Wednesday, July 28, 2010

You Want Laconic? I Got Laconic

Everett Hitch, who is telling our story, has just been hired to keep the peace in the old Western town of Resolution.  In those days, the guard used to sit on a chair somewhat elevated from the saloon floor.  He's the sidekick of the novel's main character, icy legendary gunfighter Virgil Cole, who has not yet put in an appearance, but his presence is still felt.  Everett is  keeping an eye on one desperate-looking character in particular.

     "Hey Lookout," the Weasel said.  "What's your name?"
     "Hitch," I said.  "Everett Hitch."
     He was wearing a dark shirt with vertical stripes, buttoned up tight at the collar.  The buttons were big.
     "Any good with that shotgun?" the Weasel said.
     The room was quiet now, and everyone was watching.  The Weasel liked that.  He lounged back a little in his chair, his bowler hat tipped forward over his forehead.  The gun he carried was a Colt, probably a .44, probably single-action.  He had cut the holster down for a fast draw.  And wore it tied to his thigh.  Probably the local gunny.
     "Don't need to be all that good with a double-barreled eight-gauge," I said.
     "And I bet you ain't," the Weasel said.
     "Wouldn't make much difference to you," I said.
     "Why's that?" the Weasel said.
     "I was to give you both barrels, from here," I said, "blow your head off and part of your upper body."
     He was enjoying this less.
     "Yep, probably kill some folks near you, too," I said.  "With the scatter."
     I cocked both barrels.  The sound of them cocking was very loud in the room.  Virgil Cole always used to say, You gotta kill someone, do it quick.  Don't look like you got pushed into it.  Look like you couldn't wait to do it.  It was as if I could hear his voice as I looked at the men in front of me:  Sometimes you got to kill one person early, to save killing four or five later
     I leveled the shotgun straight at the Weasel.

Folks, that is about as chatty and poetic as Robert B. Parker's Virgil Cole/Everett Hitch westerns ever get.  Parker published four before his unexpected death in January:  Appaloosa, Resolution, Brimstone, and Blue-Eyed Devil.   

It's summer.  It's hot.  You want a quick, effortless read that still entertains you.  You're not all that fond of commas.  You might like a little killing in your books.  But you thought you had outgrown westerns.  Or you never liked them.  Or you never read one but thought you wouldn't like one if you did. 

Fair enough.  But if you don't mind a little gunplay, give one of these a try.  Probably best to start with the first in the series, Appaloosa (which was made into a movie you didn't see with Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen), as the subsequent volumes refer to some of the history established there.  Like Elmore Leonard novels, there's a certain sameness to the writing and the characters and the stories, but all three are classic.  And a pleasant break from the awful prose in much of today's "literary" fiction, and almost all pop fiction.  If you'd prefer more familiar territory, you might try Parker's first western, Gunman's Rhapsody, which retells the story of the Earps, Doc Holliday, and the Clantons in Tombstone.

There's also a fair dose of humor in the books.  For my money, the humor works much better in the westerns than it does in Parker's Spenser novels for which he is best known.  In the Spenser series, the joking seems arch and smartypants.  Here it flows more naturally from the cadences and habits of the characters' speech and the situations in which they find themselves.  But don't mistake me:  These books are not primarily yukfests.

So have a look.  Short chapters.  Short sentences.  Short lifespans.

And after awhile you will find yourself talking like Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch.  Yep.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Oh My Lord God Almighty -- It Just Dawned on Me That the BP Blowout Could Save Obama's Bacon -- or, It Takes a Spillage

I woke up one recent morning with a start, possessed of one of those intuitions that you only get when you’re still half-asleep. You know, that brief period in the semidark when you’re beginning to think clearly but all of the assumptions that encrust your daily life haven’t yet reattached themselves to your judgment and your mind works about as freely as it ever does.

And while I lay there, cursing the poodles for whining to be let out for some leakage of their own, I realized that there is at least a fair chance that the BP Blowout could save the Obama Presidency.

There are several preliminary matters to consider:

     • The accident was not his fault, any more than Katrina was Bush’s fault.

     • Like Bush’s response to Katrina, Obama’s response to the Blowout has been diffident and tepid. But rescuing people from catastrophic floods is something that governments have known how to do, and the Bush administration did not distinguish itself. Obama’s dithering does not upset us to the same degree, because governments are not expected to know how to fix blowouts, and nobody at all knows how to solve this problem.

     • The right and the left are taking shots at Obama over the Blowout because they’re mad at him about other things. With good reason, by their lights, but their criticism of him over the Blowout looks like piling on, because of (1) and (2). (But I must say, all the golfing and partying does betray a certain tone-deafness in this guy.)

OK, so preliminarily, we start out with a certain shakiness in the current unhappiness with the Obama administration over the handling of the Blowout. Add to the weakness of the charges against Obama on this score the following:

     • The Blowout has crowded off the front pages – or at least to below the fold – bipartisan and public dismay with the poor policy decisions for which President Obama and the congressional democrats are responsible. When was the last time you heard anything about the health care bill? The latest OMB, CBO, and HHS cost projections? Employers cutting group plans? They’d curl your hair if it ever uncurled after watching children running screaming from tar balls advancing on their favorite vacation beach.

     • Similarly, the public preoccupation with the Blowout disguises the Administration’s continued implementation of its extreme statist agenda through agency regulations, which has only accellerated in recent months.

     • The nomination of liberal Supreme Court Justices was one of conservatives' greatest fears during the presidential campaign, and in recent years nominations have been flash points for highly partisan debate.  But the confirmation process of mediocre ideological-cipher-but-demonstrably-rather-left-of-center Elena Kagan  has excited relatively little media interest.

     • The Republicans are displaying their customary lack of strategic vision in their reaction to the Blowout and the Administration's handling of it.  Their efforts to direct attention to the longer-lasting damage the White House is visiting on the nation through bad policy are lukewarm and diffuse.  Neither the Republicans nor the Tea Party Express have any bright ideas on what to do about the Blowout, and they (and the right in general) are perceived by the public as supportive of Big Oil and, in particular, drilling for crude offshore and in other exotic places.

     • Sooner or later – surely before Election Season 2012 rolls around – the Blowout will have been mostly solved and the cleanup will be well underway. I also suspect we will find, as we did with the Amoco Cadiz and the Exxon Valdez, that, horrendous as the damage was, the sea and shores will heal more quickly than predicted. And just as Obama generated bad feelings with his early failure to do anything about the Blowout, he will get credit for the greatly improving situation. He will have earned neither the obloquy nor the credit, but no matter – the credit will come his way during a time when he will be looking to trade on it for re-election.

So I don’t think the Blowout will be Obama’s Katrina. I think it may well be closer akin to his Operation Desert Storm, a distraction from his failures and weaknesses whose eventual less-fatal-than-imagined resolution will relieve the public to such an extent that it will credit the President simply for standing nearby.

I concede: The foregoing speculation gives President Obama credit for some political foresightedness – he can’t continue to make appalling high-profile policy blunders between White House parties and hope no one will notice.

But as I rest my head on the pillow at the end of a long day, poodles crated for the night after their final wringing-out, the Memsahib switches to the news and I see that Attorney General Holder is suing Arizona for enforcing federal immigration laws, that President Obama has sailed way past President Bush in number of golf rounds played (including almost a dozen since the Blowout), and that they let Joe Biden out to make another speech. The day falls away and slumber's approach is hastened by the sweetdream thought that President Obama’s post-Presidential memoir will be titled My Term.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wherein We Name the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Disaster, and About Time

This oil spill thing needs a name.  Consider:
  • Chernobyl.
  • Katrina.
  • Exxon Valdez.
  • 9/11.
  • Three-Mile Island.
  • Love Canal.
  • Pearl Harbor
  • Mt. St. Helens.
  • Amoco Cadiz
  • Hiroshima.
  • Krakatoa.
  • Pompeii
Each of those words or phrases succinctly calls forth from memory a recognizable event -- a disastrous event -- and all of its associations.  At present we have nothing similarly dramatic for – what are we calling it? “The BP Oil Spill.” “The Gulf Oil Disaster.” I haven’t heard anything that I would consider either memorable enough, specific enough, dramatic enough, or short enough to serve as a repeated reference to what has happened.

"Gulf Oil Spill" seems to have gained some currency.  I don't like it or any of its variations, mainly because what has happened is not a spill.  Spills go from higher places to lower places -- gravity is what makes a spill a spill.  This effluvia does just the opposite, shooting upward.  "Spills" are also singular events, bounded in time and volume.  This one -- no.   "Gulf Oil Spill" also fails to remind us of the villain here (there are many, I know, but one over-villain).  And what about when we have an actual spill in the Gulf of Mexico, or some other Gulf? 

Comparing the present disaster  to those in my list, we can see that this particular event is not associated with a uniquely named spot on the globe. Oceanographic cartographers may have a name for that location, but I can’t seem to find one.

How about the name of the rig itself?  The Exxon Valdez and Amoco Cadiz were oil disasters associated with the name of the ships.  Here, "Deepwater Horizon," the name of the rig that asploded, has a nice ring to it.  But it's too late to adopt that as a name for this event.  Too hard to sell.

I propose one that is short, alliterative, descriptive, colorful, and memorable:

  The BP Blowout

“Blowout” is a great violent word, almost onomatopoetic, calling up images of both the explosion itself and of the crude billowing out of the ruined pipe.  “BP” gives it instant context.

So henceforth, that’s what I’m going to call it. 

In the nick of time, I might add.

The Cool Hot Center grants you a worldwide perpetual royalty-free right and license to use the phrase as well.  When you do, people will know instantly what you're talking about, and you'll sound very much more hip than people who are still calling it the dreary old "Gulf Oil Spill."
And pass it along to all your friends and news directors and copy editors of your acquaintance.  Let's get this thing rolling, people.