words or less. Don't believe me? Check out this 25 word gem from a recent New York Times:
In the years since 2001, neither our worst fear nor our highest hopes have been realized. But what passes for normal has exacted a price.
That about covers it, eh?

The only thing that I have not been able to write is comedy, and God knows I tried when a wealthy benefactress who planned to market a line of stuffed elephants called Repiglicans and donkeys called Demoquacks to sell at political conventions paid me a nice advance to come up with witticisms to package with the critters. I bombed. Badly.

Have I, you might ask, ever written something that could not be improved upon? Absolutely not, and that covers somewhere over 12,000 articles, magazine pieces and a true-crime book. (This article probably comes closest.)

With an exquisite sense of timing, I retired from the newspaper business six weeks before the 9/11 attacks, but found I still needed to scratch my writerly itch. I also was being bugged by people to write about my life experiences. These people notably included my children, who as youngsters never tired of my telling them stories of my mischievous youth and teenaged years, and later my world travels.

And so I became a blogger.

* * * * *
I am currently mentoring via email a Zulu lad who is a friend of a former stateside newspaper colleague for whom things were not crazy enough in the U.S., which prompted her to move to South Africa.

My advice to him about gud . . . er, good writing is as follows:
The most important thing is KEEPING YOUR READER IN MIND.

Who is your audience? Is the level of information in the piece that you are writing suitable for this audience? Is the language simple enough if you are writing for a general audience? Is it challenging enough if you are writing for a more sophisticated audience?

You must
DETERMINE YOUR PURPOSE.

Why are you writing a particular article or story? What message do you want to impart? Do you want to merely entertain or amuse? Do you merely want to share a simple tale? Or do you want to educate your audience about a particular subject? If you are able to figure this out first, then writing the article or story will be easier.

You must
FOCUS YOUR CONCEPT.

Try not to write too broadly and narrow down your topic to a specific aspect or angle. People are far less interested in being, say, a passenger in a story on bus trips in general than specific kinds of bus trips.

You should try to
BEGIN YOUR PIECE IN AN INTERESTING WAY.

In my true-crime mystery book, I kill off the protagonist in the very first sentence of the very first paragraph:

The smell of snow was in the air as Eddie Joubert opened the back door to the Bottom of the Fox and walked down the steps for the last time.

I then keep the reader hanging for most of the book about whether his murder is solved.


Try to GET TO THE POINT QUICKLY.

This is less important in a book than in an article or story, but the reader should know fairly quickly why you are writing what you are writing.

If it is a non-fiction article,
KNOW YOUR FACTS.

If you are writing about a bus trip from East London to Durban in South Africa, make sure you know what the distance is, as well as the sights, sounds and smells and the types of people you are likely to encounter as fellow passengers. This is not just because accuracy is important, but because you can't fool readers who will always know more than you.

Try to
INVOLVE YOUR READERS.

Are you able to present experiences to which others can relate? Can you tap into their emotions? I, for instances, sought to get readers of my book to relate to Eddie Joubert and his circle of friends.

ADD COLOR
to what you write.

"Color" means words and descriptions that help your readers to see, hear, smell and even feel what you are writing about. Getting back to the first sentence and paragraph of my book, note that I write:

The smell of snow was in the air and e
xcept for a thin ribbon of light in the western sky it already was dark.

While some people may have never experienced the smell of snow, people in colder climes know exactly what an approaching snow storm smells like, while anyone can relate to that thin ribbon of light in the moments before the sun sets.

You must
WRITE WITH CONVICTION.

Just as better informed readers will know if you have written haphazardly about a bus trip from East London to Durban, readers have a sixth sense about knowing whether a writer has conviction or is merely going through the motions.

Endeavor to
GET RID OF EXCESS WORDS.

This not only avoids bogging down the reader, but it can sometimes add an edge to your writing.

AVOID USING CLICHES at all costs.


I always avoid overused expressions such as "light as a feather" or "sly as a fox" because they are products of lazy writing. Try to find a less trite way to say something.

Understand that
GOOD WRITING MEANS HAVING TO DO MORE RESEARCHING AND DOING REWRITING.

If I had the luxury of not having a deadline breathing down my neck, I interviewed some people two or three times for newspaper articles. I interviewed some people four or five times for my book, which went through many drafts. When it was finally done, parts of it bore little resemblance to the first draft.

Finally, GET INTO THE HABIT OF WRITING REGULARLY.

That may be the last thing you want to do at the end of a hard day, so make it the first thing you do in the morning. My friend Pete Dexter, who won the National Book Award for Paris Trout, writes every morning without exception.
Okay, you can have off on weekends.


* * * * *
If I still have your attention, I refer you to "Fennimore Cooper's Literary Offenses," an essay by Mark Twain, the second funniest American evah behind Groucho Marx, that will give you a good laugh while improving your writing

Cartoon du Jour


Jim Morin/Miami Herald

Dr. Ron Paul Has A Heart Of Stone. And Plenty Of Company In Today's GOP.

KENT SNYDER AND RON PAUL
There was a special moment during the CNN/Tea Party presidential debate on Monday evening when moderator Wolf Blitzer threw out a red-meat hypothetical: What do the candidates think about the case of a young man who could afford health insurance but chose not to buy it and became gravely ill? Should the state pay his bills?

"That's what freedom is all about; taking your own risks," replied Ron Paul. "This whole idea that you have to take care of everybody--"

Paul's response was drowned out by cheers from the audience, as well as shouts of "Let him die! Let him die!"

The response and applause was a defining moment for today's Republican Party, which has been hijacked by right-wing zealots who are so twisted that they are pro-life when it comes to abortion but pro-death when it comes to health-care reform.

Ron Paul, however, is even more twisted than his ardent acolytes. You see, Ron Paul is a medical doctor and knows first hand what happens when young people don't have health insurance: In 2008, Kent Snyder, his friend and former campaign manager, died of complications from pneumonia at age 49.

Snyder was relatively young and seemingly healthy when the illness struck. When he died on June 26, 2008, two weeks after Dr. Paul withdrew his first bid for the presidency, his hospital costs totaled $400,000. His mother was incapable of paying the bill.

"Let him die! Let him die!"

The issue that defines America and its people in coming years will not be reducing the federal budget deficit or what to do about income taxes. It will be health care.

Health care is an inalienable right. Other industrialized countries recognized this years ago. Only the U.S. stands alone in letting tens of millions of its citizens, including many children, go without adequate health care or the insurance to pay for that care.

The rights of insurance and drug companies and for-profit hospital chains trump those of Joe and Jane Sixpack, and Dr. Paul and virtually all of the Republican presidential field are just fine with that.

"Let him die! Let him die!"