Friday, September 6, 2013

An open letter to Congress concerning Syria

The proposed cruise missle strikes on Syria are based on flawed logic. The most serious flaw is the assumption that parties in the Middle East will react in what we as Westerners consider to be a logical fashion to the application of force. Have they ever? Did the Taliban in Afghanistan? Did the Sunni in Iraq? And if you go further in history, did the Arabs react with the kind of logical submission we expect of Syria when they were confronted with overwhelming force from the Ottoman Empire during World War I? Did the Afghans submit to the mighty British Empire in the 1830s? No, they fought on. We continue to miss the lessons of history both past and present. Force will not achieve our goals, only diplomacy and negotiation will.

For some unfathomable reason our nation seems to believe that just because Bashir Assad was educated in England, he is, somehow, a Western individual. He is not. His mindset is Middle Eastern. He believes that unless he fights on to the bitter end, his Alawite brothers and sisters will be slaughtered by the Sunni majority and he is probably correct. As long as his people are in danger, he has no incentive to end his fight and every incentive to continue fighting more desperately using ever more force and killing ever more of those he considers the enemy of his people. Attacks from the outside will only increase his desperation and his incentive to use ever more intense force to end the struggle quickly. Obama's plan will backfire horribly just as the use of force has backfired every time in the Middle East. We will end up in yet another quagmire. Need I remind you how much the quagmires in Afghanistan and Iraq have already cost us? Our nation is mired in debt and unable to educate, house, feed and care for its own people because of the treasure we have poured into Middle Eastern rat holes through ill planned military fiascos. Let's not do it yet again. Syria requires concerted international diplomacy not reckless military bluster brought on by failed posturing about "red lines."

The nation cannot afford another war. The world cannot afford another war. And another war will not accomplish any worthwhile goal -- history, recent and past demonstrates this clearly. Encourage the President to take bold diplomatic action in international forums, but vote against this reckless, hopelessly ill thought out military action.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The discipline of 99 word fiction

I was introduced to the concept of the 99 word story when our local free paper, the North Coast Journal ran its 2012 short fiction contest. Writing a 99 word story requires a unique discipline. Every word counts -- more than this, every word must count for the maximum it possibly can. I start the exercise with a concept which I let roll around in my head for a while. The concept can only be a vignette but it must have a twist to complete it and make it memorable. I type the story in and check the word count. They started anywhere between 110 and 124 words. Then the tough part begins: How to pair the story down to only the necessary words. A word here, a word there makes all the difference. My first entry, about a housewife finally enjoying herself, was a finalist.


Harry really was right, single malt Scotch was better than blended. Lois swirled the snifter and let the potent fragrance tickle her nose. She closed her eyes and sipped. It tasted of caramel, smoke and the pungence of 100 proof. Lois grabbed the bottle from Harry's private cabinet and settled in Harry's favorite easy chair. In the humidor beside it rested Harry's illegally imported Cuban cigars which she would eventually compost. Harry had spent a lot on his little pleasures. That was over. Tonight she'd bask in the warmth of his Scotch. Tomorrow she'd worry about the blood stains.

The slow pace of the story was resolved in a startling conclusion. In 2013, I wrote a 99 word sequel to the original 99 word story.


Lois danced around the sofa, gliding and twirling. Harry would have told her to act her age - old poop.

A knock interrupted her. A police officer greeted her. "We were wondering about Harry, ma'am."

"So was I," she said, hands over heart. "Have you questioned the people from that meth house down the street?"

The officer cocked his head. "Why? Harry is a pillar of the community."

Lois shook her head slowly. "Always the ones who fool you."

"We'll check." He left.

Lois smiled, danced round the sofa again and headed downstairs to finish the new basement wall.

Writing 99 word fiction is a good exercise in restraining verbosity which I can always use.