Friday, May 24, 2013

More mission creep, please.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) wants relief for victims of recent tornados in his home state to be offset by cuts in the federal budget.  OK. Or what?  He pulled the same stunt when the victims of Hurricane Sandy were looking for help.  The whole thing seems like hostage taking.  In a crisis you help.  Period.  You negotiate concessions from political opponents when lives are not on the line.

The problem seems to come up frequently.  You want more money for the Federal Emergency Management Agency?  Cut food stamps.  Cut Head Start.  Cut some “pork” we can’t really identify by name because when we are specific some constituents get really, really mad.  Just never cut defense.  That is sacrosanct.  Even when the military says it’s OK.

In January the Pentagon said it didn’t need a half-billion dollars worth of Abrams tanks over the next two years.  Congress ordered them anyway.  The Air Force wants to retire several C-130 and C-5A cargo aircraft, B-1 bombers and unmanned aerial vehicles, saving us $600 million.  Congress said no to that, too.  The Navy planned to retire seven Ticonderoga-class cruisers over the next two years.  And you can guess the rest.

The usual argument is that Congress tries to protect the defense industry contractors in their districts.  I’m sure that’s the core of the reason, but I can’t figure out why Abrams tank manufacturer General Dynamics couldn’t start putting out fire trucks, rescue vehicles or other machines that help in natural disasters.  Their RG, Ocelot and Fox can be configured as highly capable emergency response vehicles right now.

No, I think the problem is image.  Weapons are cool.  If you buy weapons you’re a tough guy.  Sure, you’ve got to be pretty freakin’ tough to run towards a chemical fire or descend 400 ft. in a crumbling 200-year-old mine shaft, but it doesn’t seem to have the same panache as blowing crap to bits.  In the last ten years, nearly 3000 Americans have died from natural disasters, with ten-times that adversely affected.  So it’s not like battling terrorism is any more of threat than earthquakes, hurricanes or avalanches.

To fix the image problem, we should re-shuffle.  Make FEMA a new branch of the military.  And maybe instead of blowing up bridges in the mountains of Afghanistan, they could help fix a couple here.  Starting in the state of Washington, perhaps.   The mission of the Defense Department could stand a little more creep – defense against tornados, bird flew, sinkholes – all that stuff that’s out there right now gunning for us.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Where to begin

My son is just passed seven and has some interest in Star Wars. Not the movie, but the whole culture, as one might become curious about Catholicism or football.  It seeps into the seven-year-old world without an invite, so now he wants to watch the movies.

But in what order?  That is a tricky question.  Episode 4 A New Hope launched the franchise and, for many, changed the world a little bit.  Episode 1 The Phantom Menace is where the saga starts.  I figured we should begin at the beginning . . . forgetting everything I’ve learned about story telling. 

Stories rarely depend on chronology.  Why something is important - what gives an event or comment or glance meaning - may derive from the past.  It might also come from the future or even spring from things the characters will never know no matter how long they survive.  Great stories frequently start in the middle, with necessary details backfilled or foreshadowed.  Beowulf, Hamlet, Casablanca – we enter in medias res and the stories are better because of it.

I loaded the Phantom disc.  About 45 minutes in, Max started playing Lego.  “This is a little boring,” he said.  And (sigh) he was sadly, sadly right.  Can’t imagine what he’d say about church or the line of scrimmage.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Above the Sixfold

I’m trying out Sixfold, starting today. It’s an online magazine, edited by the contributing writers. We are now each reviewing each other’s short stories and poems, ranking them and deciding what goes into the next issue . . . by committee.

 I know, I know, “committee” is a four-letter word. Of course, there is wisdom in crowds. Every couple of years, American Idol produces a recording star. Unlike corporate committees, there will not be a whole lot of personal exchange. Participants will never actually meet. It’s more like elections in those countries with 12 political parties. Like Israel. No problems, there, right?

 The real problem might not be the committee itself, but the fact that it’s made up of writers. When I read I’m either jealous that the author is better than me or angry that the hack is wasting my time. I can only hope the other gregarious loners, perched before their devices late at night, in coffee shops, basements, the common room at the clinic or a book-lined study with crackling fire, under the gaze of a bronze raven are more mature than myself. I hope they can rise above internal, instinctive competitive drives and, after careful consideration, realize my story kicks ass.