Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Hit Parade of Liars

Latest Newspaper Column:

Last week, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for lying during the investigation into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Libby, as you may remember, was chief of staff to Vice President Darth Cheney, the only man in America whom the Flying Tuberculosis Guy can look at and go "at least I'm not as unpopular as THAT jerk."

Plame was the smokin'-hot CIA WMD specialist whose cover was blown by the Bushistas after her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, published an op-ed in The New York Times revealing that not only were the famous "16 words" in the president's State of the Union address ("The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa") untrue, but Wilson had also told them they were untrue.

This earned him the wrath of the administration, which they expressed through a series of leaks and a whispering campaign that ended with columnist Robert Novak crawling from his crypt to pen his own editorial in which he identified Plame as a CIA operative.

Libby was charged and convicted of obstructing the investigation into the leak, which eventually led former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to admit that he was the primary source of the leak and caused Novak to identify White House aide Karl Rove, aka "Bush's Brain," as his second source.

Since the case is all about lying, it might behoove us to examine the lies, distortions and jaw-droppingly outrageous statements told along the way. Taken in their entirety, they reveal a breathtaking disregard for, even outright contempt for, the truth that is the hallmark of this administration and its rabid supporters.

* "Valerie Plame wasn't a covert agent. She was just a desk jockey."

This is probably the most persistent lie, and it pops up everywhere from the ranting of drug addict Rush Limbaugh to letters in this very newspaper. Except that the CIA, in recently declassified documents submitted as part of prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's sentencing memorandum to the court, confirms that Plame was, in fact, "a covert CIA employee for whom the CIA was taking affirmative measures to conceal her intelligence relationship to the United States."

Further, the CIA stated, "when overseas, Plame traveled undercover, sometimes in true name and sometimes in alias -- but always using cover with no ostensible relationship to the CIA."

Now, when asked to choose whom you believe, the partisan rantings of a bloated gasbag high on Oxycontin on one hand, and the people who actually grant covert status on the other, who are you gonna believe?

*"Dick Cheney's office was just trying to defend itself from lies told by Wilson, because Wilson said Cheney sent him to Niger."

Even if this was true, it would seem the best way for Cheney to refute it would be to say, "I never sent Joe Wilson to Niger," rather than have his people engage in a smear campaign against Wilson and attempt to destroy his wife's career. But that's a moot point, because Wilson never made any such claim. His op-ed clearly states that he was asked to go by the CIA, who told him that Cheney had questions.

*Wilson was lying. Saddam Hussein really was trying to buy yellowcake from Africa."

No, they weren't. George Tenet later admitted that the famous 16 words should never have gone into the speech. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer publicly retracted the uranium claim on July 7, saying it was "incorrect," and Colin Powell flatly refused to include the claim in his presentation to the U.N.

*This is just a partisan witch hunt by a partisan prosecutor."

Well, they certainly weren't calling U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald a "partisan witch hunter" when the Republicans were talking about recruiting him to run for the Senate seat in Illinois, the one now held by Barack Obama.

* "Fitzgerald didn't find any real crime, just perjury."

This was first floated by Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who said she hoped that "if there is going to be an indictment that says something happened, that it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality." This is the same Senator who, while pushing the impeachment of Bill Clinton for perjury, stated that "our system of criminal justice depends on people telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

Right now, there's a growing drumbeat among the Bush Cult for Dubbya to pardon Scooter. I think it's a great idea. Do it, Mr. President. Give Scooter a pass for perjury and his lying to federal investigators. It'll brand Republicans as what they've become -- the party of lies, corruption and cronyism -- like nothing else could.

One of Us, One of Us Redux

Welcome to the community's newest blogger, Raleigh writer Joan Conwell, whose blog A dense, wild and tangled wood debuted this week. Joan's working on her first novel, and it sounds like one to watch for.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Oh, For Chrissakes...

MSNBC Cuts Away From Pentagon To Paris - The Huffington Post: With obvious yelling in the background, MSNBC cut away from an interview with Colonel Rick Francona on the Defense Secretary replacing the Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace, to show Paris Hilton leaving her house in West Hollywood to attend court.

Glad to see they have their priorities straight.

I am truly in despair for this country. The "resignation" of General Pace appears to be a direct consequence of his opposition to widening the war in the Middle East to include Iran. Officers who fail to toe the increasingly insane party line are being purged.

But let's not think about that. Let's follow the latest exploits of some bubble headed starlet as she weeps and wails her way to jail.


America's Best Beach? Expert Says In N.C., First Time "Dr. Beach's" Top Pick Isn't In Florida or Hawaii; It's Ocracoke Island - CBS News

America's Best Beach? Expert Says In N.C.

Move over, Florida and Hawaii. Your beaches are no longer the best.

The nation's best place to get a tan and enjoy the ocean's waves in 2007 is North Carolina's Ocracoke Island, a place so remote that even people in the offices of "Dr. Beach" — Florida International University professor Stephen Leatherman — didn't know where to find it on the map.

"Fourteen miles of unspoiled beach," Leatherman told CBS News from Ocracoke Island. "No development on it whatsoever."

Ocracoke is the first beach not in Florida or Hawaii to earn the top spot in his annual ranking of the nation's top 10 spots on the shore.

Yep. It's pretty's a 2 1/2 hour ferry ride (and you usually have to wait for the ferry in summer), but Ocracoke, a former hangout of Blackbeard the Pirate, is a lovely place.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Gonna Take Two Weeks, Gonna Have a Fine Vacation

Crossposted from Murderati

I've gotta tell you, folks, I am on my last nerve. The day job's been an absolute bear, I've been pushing to get the fourth novel finished (first draft's wound up and the hard slog of rereading and rewriting has begun), I'm trying to get promotional stuff together for the paperback release of GOOD DAY IN HELL and the impending release of SAFE AND SOUND, the newspaper column's always there demanding that I be all topical and witty once a week, and I'm not even going to bring up personal drama.

Frankly, the only thing that's keeping me from going up the nearest bell tower with a high powered rifle is the prospect of vacation coming up: a week in a beach house at North Carolina's fabulous Oak Island, just me and the fambly, sleeping late, lying on the sand soaking up rays, bobbing about aimlessly in the waves for hours, chowing down on seafood every night, and generally not giving a rat's hindquarters about anything. Oh, and reading. Can't forget that. I'm already stuffing the paperbacks into the beach bag, the more fluffy and mindless the better.

I'm jonesing, friends. I'm jonesing real bad for the smell of salt water and the feel of sand between my toes. I find my attention drifting away during the day, distracted by mental images of moonlight rippling on the surface of the ocean. I'm really looking forward to getting away from it all.

Which leads to the question: what is "it all?" See, I'm seriously thinking this year of leaving the trusty laptop at home, and doing the unthinkable: not writing for a week. The past few years, I've taken the Beach Week as an opportunity to put in some work on the latest project. In fact, the first few chapters of THE DEVIL'S RIGHT HAND came together during a Beach Week, when I pulled together a few fragments I had floating around and combined them with an idea I'd had on the drive down. Big chunks of both GOOD DAY IN HELL and SAFE AND SOUND were written during Beach Weeks, when I hauled the laptop out on the deck (or into an unused bedroom) and hammered away at the keyboard during the hours when it was just too damn hot to be out on the sand. But now, time and tide have some together in such a way that, while I have a deadline coming up, if I push a little in the next few weeks, I'll actually be ahead of schedule and not sweating it. So this year, I'm thinking of just vegging out all week. Maybe using that time indoors for, I dunno, a nap. Or another game of Apples to Apples.

And I feel guilty.

I mean, shouldn't I welcome the extra time to write? Doesn't being a professional writer mean loving it so much that you jump at every opportunity to put the words down on paper? Doesn't the feeling that it might be a good idea to take week off mean I lack the proper dedication for this? And can we Southern Protestants give the Catholics a run for their money when it comes to tormenting ourselves with guilt, or what?

I know what I'll probably end up doing. I'll take the notebook at least. And I'll write. Because I don't know how to stop.

How about you, fellow writers? Do you take vacations at all? And when you do, do you spend any or all of the time writing or scribbling, or whatever it is you do to get the words and images out of your head and onto the page? Is it possible, or even desirable, to shut it off for a week?

Battles and Browne, Browne and Battles

2007's answer to Starsky and Hutch Talk Writing on their new podcast website. The first installment's about character creation. Check it out.

So guys...when's the soundtrack album coming out?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Stokke In (Or On) The 'Net

Latest Newspaper Column (the director's cut):

Allison Stokke never set out to be an Internet sensation. She didn't have a weblog where she posted messages about her life for all the world to see. She didn't post videos of herself being silly on YouTube. All the California high school senior wanted to do was be the best at what she did -- the pole vault.

And she's been doing a fine job at it. Shortly after she took up the event in her freshman year, she'd set a new school record. Soon after that, she won her first state championship. She's now broken five national records and earned a scholarship to the University of California, according to a recent story in The Washington Post.

But unfortunately, it's not Allison's athletic prowess people are talking about. It's her looks. More accurately, it's The Picture, a photo taken by a professional sports photographer and posted on a Web site devoted to California high school sports.

It's a striking photograph: Allison with the vaulting pole over one shoulder, looking off to one side, reaching back to adjust her ponytail. There's nothing overtly sexy about it. There's a bit of a heroic quality, somewhat reminiscent of a Greek statue, except that unlike such statues, Allison's arms and head are still attached.

But, since this is a picture of an attractive young woman in excellent physical shape and dressed in skin-tight athletic gear, and it's on the Internet, it didn't take much for a bunch of socially dysfunctional dweebs munching on Cheetos in their mom's basement to immediately begin drooling and howling like monkeys.

It started when a "humor" Web site called With Leather posted the picture, along with the comment "Hubba hubba and other grunting sounds." Things went downhill from there. Most of the comments posted on the original site can't be repeated in this newspaper.

The photographer contacted the site owner and demanded that the picture be taken down for copyright reasons, and it quickly was. But by then, the picture had "gone viral," as they say, copied with a few mouse clicks and spreading across the Internet faster than any threat of legal action could stop it.

A fan site sprang up for Allison, and any number of discussion boards posted her pictures and commented on them, with some of the comments getting downright creepy and others probably providing sufficient grounds for a restraining order. And of course, this being the Internet, any number of the comments were of the "ugh, she's a dog"variety, which is particularly ironic when you consider that they were probably posted by dorks who'd faint dead away if an attractive girl, or ANY girl for that matter, spoke to them.

Someone created a fake site in her name on the "social networking" site Facebook, listing her only 'interest" as "BOYS!" Allison began to be deluged with requests for other photo shoots, including one from a Brazilian girlie magazine.

So how did Allison react to this? Being a young woman of intelligence, and not, say, Paris Hilton, she's less than pleased.

"It just all feels really demeaning," the Post article quotes her. "I worked so hard for pole vaulting and all this other stuff, and it's almost like that doesn't matter. Nobody sees that. Nobody really sees me."

She wrote Facebook and demanded the fake site be taken down. They complied. Even so, she reports, she's still uncomfortable being recognized and stared at in public. She doesn't leave the house alone anymore.

Allison's parents, as you might imagine, are even less happy. Her father scans the message boards, keeping a "watchful eye," as he puts it. (He's a man of more restraint than I. If it was my daughter, I'd be cleaning my shotgun.)

"It's just locker room talk," her mother says, "but now everyone can read it, even her mother."

Good Lord, is this what we've come to? Where a young female athlete has to worry, not just about her next match, but about whether somebody taking a picture of her doing what she loves best is going to result in her turning, against her will, into the next Internet sex object?

I see things like this happening, and I begin to wonder if maybe those fundamentalist Muslims might not have a point with the whole burka thing, but not for the reasons they think. Maybe we guys really are pigs who can't be trusted with the sight of the female form. Don't worry, though, the burka idea passes quickly, as soon as I express it within the hearing of my wife and daughter, who immediately set me straight. They're good at that.

Hang in there, Allison. Because there's another thing about the Internet you're likely to learn very soon: These things pass. The Internet being what it is, hopefully it won't be long before this blows over and you can concentrate on your sport without worrying about this crap.

Or even better, you'll be like golfer Michelle Wie, tennis player Maria Sharapova, or race driver Danica Patrick, and you'll be so busy doing endorsements and making money that you won't have time to worry about the Internet.

P.S. for Internet readers of this column: a few people have criticized both the Washington Post and the Stokkes, accusing them of hypocrisy for participating in a newspaper story about unwanted media attention. the Post's Deborah Howell addresses the issue here.

It's more than a little self-serving for the critics of the Stokkes to take this sort of "heads we win, tails you lose" stance. Reduced to its essentials, their position is that if you seek media attention, you're what's charmingly referred to as an "attention whore. " If you don't seek media attention, but complain to any media outlet about the unwanted attention, you're still an attention whore. Riiight.