NaNoWriMo prep part 6 — whoa, it’s almost here

Kinda snuck up on me! And part of it was being under the weather for the first part of the week.

Happily I’ve got basics of the story in place, but with plenty of vagueness all around as well. Which is intentional — many of my best ideas in this vein have happened as I was writing the entries, rather than following any preset path.

Furthermore, too much hyperplanning is really impossible at this stage of the game — there’s plenty more I could do in terms of social studies of San Francisco in the late 1800s, and such information will have relevance in later drafts of the story. But what’s important right now is the story itself, and that I can work on. I will repeat again, though, that I’m not aiming at a completed manuscript here, but a 50,000 word baseline to work from. I do have the ending in mind, though, and that’s handy — a point to drive towards. Everything else will fall into place.

Meantime, The Barbary Coast continues to be a fascinating read — and a very barbed and not always sympathetic one, from a viewpoint of decades from its publication. There are scattered references comparing the near-anarchy that thrives in the city in the first couple of decades after the Gold Rush, where criminal gangs and vigilance committees took to each other with fire and assault, with guns and nooses, with then contemporary situations in American cities. I had to remember again that the book was written in the early 1930s, deep into the Great Depression, shantytowns in DC and any number of domestic crises and clashes, not to mention the ‘classic’ era of mobsters and criminals — Al Capone, Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde.

So we’ll see where it all goes. I’m somewhat notorious for driving ahead with my efforts in the past — one time it took me something like five days or so to hit 50,000 words — but this one will probably be much more slowly paced. All feedback will be very welcome!

Stylus RIP

Hate to have to type those words, but it’s true — today is the final operational day of Stylus magazine, where as I posted once earlier a number of pieces of mine appeared over time. The writers knew about this decision for some time but happily word didn’t fully break until a few days ago, as was intended.

Being only a very casual contributor to the site, I haven’t felt it was my place to comment much about Stylus wrapping up aside from a mention or two on the main ILM thread about it. But I admit I was pleased to see how many positive comments were made there and elsewhere about Stylus, and I will always remember my dealings with Todd, the site’s founder and driving force, and other staff members very well. It was a pleasure to meet a number of them in person earlier this year at EMP and I hope to see them again there in the future and elsewhere as well.

One of them, the very great and personable Alfred Soto, has a fine final essay up that’s well worth the reading, and includes a brief mention of his and my mutual love/hate relationship with that bizarroworld called the Corner. That paragraph that said mention appears in, however, is worth considering on the whole (as you might guess from the context, he is currently an English lit instructor, in this case in his home state of Florida):

I write about music because it gives me pleasure. Writing, that is; the music part is incidental. I often remind myself that by this point in my professional career I should have been a pair of ragged claws in a Midwestern university’s English department, using “privilege” as a verb and chiding my students for not finishing The Golden Bowl; we would, however, share a laugh at how often Henry James uses “ejaculated” in dialogues. Since most postgraduate writing seems written by people who don’t much like writing, I’ve allowed a distraction to become a habit, in quiet protest. But I keep my distance. I’m certainly not the only critic with colleagues who seem to spend a considerable portion of their days downloading music, which totally mystifies me. It’s a quixotic gesture on their parts whose nobility I’m not prepared to admit. Consumption is not thinking. I think a lot about other things besides music: good Scotches, robust sexual tension between students and me, the predatory spume of The Corner’s contributors (a hobby I share with colleague Ned Raggett). Despite increasing confidence in rockcrit as a craft, I want to vouch for happy dilettantism. For quiet promiscuity. The distance it enforces between me and the object of scrutiny produces my clearest thinking. There’s a sense in which taking music and music listening too seriously causes silt to form in your brain. If you doubt this, spend an hour talking to young rockcrits. Woodrow Wilson, not immune to messianic priggishness, remarked that the worst part of being president is meeting people who insist on telling you what you already know.

Alfred and I had talked briefly on another ILM thread about something else that had come up — my blog had, flatteringly to be sure, been named as one of a few good sites for music discussion on the web. I had to protest, though, since that was never the goal of this blog and never will be — after all, I am trying to ‘ponder it all,’ or at least that which regularly engages my interest, which moves well beyond simply music. Alfred had agreed with my own conclusions and this paragraph explains his stance further; for myself I’d just want to note that the idea of ‘happy dilettantism’ is profoundly appealing to me, on a variety of levels.

In work terms, it certainly explains both my relationship with my ‘regular’ job (as I’ve explained to people yet again elsewhere today, I’ve no real interest in becoming a fully accredited librarian with the MLS degree) and with my writing. Identified with the All Music Guide as I inevitably am, it’s not my sole outlet, and neither is it a place where I am a regular editor or anything similar (for a start I’d have to live closer to Ann Arbor!). Similarly working with a variety of other writing outlets, local and distant, allows me to be that happy dilettante, digesting, considering and of course pondering.

This strikes me as being healthy all around. It can be argued that I run the risk of being a jack-of-all-trades, master of none, but I prefer to see it as part of that embrace of multiplicity of life that has grown incredibly important over time — that I’m not reduced to a simple one word sentence. To turn back to the subject at hand, working for Stylus was a treat because it allowed me to showcase both my sharper side via Scraping the Barrel and to occasionally ruminate on pieces of more profound interest to me.

So I will conclude with links to my own two favorite pieces that were published — an in-depth discussion of Bark Psychosis’s Hex and an entry in a series of pieces on that most omnipresent of words in this decade’s music criticism, ‘rockism.’ Both strike me, in rereading them, as products of happy dilettantism made manifest, and to my surprise both hold up pretty well still — keeping in mind I’m mostly very annoyed with my work the minute I see it published. A good sign, and that’s as much a credit to the place it appeared in as anything else.

It was a pleasure to be a part of it. Have a great farewell bash, folks!

[EDIT: Nearly all the ‘year-end’ pieces that are acting as concluding essays are mighty fine but I do want to single out Mike Powell’s as well — the right attitude, the right tone, I think.]

Posted in Life, Music. 4 Comments »

There’s a new sheriff in town…or will be

Michael Carona is still, at the present time, Orange County’s sheriff. This probably isn’t going to last, though:

Carona broke the law by failing to disclose that he had accepted tens of thousands of dollars in cash and gifts for himself, his wife and his former “longtime mistress,” according to a federal indictment unsealed this morning.

The women, Debbie Carona and Deborah Hoffman, were described as co-conspirators and were also indicted.

The gifts — primarily from former Orange County Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl — included cash payments of as much as $112,000, a boat, a trip to Lake Tahoe and ringside tickets to the Oscar De La Hoya-Felix Trinidad title fight at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, the indictment says.

The alleged conspiracy stretched from the months before Carona’s election in 1998 until August, when he is accused of attempting to “corruptly persuade” Haidl, in a tape-recorded conversation, to withhold testimony from the grand jury. Haidl has also been indicted.

None of this could have happened to nicer people. Seeing Haidl in this fix is especially delicious since his son figured in a disgusting rape case around here some years back — and, quite happily, was convicted and sent to jail. The chances that both Haidls are going to be serving in the same prison at the same time and all are doubtless pretty slim, but I admit it’s a great image.

But Carona, well, where to begin. Rather handily, though, there is a good spot — R. Scott Moxley at the OC Weekly, who handled the Haidl coverage I just linked to, has been digging deep on Carona for a long while now, and put together his own greatest hits collection of articles after the news broke. Well worth your time.

Stuff like this doesn’t thrill me, I have to admit. Don’t get me wrong, I am plenty thrilled by a lot of it, whether it’s the fact that all the dodging and weaving on Carona’s part all this time hasn’t helped him escape indictment — and getting named along with his wife *and* mistress must really have led to some fun dinner table talk tonight in his household — or just in seeing another typical OC blowhard get his. The folks over at the Crystal Cathedral are probably pretty happy that there’s no YouTube footage up (at least, up yet) of him talking about family values there.

But still, it doesn’t thrill me because, after one, one should hope for better. This isn’t a naive ‘however could a *policeman* be a crook’ wish or the like, merely an acknowledgment that even in a place like Orange County, and with plenty to suspect about those in power or have access to it, assuming a baseline of criminality by default bespeaks a total lack of faith in those engaged in local government at that level. I’d rather not live my life always thinking that, though certainly I think there’s every reason to assume a duty on the part of an informed citizenship to be aware of what abuses can and do occur, and to react against them. It may seem a hard balance, but it is not an impossible one to assume.

In any event, this is just an indictment so far, though the details of that indictment are pretty damning and already some local politicians are saying he should resign. Carona’s putting up some bravado for now:

“I’m staying because I love the job and I do a good job,” Carona said. “Most importantly, I have committed no criminal acts.”

Somehow, the recent travails of Michael Vick and Marion Jones come to mind.

[UPDATE: Gustavo Arellano has added to the OC Weekly coverage with a bit about other charming folks in the past who have held the office of sheriff. This, I admit, makes me rethink part of my post — maybe you just have to be a doof to be elected sheriff in the first place. Not a problem per se, I just wish the ballots were clearer on the point.]

The next AMG roundup

Today was a day of not much

Which was needed — woke up feeling completely thrashed and realized I needed to take the day off. I think some food allergies snuck up on me last night, thus my feeling blah. There are plenty of random and interesting things to talk about but hold that thought until I’m back at 100%. I just hope I’m ready to go for Halloween and NaNoWriMo!

Posted in Life. 2 Comments »

“The real battle now is among evangelicals.”

David Kirkpatrick’s story today in the NY Times is essential reading for just about anyone interested in modern American political and religious dynamics, a snapshot of a crossroads being approached rapidly. Good thing too, frankly.

I can’t recall what if anything I’ve spoken about my religious upbringing on here, but in brief, I was raised Anglican, learned my Bible early on in a variety of kid-friendly reductions and summations, and in a very slow process moved from that towards the general state of agnosticism I hold today. Every so often I somewhat melodramatically veer towards outright atheism but ultimately I prefer to accept a certain belief in not knowing for sure (and indeed, many of the most vocal atheists I know push their unbelief as strongly as religious fundamentalists I’ve encountered, which leads me to conclude that the impulse on that front is not one grounded on belief or lack thereof so much as it is on questions of how to express convictions in one’s world-system). I believe ethics can exist separately from specific religious belief, and think that one can punish oneself enough for flaws and mistakes via one’s own conscience (but, more positively, that one can and should learn from them too); beyond that my own approach to religion is private and is best expressed in terms really only known to myself.

My own experience with fundamentalism on a personal level occurred many years ago, when I was eight — a babysitter from down the road in Navy housing, a teenage girl, watched over my sister and I one night, and she’d brought over a few of the more virulent Jack Chick comics with her. Why, I’m not sure, and it’s entirely possible she had them for her own reading rather than trying to force them on us. However, I read them, got extremely upset and by the end of the evening was somehow in terrified prayer with her. I conveyed a lot of this to my parents either that night or the following day and I gather there was a detailed conversation between my folks and the babysitter’s parents. She never babysat for us again, I think.

Either way, the sense of fear and horror that the comics induced in me were incredibly strong and lasted for some time. In retrospect, the fact that said babysitter, intentionally or not, essentially encouraged me to follow along the lines of thought in them with little thought to whatever my parents might have thought, or what effect the tracts were clearly having on me, explains a lot of my extreme annoyance with religious fundamentalism in any guise in later years. It is, I think, clear enough that fear should not be a driving factor on such deep matters — otherwise that would sanction a form of emotional sadism that is pretty disgusting.

This hasn’t determined my entire conclusion towards what can be called the religious right in America but it does inform a fair amount of it still, and while one should never judge the whole by the part, the fact that so much of the whole was publicly defined by the part is not my burden, but the whole’s to struggle with themselves. To turn back to Kirkpatrick’s article, an encouraging thing to read is that part of the corrosion of the seemingly permanent affiliation between harshly condemnatory evangelical Christianity and the Republican party comes from what is talked about on page 5 of the article as a split between that form of Christianity and a newer approach with an emphasis on “spiritual formation,” as quoted in the piece, referring not to threats of hellfire but encouraging the ethics of love and charity. Personally I think this is a good thing no matter what one’s beliefs — it reminds me of what a friend once said two years back about Depeche Mode’s interpretation of the traditional song “John the Revelator”: ‘one of the best quotes I ever heard from my father was “I can’t stand Christians who are more enamored of John than they are of Jesus.”‘

But those who are enamored of John are of course still around, and the stink of fear and hate still rises from them. I am pleased to see them being seen in a harsher light now, though of course I feel angry and frustrated that, if the article’s conclusions are to be accepted, in large part it took the deaths of thousands in Iraq to help bring that about. (Though there is a very, very perverse irony in the idea that the crypto-religious war that certain evangelical figures were pushing following 9/11 has come back to get them instead, if you like.)

Yet really, they condemn themselves with their own words better than anyone else — consider this concluding quote, from a preacher expelled from his post because, as said at the article’s start, the deacons felt his activism meant more than actually preaching the Gospel:

Fox told me: “I think the religious community is probably reflective of the rest of the nation — it is very divided right now. This election process is going to reveal a lot about where the religious right and the religious community is. It will show unity or the lack of it.”

But liberals, he said, should not start gloating. “Some might compare the religious right to a snake,” he said. “We may be in our hole right now, but we can come out and bite you at any time.”

Not much from the Sermon on the Mount here.

NaNoWriMo prep pt. 4 — if the Mormons had found the Gold Rush

In reading through the book I picked up — and to my embarrassment I’ve gotten the author’s name wrong all these times, it’s Herbert Asbury — I’ve also been able to learn a little bit more about California history that I’d either forgotten or mentally skipped over. For instance, turns out that an associate of Brigham Young made it over to San Francisco and the Central Valley right around the time that the initial moving to Utah was being planned, and that this guy made a case to Young to forget the Great Salt Lake and come out to the general area where, as it happened, the Gold Rush kicked in around the same time as well. That particular historical confluence of events could well have changed, if not all of history, then a pretty big chunk of it. The book goes on to say that said associate, frustrated at his failure with trying to convince Young, renounced him and Mormonism, became a successful businessman, went the worse for wear due to drink and died in Mexico. Not quite the fate of Ambrose Bierce but said writer was doubtless tickled to think of it from time to time.

I’ve already picked up a few more ideas from the early chapters to work with — San Francisco’s explosive boomtown growth would have still been within living memory at the time of the crime in 1892, though few would have been able to see through to that stage in comfort unless they were the clever ones who didn’t look into the gold so much as they were speculating on the associated businesses and distractions, from real estate to gambling galore. We’ll see how it all comes together — everything starts in a few days’ time and exactly how much I’ll comfortably have to hand is unclear. Then again, as I’ve said before, NaNoWriMo is about quantity, not quality — getting something out to work up later. Errors and likely anachronisms will be plentiful, but if the story works, well, you’ll know!

Which is my indirect way of saying that, yes, I will be posting the draft on the blog here on an entry by entry basis. Seems to be the easiest way around it this time out, especially since there’s an automatic word count feature, which is always handy.

The breathing is getting easier

There was, honest to god, some rain this morning — not much, a mere smattering, but enough to help feel like the air might clear just a bit. But it had actually cleared quite a bit last night, happily, and so this morning I could finally see out to Saddleback — while the smoke was still rising in a great plume, it was at least nice to see it from a distance than to be lost in the obscurity of it.

The weather looks likely to hold and the predictions are getting more optimistic, I’d say with good reason — cooler weather and more humidity is always going to be a help when it comes to extremely dry brush. So we’ll see how the next few days go, though I’m still wondering what it will be like when I can see the hills properly again, and what my thoughts will be when it’s all clear, too clear. But friend Stripey indicated in her own visit to the area that it seems some scattered patches of greenery did survive — there’s always hope, even in small amounts.

“I hate this road”

Amid all the endless folderol involving Scott Beauchamp — which, like so much else about Iraq, has turned into a convenient ax-to-grind for whoever is doing the grinding — are stories like this one, on the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, in today’s Washington Post, which feature quotes from more than a few people, all of whom are on the record, and all of whom are hardly pleased with the situation there:

Asked if the American endeavor here was worth their sacrifice — 20 soldiers from the battalion have been killed in Baghdad — Alarcon said no: “I don’t think this place is worth another soldier’s life.”

“It’s just a slow, somewhat government-supported sectarian cleansing,” said Maj. Eric Timmerman, the battalion’s operations officer.

…in one instance about two months ago, the American soldiers heard that the Wolf Brigade planned to help resettle more than 100 Shiite families in abandoned houses in the neighborhood. When platoon leader Lt. Brian Bifulco arrived on the scene, he noticed that “abandoned houses to them meant houses that had Sunnis in them.”

“What we later found out is they weren’t really moving anyone in, it was a cover for the INP to go in and evict what Sunni families were left there,” recalled Bifulco, 23, a West Point graduate from Huntsville, Ala. “We showed up, and there were a bunch of Sunni families just wandering around the streets with their bags, taking up refuge in a couple Sunni mosques in the area.”

Lt. Col. George A. Glaze, the battalion commander, says his soldiers are playing the role of a bouncer caught between brawling customers. Alone, they can restrain the fighters, keep them off balance, but they cannot stop the melee until the house lights come on — that is, until the Iraqi government steps in.

“They’re either going to turn the lights on or we’re all going to realize they’ve moved the switch,” he said.

“I’m frustrated. After 14 months, I’ve got a lot of thoughts in my head. Do they fundamentally get giving up individual rights and power for the greater good?” Glaze said. “I’m going to leave here being skeptical of everything.”

“This is a dangerous place,” said Capt. Lee Showman, 28, a senior officer in the battalion. “People are killed here every day, and you don’t hear about it. People are kidnapped here every day, and you don’t hear about it.”

The American people don’t fully realize what’s going on, said Staff Sgt. Richard McClary, 27, a section leader from Buffalo.

“They just know back there what the higher-ups here tell them. But the higher-ups don’t go anywhere, and actually they only go to the safe places, places with a little bit of gunfire,” he said. “They don’t ever [expletive] see what we see on the ground.”

Clearly un-American traitors all, of course, especially when Frederick Kagan says it’s all going so well. (Keep an eye on both him on Iraq and Larry Kudlow elsewhere on the economy — both of them are whistling past the graveyard so loudly they’re growing a bit deaf, and given how there’s little for me to do as a voter on the political front next year, all I can do is wait for the crackups and breakdowns.)

…and it burns still.

There’s really little to add, but this whole thing is inescapable. The air quality outside says it all — when I’m at work and standing on the bridge between the campus and the nearby mall/marketplace, one can normally see a good ways over to the mountains and up north into OC even on a smoggy day. But it’s thick fog level right now, and it’s not fog. I could semi-see Turtle Rock on the one hand, some buildings near Jamboree on the other, and those are both walking distance (at least if you’re me, who likes to walk).

This map shows how it’s starting to burn towards the north more quickly, and unless things change rapidly it’ll cross the county line by the end of the day. When everything finally clears the hillsides will be little but a black mess, and will remain that way for a while to come.

I’m still getting questions about if I’m okay, if the campus is okay, etc. — trust me, all’s good! The fire threatens nothing around here directly, beyond this horrible air. But right now my plan tonight is a simple one — get home, close the windows, vacuum and scrub up and then pretty much hibernate for the weekend. I’d wanted to ease down anyway, catch up on reading and listening, try some cooking, meditate more on NaNoWriMo, so in ways this is the perfect excuse to do so. Being out and about just isn’t worth it.