Reflections On Hacks
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 2/26/04

  A few months ago several people urged me to start writing memoirs of my life. In addition they urged me to start placing some prose pieces on websites other than my own Cosmoetica. The reasoning was to widen name recognition for a potential reading audience for the memoirs. ‘Twas sound advice and I’ve taken up the calls for both the memoirs and writing for other sites. In looking about online I’ve been appalled at the utter lack of writing ability- foremost the inability for most prose writers (fictive or not) to transcend the mere a to b to c progression of most tales. As for ‘editorials’ or ‘essays’ the news is even worse. Though that ‘skill’ takes even less writing ability than prose fiction, much less poetry, the percentage of capable editorialists are no better than for the 2 higher pursuits.
  I shall deal with my plaints about online prose at another time, but now I want to talk about one of the reasons I think Hackwriters is one of the literal dozen or so ‘readable’ opinion sites online. First, although the editors have been squeamish about some topics and references, overall, they are far more liberal (in terms of editorial leeway) than most other opinion sites whose ideas of diversity is to ask submitters to ‘read our site’- i.e.- show us nothing new. Secondly, I’ve found 2 interesting online pundits via Hackwriters. The first is James Campion, who despite possibly having fallen in to the trap of being another ‘alternative media type’ (i.e.- braindead liberalism) actually shows a range of thought in the couple dozen pieces I’ve scanned on Hackwriters and his own site- from pop to political to sports cultures it’s good to see some multivalence for a change. His Protean ability to annoy all people along a spectrum rises above mere gadflyism for its overall playful quality. If Frank O’Hara (at his poetic best) could have written prose comment it would likely have been Campionian.
  The second writer whose handful of pieces I’ve enjoyed is Reverend Father Antonio Hernández. While not as technically versatile as Campion his prose & subject matter dart & tease. He is a more hip and aware Andy Rooney of sorts. But both writers exhibit a trait that generally exists in only writers of quality- individuation; they are not generic. Campion with his parries and Rev with his two-step, alone, would make Hackwriters a site to visit a few times a month. But, there have been other occasionally good pieces by other writers.
  End of smile- insert reality check. Ok, now the meat of this piece. The Hack editors asked me if I might come up with some counterbalance to Campion’s musings on the primary season. I replied by stating I might better be able to rebut him in league with a couple of other pieces I disagreed with. But, Campion leads off. The famed quote, attributed to many, goes something like this, ‘If you’re not a liberal at 20 you have no heart, but if you’re not a conservative by 40 you have no head.’ Bushwah- Schneider’s Corollary would read, ‘If you’re not apolitical by 40 you have not lived.’ Yes, in my 20s I did the activism schtick, and saw corruption face up. 2000 was perhaps the perfect exemplar of the utter futility of the 2 party system. Bush and Gore were twins, except Bush’s wife was nicer. And don’t give me that ‘Nader screwed us’ bullshit. He’d not have been in the race unless a contrast to the gray Republicrats was needed. Nor give me that ‘Gore was robbed’ jazz. Of course he was. Both he and Bush tried to steal the election- Bush’s crooks were just better- and on the Supreme Court.
  But, I have to disagree with the whole tone of Campion’s pieces which seem to view a W. repeat as an inevitability. First, the slate of Democratic contenders is stronger than that Clinton emerged from in 1992. Is there a one of them that has the Clinton gift for politics- no. But the top 4 contenders could woo the Nader vote back. Let’s write off the negligible Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton- who even were he not a con man could not get elected for his skin color, & Joe Lieberman- who even were he not a stealth Republican could not get elected for his Jewry. That leaves current frontrunner Sen. John Kerry, erst-frontrunner Gov. Howard Dean, Sen. John Edwards, & Gen. Wesley Clark.
  Before I get to the pros and cons of these 4, let’s see why W. is so vulnerable- & would be easy pickings if, say, Bill Clinton could run again. First is the economy. There is no sharp upswing in sight for the rest of this year, and the little bumps in the bad economy for the last few years have seen negative job growth. This killed W.’s daddy. Secondly, while the wars overseas have gone well their aftermaths have not. Iraq more and more is looking Indochinese as we hunker in for a long haul. If the death rate of American servicemen of the past few months continues through the election there will be close to 2000 American dead with no proof there was ever a link to Al Quaeda nor the production of WMDs. Thirdly, W. is really Dan Quayle with a better pedigree. Had Al Gore simply removed the Hanes from going too far up his crack and shown some passion the election would not have come down to Florida. W. simply, despite Karl Rove’s hand up his ass, is dumb- really D-U-M! Unlike Ronald Reagan 20 years ago he does not have the benefit of a) likeability, b) the illusion of a good economy, & c) an easily caricaturizable opponent. Fourthly, the last 4 years have seen outrageous abuses in the healthcare industry- mostly regarding drug companies’ price gouging. This may finally be the year that even ‘conservative’ seniors say enough is enough. Lastly, Bush’s Paris Hilton-like affair with spending lacks her deep pockets. This is driving ‘fiscal’ and Rockefeller Republicans batty. If just a percent or 2 more stay home than in 2000 Bush is toast.
  Unfortunately for Democrats Clinton was the only Democrat in the last 36 years who knew how to overcome his own flaws and maximize his opponents’. Still, I don’t think it will take a Clinton to beat W. First off, the Democrats are still the default major party for most folks because most voters are middle class and Democrats have historically been a little better for that bloc. With few exceptions in the last century Presidential elections are the Democrats’ to lose, which they’ve raised to an art- excepting Willy. For the Democrats to beat Bush they have to show real passion, not too much wackiness, and frame the election in terms of ethical fairness- be it on our post-war conduct, tax breaks for the rich, healthcare, or a myriad of lesser concerns. Do that, and the silly ‘class warfare’ cries of the Right will prove fallow.
  As for the top 4 contenders? Assuming the 5 factors mentioned above hold true, here’s a breakdown. Kerry is the mainstream candidate with perhaps the best chance of competing with Bush monetarily. He’s smarter than W., a war hero who made a principled stand while W. played the bong, and he can appeal strongly to all regions but the South. The problem is he is the most Gorean. He has a definite ‘passion’ problem. He’s a creature of D.C. His odds against W. are 50-50. But, he’s no sure bet to get the nomination.
  Campion’s whipping boy- Dean- is also smarter than W., but plays less well regionally, although his passion (no prob) energizes youth & may moot any 3rd party challenge. But, his overblown ‘Iowa meltdown’ probably sealed his fate amongst Democrats. He won’t be the nominee- although he’d destroy W. in a real or tv debate. Although it’s now moot I’d give him about a 45% shot at Bush.
  John Edwards is somewhere between Kerry and Dean- passionate and smart, but a bit vague and too puppy dog like in his pleas for votes. But, he has the most chance to improve and remake himself were he to get the nod. Those who think W. would walk tall against a ‘lawyer’ have not seen that Edwards has the most potential to approach Clinton’s people touch. If Dean tumbles any further look for Edwards to pick up the youth bloc. He could become the frontrunner just by winning 2 or 3 southern states in a few weeks. Against Bush in a general election he’d have an edge. If even one of the 5 factors worsens he could win going away.
  Wesley Clark can trump Bush on the war, and point out his failures as Commander-in-Chief without looking Quisling. He could, with a decent Super Tuesday showing, move in to the lead. My gut tells me that he and Edwards will end up on the ticket- the order is the key. But, he could also be a Perot whose callow approach shows as he acclimates himself to from military ‘Yessirs’ to political ‘Yasm’ms’. He also would be a slight favorite against Bush were he to get the nod & things pretty much stay static.
  Things rarely do, though. Bush could win handily or lose handily as his papa did. Enough of boring stuff. On to 2 other Hack pieces I’ve a bone with. Rev Tony (http://www.hackwriters.com/DVDcurse.htm) recently ripped on DVDs. I was expecting a satire but he seemed to really believe DVDs are not as good as VHS tapes. Ok, so the Rev has partook of W.’s bong. He argues the same line that most did against VCRs- that they are too hard to hook up and operate. Not true. Even if you have to buy a converter box for an old tv it’s still simpler than hooking up a VCR. Those wacky Luddites! Quoth the Rev, ‘DVD showed no improvement over a VCR. What I did see was a draconian drop in videocassette quality, along with the fascistic promotion of the highly expensive DVDs and DVD-players.
  Over the last few years I’ve slowly replaced my VHS tapes with DVD & the improvement is stark. In the early 90s I bought a VHS of Manhattan (for its widescreen gray bars) for about $70. I watched it about once a year till I replaced it last year with a $7 used DVD bought online. A dozen watchings had dulled the already average VHS quality. The used DVD? Flawless- even without the extras Woody Allen eschews. Even better are the quality silent films & classics available on cheap DVD. I have versions of Birth Of A Nation and Metropolis on DVD that were 1/5th their price from pre-DVD ‘quality’ VHS distributors like Video Yesteryear. Especially the Kino Metropolis is stunning in its computer cleanup, not to mention with an insightful documentary and excellent commentary. 95% of it looks like it was filmed yesterday. For $9.99 used it was a steal! Similar classic films by Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, and Oliver Stone are so far above their VHS counterparts that to argue against them is folly. Oh yeah- no machine-killing rewinds!
  Rev counters: ‘Isn't it terrific to pay for an extra hour of garbage that completely ruins the effect a good film ought to have?’ Actually it is, especially when renting a VHS or DVD for the same price. When you get a dog of a film like Hollow Man it’s great to know that at least the extras make the rental worth it, and are better than the film. For a great film it can only add, plus you can NOT watch them. Liberty!
  Before the Rev flops to the canvas he mutters, ‘They told me the tape cost $150.00. On the internet I saw that it was the same price everywhere. All I could say, over and over, was "Damn that DVD shit!" The same movie is as common as cow pats on DVD, for $30.00.’ But quality films on VHS were ALWAYS overpriced to buy- I know! DVDs had nothing to do with that. Sorry, Rev, your columns are cool, but this one was way off.
  Now I have to end with taking on the worst piece on Hackwriters. It is a piece (http://www.hackwriters.com/compulsion.htm) by a Laura Drentea-Morgan that is so ill-informed about its subject matter it’s stunning. It’s a screed against pornography that could have been written by Ted Bundy. As someone who grew up with hookers, gay bars, corrupt cops, and the occasionally porno pervert in his neighborhood, I reckon Laura is obviously someone who writes from her own misperceptions of porno.
  Personally, I find it silly and dull. But the FAR greater problem in this country is sexual repression. Why else use barely legal matchstick girls to titillate and sell everything from cheese to congoleum? Because most Americans lead painfully dull lives. The majority of porno users are casual and make up a small minority of 1 or 2 %. In that group perhaps 10% are addicted. But it’s harmless. The idea that porno leads to pedophilia or wholesale rape is manifestly untrue. 50 years of Playboy have shown that ogling gorgeous babes is a healthy preoccupation for maturing males. Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and company were either born sick or corrupted by the inability to express themselves sexually earlier. Suppress a natural urge long enough and its release will be violence. Scandinavia and Polynesia, where pornography and polygamy flourish, have almost no sexual violence. Why?
  Quoth Laura, ‘It also hinders your ability for a normal relationship where you interact with others of the same sex, and opposite sex; limiting your views and values you once had, interchanging them to what now is considered “acceptable” by the porn industry.’ Spoken like a Falwellian or Feminazi. Tell that to my happily married best friend, his wife and daughter. These are assumptions with no hard basis in research.
  And just what constitutes addiction? ‘Taking what is considered normal by the single life of self-pleasure and intertwine this with a new relationship, your current or new job, and see how it impacts on your ability to concentrate on your work or relationship issues. Some have become affected by their continual need to see, view, indulge in a near perfect environment of what the porn industry has to offer, in a world of plastic surgery, and breast implants, and a wonderful airbrush quality to enhance further perfection. Their values and morals have now been affected by their need or subconcious (sic) need to see or experience sexual implications in every aspect of life and interaction they may encounter. They are on their way to becoming dependant on objectifying a person’s body or parts.’ This is acceptable reasoning in a screed, but not an article purporting a basis in reality.
  Objectification in itself is not bad- it’s part and parcel of the mating game. If you overdo it, like anything, it’s bad- but Laura gives no parameters for what constitutes addiction, so all we are left with is hysteria. I won’t even touch the callow equation of sexuality with ‘morality’, nor the rest of the piece, for it sounds too much like the reasoning of Joe Lieberman, or that a mother gives to her fat wallflower daughter who’s dateless for the prom- ‘But you’re the beautiful one, honey. REALLY!” even though she knows mom’s full of shit.
  In the end Laura concludes with a sign of poor writing- the wringing of a cliché: ‘Just as the old saying goes “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” this topic is proven to be dead wrong.’ Actually not, but since I got in my jab at Lieberman I’ll say no more!

[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the 2/04 Hackwriters website.]

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