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Friday, June 13, 2003  

On and off the Web

Off the Web


Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine, short stories by Thom Jones. I feel guilty about not having read much of Jones before. He is an author from the Pacific Northwest who I know a little from having attended conferences and readings he also attended. Of more importance, he has been a writer other writers consider someone to watch for years. So, I really don't have an excuse for having neglected him.

Many of the stories in Friend are set in Vietnam, during the war. They focus on the men in a Marine reconnaisance squad. This is not the war as politics. It is the war of hallucinations, foot rot and killing that is as likely to be uncalled for as it is to be soldiering. I find myself comparing the gritty details of a real war to recent U.S. invasions. As far as I know, there is no literature of the Gulf War. Nor do I think there will be a literature of the latest invasion of Iraq. Why? It seems to me that war writing requires the larger conflict be epic, even if epicly wrong. That requires real 'warring.' Those invasions pit Goliath against David, with David not standing a chance. They are a boxing match between Mike Tyson and Steven Hawking. A shooting contest between a blowgun and a cannon. So, the soldiers are not caught up in conflicts of man against society or man against himself. The reasons veterans have to question their involvement in Vietnam probably do not cross the minds of most contemporary veterans and active duty personnel. The sell of war as computer game may have succeeded too well.

One of the more striking stories in the collection is "Fields of Purple Forever." The protagonist, Ondine, is a veteran of the reconnaisance squad, whose ankles, broken when an escape plane was shot down, trammel him on the ground. But, in the water he is merman. He has taken up long distance swims, including the English Channel. Naked but swathed in Vick's Vapor Rub he reenters the primordial element of humankind -- and belongs there.

On land, Ondine lives with ghosts, something he began to do in Vietnam, where he was almost murdered by angry villagers armed with pitchforks and hatchets, and raped and killed randomly himself. But, he realizes the 'beast' is not just himself, viewing his fellow men and women with a wary eye.

But what do they want? Why is it they falsify to you, and why is it you falsify back? You got to do it. I know it. One day they might whip out a guitar and sing "We are the children of the world," and then, when they can't think of nothing better, they start fighting each other. Hard to sort things out. Peoples are half devils. Three-quarters. i live among them, but I don't have the first clue.

This is a short story that should not work. The protagonist is not engaged in fighting anything other than the genreal horde he describes and he does that in a removed way in the actual time of the story. He seldoms interacts with other people. The dialogue is limited to an exchange with a customs inspector. But, the character alone is enough to carry the story. The reader becomes intensely interested in what Ondine thinks and does. It take a master of the genre to pull that off. Jones is a master of the genre.


A fiction blog. One of the things I took up blogging for was to have a place to publish fiction that does not find a place in a short story collection or novel. I have file drawers full of it and some of that pile is not so bad people would not find it worth reading. A fiction blog would allow that without requiring the administrative duties a regular blog does. I've mentioned this in passing before, but now seems a good time to do it. I am not exactly impressed with the antics of the self-described liberal leaders of the blogosphere. They are increasingly striking me as puffed up blowhards whose hypocrisy exceeds that of a nun who is secretly a prostitute. I came to the blogosphere to do something much different than the daily wind blowing about how wonderful and progressive they are that has them convinced them they run the world, when in fact only a handful of people know blogs exist. Getting my fiction blog up is a way to distance myself from the blight before I catch the disease. Getting it up will mean a lot of scanning and reformmatting to make the material fit a blog, but I think it will be worth the trouble.


That sinus problem. It seemed to end with Spring over, which made sense to me. The pollens and other irritants were at their height then. But, it recurred a few days ago. I feel like a 120-pound nose again. The pressure across the bridge just won't let up and I've gotten a couple sinus headaches. I'll be buying some more of the liquid saline readers recommended at the store today.

On the Web

*It shouldn't be 'legal'

Trish Wilson, who has just had a piece accepted by an important publication, is doing something worthwhile that will actually make a real difference in people's lives -- taking on a phony diagnoses that has gained footing in the judicial system as recovered memory did a few years ago.

I've just had an article accepted for publication by the pre-eminent feminist magazine, off our backs. I submitted a piece entitled "The Use of Psychological Syndromes Against Mothers In The Courtroom" for OOB's "Women and Psychiatry" issue, due to be published later this summer . I address the use of "junk" science such as Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) as well as the way court-ordered psychological evaluations in divorce, visitation, and custody cases have become a lucrative business. When the issue comes out, I'll post about it here.

This article is especially timely due to the death of Dr. Richard Gardner, who coined PAS. I've recently learned that Gardner had committed suicide.

Visit Trish's blog to learn more about the man who fashioned Parental Alienation Syndrome.

*The property owner as God

James McLaughlin at A Skeptical Blog is getting embroiled in a continuing debate with a rigid sounding Libertarian -- again.

At the time I started debating Andrew [Langer], he was working for the Competitive Enterprise Institute:

The Competitive Enterprise Institute is a non-profit public policy organization dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government. We believe that consumers are best helped not by government regulation but by being allowed to make their own choices in a free marketplace. Since its founding in 1984, CEI has grown into a $3,000,000 institution with a team of nearly 40 policy experts and other staff.

In other words, it is a Libertarian think tank. When it says consumers are best helped out by a free marketplace they mean that government should not regulate business at all. This is especially true of environmental regulations.

James has a lot more patience than I do. In my experience, one has to practically reinvent the wheel to get the slightest opening of the mind of this kind of opponent. James is going to try to draw the fellow away from his belief "the property owner is the best protector of the environment." It is amazing to me that Langer and his cohorts could ever have arrived at such a belief in the first place. Why would a factory owner, say, be the best protector of property rights when he can maximize his profits by polluting not just his site, but everything thing near it with emissions or deposits of carcinogens into nearby streams or rivers? Good luck to James in reinventing the wheel.

*Fear of reading

Tarek at The Liquid List clues us in on the story of an inmate thrown into the hole, i.e. solitary confinement. His infraction -- reading.

his AP item recounts the story of a prisoner serving time for protesting at the School of the Americas, at Fort Benning, in Columbus, Georgia. (Care to guess the worst place I've ever been stranded during air-travel, in my life? Worse than Rabat? Worse than Newark? Columbus, GA.) While serving his sentence, he received some news clippings from the Readers Digest, New York Times, and other publications. He was then removed to solitary confinement.

William Combs, who is a bit of a protest gadfly, is represented by a BIll Quigley:

Bill Quigley said the minimum-security prison camp transferred his client, William "Bud" Combs, to the Santa Rosa County Jail for eight days of solitary after friends sent him anti-war and social justice articles from The New York Times, "Readers' Digest," "Newsweek," The Los Angeles Times, the BBC and the British newspaper The Guardian.

"Even in prison you're not supposed to be punished for reading the paper," Quigley said in a telephone interview from New Orleans, where he is a Loyola University law professor. "This gives us an idea about the arbitrary power, and what people consider political activity, in prison."

When people are put into solitary confinement for reading "Readers' Digest," there's got to be something wrong.

I can imagine how Combs annoyed prison personnel. A lot of people are made uncomfortable by clever folks. An inmate who is always reading would catch their eye. Of course, I wasn't there, but anything they could consider being smart-assed to his 'superiors' probably aggravated them, too. And, to them, punishment of a prisoner who does not know his place would seem justified.

5:11 PM