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Monday, July 20, 2015

Go Set a Watchman Should Give All Writers Hope

Drawn in by the initial hype surrounding the release of Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman”, I signed up for an electronic download of the book as soon as it was available. I recently finished reading "Watchman", described as a “lost treasure”, a book that in many ways should not have been published.
There's an old saying that every writer has at least one bad first novel they have to get on paper before they can write anything good.  With all the charity I can muster I’ve concluded “Watchman” was Harper Lee's bad first novel.
First what’s good about the book: the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood. And that’s all I can say that is good. The "moral" of “Watchman” is intended to be: you need to develop your own conscience. I use the word moral because the book is that simplistic. “Watchman” is a mess. And it's not just the racism of the Atticus character. There are unfinished threads, long, rambling, awkward dialogue, and naive plot devices.
But back to the “shocking racism” of this Atticus Finch, about which much has been made. Some are trying to reconcile him with the Atticus of “Mockingbird”.  I say: don’t waste your time. This is a different character who just happens to have the same name.
Some argue the Atticus of “Watchman” is a complex true-to life character. I don’t doubt the racism of Watchman’s Atticus was true to life for many folks of his era. And perhaps even today. But he is not all that complex. He doesn’t want African Americans to be able to vote and thus control government. He is still true to life for many who are trying to take back their America from a country that elected its first President with African heritage. How many in the Republican Party are still trying to suppress voter’s rights? Watchman’s Atticus, who advocates states’ rights and believes the Supreme Court should not protect the rights of minorities, would be completely at home in many areas of this country today.
Some reviewers of “Watchman” have urged readers to not focus on Atticus’s racism but instead to look at Jean Louise (Scout’s grown-up name) and how she matures as the hero of the book. Wow! The problem with Jean Louise is that her beliefs and her arguments throughout the novel are so naïve it’s hard to accept she is an adult. Many reviewers also fail to note that Jean Louise agrees with many of her father’s underlying racist assumptions.
Atticus characterizes Negros as “backward people”.  Jean Louise agrees. Atticus then asks his daughter if she realizes you “can't have (Negros)…living among people advanced in one kind of civilization and have a social Arcadia?” Jean Louise responds, “Of course I know that.”
When Atticus says “You realize that the vast majority of them (Negros) here in the South are unable to share fully in the responsibilities of citizenship…”  Jean Louise replies, “Yes sir.”
Among the naïve plot devices is the laughable, if weren’t so offensive, manner in which Jean Louise achieves her stellar insight telegraphed at the end of the novel: she needs to find her own conscience. This insight comes as a result of two literal slaps in the face from her aging uncle: a “savage backhand swipe full on the mouth” and a second “coming viciously back.”
Uncle Finch hits Jean Louise hard enough in the face to knock her off balance, see “tiny dancing lights”, and cause “blood spring (to) from her teeth”. Luckily, after her ears stop ringing, her beloved uncle, Dr. Finch, knows how to stop the bleeding.
This slap and the resulting head spin is the turning point of the novel as Jean Louise “comes to her senses” in more ways than one. Later, Jean Louise thanks her uncle, essentially for knocking sense into her when she asks her uncle, “Why did you take so much trouble with me today?”  The “big reveal” in Dr. Finch’s answer I will leave to anyone foolish enough to waste his or her time on this book.

All the criticism aside, I do take hope from my time spent reading this drivel. If the person who wrote “Watchman” could produce “Mockingbird” there may be a great novel in all of us. I’m off to work on my novel. It’s probably a “Watchman” and not a “Mockingbird”. But once I get it on paper maybe my next one will win Pulitzer. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Eyes and Ears in the sky

I recently learned the government is using fake cell phone towers attached to the undersides of small planes to listen in to our calls. Before you conclude this is one of those far-out conspiracy theories, let me assure you it was on the nightly news. And not the fake news like The Daily Show.

But then the lines between the fake and real news have started to seriously blur. For example, the biggest laugh on TV news, real or fake, I’ve recently had was on NBC—I’ll call it “Real News”.  

Standing in front of the Alps, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, her arms spread wide, was chatting with a sitting President Obama. Cut to Julie Andrews standing in a similar picturesque spot in the Alps, singing “The Hills are alive…” from “The Sound of Music”. You also can catch the clip on CNN. It left me wondering if Chancellor Merkel can sing. And do the Alps actually inspire those types of expansive gestures. But I digress.

Back to governmental faux cell phone towers on small planes which I guess should not come as a big surprise.  We were being lulled into thinking it’s safe to talk on our phones again now that the more extreme parts of the Patriot Act have expired. 

In principle, I take my civil liberties very seriously. In practice, I secretly have been hoping some elements of our federal government are listening to my phone calls.

First, my cell phone doesn’t work very well. If government agents can hear anything on it they have better hearing than I do. But that’s another blog post.  And second, I’m not making any illicit use of my technology, so far as I know. Though I do occasionally get a notice, “illegal operation” when I press the wrong buttons on my Blu-ray player.

If only some agency of the federal government were listening to my calls, and could hear my calls and also stay awake, (a couple of big “if’s”) someone with authority would be able to hear all those robo-calls we get at dinner time: trying to sell me land in the Florida Everglades; telling me they can fix all my computer problems if I’ll just give them my password; and—my favorite--I’ve won a free Caribbean cruise in a contest I didn’t know I’d entered. If I ever win anything I won’t accept it because I won’t believe the person calling to tell me I’ve won.

Just this morning someone called and tried to sell me banquet services. I don’t know if it was a real person or a robo-call. But the voice would not shut up long enough for me to tell them I didn’t want any banquet services. Sorry to be rude if it was a real person. But I hung up.

If the NSA is listening or reading this—I do have one request. Would you please pass along the robo-call problem to the FCC or the Consumer Affairs people--or whomever handles these kinds of complaints? After all, I signed up for the no-call list, so while you are trying to make us all safe from terrorists could you please also make the stupid robo-calls stop?

And if government agents were listening recently, just like me, they were treated to over two hours of musac.  I was on hold with Southwest Airlines trying to correct an error to my reservations that occurred when their site crashed during their big super sale—the one they were not prepared to handle. How about passing that problem along to the FAA or whomever handles airline complaints?

Right about now I know I’d feel a lot safer if all of the government were listening in.