Friday, July 28, 2006

Death and Madness

In a Houston courtroom a few days ago, Andrea Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the drowning of her five children. Although many conservative bloggers were outraged by Yates's "walking free,"* most people recognize the verdict as a blow for sanity and justice.

When Yates was first convicted in 2002, many people questioned how in the world a woman that clearly crazy could be held accountable. But the jury had not a doubt that she should be: they only deliberated for three and a half hours hours before returning a guilty verdict. This was less than half the time it had taken a previous jury to decide she was competent to stand trial; and competency is a standard set so low that, according to one Houston reporter, "If you're walking, you're competent."

The verdict was overturned on appeal because one of the prosecution's expert witnesses, psychiatrist and television consultant Park Dietz, had testified that Andrea Yates had gotten the idea for killing her children from a Law & Order episode that he had worked on where a mother drowned her kids. Except, oops! there wasn't any such episode. His bad. One of the most conservative appeals courts in the most conservative state in the union recognized that just perhaps telling a jury that there was a clear blueprint that the defendant was following when the blueprint didn't even exist might be prejudicial to the defendant. Ya think?

In the second trial, the jury deliberated for thirteen hours over a period of three days. Not as short as the first one, but not a tremendously long time, either. (The Scott Peterson jury took ten days to arrive at a verdict.)

So, what was the difference? Was the Law & Order episode that crucial to the first jury's decision? That seems rather strange. After all, Dietz is an expert who knows his stuff, and his misremembering about the episode was only part of a lengthy testimony, most of which had do with his perception that Yates had not been psychotic when she killed her children. He testified to that in the second trial as well.** (There were of course numerous other doctors who testified in Yates's defense, saying she was psychotic. Given than one doctor who had treated Andrea Yates following a previous bout of postpartum psychosis stated that she was one of the "five sickest patients I've ever seen," I tend to side with the jury on this.)

Maybe it was the fact that people know more about postpartum psychosis, to some extent because of the Andrea Yates case.

Or maybe it's because the prosecutors were barred from seeking the death penalty.

They were barred from doing so because the jury in the first trial had refused to sentence Yates to death. I'm sure, had they been able to, the prosecution would have gone for the death penalty all over again. Even though at the first trial they sought the death penalty during the "conviction" phase of the trial, and endorsed life imprisonment during the "sentencing" phase.

Because "death-qualified juries" are more likely to convict than other juries. Furthermore, such juries are more likely to reject insanity defenses.

Think about that... the death penalty affects who gets convicted, not just who gets sentenced to death.

Yet another way in which capital punishment warps the justice system. Not only is it applied capriciously -- you think not? God help you if you are accused of murder in Texas. Or Virginia. (For example, the rush to the executioner's chamber leads to insane laws restricting introduction of evidence of innocence on appeal. Virginia's is especially draconian -- a defendant has twenty-one days to introduce new evidence of any sort. [Edit: further research shows that they revoked the 21-day rule last year. That leaves untouched other similar but not quite as short time periods in other states.] Any evidence that shows up later, no matter how strong -- DNA exonerating the defendant, for example -- is simply disregarded.) The tendencies of death-qualified juries to convict it makes miscarriages of justice -- such as nearly happened in the Yates case -- much more likely, as prosecutors are able to game jury selection in such a way that disadvantages the defense from the start.

And yet the majority of people support the death penalty in this country.

Is this madness, or what?

* Individuals who are found "not guilty by reason of insanity" do not "walk free." They are sent to state mental hospitals, where they are locked away. The main difference between state mental hospitals and prisons is that the residents get better mental health treatment. They also tend to be locked away for longer periods than people who commit the same crime who end up in prison.

** Dietz testified in the second trial, but incredibly, the judge barred any testimony concerning his erroneous testimony at the first trial. This is staggering: defense attorneys almost always use prior testimony to impeach witnesses and throw doubt on their credibility. That the defense was precluded from doing so in this case was a boon to the prosecution.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

When is a killing a killing?

In my LiveJournal, wcg makes the very reasonable statement that comparing fatalities is not useful; people are not potatoes. And, for the most part, I think he's right. In this case, however, I think the comparison of numbers of fatalities, and more importantly, numbers of civilian casualties, goes directly to the issue of whether or not the Israeli response has been appropriate and proportionate.

Over the years, when talking with people in my family who unwaveringly support Israel, I am always told that the difference between Israel and the Palestinians is that the Israelis don't kill innocent people. Suicide bombings kill innocent people; the Israelis only shoot suspected terrorists.

I think that statement is factually suspect. I think that the killing of the Lebanese civilians in the current situation also gives the lie to that statement, as well.

But the situation is more complicated than that.

For the last several years, Liz Mulford, an honorary member of the board of the Four Homes of Mercy in the West Bank in Palestine, has come to my church to talk about the Four Homes.* The descriptions of conditions in the West Bank were far different than what one heard of in the American media: grinding poverty which became worse every year, draconian travel restrictions which made making a living difficult, hours spent waiting at checkpoints -- if one could get through at all, severely ill patients in ambulances headed to a hospital in Jerusalem being turned around and refused entry. Doctors being unable to get sorely-needed medicines. All a result of Israeli policies towards the Palestinians in the West Bank. (The travel restrictions were eased in 2005 [pdf].) If a patient dies because they are prevented from going to the hospital, my relatives would say that the Israelis would not be to blame.

Which raises a question, when is a killing a killing? Not when is a killing a murder, for that hinges upon justification, which an entirely different question. But when can responsibility for having caused death be said to have occured?

There is the legal definition, which applies to persons. Walking into a market with a bomb strapped around your waist and blowing yourself up, taking two dozen men, women, and children with you who were doing nothing more than trying to put food on their table is killing -- and murder too. I will not argue that.

Locking someone in a house, with no means of escape, and limited food or water, resulting in their death would be killing, too, if those actions were taken by an individual.

What makes it so different when it is a nation walling off hundreds of thousands of people, destroying the power plant that makes it possible for them to get clean water, and increases the likelihood of diseases and cholera, disrupts shipments of food, and other actions significantly impacting the very existence of those people? Such as Israel did in the Gaza strip?

People are going to die as a result. You can't say how many, and you can't say exactly who, but someone is going to die. Probably a lot of someones.

And that is killing. Just as much as the suicide bombings are killing. You can argue that the action is justified -- I would argue that it is not, inasmuch as it targets innocents -- but you cannot argue that it does not kill.

Killing begets killing. What is happening today in Gaza will make it all the easier for the next generation of suicide bombers to be recruited.

And the cycle of death will continue.

UPDATE: wcg also pointed me to this very perceptive article.
UPDATE II: A letter from an Anglican Bishop in Palestine.

* Our church gives money every Christmas to the Four Homes: everyone in the parish foregoes sending Christmas cards to other people in the parish, and the money we save on cards and postage we give to the Four Homes, and the names of the donors are listed in a "Parish Christmas Card" printed in the weekly bulletin on Epiphany.
There is blame on both sides, people say. Israel has a right to defend herself, people say.

Hezbollah is at fault, the American government says. The Israelis define anyone who doesn't flee before them as being in cahoots with Hezbollah, and Alan Dershowitz agrees with them.

All I know is this:

According to this morning's San Jose Mercury News, 36 Israelis have been killed, 19 of them in the military. 381 Lebanese have been killed, almost all of them civilians, unless you accept the Dershowitz definition that means that anyone in the area by definition is not a civilian. That doesn't even address the issue of the hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who have been given the choice by the Israelis: leave your homes, or die.

So you tell me, who has more blood -- and more innocent blood -- on their hands?

And that does not even touch on the situation in the Gaza, where the Israelis destroyed the only electrical plant in the area. Destroying the power plant is creating a humantarian crisis, causing a shortage of food and drinkable water for possibly over half a million people.

It was neccessary, Israel said, because darkness would make it easier to track militants who had kidnapped an Israeli soldier.

Let's look at that calculus again, shall we? 1 Israeli soldier = significant misery, and possible loss of life for a large number of Palestinians, with up to half a million facing food or water shortages. Oh, but it works out -- because the militants have ties to Hamas, the Palestinian governing body, so all those Palestinians, well, I guess they have it coming to them, don't they?

That's the way the U.S. is acting, at any rate. We're not pushing for a cease-fire -- let Israel kill more Lebanese, make more of southern Lebanon into a wasteland. Oh, nobody says that in so many words, but it comes across just the same.

We Americans collectively have blood on our hands, if for no other reason than we have kept silent when we should have spoken, stood still when we should have acted. And I find that the normal anger and disdain I have for my current government is replaced by something far stronger -- a deep and burning rage: how dare you be complicit in such evil? How dare you, in my name, stand by while our allies do such things?

May God have mercy on our souls.

Monday, July 24, 2006

It's too darn hot.

Today was the ninth day of a heat wave in Northern California, with temperatures well into the nineties everyday and the last three in triple digits at my house (and in the nineties well into the evening inside the house, as well). Given that, I think that this is an ideal time to go see Al Gore's movie about global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth": the theatre has air-conditioning.*

Part of me does want to ponder climate change and the ethics of the global warming debate, and how we are called to be stewards of God's creation -- what does that mean? Unfortunately, I think all the synapses in my brain have melted.

The San Francisco Bay peninsula may be the only place in the world where people wake up on a summer morning, look out at 7 a.m. to a world lit up by bright, clear golden sunshine, and say, "Oh, damn." Conversely, gray, overcast skies mean hallelujah! that the clouds will burn off by lunchtime and the temperature will be lovely in the afternoon.

Yes, we're spoiled, climactically. It never gets really cold in the winter, and most years it doesn't get that hot except for a few weeks in late August and September. That's one of the reasons people stay here in spite of the insane cost of living. There are others -- such as being an hour from the beach and three from the mountains -- but that's a big part of it.

I grew up in Florida. I know I wouldn't want to live in that climate anymore, as much as I love the state otherwise. They do, however, have one advantage over my current neck of the woods: almost all the buildings are air-conditioned. Here, I -- and almost all of my friends -- live in unair-conditioned houses, and it's not uncommon for other places to lack climate control, either. Why air condition a house when most of the time you won't need it?

So forgive us our whining. The heat wave will be over soon (even as I write this, fog is rolling into the bay, meaning it will be cooler tomorrow), and we'll get back to our complaining about all the stuff we usually whine about -- the high cost of real estate, and what's going on in the tech industry, and why don't the Giants get rid of Barry Bonds?, and....

*I really wish that joke were original with me, but it's not; I saw it somewhere on Live Journal.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Blog review

For the most part, this is not a political blog. Not because I'm not interested, but because there are a lot of people who write those sort of blogs already, and I'm not sure what I would have to add to the discussion. I also read a couple of religious-oriented blogs, as well as some more personal blogs.

So what am I reading?

General political blogs:

Atrios: Atrios is one of the major leftie blogs, gets talked about in Newsweek articles, that sort of thing. The language can be coarse, and the comments are usually not worth bothering with, but it's a good resource for links to other blogs.

Hullabaloo: Smaller than Atrios, Hullabaloo has better writing, especially the pieces written by Digby.

Sisyphus Shrugged: snarky commentary on current events. Good coverage of New York political scene.

Political blogs with a particular (although not exclusive) focus:

Respectful of Otters: My favorite political/policy blog. Rivka tends to write a lot about health issues and feminism, and she knows her stuff. She does her homework, is scrupulously fair, and is willing to call out idiocy regardless of where it comes from. She also as writes well as any blogger out there.

Orcinus: Dave Niewert's blog focuses on following the extreme right wing, racism and immigration issues, as well as environmental issues occasionally. Niewert is a freelance journalist, and it shows: the writing is clear and persuasive. Fascinating, if frightening, reading.

Religion blogs:

: Religion and politics. The blog can sometimes be very heavy going -- it doesn't hurt to understand formal theology -- but other times is simply very profound and moving.

Religion and politics. (Those often go hand-in-hand, even for non-fundamentalist Christians.) Fred is a liberal, non-fundamentalist Evangelical. His series deconstructing the first of the "Left Behind" books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins gives both an amusing and informative look inside the mind of fundamentalists.

Of Course, I Could Be Wrong: by The Mad Monk. Anglicism, as seen from a liberal priest in England. Recently, there's been a lot about the insanity in the Anglican Communion.


Making Light
: Making Light is the popular blog by Teresa and Patrick Nielsen-Hayden, two science-fiction editors at Tor. While the posts are interesting, the real gold in Making Light is in the comments. Unlike many another blog, the comments are almost always intelligent, thoughtful, and use proper grammar. A recent post had comment threads that diverged into discussions of feminism, the morality of SUVs, and knitting. Teresa Nielsen-Hayden also invented the blogger convention of disemvoweling, whereby abusive or profane comments have their vowels removed, so they can still be read by those willing to puzzle them out, but are marked as being beyond the pale. (I have a great deal of trouble reading disemvoweled text, but I know from online interactions that I am in the minority.)

Personal blogs:

These are blogs I read because I know the people involved, although I think they are interesting enough to link to.

Ink Smudges: Cristopher Robinson, a priest in San Antonio, Texas, posts his sermons and other pieces on religion and faith. He doesn't post all that often, but every post is a gem. His post on ashram cats should be required reading for all Episcopal church-goers.

Julie's News From New York: I've already linked to this blog. The journey of a young woman through the wilds of seminary.

Going Jesus: Going Jesus is... something else. As is Sara, the blogger. I have had several people in conversation mention Going Jesus to me as something I needed to check out, not knowing that I knew Sara personally. I went to a wedding recently where the person who made the wedding cakes said she was inspired by the pictures of Sara's wedding cake posted on the blog. Be sure and check out Sara's amazing collection of religious kitsch -- especially the "Cavalcade of Bad Nativities." Oh, and for you knitters -- Sara knits intarsia. She oftens posts pictures of her projects. I am soooo jealous.

So, those are the blogs I read -- how about you?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

To the ends of the earth...

At the gift shop in Resolute Bay, Nunavit, you can buy a shirt that says "Resolute Bay is not the end of the world, but you can see it from here." Not many people live in Resolute -- 215, as of the 2001 Census. The second northernmost settlement in Canada (Grise Fiord is the northernmost), it is the debarkation point for scientific expeditions to the North Pole. The average yearly temperature is -16.4 F. , although right now it's quite balmy, with temperatures in the low 40s. Resolute is a cold and isolated place.

It is civilization itself compared to Devon Island. Devon Island has no settlements on it. It is as uninhabited as.... Mars. Which is only one of the reasons that "Mars on Earth" -- the Haughton-Mars Project -- is located there. The more important ones have to do with the geological and biological attributes of the huge impact crater that's more or less in the center of the island. Every year, scientists gather to study the crater and to use it to test equipment that hopefully one day will in some future iteration go to Mars.

My husband is up there now. This is his ninth consecutive year with HMP. He's currently testing automated drills.

I've gotten used to it, now. Sort of. I no longer check the weather reports obsessively, I no longer check and recheck the project webcams to see if they've updated. (Especially since they haven't been updated since the end of last field season.) I don't let myself think the words "hypothermia" or "polar bears" or "ATV rollover" more than once every, oh, few hours.

Because when you love someone, you take them for who they are. In my case, that means saying "When do you need to leave?" a great deal. There is field work -- Devon and rural Spain -- and there are conferences -- Japan and Valencia -- and then there are just plain business trips -- D.C. and Houston. During a particularly brutal spell last fall, he was away 68 days between July 1st and October 31st --including a six-week stint in Rio Tinto, Spain. That doesn't include the traveling he did the rest of the year. Most years are not nearly so bad; he usually is away about a total of about 80 - 90 days a year.

He does what he does because it matters to him. He wants to do work that will advance exploration science, that may someday lead to his grandchildren standing on Mars. I applaud that far-sightedness: I appreciate the fact that he is not driven solely by thoughts of commercial gain. (If he was motivated by money, he sure wouldn't be working for NASA. Private sector jobs for people of his qualifications pay much better.)

And my part in this is support, and making sure the kids are alright. I don't say "Do you have to go to Devon?" I don't say "But don't you think six weeks is a long time to be away from home?" I will confess, however, that I sometimes say "Are you sure they really need you at XYZ boring business meeting at NASA Headquarters?"

Because he's a scientist, an explorer. I can tether him, if I absolutely had too -- but why? It's just who he is. I have other friends who face the same issue, with far more stress than I. One friend has a husband who is a camerman who has done time in Iraq and who spends summer filming wildfires. Compared to that, worrying about a little bout of hypothermia is nothing.

It just goes with the territory of loving people whose first love is something larger than just another person. I've never been unclear on that. And to insist he stay home, cease to travel, explore, and pursue his goals would be to insist he change who he is. I love him, I don't want him to let go of something that is so clearly a part of his psyche. So I offer encouragement and hold down the fort. I do this as cheerfully and with as much grace as I can muster.

But that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

They shoot horses, don't they?

I have been waiting for several days to write an obituary for Barbaro. He was diagnosed with laminitis last Tuesday. Laminitis is painful, incurable, and almost always ends in the horse being put down. The list of horses euthanized due to laminitis includes some of the best racehorses of the last fifty years, among them Triple Crown winner Affirmed and the horse many considered to have been the best to ever step on a racetrack, Secretariat.

I was going to write about how I love horses. I was going to write about the horse I loved most, and how she broke my heart. And I was going to relay what I had written elsewhere about Barbaro after his Derby win:

I saw the Derby. Unlike other years, I haven't been following the pre-Derby races -- and the papers haven't been providing much coverage. Heading to the post, the commentators mentioned that it was a strong field with several unbeatens in it.

Barbaro won. By seven lengths, going away. After sitting just off the leaders who were running quite a fast pace.

There were a lot of horses -- twenty --this year: the Derby is crowded. And some of those were presumably not really Derby caliber, and perhaps caused other, better, horses some problems.

But I don't think any horse in that field could have caught Barbaro. Had this been the Belmont, the margin of victory would have been larger -- he looked to be just warming up.

It's too soon to anoint the horse a superstar, but damn, what a performance.

I like him even more because he's *not* a pretty horse. His neck looks sort of scrawny, his head is not aristocratic but sort of chunky-looking. Then again, as people who've read the book or seen the movie know, Seabiscuit wasn't a pretty horse, either.

Wow. I really hope he's as good as he seemed on Saturday.

He's not dead. But maybe he should be. Or should be soon.

His veterinarians and handlers say he's in no pain, and they have a lot of experience dealing with horses, so I have to take them at their word. His owners say they are doing it out of love for the horse. I hope they are being honest with themselves and us.

Whatever they do, I hope they don't breed him.

In three years running, the top three-year-old has broken down and ended his racing career. Horses are running fewer races before being retired to stud. Horses are being bred to be Roman candles: burst onto the scene, blaze brightly, and retire while young. They are bred for speed, not stamina, and are trained accordingly.

When a nationally known trainer like Nick Zito says "We've debilitated the breed," you need to pay attention. He knows -- and, what's more, he has a vested interest in the status quo.

Veterinary medicine can save horses that would not have been saved even a relatively few years ago. Increasing acceptance of use of drugs such as Lasix and bute help horses race when maybe they shouldn't. If a horse runs well, and then breaks down, nothing is to keep him (or her) out of the breeding shed.

The bloodstock advisor at Three Chimneys Farm, where Barbaro's sire Dynaformer stands at stud, claims that there is nothing wrong with the colt's soundness, that he was just the victim of bad luck. Perhaps. But I do know this: he was running on an open track, and he didn't run into another horse, or the rail, he simply took a "misstep." When he damaged his leg, he didn't pull a ligament, he shattered his hind leg, requiring a titanium plate and over twenty screws to fix. That may be bad luck; it may be bad genes. Do we want to take a chance?

As humans, we have an ethical responsiblity to breed for soundness in our domesticated animals, since we have usurped the role natural selection plays in determining the gene pool. That we have often sacrificed complete soundness to gain other characteristics in show dogs is bad enough. To breed horses for speed alone, without regard for stamina, increases the likelihood of more breakdowns. More pain. More death.

So save the horse, if you can. He's a real charmer by all accounts. (His veterinarian reports that he has a positive attitude. How can you tell?) But don't let him pass down his genes.

We need to be responsible as a species to the species under our care.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


At one point in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Jesus appears to one of the contestants, a hyperachieving young woman named Marcy Park.

“Jesus, will you be disappointed in me if I lose?”

“No, my child, I won’t be disappointed if you lose. I also won’t be disappointed if you win. Mainly, though, this is not the sort of thing I care about.

I wonder what Jesus must think of us Episcopalians these days. We are taking time out from our mission to be a blessing to other people to engage in a nasty internecine war. It’s been brewing a while – the confirmation of Gene Robinson three years ago may have been a flashpoint, and the election of Katherine Jeffords-Schori as Presiding Bishop poured fuel on the fire, but the powder was spread around good and thick on the ground years ago. In 2000, for example, several bishops were consecrated by the Archbishops of Rwanda and Southeast Asia and sent to America, intended to be "missionary bishops."

I am not claiming the moral high ground -- well, maybe I am. I don't know. I do know that I am sad and angry and tired of all this nonsense. And things are going to get much worse.

We're beyond the pale, the ECUSA, for daring to confirm a gay bishop? But Nigeria, where the Standing Committee of the Archdiocese called for gays and lesbians to not only be excluded from the life of the church but thrown in jail for five years, is not?

Supposedly our position is "non-Scriptural." I think that's wrong (and in any case when did Anglicans become Biblical literalists?), but Archbishop Peter Akinola's, with his view of homosexuals as "beasts," is more "non-Scriptural" by a damn sight. We are faulted for going against the 1998 Lambeth Report (and 2004 Windor Report) because we (in a divided vote) confirmed the election of a gay bishop -- a bishop who had been duly and properly selected by his diocese -- and because we refused to swear never to do it again, since "homosexual practice [is] incompatible with Scripture." Fine. Those reports also say

We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ; while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals. . .

Throwing people in jail for five years is "minister[ing] to them pastorally and sensitively." Good to know.

And then there is the matter of gender. The diocese of Fort Worth asked for alternative oversight within forty-eight hours of the election of Jeffords-Schori. This was not a thoughtful, Spirit-driven response to the events at Convention. How could it have been? Dioceses do not move that fast. This had to have been planned well in advance. So much for letting the Spirit speak -- much better to determine what messages are acceptable, before we are faced with them.

The traditionalists accuse us of lack of discipline. And I say, what discipline does it take to adhere to tradition in the face of new knowledge and understanding? Is that discipline or rigidity? And is working for change based on that understanding kowtowing to popular culture, or is it showing strength to fight for what God speaks to us, rather than falling back on what has always been done? Spiritual discernment is a discipline, too: and by its nature discernment must not presupppose the answer being discerned.

It takes discipline to undertake actions in which there is a strong possibility of being treated with scorn, derision or hatred. At the 2000 General Convention, a delegate from Dallas took it upon himself to sprinkle salt for exorcism under the tables of delegations with openly gay delegates. A gay priest said "This happens to us all the time. It is good that it is out in the open." It takes courage, and yes, discipline, to keep trying to affect change in such situations.

Following General Convention, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested a two-tiered Communion: provinces who agreed to abide by "Scriptural principals" (to be defined, of course, by the most traditionalist elements in the Communion) would be full members. Others -- i.e., the ECUSA, and perhaps the Canadian and New Zealand churches -- would be "associates" who would not affect the positions of the Anglican Communion: you can hang around and pretend to be part of the club, but we're not going to listen to you.

Schism. From Latin, meaning a formal division or separation from or between a religious body. As in "Rowan Williams has effectively proposed a schism between the Episcopal Church in America and the rest of the Anglican Communion." S-C-H-I-S-M. Schism.

But then I keep coming back to my original question: does any of this matter? The real work of the Lord goes on in the pews, in the streets, between people. Regardless of what happens to the ECUSA's position in the Anglican Communion, we will still do the Lord's work in the world to the best of our understanding and ability.

Like Marcy Park, it sure would be nice to have Jesus appear and tell us what to do. Unlike Marcy Park, I don't expect that to happen -- we're going to have to pray and listen to discern where to go next.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

It was a dark and stormy night....

In November 2003, during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I wrote a novel.

A bad novel.

A very, very bad novel.

A key part of the plot was that the protagonist (a woman based on me, except she looked nothing like me, being slim and with gray eyes, which is about as far away from me as you can get) spent a lot of time in bars playing trivia. In fact, the name of this putative novel was Pursuit (as in "Trivial..."). The problem was, I had written this without actually having spent much time (any, actually) playing trivia in bars.

That's changed. I've now done some research -- which involved the arduous task of sitting around drinking Sam Adams and trying to figure out which fourteenth century theologian rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation* -- and I have a better sense of the social dynamics involved. I need to engage in more research, of course; next Saturday I'll be at Spoons Bar & Restaurant in Sunnyvale, California doing just that.

I got to wondering if maybe, now that I actually know something of what I am writing about, I could tighten up the flabby sections and the novel might be halfway decent. So last night I hunted it down from the bowels of the old computer (the one the kids use, not my laptop) and checked it out. Was there any hope?

Uh, no.

It was not as bad as I remembered. It was worse.

There is, as the proverb goes, always a silver lining: the opening sentence (of which I remember being particularly proud at the time) is so bad I'm going to enter it in the next Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

I'll let you know how I do.

*John Wycliffe. That's okay, I guessed Martin Luther, too.