Saturday, July 21, 2007

Naked Emperors

Latest Newspaper Column:

Recently, one of my loyal readers took me to task in the letters column of this paper, on the grounds that, according to said reader, I "did not know how to write an argumentative essay."

May I gently suggest, my good friend, that you wait until I actually try to write an "argumentative essay" before you make that judgment?

I think some people mistake what I'm trying to do here. This isn't Freshman Composition. It's not Rhetoric 101. Nor is it a legal brief. (I get paid a heck of a lot more for those). This here is a newspaper column. And what I do was never intended to be scholarly and genteel argument.

I'm here to look around, find the stuff that's ridiculous, bring it back to hold up and show to you, and -- well, ridicule it. Sure, it's for laughs, but don't underestimate the power that laughter can have to change the world.

I think it was C.S. Lewis who once wrote, "The devil cannot abide to be mocked," and I try to make sure that I do a little savage mockery on a daily basis to keep the devil at bay. The guy in the fable that laughed at the emperor for having no clothes wasn't trying to "persuade" anyone. He was just pointing out an obvious fact: The king and his sycophants were a bunch of idiots. And let me tell you, when it comes to finding naked emperors, they're pretty thick on the ground these days.

Take, for instance, the recent crop of Republican candidates. A recent AP-Ipsos poll found that, among the current crop of contenders for King George's throne, the front runner, the clear leader of the pack was: none of the above. That's right, 23 percent of Republicans surveyed said they "can't or won't" identify the candidate they would back, a big jump up from June, where only 14 percent "took a pass," according to the AP.

Actually, that "can't or won't say" language jumped out at me. It seems to imply that some people actually did have someone in mind, but they were embarrassed to admit who. And when you look at some of the guys they have running, it's not hard to see why.

Rudy Giuliani, whose best news is that he's running a close second to "none of the above," is carrying more baggage than an entire regiment of bellboys. He has some serious marriage issues in his past, including ex-wife having to take out a restraining order to keep Rudy from moving his girlfriend into the mayoral mansion while he was still married.

He's also pro-choice and pro-gay rights, which are not bad things to sane people; unfortunately for Rudy, one of the major early primaries is in Bible Belt South Carolina. Rudy has about as much chance of making it out of that state intact as a 12-pack of beer on a frat boy's trip to Myrtle Beach.

Then in third place, you have Fred Thompson, who we can only pray doesn't want to do the same thing for the country that he did for "Law and Order." Thompson's not even officially running yet, and no one really knows where he stands on much of anything. So far his major claim to fame is that he's not Giuliani, McCain, or Romney.

But stories are already surfacing that Thompson, while working as a lobbyist in the early '90s, worked for a pro-choice group trying to get the first Bush administration to relax restrictions on doctors at federally funded clinics discussing abortion with patients. It remains to be seen whether Thompson will attempt to take a harder line on abortion to suck up to "social"conservatives.

In fourth, you have John McCain. John McCain is widely identified as the pro-war candidate. He is, therefore, toast.

Last and least comes former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who just can't seem to get any traction. Perhaps the problem is the fact that he's reversed his positions on abortion and gay marriage so abruptly and so completely, it's a miracle he didn't rupture a cervical disc. One almost hopes to see Romney get the nod, just so we can see a horde of Democrats at their convention waving sandals in the air and shouting "Flip-Flop! Flip-Flop!"

So have I "persuaded" anyone not to vote for any of the current crop of Republican front-runners? Looks like I don't need to. They seem to be doing that job pretty well themselves.

No, it's shaping up as the Democrats' election to lose. Well, if anyone can figure out a way to lose this election to whichever of these contenders finally gets enough grudging votes to get the nomination, it'll be the Republican Lite wing of the Democratic Party, led by their own front runner, Hillary Clinton.

So fear not. The mockery will continue.

A Toast to Mary Reagan!

A photographer who can actually make me look good.

(Scroll down)

SAFE AND SOUND in the Crosshairs

Russ Heitz, author of Crosshairs turns in a very fine review of SAFE AND SOUND over at Josephine Damian's blog:

Rhoades’ descriptions of his characters, both major and minor, are sharply drawn and clearly delineated. They also have the feel of being dead-on accurate. His descriptions of settings are also sound and solid. Whether it’s an Afghan desert or the Blue Ridge Mountains of the American South, the reader can taste the air, feel the grit, and maybe even tap into memories from his own past.

More at the link....

Thanks, Russ and Josephine!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Congratulations, Allan Guthrie!

The Winner of the Theakstons Old Peculier Prize is
Allan "Sunshine" Guthrie's excellent novel TWO WAY SPLIT. And well-deserved, I might add.

Congratulations, Allan. I've always dreamed of winning a prize named after a beer.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I Swear I Had Nothing to Do With it

Steam explosion causes scare in NYC - Yahoo! News: A geyser of steam, sometimes white and sometimes brownish, shot into the air from a gaping hole in the street near the train station as high as the nearby Chrysler Building. The air near the site was filled with debris.

I Always Thought I Was More Notorious Than Meritorious

The incomparable Molly Weston, mystery lover and great friend to North Carolina mystery authors, reviews SAFE AND SOUND at her site, Meritorious Mysteries. She likes me! She really likes me!

Thanks, Molly.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007 likes SAFE AND SOUND gives SAFE AND SOUND a thumbs-up for their summer bookshelf:

"...a treacherous chase whose trail starts in war-torn Afghanistan and leads to the rugged back country of North Carolina. If you're looking for remorseless bad guys, a hero with a dark side, and lots of action, slip this one into your beach bag. "

Excellent. Thanks to and even bigger thanks to the community they serve.

Monday, July 16, 2007

My Own Thrillerfest Awards

By now, you've undoubtedly read a dozen or more posts about Thrillerfest in New York City. This is another one.

I confess, didn't go to the Awards Banquet. All due respect, but four hours? In a ballroom with Noo Yawk in all its glory right outside? Sorry. Although I would have loved to have caught the Killer Thriller Band again.

But, I decided, why not come up with my own awards from T'fest? So, without further ado:

DUDE, YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE AWARD: This one's a tie between David Terrenoire and Stephen Blackmoore. Many, many people asked after you, guys. You were sorely missed.

HARDEST WORKING WOMAN IN SHOW BUSINESS AWARD: Alex Sokoloff of the Killerettes. Every time I saw her she was off to rehearsal for the big show, yet she still found time to do panels and the social thing. Hope you've gotten some rest.

COOLEST. NAME. EVER. AWARD: Elle Lothlorien.

GOLDEN PIPES AWARD: Oklahoma journalist and aspiring thriller writer Kim Mizar-Stem, aka the Force of Nature. That girl can flat SING.

I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING AWARD: My friends Dave, Kim, and Jamey, who as it turned out, were in New York at the same time I was. Thanks guys, you saved me from an early bedtime.

RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS AWARD: Another tie, between Sean Chercover and Ali Karim, both of whom gave very warm compliments to my work during their panels. Thanks guys.

BEST COMPLIMENT AWARD: All due respect to Sean and Ali, but this one goes to Zoe Sharp, who told me after my 9 AM Saturday panel that I had a lovely voice, even though said voice was on its last legs from too much rum, secondhand smoke, and lack of sleep.

LEE CHILD LAID BACK RIGHTEOUS DUDE AWARD: Carl Causey, husband of Toni McGee Causey. Definitely one of the good guys.

THE MIRROR IMAGE AWARD: The famous mystery/thriller writer who was so trashed he thought I was Harry Hunsicker, not once but twice. Your secret is safe with me, my friend, but I reserve the right to tweak your nose about it in the future. That's how I roll.

THE CURE FOR DRUNKENNESS AWARD: The bartenders at the Grand Hyatt, who made it difficult to get too drunk by the simple expedient of being as hard to reach and aloof as Dell Customer Service.

QUOTE OF THE WEEKEND: Chris Everheart, quoting Levon Helm: "New York. It's an adult portion."

THE YES, DUSTY CAN BE BOUGHT FOR THE PRICE OF A MEAL AWARD: Margery Flax at MWA. You finally caught me, hon. Check's on the way.

ACE PANEL MASTER: Jim Born, who kept the panel moving and interesting, even at 9 AM on a Saturday.

ACE NATIVE GUIDE: Former New Yorker Graeme Stone ( I think I got the last name right) who led a merry band of companions to both Bryant Park and Karaoke. He unfortunately was unable to locate any trannies for Kim in the Times Square area. But hey, you can't have everything, even in New York.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Shapeshifting Veep

Latest Newspaper column:

I'm sure it's become obvious by now that I don't have any great love for the Bush administration.

But every now and then, I have to confess a certain admiration for their sheer chutzpah. (If you're not familiar, chutzpah is a Yiddish word meaning sheer, unmitigated brazenness. The classic definition of someone with chutzpah is the boy who murders both parents, then pleads for mercy because he's an orphan.)

This time, the one making me shake my head in disbelief is the Vice President, Dick "Shooter" Cheney. Recently, Cheney has begun to advance one of the most cockeyed legal theories since a guy out in San Francisco claimed eating too many Twinkies was evidence of a mental imbalance so he couldn't be guilty of murder.

This latest exercise in vice-presidential gall began with a request from a little-known organization called the National Archives' Information Security Oversight Office. As part of their jobs, staff members have to make sure that classified documents are subject to proper security safeguards. In order to do that, naturally enough, they have to know what classified documents are held by whom. To make thispossible, the president signed an executive order requiring all offices to provide information on their classified documentation, including letting the National Archive inspect the VP's offices to see how they're handling sensitive information.

Nope, said Shooter, I ain't a-gonna do it. According to a spokesman, the vice presidency is not part of the executive branch of government and therefore not subject to the required disclosures of the president's order.

Say what? Doesn't the Constitution provide that "the executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America," who shall "together with the Vice President, chosen for the same term, be elected," etc.? Doesn't that pretty clearly put the president and the veep in the same branch?

Well, Dick Cheney's never been one to let clear language or simple logic stand in his way when he wants to keep something a secret, even in defiance of an order from the president. He's not "an entity within the executive branch," his office claims, because he also presides over the Senate and casts deciding votes in case of ties. So he's really a senator, thus part of the legislative branch.

Except when he isn't. Remember the Super-Secret Energy Task Force that met with Cheney to determine national energy policy in the first Bush term? Remember how they resisted all attempts to find out who actually met with Cheney? Remember what Cheney claimed as his justification for refusing to release the information? Do the words "executive privilege" strike a familiar note?

And he says all of these things with a straight face. At least, I assume that's a straight face. It's hard to tell with Cheney, since his face seems capable of only three expressions: anger, smugness or contempt.

Dick Cheney: He's a legislator! He's an executive! He's both! And neither! He can change his form at will! He's the chameleon vice president! No man can command him, not even the president! (Or he won't. Dubbya won't even back up his own executive order if his veep says no. Some decider.)

It's no wonder that Cheney's popularity ratings have dropped to historic lows, approaching those of the buffoonish Dan Quayle. At least Quayle was good for a few laughs. A poll taken two weeks ago by the American Research Group found that 54 percent of Americans would support impeaching Cheney. (A whopping 45 percent would support impeachment of Bush himself). If this keeps up, there'll be infectious diseases with higher favorability ratings than Shooter.

It looks, however, as if the Congress is at least moving to rein Cheney in, even if it refuses to stand up to Dubbya. On July 10, a Senate appropriations panel chaired by Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) stripped $4.8 million out of Vice President Cheney's budget for not complying with security rules.

It may be just in time, too. Cheney is reportedly the person in the White House who's most determined to get us into yet another shooting war, this one with Iran. He has apparently convinced himself and his minions that a full-out bombing campaign against Iran won't cause the entire Middle East to explode in anti-American warfare, and so what if it did? We'll get the troops from somewhere.

Fortunately, this appears to be very much the minority position in the White House, but we'd better keep an eye on the vice president and make sure he doesn't come up with some other insane theory that also makes him supreme commander of the armed forces.

Dusty Rhoades lives, writes, and practices law in Carthage. His third novel, "Safe and Sound" is available now.