Why I Am (Partly) Not A Conservative

I try to ignore Glenn Beck.  I think he’s pathetic.  All he can do is whine about things he quite often doesn’t understand.  For instance, his latest peeve has to do with being bumped out of line by science fiction.  Yeah, that’s right.  Glenn Beck’s book Broke has been number 1 on Amazon for a while and it apparently got beat out finally by a science fiction anthology.

His complaint that this is from “the left” is telling.  First off he’s trying to make it sound like some profound philosophical issue, that a science fiction collection outsold his book on Amazon.  (He also noted that the Keith Richards autobiography bumped him as well and please note the twist he gives that.)

Why the Left?  Is science fiction a left-wing thing?  I know a lot of SF writers who style themselves right-wing, libertarian, conservative, etc.  Some of them are very good, too, and I have read some of their work with pleasure.  Unless they were writing from an overtly political stance, I found no reason to call them on their “rightishness” because they outsold another writer’s work that might have been a bit leftish.  This is just a silly complaint and displays an obsession with partisan politics or just immaturity.  This is, of course, Glenn Beck we’re talking about, who seems to find more reasons to evoke Nazi similes than any other pundit I know of and has occasionally shed tears over the abuse he sees our great country enduring from the left.

But this is ridiculous.  Because isn’t this…I mean, Glenn, isn’t this just the free market making itself heard?  Your book can’t stay number one because that would belie the whole principle of competition you claim to believe in.  Everybody who works hard and honestly should have their shot at being number one for a little while and this anthology is a poster-child for hard work and perseverance because, well, it’s self-published!  It doesn’t even have a major (or minor) publishing house behind it!  It got there all on its own, man!  This is the flower of the free market!  David whupping Goliath’s ass!  This should make you proud!

No, he berates it because it has to do with death or the culture of death, which he equates with left-wing politics somehow.  And for good measure drags Keith Richards into the whole death equation.

If the Right wants to know why people on the Left or even in the Center have no patience for them, this is ample explanation.  The expression  “Get a life” comes to mind.

I recall listening to Rush Limbaugh once trying to trash U2 on the air and managing to demonstrate his utter cluelessness and inability to deal in metaphor.  Is hyper-literalism symptomatic of right-wing thinking?  It must be, because literalism is where they get all caught up and their incompetence shows.  I listened once in complete dismay to Pat Robertson condemning the film Trainspotting for its “glorification of drugs” and I sat there dumbfounded wondering how on earth anyone could see that film as a glorification of drugs.  I remained baffled until I realized, based on a couple of other articles from fundamentalists and right-wing pundits, that in their view the mere mention of drugs, regardless of context, is glorification.  Somehow they could not see a film that takes a serious, unvarnished look at drug abuse as perhaps critical of the lifestyle.  I suppose because there was no father-figure character preaching in the film.

But it showed me another problem.  The possibility that an audience might empathize with the characters—not approve, because clearly in the case of Trainspotting approval is virtually impossible, but understand.  These are human beings, with a problem, certainly, but human beings all the same and maybe they deserve some sympathy, some help, some understanding.

Because understanding is not what they’re about.  They don’t want to understand —they only want to condemn that of which they disapprove.

Upon Obama’s election and his early attempts to reach across the aisle and his calls to work together, Rush Limbaugh made a broadcast in which he declared that he did not want to understand, to cooperate, to reach across the aisle, to work together.  He flatly refused the idea that common ground could be found.  While I’m sure there are some far Left ideologues who feel the same way, I hear very little of that from most of the Left.

Let me be clear, I’m talking about the mouthpieces here, and by extension those who fawn over them.  I’m talking about the Hannitys, the Becks, the Limbaughs, the Robertsons, the Savages.

They have no depth.  No perspective.  They in fact seem to have no sense of proportion and certainly no grasp of anything but the plainest equations of Us versus Them.  Their comparisons are absurd and frightening, their intransigence at times borderline obscene, and the culture they would see dominant is inarticulate, graceless, and vapid.  Like their last president, W., they “don’t do nuance” and it shows.

I can deal with conservatism.  I can even sympathize with some of it and agree with certain aims.  We spend too much, often regulations seem arbitrary and ill-conceived, and the tax structure is a Rube Goldberg agglomeration of bad compromises, loopholes, and penalties badly in need of revision.

I cannot deal with humorless, puddle-deep, anti-intellectual, squeamish petulance masking as political philosophy.  The Tea Party candidate for congress in Texas who declared that armed insurrection in the case that the midterm elections don’t go their way is not “off the table” does not impress me as mature patriotism—which I’m sure it was designed to look like, the moronic conflation of the willingness to do violence with a twisted idea of “adult”—but as the posturing of a ten-year-old in a schoolyard showdown ala the Duke facing down the bad guy.

It is possible that these folks have been there all along, but when we had a Soviet Union and a global communist conspiracy to fix their attention we didn’t notice them so much.  Since the Soviet Union collapsed and the only thing responsible government should have done was go around cleaning up the messes left over by all the proxy wars we’d fought with them since the end of World War II, these folks have had really nothing to vent their conspiracy-obsessed, uptight, puritanical faux-patriotism on.  It took a while for them to build an empire of disinformation and fear-fostering on the multitude of petty gripes and cultural shifts they rigorously and doggedly label Liberal or Left, even when those labels have nothing to do with the subject being so condemned.  9/11 was a gift to them, finally something to fix their attention on and get people stirred up to a rousing level of hyper-adrenalized nationalism—the politics of aversion carried to almost virtuoso heights.

At the end of the day, in all honesty, I have to admit that I cannot join with these people not so much because I disagree with their politics—I do, but not completely, and I find much that could feed a useful dialogue in some of their saner examples—but because I dislike them as human beings.  I don’t know if their deep conservatism has made them such feckless mooks or if their culture blind puritanism has made them conservatives, but however it worked, the result is, to me, repulsive.  They seem compelled to slot people all the time, in this category or that; even when something goes the way they think it should, if it does so for the “wrong people” they’re unhappy; and they have no sense of irony.

Really, Glenn.  You got bumped out the number one spot on Amazon and it’s because of the Left?  Get a life.

Transparencies of Days Past

Gradually, given enough time, I’ll both learn proficiency with the new digital medium and transfer my best images from nearly forty years of photography.  I’ve been doing this “in between” all the other things on my plate and it hasn’t had top priority, but once in a while I find some old negatives or, in this case, transparencies that make me wonder, for only a moment, why I’m doing anything else.  I finish working something like this over…


…and I get a thrill such as I used to whenever I first made a new image that I thought was worth a damn.

What’s fun now is  that I barely remember taking some of these photographs, but I remember them.  This was an abandoned house behind the property of the people I once worked for.  Furthermore, I shot this with my view camera, a 4X5 Linhof.  I very much wanted to do fine photography and I was raised on the idea that the f64 Group—which had members like Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Wynn Bullock, and others—were the gold standard.  Most of them shot with large format view cameras.  When I finally acquired one and started working with the format, I fell in love.

Negative size relates directly to print quality, that much is obvious, and I could make some very large prints from 4X5 negatives.  But the color work!  This was shot on a long obsolete Ektachrome, E3.  Through most of the 60s on until, oh, the mid 80s or thereabouts, amateur transparency film was E4.  That designates the emulsion type and the processing type.  E3 had been the studio standard for decades and even up through the mid to late 70s large format transparency film was E3.  I could process this myself at home, but it was a magnificent pain.  It required re-exposure part way through the process.  But it possessed a color saturation and vividness e4, as far as I’m concerned, never had.

This particular one, though, had problems.  When I pulled it out of the sleeve it was clear that I had probably been the one to process it.  The image was washed out, heavy in the cyan range.  It may not have been properly stabilized, I don’t know.  But there was enough to it to make it worth scanning.

Once in Photoshop, I was able to revive the original color, much to my surprise, and the image is as sharp as one might wish.  I took it further by erasing a couple of superfluous details, ramping up the contrast a bit, then de-saturating it somewhat for a kind of “aged” look.  Little else was done.  The original exposure had captured everything I needed in good register.

The view camera kit weighed about thirty pounds and I lugged it all over for several years, trying to make “important” images.  A lot of it turned out to be magnificent garbage, but some…well, some came out not too badly.

You’ll find this one and a couple others now on the Zenfolio site.  Enjoy.

The Celebration of the Book, 2010

I’m taking some time to put on my President’s hat and talk about our upcoming event.
We’re a week away from the Celebration.  October 23rd at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri.

If you’ve been reading this blog any length of time, then you know about my involvement.  For the last 8 1/2 years I’ve been working for it, trying to make it better, five of those years as president.  We’ve done some pretty cool things in that time.

The Missouri Center for the Book has, like most such organizations, been undergoing some ups and downs the last few years.  We have been reorganizing in order to be a more vital part of the literary and reading community in Missouri.  Among the things that we have done over the last few years is the establishment of the Poet Laureate office for the state.  We are instrumental in running the program and selecting the candidates for the post every two years.  The program has been very popular.  We also continue to run the state Letters About Literature Awards for students.  Every year we send representatives to the National Book Festival.

And we put on our annual Celebration.

There are more things we’re planning for the future, but the Celebration is our signature event.  Public participation and support are essential.  While we are technically a state agency, we receive no direct financial aid from the state, and must rely on people who appreciate what we do for support.  This year’s Celebration is important for a number of reasons, but mainly public participation will determine what kind—and whether—we will have one next year.

So I’m asking people to come.  Money is fine, we can always use money, but we’d like to see a crowd this year.  We’d like to see you.  There’s nothing like a roomful of warm bodies appreciating what’s on stage to keep something like this going, to keep it alive, to keep it relevant.

Soon we’ll be launching our new website, which will have blogs and discussion boards, and we can draw the whole state into a wonderful conversation about books and authors.  But even a healthy internet presence and participation by a big online community isn’t the same as people walking through the door, sitting down, and listening to our authors and presenters.

So plan a weekend, show up.  And next year, we’ll do it again.


It has been my practice to, as best as I can, as much as I’m allowed, ignore birthdays.  My birthdays.  I love the attention, don’t get me wrong, but I have always been a bit nervous about attention, especially undeserved attention.  I mean, what the hell, it’s just another day of the week, a point in the arbitrary cycle of time humans impose on nature, and I’m just passing through.  What’s so special about that?

Birthdays are markers, to be used by people to order their universes.  It matters little to me that I am now 56 years old (fifty-six!  shit, how did that happen?  I was just…) but it matters to me how long I’ve had the life I have, the friends I have, have done the things I’ve done, and know the world as I do, and in that respect birthdays are just as important as any other marker.  It’s an anniversary and if people want an excuse to say to each other “Hey, I’m glad you’re in the world and that I know you” then by all means, birthdays are a good one.  The anniversary of one’s advent into the world.

But fifty-six?  Seriously?  Damn.


At this point, I have to say, I’ve had a hell of a good time.  It didn’t always seem so while I lived it, but in retrospect there is very little to complain about.  Most people have a list—you know, A LIST—detailing all the things they want to do.  Probably a goodly part of anyone’s list never happens.  That trip to the Antarctic, hiking the Swiss Alps, seeing Europe, lounging on a beach in the Mediterranean…or more mundane things like, building your own house, learning to fence, owning a really frivolous car (just because), or playing in a band…lists contain a lot of wishes, some dreams, a lot of stuff that once we reach a certain age we realize we didn’t really want to do after all.

I have a list.  There are things still on it that I want to do that I haven’t and may never do.

But the number of things that I have done…

It’s been a pretty good life to this point.  It would have been nice if this or that had gone differently and produced a better result, but the fact is I have done much of what I wanted to do.  I’ve photographed mountains, played in that band, met a lot of very cool people (and some not so cool).  I grew up blue collar not-quite-poor (and my parents worked their way out of that into a comfortable gentility) and managed to sabotage my own educational opportunities—which only means that where others went to college, I went to the local library—and yet I can count as friends a few of the best writers on the planet, a couple of top drawer philosophy professors, fine artists, and, most importantly, the best kind of friends anyone could hope for who are, regardless of any other merit, simply wonderful, decent people.

I’ve published books.  That’s something that figured large on my list.  I’ve done it.  (I’d like to keep doing it, which is a problem right now to be solved, but hey…)

One thing on my list that I actually believed would never happen because I was such a screwed up kid, was falling in love with a woman who would be my best friend and staying with her for life.

I did that and there was a time I thought I didn’t want that.

Kids are messed up.  They draw their images of potential selves from the world around them because, often, it’s easier than sorting through the mass of conflicting impulses that passes for a psyche at that age.  So they end up “trying things on” and pretending to be various things at various times.  If they’re lucky, they don’t get stuck with something that doesn’t work for them and grow out of it to find out who they really are.

(When I was a kid, that phrase was a prominent source of bitter discussion in my home.  “I don’t even know who I am” was not a statement that got a lot of sympathy from my parents.  Firstly, they thought it was ridiculous—how could you not know who you are?  You live with you!  Secondly, they were Depression babies, and for many of them the necessity to grow up fast and deal with a world intent on crushing them materially allowed little time for esoteric self-contemplation.  Who you were was whatever you did to survive.  The luxury of taking the time to go on a discovery tour of your own self seemed absurd to them.  And yet, the fact is they often benefited from not having the time to toy with options—the crucible of life, as it were, burned away the unnecessary and left them only with what worked.  It resulted in a kind of admirable self-confidence if not the most sympathetic of personalities.)

I had a list as a teenager of all the things I thought it would be cool to be.  I’ve joked from time to time that, basically, I wanted to be James Bond.  (My teen years were the first periods of my life when I felt a little personal power.  I’d been a small, weakly child with what later would be termed Nerdy interests and it got me bullied, a lot.  Power was important to me and once I tasted it I wanted more.  James Bond was the dude, man.  Nobody screwed with him, he knew all the right lines, slept with all the finest women, and went wherever the hell he wanted to go.  Despite working for MI6, he was no one’s tool, and that appealed powerfully to me.)

But I also wanted to be an artist.

So by the age of 21 I was a conflicted mess, pretty much worthless for anything long-term.  I was living a kind of life that seemed to be what I wanted.  I won’t bother to go into details, but superficially it was almost everything I thought I wanted.

And I was lonely.

But I’d finally begun to write.  Interestingly enough, a pattern emerged from my early stories.  I had a number of sympathetic characters who were craving stability and opted for the security of life-long commitments.  Of course being adventure fiction I stacked the odds against their achieving it—and then having them triumph.  I still had no idea what I actually wanted, but clues were appearing.

There was a period of almost nine months when I totally overturned everything I thought till then I’d wanted.  I fell in love—deeply, so powerfully—and within weeks realized that I’d been doing everything wrong.

One of my annoying personal habits has always been to ignore the instruction book when learning a new thing and tackling the most complicated aspect of it first.  Headlong dives into top-level stuff, which leads to a lot of flailing, near-drowning.  Never walk when you can run and never play scales when Rachmaninov’s Preludes are in front of you yearning to be played.  (The fourth print I ever made in my home photolab was a multiple collage ala  Jerry N. Uelsemann.)  So I tackled this the same way.  Overnight I walked away from the life I’d been living, made a commitment, and then tried to make it work.

It blew up, leaving a crater the size of my heart (at the risk of being a bit melodramatic) and I drifted back into a ghost-image of what I’d been before.

Then I met Donna.

Come spring, we’ll celebrate 31 years together.  (Thirty-one?  31.  How’d that happen?)

She has backed me in everything I’ve ever tried to do.  I cannot ask for a better partner, and while many times things haven’t been exactly pleasant, they have always been meaningful and suffused with the dream-stuff of reality at its best.

Turn around three times and now I’m 56.  I’m frustrated by many things right now.  But that is a direct result of being engaged in complicated, difficult, worthwhile stuff.

I’m in my last year with the Missouri Center for the Book.  Come March, per our by-laws, I leave the board (for a year, technically).  They elected me president in 2005.  Taking office, I found I had responsibility for an organization that was crippled, reeling, and about to lose its place in the world.  Now we manage the state Poet Laureate program, we’ve been conducting our annual Celebrations again, and we have direction.  We’re about to become a membership organization and expand our outreach to various institutions and organizations around the state.  We’re doing Cool Things.  When I leave, I trust the organization will be humming along nicely, all by itself.

I’m still looking for a new publisher.  My agent and I have just selected a pseudonym to market me under, since apparently my name is a negative in the marketplace due to some, er, problems with my previous career choices.  But I’m writing short fiction again.

Best of all, though, I have great friends.  My dad once told me that in life I’d have many acquaintances, but I’d be lucky to have one real friend.  Well, by that metric, I’m wealthy, because I have several real friends.  Starting with Donna, I can off-hand name Jim, Tom, Greg, Kelley, Nicola, Tim, Bernadette, Lucy, Terry, Lloyd, Carol, Carolyn, John, Nathan, Peter…

That’s the short list.  Really good friends.

And on this day, I wish them all well, wish them the best, and thank them for being part of what has to date been a damn good life.  Thank you all.

(But, really…56?)

A Plague On Both Houses…With A Pastoral Addendum

Listening to election news lately is like keeping track of a Roller Derby game.  They keep going around the same circle, bumping into each other, occasionally shouting unsubstiated things—at each other and the audience—and by and large just getting in each others’ ways.  If you like that kind of sport, it can be entertaining.  Otherwise…

So I’ve been working on new fiction and playing with photoshop and basically tuning it all out.  As much as I hate to say it, I already know that I’m not going to vote for any Republicans, and most of the Independents are seemingly farther right.  As much as I agree that spending is out of control, voting for the Republicans right now also brings a whole bunch of other nonsense into play that I just can’t tolerate.  (I know, I should be tolerant, but after a while, stupidity is unsupportable, in the name of anything.)

What we seem to be seeing a lot of right now is some kind of principle that should have a name, basically a principle that half-measures are worse than leaving something alone.  The health care “overhaul” is unpopular.  Some of it deservedly so, but polls are showing that people are cherrypicking it—there is a lot that they like, but the total package sucks.  So they think.  Of course, premiums were heading no where but up, so most of us are about to end up without health insurance anyway, so you would think the cry would be for more controls, not less.  (Is anyone still so naive as to think that deregulation is a good idea?  Don’t most people understand that the current economic fiasco is the direct result of NO REGULATIONS on key parts of the financial sector?  How is it they can come up with a thesis that says less will work any better?)  But it is fair to say that the compromises that resulted in the current law hamstrung it so badly that it may well be worse than nothing.  If Obama had forcefully backed single payer…

Of course, that scares people of a certain mindset even more.  Single payer!  That’s Socialism!  Well, somewhat.  And so what?  If the end result is to provide good health care for as many of our people as possible…

But there’s no point going over this again.  People may not say it, but they act as if they would rather die bleeding in the street than have the government in any way involved in their (nonexistant) medical care.  If we got the way the Republicans want to, that’s pretty much what will happen.

Mind you, if people in general were willing to say “Let them die” if they can’t pay for their own health care, then there would be some spine to the Republican position.  But we’re not.  We take of people when we find them in serious straits.  And pass the cost on to those who can.  Increased premiums.  Why isn’t this seen as a form of Socialism, only privately funded?  Why do we think Big Business has more moral authority in this than our elected officials?

Be that as it may, I don’t much care right now.  I’m listening to all the campaigns and feeling more and more like Mercutio.  They either haven’t the brains, haven’t the guts, or haven’t the ethics to represent me.  But I will vote.  Oh, yes.  I believe that if you don’t vote you don’t get to bitch.  And I intend to bitch.

Meantime, I’m playing with fiction and photographs.  After such a bit of spleen, here’s something more pleasant to contemplate.  Enjoy.