Why I Still Keep a Writing Journal …

… even though I don’t actually write in it all that much.

Recently some of my compadres in the Codex writing group discussed who among us still wrote in longhand, and the benefits and drawbacks thereof. I followed the thread with mild interest, but didn’t contribute much. Now, a week into this web log experiment, I had a small insight.

In addition to the tactile pleasure of scratching ink onto paper, of seeing squiggly black lines that somehow convey meaning (even if I am the only one who can read them), my writing journal allows me something the computer — and the blog especially — does not: the freedom to record ideas and musings only half-formed. In contrast, in this venue and in my “serious” writing I try to produce entries that are, if not fully formed, at least close to complete and coherent. Even producing a first draft takes me a long time, because I want it to be a good draft. The notebook, though, collects for me the briefest snippets of thought, the most inane ramblings, and a hodgepodge of notes on scratch paper that I fully intend to transcribe … someday.

And the journal is infinitely patient with me, even if I am not so patient with myself. Maybe an entry will help explain. A little over a year ago I wrote (on journal page 2097),

The best thing about this little notebook is that it’s always here, ready for me to write in it. It doesn’t matter (except to me) how long I go between entries — the pages are always here, and if I use them all there will always be more, waiting to be written upon. That’s comforting, but in a way it’s also daunting.

My other projects line up and demand my immediate attention; my little notebook waits without complaint. Articles, stories, speeches, and even blog entries require a certain amount of precision and care; the journal tolerates my worst spelling, my most egregious grammar, and my most outrageous ideas. And that’s why, even though I use it far less than I should, I still keep my writing journal.

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While we’re on the topic of writing, founding Codexian Luc Reid has a great entry in his blog on the myth of writer’s block: Writer’s Block: Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself.

If it really existed, writer’s block would be the inability to write. If we look at this idea for a moment, we begin to notice that it doesn’t make much sense. Is a person with writer’s block physically unable to put words on a page? If they are, it’s not called “writer’s block,” but rather “paralysis” or “death” or “extreme drunkenness.” So people with writer’s block can clearly write. Presumably what a person’s saying when she or he talks about having writer’s block, then, is the inability to write anything good….

Of course, there’s one more possible kind of writer’s block: having trouble writing because you don’t really like to write, and don’t feel compelled to. Some writers talk about not enjoying the process of writing, but they’re compelled to do it anyway. Either compulsion or enjoyment will work, but if you don’t like to sit down and write and you don’t feel driven to do it, then you can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing you don’t have writer’s block: that just means you’re not really a writer.

I relate to both situations: the fear that I’m not going to be able to write anything good, and that I’m not really a writer. But then I write something and prove that at least one of those notions is wrong.

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Ahmadinejad Thanks U.S. For Liberating Iraq

If only it were so. Yet, in a way, it was.

Most of the press coverage of the Iranian President’s visit to Iraq focused on his statements against President Bush and the United States. But notice this paragraph from The Christian Science Monitor:

“I thank God for blessing us with the good fortune to visit Iraq and to meet our dear brothers in oppressed Iraq,” Ahmadinejad said in a brief statement after meeting with Mr. Talabani. “Visiting Iraq without the dictator is a truly joyous occasion.”

Those who are quick to cast the U.S. in the role of “oppressors” would focus on his reference to “oppressed Iraq,” but his second statement is more telling. “Visiting Iraq without the dictator” — that would be after the U.S.-led coalition toppled the dictator. It’s unlikely the Iranian leader would have visited Baghdad if Saddam Hussein were still in power. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines laid the groundwork for the “truly joyous occasion.”

A simple “Thank you” would suffice.

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Al-Qaeda: You love life and we love death

What a telling quotation: “You love life and we love death.” If so, what recourse do we have except to give them what they love?

That quotation, from “Al-Qaeda’s chief military spokesman in Europe,” was pulled from Blood & Rage: a Cultural History of Terrorism by Michael Burleigh; i.e., specifically from this review of the book: “The theatre of cruelty,” in the London Telegraph on-line.

(Alan Dershowitz, in “Worshippers of Death” in today’s Wall Street Journal, notes a similar statement from Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah: “We are going to win, because they love life and we love death.”)

We haven’t read Burleigh’s book yet, but from the review the ideas in it sound familiar. Burleigh examines “the moral squalor, intellectual poverty and psychotic nature of terrorist organisations, from the Fenians of the mid-19th century to today’s jihadists – the latter group, especially, being composed of unstable males of conspicuously limited abilities and imagination.” Burleigh’s terrorist operatives are, in the words of the reviewer, “sour, lazy nobodies, ugly, of febrile imagination and indifferent talent, who can only become somebody by blowing others, inevitably persons more talented and intelligent, up.” Added to which, as Dershowitz notes in his article, radical Muslim women have recently been encouraging their sons to become martyrs — if not becoming martyrs themselves.

This all sounds familiar because it runs close to something we wrote back in 2002. In our Ornery American essay, “Yogi Berra, Polybius, and the Recurring Jihad,” we took a page from Polybius and noted that, with respect to the attacks on 9/11/01,

the nineteen assassins were young, “full of unrelenting passion,” not suffering from want or deprivation but well-educated and well-financed, and exasperated against us on the basis of their own imaginings. They and their successors differ from the Gauls [the group Polybius wrote about], however, in having an ideology that screams for conflict. Islam does not mean “peace,” but “submission.” If we forget that, we may cry out “peace, peace” when there is no peace.

There is something noble about being willing to sacrifice one’s self for a just cause. Even as we recognize that, however, the question becomes whether we believe their cause — the cause of death — is more just than ours. And the answer must be no. It cannot be.

They love death. So be it — may it come to them sooner than it comes for us.

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Thank Heavens Our Elections Aren't Like Russia's …

… that is, like Russia just had: In Russia, Medvedev Sweeps Presidential Election.

The fearmongers who believe the worst of the United States might actually be afraid of a similar scenario here. Those who think secret police are waiting to take them to prison for their dissenting opinions might spend sleepless nights afraid that President Bush could eschew all precedent and simply tap someone to succeed him — a neo-conservative ideologue, no doubt. They might be afraid that the party apparatus (run by the cabal that secretly controls both the Democratic and Republican parties) would then eliminate not only all political opposition but even most press coverage and criticism. And if the question should be put to the lemming-like citizens, who are so much less enlightened than those brilliant critics who see through the facade of patriotic public service, of course we would run out and vote overwhelmingly for the heir apparent.

In their fevered nightmare, instead of two parties actually competing, the single party would, like Medvedev’s party, collect 70% of the votes. And their worst fear would be realized when, instead of moving into retirement and other interests, President Bush would, like Putin, plan to take some new “Prime Secretary” position from which he would secretly run the government.

It would almost be worth it to see that scenario play out, just to see how many of the lunatic fringe of the far Left would stroke out. (It has already seemed as if they were campaigning against President Bush himself.)

Thankfully, we live in a country of laws, with a Constitution well worth supporting and defending and political traditions we wouldn’t give up lightly. It’s remarkable that the governmental system our Founding Fathers designed is so robust and so well-balanced.

So we will endure another election cycle, with all its hyperbole and posturing, and we will peacefully accept the results and live the best lives we can under whatever administration we elect.

And, to paraphrase Joseph de Maistre, we will get the government we deserve. Presumably, just like the Russians did.

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The Anti-Campaign: Politics as UNusual

In February, a little weary of the primary season and not too pleased by any of the prospective candidates, we started the “Anti-Campaign” for one simple reason: the idea made us laugh.

Now we’ve started The Anti-Campaign Thread on the forum (in the “General Interest” section), as well as The Anti-Campaign Page on the web site. From time to time we’ll post our thoughts on various issues.

So far, we’ve covered the issues of guns (we like ’em) and taxes (we don’t like ’em, but we tolerate ’em). The taxes discussion was especially timely, since we e-filed our taxes today. (Oh, joy.)

The Anti-Campaign … making sport of politics, “the only sport for adults.”

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Republicans — Too Straightforward to be Savvy?

The Wall Street Journal (http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2008/02/29/political-perceptions-release-the-secret-weapon-obamacans/) reported that crossover Republican voters may skew next week’s Democratic primary in favor of Senator Barack Obama:

Some … genuinely like Obama; some dislike Sen. Hillary Clinton so much they’ll vote for another Democrat next Tuesday just to stop her.

It’s unclear if those Republicans would follow-up with votes for Senator Obama in the November general election. We suspect that, even if Senator Obama tracks back toward the political center as the campaign progresses, they may find an imperfect Republican candidate preferable to a Democrat. But if Senator Clinton, who is a much more divisive figure than Senator Obama, would be the easier Democrat to defeat in November, won’t these primary-season “Obamacans” be making it harder for the Republican ticket to prevail?

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Who’s Afraid of Wiretaps?

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence — the HPSCI, usually pronounced “HIP-see” — will take a classified briefing today on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). We presume the HPSCI members are well-versed in the FISA law itself, so this briefing will cover the current intelligence-gathering situation after the Protect America Act — which amended the FISA — expired on February 17th. In particular, it may include the matter of telecommunications companies’ immunity from lawsuits that arise from their cooperation with national security investigations.

We may hope that, after this briefing, the HPSCI members rise in support of the bill that recently passed the Senate, and pressure the House leadership to bring the matter to a vote. We remain skeptical, but optimistic. How else are we to live?

We wonder, however, at the subtle irony that on the HPSCI’s web page, http://intelligence.house.gov/, we are treated to the graphic of the Homeland Security Advisory System showing an “Elevated” threat level: “Significant risk of terrorist attacks.” How much different might that level be, were it not for our operatives’ ability to eavesdrop on potential terrorist communications? Should our elected leaders not give those operatives every possible tool to protect us?

Yes, they should; the question is whether they will.

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If you heed the Gray Man’s warning, …

… you make it safely through the storm.

At least, that’s how the legend of the “Gray Man,” the ghost of Pawleys Island, SC, has it. Even though we’re not warning about approaching storms — or at least not real, physical storms — this blog marks a new attempt at getting our warnings out to the world.

Hopefully, some folks will come and join us from time to time ….

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