Today’s post can be found at http://www.sfnovelists.com, the group blog on speculative fiction that I maintain along with a group of over one hundred published authors of fantasy and science fiction. It is called “Why Boston? A Plea For Support” and it is about the Fundraiser/Giveaway I have going to benefit victims of the Boston bombing. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope that you will donate to the One Fund For Boston through the linked site.
A month ago today, bombs set off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon killed three people and wounded hundreds. One month. It doesn’t seem like that long ago, and yet the bombing has virtually disappeared from the headlines. The city is healing; I heard a report on NPR this morning about how some semblance of normality has returned to that part of Boston. But for those whose lives were shattered that day, the long, slow, at times painful recovery continues. And you can help them.
The Thieftaker Fundraiser/Giveaway is still up and running, collecting donations for the One Fund for Boston, which will donate every penny to helping the injured, and the families of those who died. We are only about $200 short of the first giveaway: a signed bound manuscript of THIEFTAKER, a collector’s item. But we remain several thousand dollars short of the fundraiser’s goal of $5000.00. If you have already given, thank you. If you have not yet done so, please consider giving a gift today. You don’t have to give a lot; every dollar truly does help. Here is the URL:
January 9, 2013
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were arguably the biggest stars in Major League Baseball in the 1990s. Bonds was the best position player, Clemens the most dominant pitcher. Their careers followed eerily similar paths, culminating today with what I expect will be the failure of both of them to garner enough votes from the Baseball Writers of America to enter the Hall of Fame. A dozen years ago their fate in this regard would have been unthinkable.
In 1985, Clemens debuted as a twenty-two year old pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. The following season, Bonds became the starting center fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He moved to left field in 1987. Clemens established himself as a star during that 1986 season, winning both the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player Awards with historically impressive statistics. He won his second Cy Young Award in 1987, and a third in 1991. Bonds took longer to find himself as a player, winning his first Most Valuable Player Award in 1990, but he won two more in 1992 and 1993, the latter with the San Francisco Giants.
By the late 1990s, both men were considered the best in the business, superstars who were destined for the Hall of Fame. Clemens had added two more Cy Young Awards in 1997 and ‘98 to give him a total of five, more than any pitcher in history. He had his MVP award and was also a seven time All-Star. He was on pace to reach the milestones that defined excellence at his position — three hundred career victories and three thousand strikeouts. Bonds had won his three MVP awards, had been an All-Star eight times, a Gold Glove winner eight times, and Silver Slugger winner seven times. He was on pace to reach five hundred home runs in his career — at that time a near-automatic qualification for the Hall — and was also on pace to wind up among baseball’s all-time leaders in runs scored and walks.
But at that point both men started down the path that would be their undoing. Clemens, then in his late thirties, started to wear down, as aging pitchers do. Bonds was still going strong, but his ego could not take the attention lavished on Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998, during their historic (and, as it turned out, steroid-induced) assault on Roger Maris’s single-season home run record. By most accounts, it seems that both men turned to steroids in order to enhance their performances and prolong their careers. And they did so with spectacular results. Clemens, seeming to defy the passage of the years, won two more Cy Young Awards and finished his career with over 350 wins and over 4,600 strikeouts. His seven Cy Young Awards is still a Major League record.
Bonds’s performance in the early 2000s is even more astonishing. He broke the single-season and career home run records, amassing statistics that exceeded even those of Babe Ruth in his prime. He won the Most Valuable Player Award in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004, giving him seven for his career, more than any other player. He finished his career as the Major League leader in home runs and walks, and among the career leaders in runs scored, runs batted in, extra base hits, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.
And yet, the accomplishments of both men were so tainted by their rumored use of steroids that even these glittering credentials will not get them into the Hall of Fame. Not this year, certainly, and perhaps not ever.
Clemens and Bonds were two sides of the same tarnished coin. One white, the other black; one a pitcher, the other a position player; one (mostly) an American League player, the other solely a National Leaguer — they seemed to have so little in common. But they reached the Major Leagues within a year of each other, and both retired at the end of the 2007 season, Clemens with his seven Cy Youngs, Bonds with his seven MVPs. They were both prickly personalities who were not terribly popular with their teammates or the media. And when baseball’s reputation was damaged by revelations of steroid use, they were the two men at the center of the controversy. Both have been in court in recent years, arguing desperately for their innocence, both seeming to understand that baseball’s greatest honor, election to the Hall of Fame, would be denied to them if they could not clear their names. And both will be disappointed today when the Hall of Fame voting for this year is made public.
At a time when our nation — indeed, our planet — faces issues of near-existential proportion, when people are struggling to feed and clothe their families, when tragedies seem an everyday occurrence, it is hard to muster much sympathy for these men. There are more like them — men who might have thought they would make the Hall, only to discover that in violating the rules and the law in pursuit of gaudy numbers and gaudier contracts they had made themselves anathema to the writers who would decide their fates. Palmeiro, McGwire, Sosa, Sheffield, Ramirez, perhaps Rodriguez in another few years. The names are familiar, the stories now border on cliché. All of them made millions playing a game. As I say, it’s hard to feel sorry for them, or to see their fall into ignominy as any sort of calamity.
Theirs were sins of hubris, of greed, of vanity; the same foibles that have thwarted the ambitions of so many, in countless fields of endeavor, over the course of human history. But what separates Clemens and Bonds from the other baseball players who used performance enhancing drugs — an occurrence so common that the very category of substances now has its own acronym: PEDs — is that they didn’t need to do it. Palmeiro and McGwire and Sosa were good players who made themselves great, hoping to find immortality. But Clemens and Bonds were already great when they started to cheat. They were destined to be in the Hall of Fame. They would have been remembered as truly outstanding players. And that wasn’t enough for them.
Maybe this disgusts you, or angers you, or leaves you shaking your head at their foolishness. It leaves me sad, and nostalgic for the perhaps-imagined simplicity of my youth, when stars like Aaron and Mays, Bench and Morgan, Schmidt and Brett played the game by the rules, with respect for the traditions of which they were part. Maybe that’s naïve. After all, those guys were paid pretty well in their day. But just as Paul Simon once wondered where Joe Dimaggio had gone, I wonder what has happened to the kind of stars I remember from my childhood.
February 22, 2012
Did most of the remaining work on my taxes today. A writer’s taxes can be complicated — home office, self-employment, contract work, no predictable income from year to year. I actually wrote a bit about it at the D.B Jackson blog a couple of weeks ago. (Visit the blog here and scroll down if you’re interested.)
But the part I had to fill in today was my pathetic little 1099-div for my pathetic little investments. These accounts are odd things to deal with at tax time. On the one hand, I want my investments to do well. Obviously, right? But I don’t want them to do so well that they wreak havoc on my tax liability. This, I suppose, is why people like Mitt Romney have tax shelters and Cayman Island accounts and stuff like that. I can’t afford such things, but I also can’t really afford the taxes I have to pay because I can’t afford them. If you get my drift . . . .
Anyway, looking forward to filing and being done.
February 2, 2012
So let me get this straight. He says he won’t release his tax returns, and then says that he won’t release them until April, and then, after admitting that he paid taxes on his $42 million/year income at a rate “in the 15% range,” he releases them in January. His effective tax rate was actually 13.9% or so.
He mentions that he makes some money from speaking fees, but assures us that it’s not a lot. It turns out to be just shy of $375,000, which — I don’t know about you — but to me, that’s a lot of money. He admits to having accounts in the Cayman Islands, which, I guess, is what you do when you make $42 million a year and can shrug off $375,000 in speaker’s fees as not a lot of money.
Then two mornings ago, just after his victory in Florida, he makes a bonehead comment about not being worried about the “very poor,” which I’m sure was intended innocently but which made him look really callous given that his economic plan is founded on the idea of dismantling the safety net for America’s lower middle class, poor, and, yes, very poor.
And he chooses today to accept an endorsement from Donald Trump? Really? An endorsement from the one person in this country who best (or worst) embodies largess and excess and the arrogance of wealth. In Trump’s ridiculously opulent hotel in Las Vegas.
How is it possible for a man who has come this far in American politics to be so utterly tin-eared when it comes to public relations? I honestly don’t get it. But as a Democrat I feel like I should be sending him a thank you note.
January 18, 2012
They call Obama “the food stamp President,” and then they accuse Democrats of engaging in class warfare and of playing the race card.
They accuse Obama of following a foreign policy of appeasement, ignoring the fact that the man ordered the killing of Bin Laden in a raid that was so daring, so bold, it would have made other Presidents weak in the knees, and ignoring as well his Libya policy, which ALL of them opposed, and which ended the reign of Muammar Gaddafi.
They say he’s a socialist who is destroying America; and they also say that he is guilty of “Wall Street cronyism;” it almost seems that they don’t understand all the words that come out of their own mouths.
They say he has done nothing to save American jobs, and then criticize him for “bailing out” the auto industry and thus saving nearly a million and a half jobs that the industry supports. They say he’s done nothing to save jobs, but ignore the chorus of economists who tell us that if the stimulus bill hadn’t passed, the unemployment numbers would have been far, far worse. They say he’s done nothing, but don’t mention that for more than twenty consecutive months the private sector has added jobs — a total of over 3 million jobs added in that period — or that the vast majority of job losses in the recession occurred either a) before Obama became President, or b) in the three months of his first year in office BEFORE the stimulus took effect.
They call his a “failed Presidency,” but they don’t want you to know the following:
– He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that guarantees women equal pay for equal work.
– Through the Affordable Care Act he has prohibited insurers from denying coverage on the basis of preexisting conditions and canceling coverage when insurance policy-holders become ill. The reform bill will also extend health insurance coverage to 32 million Americans who weren’t covered before the law passed.
– He has steered through Congress a Wall Street reform bill that prevents unfair lending practices and creates a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that (thanks to his recess appointment of Richard Cordray as the Bureau’s head) will help prevent predatory behavior by banks and credit card companies.
– He ended subsidies to banks and used the savings to double funding for Pell Grants to needy college students.
– He has placed two highly qualified progressive women on the Supreme Court.
Has Barack Obama been a perfect President? No, far from it. I wish he had fought harder for a larger stimulus and for a more far-reaching health bill. I wish he was better on the environment (although his announcement today that he will NOT allow the Keystone pipeline to be built is welcome news). I wish he hadn’t agreed to an extension of the Bush tax cuts.
But he has been fighting against an intransigent and unreasonable Republican opposition, and he has accomplished far more than they would have liked. And he is so more more qualified to lead this country, so much more sincere in his concern for the well-being of average Americans, so much more committed to raising the tone of political discourse in Washington than any of the men who are seeking the Republican nomination, it is almost laughable.
I have had enough of listening to the vitriol and race-baiting and attacks on the most vulnerable in our society coming out of the GOP “debates.” If the GOP field wants to continue to pander to the basest instincts of their Tea Party constituency, they can, but I won’t be paying them any attention. Because fortunately we already have a President who is looking out for the rest of us.
January 4, 2012
As the 2012 Presidential race shifts into high gear, something unexpected is happening on the campaign trail. Young Independent and Democratic voters who are disappointed in President Barack Obama are turning to Republican Libertarian Ron Paul as their candidate of choice. This is not merely odd, it’s irrational. It’s like a vegetarian giving up on her favorite restaurant because it serves too much meat, and then going to McDonald’s.
As someone who has been, at times, deeply disappointed in the President, I understand the impulse to look for a more attractive option. But I would urge young voters to take the time to learn what Paul and his candidacy are really about, rather than allowing themselves to be seduced by his most attractive positions. There is more to Paul than meets the eye, and it would be dangerous for any voter, young or old, to ignore the totality of his (mostly) strict Libertarianism.
Though my own children don’t always believe me when I say this, I was once young, too, and I understand the allure for college-age voters of a candidate who promises to end U.S. involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts AND simultaneously put an end to the so-called War on Drugs. Some even claim that Paul would legalize marijuana and other illegal substances, though if you actually listen to what he says about this, his answer is not quite that simple. He wants the Federal Government to get out of the business of regulating drugs and leave that task to the states. That would probably result in some states allowing people to stoke up a doobie, but not all. Still, as I say, I can see what young voters find attractive.
The problem is, like religious fundamentalists who follow to the letter the text of the Bible or the Torah or the Quran, Paul is a political fundamentalist who believes that the Federal Government should take on NO responsibilities that are not specifically enumerated in the Constitution. He wishes to see the Departments of Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce and Interior eliminated. He believes that Federal health care expenditures should be shifted entirely to the states in the form of block grants. He believes that Federal lands should be sold off. He believes that energy policy should be unfettered from Government regulation.
Well, you might say, that sounds a little extreme, but what’s the big deal? There’s probably a lot of waste in those programs. Maybe those steps are a good idea.
Okay, let’s look at what they really mean. Get rid of the Department of Education? Paul’s Libertarianism would mean an end to the Federal Student Loan Program, an end to Pell Grants, an end to Federal Student Financial Aid. In Ron Paul’s America, if you can’t afford college, that’s too bad.
Remove Federal regulation from the energy industry? Ron Paul believes that global climate change is an elaborate hoax. He would end all Federal investment in alternative energies and would allow oil drilling in the most sensitive coastal and protected lands our nation possesses — offshore areas along the Western and Southeastern shores, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, protected lands around Yellowstone National Park. He would also reduce regulation of nuclear power, clearing the way for more the construction of new nuclear plants.
To be fair, I should add here that Paul does not say that he will drill in Yellowstone or ANWR. He doesn’t need to because the issue is dealt with in his budget. I mentioned that he wants to eliminate the Interior Department and sell off Federal lands. In other words, he wants to do away with America’s National Park system and network of wildlife refuges and sell those lands to private interests. One assumes that he would want to see those lands still under some sort of protection, but that’s not clear in anything he says. And given that he opposes all government interference with the private market, it’s hard to see how he could enforce the protection of those precious areas.
How deep does Paul’s aversion to government “intrusion” in our lives go? Pretty deep. He would slash funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, eliminate nutrition programs for impoverished women and children, and privatize such crucial public safety programs as Air Traffic Control and Airport Security. Don’t believe me? Go to his website and read his budget. He has expressed his belief that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — the most significant legislative achievement of the decades-long struggle for racial equality — was a mistake.
Now his Libertarianism is not SO extreme as to allow no exceptions. In fact, there is one really big one. While he opposes all government intrusion into business, into areas of public health and welfare, into conservation and environmental stewardship, he is perfectly willing to allow the Federal Government to dictate what a woman can do with her body. He is vehemently opposed to abortion rights and supports the immediate reversal of Roe V. Wade.
Look, if you support Ron Paul because you have considered the totality of his ideology and agree with him on the issues, fine. We differ in what we want for this country, but I respect your right to make an informed political choice. But if you support Ron Paul based on one issue or two, or because your buddy told you that “he’s like Obama only better,” you have to take a closer look. You might not like what you find.
September 12, 2011
Today’s post can be found at http://magicalwords.net, the group blog on the business and craft of writing fantasy that I maintain with fellow authors Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, A.J. Hartley, Stuart Jaffe, and Edmund Schubert, among others. The post is called “On Writing: Consequence, Responsibility, and Healing,” and it is a reflection on writing and the 9/11 remembrances. I hope you enjoy it.
March 2, 2011
There are, I believe, two ways to read what the GOP is doing at the Congressional and state levels. On the one hand, this may be all driven by ideologues — it’s easy to dismiss the budget battle in Washington and the craziness in Wisconsin as the overreaching of Tea Party Republicans emboldened by their electoral success. That would explain why House Republicans would be willing to force through budget cuts that will, in all likelihood, stall the economic recovery and cost the economy nearly 700,000 jobs. It would explain why Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s newly elected Tea Party Governor, would be willing to alienate teachers and union workers in his pursuit of a political agenda that goes far, far beyond “fiscal concerns.”
On the other hand, this could be a coordinated and, frankly, strategically sound attack on the Democratic Party and the Obama Presidency. Weaken unions and teachers’ associations, two of the party’s core constituencies, to the point where they are unable to protect themselves and their jobs much less raise money for the party. And at the same time, cripple the economy in the name of “budget savings,” so that next year, when unemployment has spiked again and the economy has slipped back into recession, they can point fingers at the President and, they hope, win back the White House.
Are Republicans that cynical? Would they sacrifice hundreds of thousands of jobs and sabotage the American economy in order to win an election? I really want to say no. I really want to blame this on Tea Party ideology run amok. But the truth is, I think they are just that cynical.
I’m an agnostic. Let me say that right up front. I don’t believe in God, and even if I did, I would hope that he or she had more important things to do than watch a football game.
But if the Pittsburgh Steelers win this Super Bowl, that will be the final piece of evidence I need to conclude that there is no just and loving God in the heavens.
I know, there are lots of Steelers fans out there. Forgive me. I know as well that football teams are big — 53 men on a roster. This game isn’t about just one person. Except that it is. Super Bowls almost always wind up being about the quarterbacks and once again the Steelers are led by Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger, for those of you who don’t know, missed the first four games of the season due to a league suspension for personal misconduct. It seems Big Ben, as he is sometimes known (I assume much to the chagrin of British citizens everywhere), doesn’t really understand that when a woman says “no,” this isn’t some code meaning she actually wants to be sexually assaulted.
Twice Roethlisberger has been implicated in sexual assaults, once in 2008 and once in 2010. In neither case were charges actually fined, but the 2010 accusations were compelling enough to make the NFL bench one of its star players even without legal action — a telling indictment. Already there is talk in the media of how this game gives Big Ben a chance to redeem himself, and that’s enough to make me want to throw up. In what way does a Steeler win offer redemption to the women Roethlisberger has brutalized? If a season that began with Roethlisberger sitting out games because of his repulsive behavior and ends with him holding the Lombardi Trophy, it will simply reinforce the notion that, in America, if you’re rich enough and famous enough and good enough at those things our culture values, like throwing a football, it doesn’t matter what other crap you do in your spare time.
Playing Luke Skywalker to Roethlisberger’s Darth Vader is Green Bay Packers star QB, Aaron Rogers. Rogers, I’m sure, is no saint. But he is, from all appearances, a decent guy, one who doesn’t hurt people in his spare time. It would be nice to see him win the game, if for no other reason than because it would mean that Roethlisberger had lost.
I doubt that will happen, though. The Steelers are a very good team, particularly on defense. And though I happen to think that as a player Roethlisberger is vastly overrated, the Steelers probably have enough offensive firepower to ride their defense to a win. Which will really be too bad, because while I am an agnostic, it’s nice to wonder now and then if there might be a divine being, merciful and just, watching over us.