Saturday, May 16, 2009

My New Favorite Music to Write To

Last week on Murderati, Allison Brennan blogged about music people like to write to. Well, I've discovered a new band that fits the bill for me perfectly:

Mogwai.

Great big, shimmering, trancy, guitar-based instrumentals. Something in this music just tickles the creative center of my brain while not being so distracting that I can't concentrate on the material.

Check it out.

When America Tortures, the Terrorists Win

Latest Newspaper Column:

It looks like Dick "Shooter" Cheney has hit the talk show ­circuit, defending his administration's use of torture -- oh, sorry, "enhanced interrogation." This, after steadfastly denying that the Bushistas used ­torture and insisting that any attempt to obtain documentation about it would imperil national security.

Now he wants CIA memos released -- because, he says, they show that torture works (an assertion which Sen. Russ Feingold, who has seen the memos, disputes). But it's not really torture. And we didn't really do it. Sorry, it's hard to keep all these different stories straight.

But you know, I remember reading once about a country where enemy bombs were exploding all night, every night, all over the country, for weeks. The country's very existence was threatened.

In that country, there was a prison that held dedicated and fanatical enemy operatives. The worst of the worst. People who had information that could help save lives and even save the country.

They did not, however, use torture to get that information. In fact, an interrogator who did nothing worse than get frustrated and smack a prisoner on the back of the head was immediately sacked.

And they got good intelligence. On at least one occasion, they even managed to "turn" an enemy operative and use him to send false information to the enemy.

There was another country whose enemy threatened them with nuclear weapons and repeatedly promised to wipe their way of life from the face of the earth. That country didn't torture people, either. In fact, one of that country's best-loved leaders pushed for and signed a treaty forbidding torture.

I'm sure you've figured out who those countries were. The first was Great Britain during the Blitz. As described in a recent column by Christopher Hitchens, a prison known as Latchmere House just outside of London held what would now be called "high-value targets."

The commander of that prison was no touchy-feely liberal; he was a feared martinet known behind his back as "old Tin-Eye." But he firmly believed (as did Prime Minister Winston Churchill) that "Violence is taboo, for not only does it produce answers to please, but it lowers the standard of information." His methods were based on gaining prisoners' trust. They worked. And Britain survived and prevailed.

The second country, of course, was the United States during the Cold War. Even under the grave threat of nuclear annihilation, a succession of American presidents refused to make torture official policy, even for people caught spying for Russia. And we won the Cold War. Because we didn't lose sight of who we were: We were the good guys.

One way you could tell the good guys from the bad is that the good guys didn't torture people and didn't use weasel words to make torture sound like something else. In fact, conservative icon Ronald Reagan signed an international treaty against torture "and other inhumane practices" which he called "abhorrent."

So were Churchill and Reagan wimps? Did they want to "offer the enemy understanding and therapy?"

No. They were leaders who realized that the contest they were in, like the one we're in now, was for civilization itself. And they chose not to fight barbarism by becoming barbaric.

As I've said before, the central front in the War on Terror is not Iraq or Afghanistan. The central front in the War on Terror in the American mind. The goal of the terrorists is to scare us into forgetting who we are. They want to make us act in a way that will allow them to say to the world, "Look! We were right! America is brutal and barbaric!" And the eight years of Bush/Cheney were one long retreat in that war.

Torture is a squalid and cowardly act ordered by people who have let fear master them. When anyone says "we have to torture because the ­terrorists do," they're surrendering to the terrorists. And yes, that includes any Democrats who signed off on it.

Because torture is wrong. It is un-American. It is not who we are.

Bonus: from the Pilot's letters column today: an answer for those who say "what we did isn't torture": Really, [defining torture is] the easy part. If we would prosecute anyone who did it to our sons or daughters for war crimes, then it's torture.

Thank you, Kevin Smith of Aberdeen NC for that.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

God, I Love Science

This article from Prospect Magazine's May 2009 issue discusses a possible genetic basis for a link between alcohol consumption and creativity--but only in some people:

Winston Churchill claimed it crucial for The World Crisis, his six-volume memoirs, stating: “always remember that I have taken more out of alcohol than it has taken out of me.” Novelist William Faulkner drank more intermittently, but claimed not to be able to face a blank page without a bottle of Jack Daniels. Beethoven fell under the influence in the later part of his creative life. Among painters, Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon and many others liked a drop or two while working.

Such figures make alcohol part of the territory of creativity. An exceptional few seemed to thrive on drink, leading to the idea of a “Churchill gene”: where some have a genetic makeup allowing them to remain healthy and brilliant despite consumption that would kill others. Mark Twain endorsed this view saying: “My vices protect me but they would assassinate you!”


***

Over the last few years, however, evidence has emerged that some have, if not a Churchill gene, then a creative cocktail gene.

While it does not establish a direct link between alcohol and creativity, the gene suggests alcohol has effects beyond sedation and relaxation. A 2004 study carried out at the University of Colorado found that around 15 per cent of Caucasians have a genetic variant, known as the G-variant, that makes ethanol behave more like an opioid drug, such as morphine, with a stronger than normal effect on mood and behaviour.


However, before we all rush to the keyboard with booze in hand, there's this caveat:

This initial euphoria is usually followed by a longer state of relaxation, lasting several hours. For those with the G-variant, this period aids the creative process. Perhaps the odd additional tipple might be needed to keep the fire burning, although too much further consumption douses the flames prematurely, inducing lethargy.

The effect of alcohol on this group is not the same as an opiate. The euphoria is much less pronounced than, say, heroin, while alcohol still exerts depressive effects. A drink too many and the soporific effect predominates, overwhelming the endorphins and sending even the G-variant drinker to sleep. This may be why Francis Bacon, by his own admission, worked well after a few drinks, but not when drunk.


So what do you guys think? Do you often have a beer or a glass of wine or a cocktail at hand while you write? Do a couple of shots get your creative juices flowing, or do you end up doing a face-plant onto the keyboard, with nothing to show for it the next morning but prose that looks like "akjpoN%$hcq;oqohqnvnv"? Do you think there may be a genetic reason why the burning question in the minds of so many writers is "Which way to the bar?"

Discuss.

Hat tip to John Scalzi, an admitted non-drinker who's pretty damn creative without it, and who notes that: This statistic that will no doubt delight a number of artists and writers I know, not that they actually need an excuse to drink, mind you.

He's right. I don't need an excuse.

What I need is an alibi.