Category Archives: Screen Enemies of the American Way

The Story Behind the Story: Original Synergy

My short story Original Synergy is now out in the latest issue of Chaos Theory.
I’ve long been fascinated by conspiracy theories that explain how the world is secretly governed by the Illuminati, the Elders of Zion, the Secular Humanists and so on (of course, since I wrote a book tying into that subject, it’s hardly surprising I’m interested). While the supposed puppet-masters may shift may shift, the belief in the man behind the curtain never goes completely out of style, in politics (Birthers and Truthers——though Birthers have found much more mainstream acceptance) or in fiction (Plain Man, which I reviewed yesterday, explains everything happening in Washington as the work of its bad-guy cabal).
I occasionally played around with conspiracy theories in some of my early, unpublished stories, but I’ve no idea how I got from them to the concept of Original Synergy.
Quite simply, all the conspiracies——pardon me, that’s “covert, unelected authority figures”——are real, from the Knights Templar to the Men in Black. And since they all have their own agenda, they keep getting into each other’s way. So what could be more natural than having one big conference to see if they can reach a compromise between their various goals?
Unfortunately for meeting planner and Knight Templar Serena Dean, she only has two weeks to put all the arrangements for the conference together (for reasons covered in the story). The hotel’s not even booked. And if she fails? Well, heads will roll … literally.
Once the concept formed, it was mostly a matter of tinkering (lots of tinkering, admittedly) with the dialogue and the scenes until it was all ready. And then retinkering again after some feedback from helpful editors (always appreciated).
And then trying to sell it. This is one of my two oldest unsold stories, and I think I know why: I has no real SF/fantasy content but it never felt like something for the mainstream either, so it fell between two stools (one editor specifically told me the no-fantasy aspect was a problem).
But happily,Chaos Theory accepted it. I look forward to reading the rest of the issue (regrettably their last).
So click on the link, find my story and read! What are you waiting for? 🙂

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Newt Gingrich warns us: Atheists will impose Muslim law

As you may have heard, Gingrich told a church gathering in Georgia that “I have two grandchildren — Maggie is 11, Robert is 9 ..I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they’re my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”
Matt Yglesias argues at the link, the bizarro evocation of atheists who are also Islamic fundamentalists makes more sense than it seems. Gingrich is talking to a right-wing, conservative Christian audience for whom American=Christian (or Protestant). Being Christian is what makes us great; if we turn secular/atheist, we won’t have the strength to stop the Islamists taking over because nonChristian secularists can’t possibly love America.
It’s a reflection of what I wrote about here, that Republicans continue to commit themselves to a white, conservative Christian constituency that defines itself as the Real America and feels it should be recognized as such even as it becomes more and more a minority.
But I think it’s also a reflection of something I noticed when writing Screen Enemies of the American Way (actually my friend Ross Bagby pointed it out to me years ago, which is one of the things that fueled my interest in writing the book). To the politically paranoid wing of America—and there’s a lot of that on the American right—all our enemies are one and the same. Communists, Nazis or Muslims, they have no purpose other than hating America and destroying democracy (Bush’s “They hate our freedoms” explanations reflects similar sentiments expressed in multiple WW II movies). As a result they’re interchangeable.
Hollywood’s version of the USSR routinely employed multiple Nazis, driving home that they were essentially the same enemy (of course, the USSR did make use of Nazis, but that no more proves any ideological kinship than our use of the Nazis). More recently the film Hired Gun showed the Russian Mafia (a frequent substitute for the KGB in film plots) and neo-Nazis equipping an Islamic militant group with a nuke to attack America.
And for some people, of course, liberals—particularly atheists and secularists (you’ll notice Gingrich’s speech assumes that secularism is apparently interchangeable with atheism)—are just as much a threat to America’s values. And so, therefore, interchangeable with Muslim terrorists.
In that sense, lumping Islamists and secularists together makes perfect sense (to the audience, I’m sure—I’ve no idea what Gingrich really believes). If American=Christian, Christian=American, so anyone who opposes Christians running America—liberals and Muslims alike—are all part of the same threat.
For many conservative Christians, there’s also the fact that it’s a given in their worldview that liberals are God-hating atheists who have made it impossible to talk about God in government, or in schools, so the fact they are actually tolerant to Muslims and not trying to ban them is proof they must be in sympathy with imposing shari’a law. Because liberals treat Muslims so much better than the oppressed masses of Christians who have no power and are on the brink of being herded into concentration camps.
So I agree with Yglesias that Gingrich wasn’t at all screwing up his argument, though I’m not sure I agree on the thinking behind it.

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A mostly good week, but I’m glad it’s done

As with the previous week, this was a little disorganized. I had my regular doctor’s checkup Wednesday morning and my first visit to a Durham dentist in the afternoon. Looks like I’m due for my first filling in a couple of weeks.
This cost me less eHow time than I thought, which was pleasing, and despite a lot of above-average expenses (business license, some birthday presents, the trip down to Florida) my income covered my outgo. Always a nice feeling.
As for writing:
•I’ve sketched out a time frame for reworking Brain From Outer Space. If all goes as planned (cue the ominous music) it should be in replotted and in roughly finished form by the end of September.
•Went over the various short stories again and they look good. I’m going to put them away for a month, look at them at the end of March and if there are no problems, I’ll have them out in April.
•My McFarland royalties came in. Only two of Screen Enemies sold for the accounting period, alas (plus some copies of my earlier books). So I’ll have to wait until September for more.
•My conspiracy theory comedy, Original Synergy came back from Tor.com. Out again next month! Although I’ve no idea where yet (for various reasons, it’s a hard one to place).
And that’s about it. Goodness, for what felt like a busy, frantic week, it’s not much to talk about.

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Filed under Brain From Outer Space, Nonfiction, Personal, Screen Enemies of the American Way, Short Stories, Writing

Let freedom ring! or, I was an anti-integrationist for the FBI

Civil War Memory informed me that Jan. 1 was the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Rather than tackle the subject of slavery (which I’ve done recently a few times—here, for instance) I’m going to revisit 1951’s I Was a Communist for the FBI.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, one of the things that leaps out at me regarding the old anti-Communist movies (when I was watching them for Screen Enemies of the American Way) is how hostile they are to the civil-rights movement. Looking back, it’s easy to assume that people who claimed that the civil rights movement was a Communist plot were the fringe of the day; the movies remind us the idea wasn’t really outside the mainstream.
I Was a Communist is the fictionalized story of FBI informant Matt Cvetic (the plot is bullshit—the extent to which Cvetic’s character got scrubbed up as well is something sources differ on), a Pittsburgh steelworker and union man (played here by Frank Lovejoy) who’s also a Communist Party member, which costs him his family and alienates his son. If only he could tell them that he’s really an FBI informant, working for America! Tragically, even if he were able to walk away, the FBI can never reveal his methods, so his reputation will always be tarnished.
In reality, of course, Cvetic became a public figure like many professional ex-Communists, with the movie, a radio show and a Matt Cvetic Day in Pittsburgh to his credit. Within the movie, he gets redemption when the FBI completely reverses itself from You’re Too Valuable To Sacrifice to having him testify at the Smith Act trials of the party leadership (no explanation why the switch, just as in the real world nobody ever pointed out that being an informant turned into a pretty swell career gig for a lot of the ex-Reds).
Getting back to race … In one scene, Blandon (James Millican), an American Commie and Moscow-trained orator, speechifies to a black audience, delivering (in Cvetic’s words) “a hellbrew of hate cooked up in the Kremlin.” (We don’t actually hear the details) Afterwards, Blandon sneeringly refers to his audience (out of their earshot of course) with the n-word (Cvetic is shocked) and hopes that his speech will inspire a race riot; ideally, the Pittsburgh blacks will kill someone, after which the Party will raise a defense fund and then launder the money, just as they did for the Scottsboro Boys (while Communist lawyers did offer their services in that case—involving black men accused of raping the white women they’d been traveling with—I can’t find any reliable source that claims they ripped them off).
What’s striking is the total lack of any alternative to the Communist-front version of the movement. We’re shown Communists actively infiltrating the steelworkers union and browbeating the regular joes in the union into striking (it’s an axiom of these movies that labor troubles, like racial issues, are always the work of Reds—Woman on Pier 13 is another example). There’s never any suggestion in the fifties films, though, that unions themselves are inherently Red or evil; non-Communist labor movements are a good thing.
Non-communist civil-rights groups? There’s no hint these even exist. Pittsburgh’s black community are simply sheep being gulled by the Communists, who are trying to divide us when America needs to be united against the Red Menace (just as Nazis in WW II movies were forever scheming to set Americans against each other). The idea they had any real issues or discontents is studiously ignored, as it is in I Led Three Lives and Red Menace.
Part of this is probably due to the fact that American Communists did support civil rights; it’s one of the things many Communists would say convinced them to join the party in the first place. And as those of us old enough to remember the Cold War know, once Commies were associated with any idea or movement, it was instantly rebranded as a Communist Front.
Another part of it is probably packaging for an audience that wasn’t enthused on integration. Movie histories often blame this on the South, though the north was no hotbed of equality either (The Celluloid South argues the south simply wasn’t a big enough market to matter).
Part of it may have been the screenwriter or studio’s sincere belief—though I don’t think that matters. Whether they were writing what they thought would sell or making a sincere statement of belief, it’s just as loathsomely offensive.

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Good and bad

Finished up six more of the $40 eHows today. And I have 14 to go for next week (that spigot dries up after that); tomorrow, as noted, will be a holiday (hopefully we can get some shopping done before the anticipated weekend snowfall).
And Who Watches the Watchmen will be ready go to by the end of next week. I’m pleased with it.
However, I’m annoyed that, as often happens, when I slow down too much, my other projects lose focus. I haven’t written any of Brain From Outer Space this month, haven’t done any query letters, haven’t worked on any non-series short stories. That time always gets squeezed (I actually have the time, but given a choice between work and snuggling with TYG …).
But on the other hand—did I mention my movie book came out? 🙂
In any case, here’s the latest eHow list:
• How to Liquidate a 401k
•How to Freeze Credit Reports in Wisconsin
•How to File a Corporate Annual Report
•When Does Durable Power of Attorney End?
•How to Trademark the Name of a Living Person
•Chapter Seven Income Restrictions
•How to Sign a Check as an Executor of an Estate
•What Are the Benefits of Being a Pescatarian?
•Washington State Tenant Rights – Turning Over the Key
•Laws Covering Quitclaim Deeds in Illinois
•What Makes My Home Appraise Higher?
•Texas Requirements for Nonprofit Businesses
•Summary Judgment & Foreclosure
•How to Calculate Brand Value
•How Long Should it Take for the Bank to Respond to a Short Sale Offer?
•Missouri Bankruptcy Rules •
•Tenant’s Rights in California, United States
•Academic Qualifications Required to Be a Cardiologist
•The Average Cost of Filing for Bankruptcy
•Are Judgements Removed in Chapter 7?
•What Does Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Mean in the State of Alabama?
•Do I Need a Business License if I Sell My Paintings?
•How Long Is an Automatic Stay for Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?
•Can You Lose Your House Due to Credit Card Debt?
•What It Takes to Become a Paralegal
•How to Allocate a Portion of a Rental Property Used for Personal Use
•How to Claim Business Expenses on Taxes
•How to Transfer Assets Into Trusts
•Living Trusts In the State of Washington
• Kentucky Laws on Tenant Rights
•Foreclosure Eviction Law in Georgia
•How to Terminate a Lease Because of Roaches
•New York Nonprofit Corporation Law
•What to Do When You Receive a Foreclosure Summons
•Evictions Due to Landlord Not Paying Mortgage in California
•Judicial Foreclosure Law in the State of Washington
•What to Include in a Business Budget
•Allowable Assets for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in Minnesota
•What Income Is Exempt From the Chapter 7 Means Test?
•What Is a Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment in a Foreclosure in Florida?
•Warranty Deed Requirements in Michigan
•About the Mutual Reward Theory
• How Does Paying Off Credit Cards Affect Your Credit Score
•Questions About Owning Vs. Renting a Home
•How to Refinance & Consolidate a First & Second Mortgage
•How to Assert a Trademark
•Is It Safe to Refinance?
•When Should You Refinance to Consolidate Credit Cards?
•How to Invest in Real Estate in Okaloosa County, Florida
•How to Get an Honest Appraisal of Old Coins
•Will the Bank Accept a Short Sale Offer?
•How to Change a Florida Property Deed to Tenants by Entirety

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Filed under Nonfiction, Screen Enemies of the American Way, Short Stories, Writing

Midweek progress report

Despite some severe insomnia, I managed to make my eHow goals for Monday and Tuesday, and put in work on Cover Stories and Who Watches the Watchmen, both of which are looking good.
Today, I was a little off-balance: I discovered TYG is off on Friday, so I will be too, so I put in extra eHows to make up for the time off. Happily, Demand Media just started a new project, writing articles for the TurboTax website. The pay is $40 per article, and they invited me to participate; needless to say, I jumped at it. It’s only a short-term thing, but I intend to squeeze the most out of it I can.
And the really cool news: Screen Enemies of the American Way is now available for sale. It’s always an incredible kick seeing my book in print—more so now that I have TYG to celebrate with. Amusingly, my author’s copies actually came last week, but I assumed it was a Christmas gift and placed it next to the tree. Then today I checked out the return address …

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A good week

Screen Enemies of the American Way went off Monday. It arrived Tuesday. I answered a question Wednesday (and finally got around to e-mails about marketing suggestions and such). It’s done. And should be out around the beginning of the year. I feel very good about that.
•Apparently my Thanksgiving vacation, even with all the indexing, was very refreshing. Despite some occasional snags, I managed to stay up with all my eHows and keep the pace that I aspire to (roughly one an hour—I can do some faster, but it always averages back out).
•The 11th and 12th Applied Science stories, Who Watches the Watchmen and Cover Stories, are shaping up well. The improvement in the latter is really satisfying: It’s the final story in the series so I need to find the right note to end on, and I’m slowly inching toward that.
•I’ll be covering Raleigh City Council next Tuesday for the Raleigh Public Record.
•Did not find the time to work on Brain From Outer Space. But I have four weeks to go in December, so hopefully I’ll get more done.
•Mailed one magazine query off.
•Contacted a couple of magazines about the status of my story. No response yet, which is annoying: I don’t mind slow reading times, but I really, really think an inquiry should be met with all possible promptness.
I wasn’t quite as focused as I’d like at the start of the week but the end results are pretty satisfying.

And here’s the past few weeks of eHows:
•Difference Between a Private & a Public Company
•Can You Report Payments for Your Rental Property on Your Taxes?
•How to Inquire on Employment History
•What Is the Purpose of Title Insurance?
•Chapter 13 Plan Problems
•How to Remove Arsenic from House Water
•How to Reconcile Business Accounts
•How to Obtain a Business License in Charlotte, North Carolina
•401k Rollover Strategies
•Legal Issues of a Short Sale
•Refinancing Your Home FAQ
•House Insurance Questions & Answers
•Where Can You Put Your 401(k) When You Need to Roll It Over?
•The Average Salary of Biomedical Technologists
•Is There Any Danger in Giving Out My Tax ID Number?
•How to Declare Bankruptcy Individually
•How to Calculate Property Tax With a Mortgage
•IRS Limits on Charitable Income Tax Deductions
•How to File Bankruptcy While in the Military
•Can You Skip Years When Filing Tax Returns?
•How Long to Keep Receipts for an IRS Audit
•Do You Need a Social Security Number to Run a Credit Check?
•The Average Credit Score After Bankruptcy
•What Good Is a Quitclaim Deed?
•How Long Will a Bankruptcy Remain on My Credit Report?
•Is it Possible to Eliminate a Mortgage Premium Insurance?
•How to Qualifiy for a Reverse Mortgage
•FHA Pros and Cons for the Seller
•Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Vs. 13 in Oregon
•What Constitutes a Revocable Trust?
•How to Dispose of Home Appliances
•When Filing Bankruptcy Who Is Notified?
•Will My Insurance Go Up From a Hail Claim?
•Who Can Notarize a Quitclaim Deed?
•Sublease vs. an Assignment of Lease
•How to Negotiate IRS Penalties
•How to Setup a New Company
•How to Find Bylaws for a Nonprofit Organization
•The Average Salary of a Theatre Director
•How to Start a Non-Profit Organization in Louisiana
•Debt and Bankruptcy Options in Texas
•Required Elements of a Minnesota Quitclaim Deed
•Tenants Rights in Seattle
•How to File Bankruptcy in Vallejo, California
•What to Do Before You Claim Bankruptcy in Texas
•Meaning of the Full Faith & Credit Clause

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JFK, blown away …

As I continue indexing and proofing (yep. A reeeeally long cakewalk), I’ve been struck by how much the JFK assassination turns up in Screen Enemies of the American Way.
I was fully aware of the two assassination films, Executive Action and JFK, which present us with the supposed truth behind the supposed cover-up. But there’s much more …
The Silencer. In this movie, a conspiracy operating out of the FBI gets the blame for JFK’s shooting (Martin Luther King, too).
Tribulation 99, a mockumentary in which the alien Quetzals who put their nonhuman agent Castro into power in Cuba respond to the Bay of Pigs by taking Kennedy out. Oswald obviously couldn’t be human and shoot that fast.
Salt reveals that Lee Harvey Oswald was one of the first Americans replaced by the “Day X” conspiracy; Kennedy’s death was one of their first triumphs.
•In The X-Files, the Lone Gunmen conspiracy theorists are, of course, named for the “Oswald acted alone” theory. In one episode, one of them makes an off-hand reference to having breakfast with the man who really shot Kennedy.
•Richard Shaver, in his stories of The Hidden World, asserted that the subterranean monstrosities called the Derro drove Oswald to shoot Kennedy.
The Parallax View starts out with an political assassination. Two years later, everyone who claims to have seen a second gunman has died (the supposedly high death toll of the witnesses to JFK’s shooting has been a stock part of conspiracy lore for years).
•The film Winter Kills reveals that Joe Kennedy (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) had his son whacked for deciding he should serve the American people rather than the interests of the powerful.
That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Outside of the movies we’ve seen hundreds of books and articles exposing the “cover up” and others refuting them (plus of course just straight. As the book Voodoo History states, it’s probably the most mythologized event in 20th century American history.
Why? Partly, I guess, because it’s such a landmark memory for so many Americans (“Where were you when Kennedy got shot?”). And for so many people, the idea of one lone gunman destroying the leader of the free world isn’t satisfying. Like Pearl Harbor (widely blamed on saboteurs and fifth columnists at the time) and China turning Communist (one of Joe McCarthy’s arguments in the fifties was that it couldn’t possibly have happened if Reds in our own government hadn’t pulled strings) it’s easy to believe such a terrible event could only happen as the result of a conspiracy.
And if there’s a conspiracy, if Jack Ruby didn’t destroy the men responsible, then we can find them! We can punish them! We can gain justice! Or we can reaffirm how corrupt the world is by realizing these powerful people will never be brought to justice (the view of Executive Action, IMHO, and to some extent X-Files).
As the generation that remembers the Kennedy administration passes on, will the mythology fade? Time, I guess will tell.

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I came, I saw, I indexed!

I finished the cast/credit section which is, obviously, the most top-heavy on names. 26 pages, took me … well, I wasn’t keeping track, but a lot of hours. Exacerbated by a couple of non-writing emergencies (resolved now).
The remainder of the book will be relatively simple. I should be back to normal blogging next week.
I am slightly annoyed to discover—
a)I left out Million Eyes of Sumuru and The Enemy Within from the cast/credit section. Hopefully we can squeeze them in at the end.
b)I keep thinking of things I should have mentioned, like the fact the shopping scene at the end of the Stepford Wives remake has to be an intentional imitation of the shopping scene at the end of the original. Of course, that just drives home how much better the first one was: It ends on a note of horror as the fembots carry out their duties, while the second one is a wacky note of fun—what could be a better punishment for all those guys mindcontrolling their wives than making them do girly stuff like grocery shopping? Not to mention that in this version, it’s ultimately a woman who’s behind it all, not the men. And that although Kidman’s the lead, it’s Broderick who’s technically the hero—if he didn’t relent on mindwiping her, she had no solution to saving herself. As I’ve said before, it’s made 30 years after the original and it’s actually more sexist.
Okay, that rant over—one thing which does interest me is when I do the cast/credits, names keep popping up, over and over in different movies. Nothing worth mentioning immediately comes to mind, but it always surprises me. And it shows why having a good index is worthwhile—anyone wanting to look up Roland Got or Philip Ahn films in my book can find them easily enough.
Sorry this is a little rambling, but it’s been a looooooong day.

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Why I hate indexing

I finished Phase One of indexing Screen Enemies of the American Way today: Getting every name in my book (names of people and names of films and TV shows) in alphabetical order. Now, as I go through and proof it, chapter by chapter, I’ll also attach the right page numbers to those names, chapter by chapter.
The proofing isn’t too bad; indexing is truly a tedious, mind-deadening, crawlingly slow activity. Alphabetizing is probably the worst part, but not the only dull part; I now have more than 100 pages of names (in single-column format), and every time I find one in the manuscript I’ll have to find the name, note the page, then find another name, note another page …
Another annoyance is that while indexing, I discover so many damn errors in what I thought was a well-proofed manuscript. I remember when working on Wizard of Oz Catalog, I decided that next time I’d alphabetize the name before I sent in the manuscript, for precisely that reason. Only I wound up in a time crunch and didn’t. Now I wish I had.
But it will be done and off by next Wednesday. Guaranteed. Come what may. Or, at worst, Friday. It goes to the printer in four weeks, so I can’t take it easy (except tonight, the last four hours of alphabetizing wore me down).

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