Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Being Judged By Our Political Silence

The United States likes to take the public position that we are better than those around us. We point to the atrocities of the world, and puff out our collective chest and say how we aren't like that, see?

We pontificate about being a Christian nation. It is from our perceived position of moral "higher ground" that we talk about things like making the world safe for democracy. That we dare to address human rights issues. That we base things like "family values" on when our politicians give speeches. We are, in general, a church-going nation that takes pride in being able to look in a mirror and be proud.

If we look in a mirror with pride, either the mirror or the viewer is a liar.

In Saudi Arabia, one of our strongest allies and a nation whose favor we court daily, the victim of a gang rape has been sentenced to six months in jail and 200 lashes. The 19 year old girl's crime was being in the company of an unrelated male. She was abducted, driven out into the countryside and raped by seven men. They were all convicted of this crime, but their ability to commit it was judged to be her fault because she made herself available for it by being out with a college friend. Not out on the town drinking and carousing, but out in a car with a college classmate trying to retrieve a picture of herself. She was sentenced to ninety lashes for being in a car with an unrelated male. Then she made the mistake of appealing.

The appeals court increased her sentence. The implied reason was that she had discussed the case in the media. "For whoever has an objection on verdicts issued, the system allows an appeal without resorting to the media," (Saudi Ministry of Justice, in a statement on the case) This is perfectly legal in Saudi Arabia.

I am not debating the sovereignty of the Saudi government. By definition, they have a right to make and enforce their own laws. Nor are their visions of what is moral and right they same as ours.

The announcement of the verdict created what the AP describes as an "international outcry." The response of our own state department was that the verdict "causes a fair degree of surprise and astonishment." Oh, and to note that the Saudi government could still overturn the sentence.

Thanks for taking a moral stand there, United States. After all, we'd better not criticize the people who just happen to be sitting on top of all that oil, no matter what they do. Canada's response was to call it "barbaric." Um, in case you haven't noticed, Canada gets cold. They need heating oil more than we do, but they had the guts to say that it was wrong, not just surprising.

Sure, we should respect the rights of other nations to follow their own laws and moral code. But we should also be steadfast in stating that we believe it to be wrong to further punish this woman. Be it 90 lashes, 200 and six months in jail or a literal slap on the wrist. Even if you are in a position where you feel what she did was wrong and needs to be punished... don't you feel that the seven men who raped her already accomplished punishing her?

I don't know why I would be surprised. We support torture. Our strongest voices about the supposed immorality of homosexuality keep getting caught waving their hands under other stalls in men's bathrooms. We have a large amount of people who think that lying about a blow job is equivalent or more wrong then manipulating facts so that we are justified in invading a country and killing thousands.

Would it have been so hard to stand up and say that, while we respect Saudi Arabia's right to rule it's own nation, we feel that these actions are unjustified? I'm not even asking that we call them the misogynistic, chauvinist, torturing bastards that they are. Just tell them we don't approve. Even that would be nice.

All I'm asking is that we tell them we don't like it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Some Bridge Players Don't Get It

I'm a sports geek, admitted and unrepentant. But the world of competitive bridge is completely under my radar. All I can tell you is that Omar Sharif used to write a syndicated column about it for the newspaper. So why would I be writing about Bridge?

In yet another example of the idiocy that has permeated this country, some members of the women's U.S. Bridge team are being threatened with expulsion from the federation because they don't like King George, and they dared to tell the world.

This is a link to the story at The New York Times. I'm not going to rewrite it, but if you are a free-thinking patriot who thought that this couldn't happen again after the Dixie Chicks were vindicated, read this story.

A few thoughts from me about information in the article:

USBF president Jan Martel claims this is not a free speech issue, claiming to be a private organization. True on one level. But if you represent the USA, you represent the USA. NOT "certain people within the United States who feel that George Bush is doing a good job." You represent ALL of the USA. If you are the "Jan Martel Bridge Foundation", that's different. But to your claims that this is not a free speech issue when you are threatening these women with the loss of their income for one year and a one-year probation after that? For a peaceful and light-hearted expression of political fact? For stating that they are members of the more than 50% of the country who did not vote for His Royal Incompetence? Well, to use a phrase even your beloved leader would understand, that dog won't hunt! (probably because the dog fears the vice-president will be on the trip.) Also, your offer of differing "plea bargain deals" to the women who apologized rather than stand resolute shows that you are being discriminatory and manipulative.

Quoting the article, the words of Jim Kirkham, who sits on the board of the American Contract Bridge League:
"I think an apology is kind of specious. It's not that I don't forgive them, but I still think they should be punished."
Jim, your use of "specious" indicates your feelings very clearly. The definition of specious:
1. apparently good or right though lacking real merit; superficially pleasing or plausible: specious arguments.
2. pleasing to the eye but deceptive.
3. Obsolete. pleasing to the eye; fair.

As to the second part of your statement, if you think they should be punished than you DO NOT forgive them. The definition of forgive:
1. to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.
2. to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.).
3. to grant pardon to (a person).
4. to cease to feel resentment against: to forgive one's enemies.
5. to cancel an indebtedness or liability of: to forgive the interest owed on a loan.
–verb (used without object)
6. to pardon an offense or an offender.

Jim, if you are going to be a repressive, lying jerk who thinks patriotism is the science of "yes-man"ing Karl Rove, at least have the balls to admit it instead of claiming to be capable of forgiveness.

Robert Wolff was quoted as saying that he didn't feel free speech gave the right to criticize one's leader at certain venues. Excuse me, Robert? WAKE YOUR ASS UP! That is exactly what this right is all about. Free speech is not about the ability to chose a baked potato over french fries with your fast food combo meal. It is about freedom from repression for speaking your views.

Debbie Rosenberg, who held up the sign and is now facing this criticism and possible suspension for doing so, expressed the real problem.
“Freedom to express dissent against our leaders has traditionally been a core American value,” she wrote by e-mail. “Unfortunately, the Bush brand of patriotism, where criticizing Bush means you are a traitor, seems to have penetrated a significant minority of U.S. bridge players.”

America was not built by simpering wimpy individuals who caved in to government or to the criticism of their bosses or Tory neighbors. We are a nation founded in rebellion.

The true Americans in this situation are the ones who are standing up to speak their mind despite the possible consequences. I applaud Jill Levin, Jill Meyers, Debbie Rosenberg, Hansa Narasimhan, JoAnna Stansby and Irina Levitina. Especially Debbie, who held up the sign and who is going on record with her dismay at the anti-American behavior of the USBF.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Back From The La Jolla Writers Conference

I spent the last few days in a magical realm where everything is empowering and the feedback flows like water from a fountain.

I'm talking about my second trip to the La Jolla Writers Conference, a wonderful event put on by Antoinette and Jared Kuritz. This was the seventh annual conference, but I first attended only last year. I feel extremely foolish for having missed five of them.

This year, I attended classes and Read & Critiques taught by:
David Morrell
Steven J. Cannell
Lisa Jackson & Nancy Bush
Linda Lael Miller
Tracy Hickman
Ken Kuhlken
Mark Clements
Greg Godek
Patti Callahan Henry
Antoinette Kuritz
Warren Lewis


And although I didn't take any classes with them, I at least renewed my acquaintance with Sara Lewis and Mike Sirota.

It's the most amazing thing for a writer to have the creator of Rambo nodding his head and smiling while you are speaking about a plot point or an editing decision. To shake hands and discuss the craft with the writer of The Rockford Files and the A-Team, among 42 other TV shows. To have Lisa Jackson and Nancy Bush laughing with you as you discuss the HEA requirements of the Romance genre. To have Linda Lael Miller listen to your writing and praise you for how you set a scene, and to watch her perk up when you say what is going to happen next.

All of these wonderful writers, who between them have sold millions and millions of books, are not only successful, but they are the rare people that want to share their success. They are both encouraging and tactfully critical.

I can't speak for all the writing conferences in the world, nor would I want to do so. But I can tell you that this one has been incredibly valuable to me. If you have been thinking about attending an event or conference featuring any of these writers, I heartily recommend you follow though and go.