New Authors, Take Heart

Politics on the Hudson blogged this on Wednesday:

After selling 945 copies in its first week of publication, sales of [New York Governor Andrew] Cuomo’s memoir dropped to 535 during the second week, according to The New York Times, which cited figures from Neilsen BookScan.

An imprint of HarperCollins released Cuomo’s book, “All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life,” on Oct. 14, and it has sold poorly….

I tweeted the opening line of that blog post:

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So we new authors are not alone. Even someone with a huge book deal and endless free media coverage doesn’t always sell masses of books. Indeed, the New York governor’s sales situation is perhaps even more discouraging – for his publisher – for this reason:

….The Wall Street Journal reported in July that HarperCollins had ordered an initial printing of 200,000 copies of the book….

Uh, it looks like they really should have considered using print-on-demand, Createspace. ;-)

English Town

A Sunday aside: Here’s “English Town” from “North,” by Matchbox Twenty:

We saw the group perform here in London, at Wembley Arena, in September, 2003. I remember the show was supposed to have taken place earlier in the year – back in late March. However, they canceled that performance at the last minute and rescheduled it due to the assault on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq having (we were told) made it seem inappropiate.

By September, as we know now, that conflict had by then begun to shift into another, much uglier phase. I still recall singer Rob Thomas opening the show telling the audience that we would all try to forget what was going on “outside” for a while. It was clear to everyone in the arena what he was talking about.

image

Years pass. The leaders change, and the enemies change. And the wars change.

Have a good day, wherever you are reading this….

A Message To Our British Friends

When she became a U.S. citizen, I warned my wife that becoming an American is a lot like joining the mafia – anyone’s free to, but once you do, you don’t easily leave. On a nation-state level, we also established that fact pretty definitively between 1861-1865. So matters are now crystal clear for everyone concerned: Americans know where we stand.

Today, the world watches a Scottish independence referendum unfold. Which way should Scots vote? Here in the United Kingdom opinions have been everywhere, tempers have occasionally run high, and the BBC has interviewed everyone living in Scotland at least three times.

All of that is to be expected in a situation like this. Twenty-four hours from now, Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom may be on the road to becoming very different places than they are this morning. Or maybe not. The polling places are now open, and the decision rests entirely with Scottish voters.

As an outsider I feel it would be improper for me to suggest what I consider the best outcome. It’s not my call. However, regardless of which way today’s vote goes, I would like to offer at least this bit of advice to all of our friends on this magnificent island of Great Britain, courtesy of the Bangles, 1986:

“When it’s over, when it’s done, let it go.” :-)

Our Interview With A Legendary Author, Part II

Questioner: Welcome back. We are here again with author R. J. Nello. The demand to hear more from him was underwhelming. Still, we figured, what the hell, we have space and time to kill, and it’s Sunday. Part I of the interview yesterday was running long. We thought we’d give you all a break before continuing….

R. J. Nello: Well, at least this title makes more sense than yesterday’s. I’m not a legend, though. I’m still alive. I do hope someday, though, my English niece and nephews will be able to say, “He was so insightful, even for an American.”

Q: We just thought a title more akin to that for a Gore Vidal interview would have been more appropriate.

Nello: Aren’t you a load of laughs. Oh, and thanks a lot for that non-cheerleader of a lousy intro.

Free Stock Photo: A stack of blank books isolated on a white background.

Free Stock Photo: A stack of blank books isolated on a white background.

Q: We’d like to use this continuation of your interview with yourself to talk about something other than your uncle, Gore Vidal, and French girls.

Nello: If so, do you think anyone will actually care?

Q: Now, to go on, Passports covers a melange of themes….

Nello: Melange? A what? Oh, wait, got it. It was your pronunciation. It’s mélange. You from Long Island or New York originally or something?

Q: Let me say, you’re getting better at being the haughty novelist.

Nello: And condescending. Don’t forget that. I’m improving on that too. You know, if this were truly a European interview, like France 24, I’d probably be offered a glass of wine. I’d settle for a Sauvignon blanc. But you’re some American who doesn’t do wine of course. Still, not even a light beer?

Q: Feeling an impulse yet to overturn the interview table?

Nello: I’ll save that for nearer the end.

Q: I’d still like to talk themes and subplots. Passports revolves around global living, diverse relationships, traveling and….

Nello: I know, I know, no machineguns. Or wizards. Or vampires. I’ll try to fit those in at some point down the road in a third volume.

Q: And it’s about late twenty-somethings….

Nello: And there’s sex too. Don’t want to forget the sex.

Q: And it’s about friends.

Nello: Uh, not the Friends as in the 1990s TV show….

Q: But, Mr. Nello, in one chapter you do allude to a program that sounds just like that one.

Nello: Because they were funny at times, weren’t they? My 16 year old English niece has all the DVDs. I never understood how Ross went with Rachel over Emily. He was a moron. But Emily dodged a real bullet there because he was such a lunkhead. I married my Emily and have never regretted it for a moment.

Q: Oh, that’s so sweet, my teeth are decaying. There’s also a brief chapter in Passports about an American student who, shall we say, “misbehaves” in Italy, to the disgust of her English roommate.

Nello: It was worth only a short chapter. We should acknowledge that type exists. But it isn’t really representative of most young Americans in Europe either, thank God.

Q: Is the fictional student inspired by a certain real woman study abroad student convicted of a murder in Italy?

Nello: Wow, no slipping anything by you.

Q: You can understand many Americans think Amanda Knox has been railroaded.

Nello: That’s their right. But we Americans can awkward. An American can’t be involved in a murder abroad? Really? Why not? Because we’re a country where no one murders anyone at home for asinine reasons or in a fit of pique? All of the murder victims piled up from Maine to Hawaii actually committed suicide?

Q: So you don’t think she’s innocent?

Nello: I wasn’t there. And I wasn’t in the courtroom. My view is I can’t help but believe that if we reversed the nationalities of she and the murdered woman, with the exact same evidence, too many Americans now yelling she’s innocent would be screaming for the English woman to be renditioned from England to Texas and immediately executed.

Q: Sounds pretty harsh.

Nello: Deep down, we know what we are. Think about it. And Ms. Study in Italy always has that perpetually dim expression, that look of, “What? I have to stay after class? But I’ve got a dentist appointment. I’ll get a note from my Mom.” And she was 20 years old. I dealt as a lecturer with American study abroad students in New York before they went over to Europe. More recently, here in London, I’ve seen them after they arrive. Most of them are exactly what we want the world to see. But there’s also a dopey minority we don’t like thinking about. Some of our “young” are, unfortunately, immature dimwits.

Q: Whoa!

Nello: Sorry, that’s my Gore Vidal coming out again. I can do nasty and pompous really well now, can’t I? Regardless, can’t we all just settle on at least keeping her the hell off of Good Morning America?

Q: To another issue. I also notice there’s lots in your novel about “only children.” Or those with distant, or much older, siblings.

Nello: I think it’s an interesting family dynamic.

Q: Are you?

Nello: Am I what?

Q: An only child?

Nello: I have a sister who’s much younger than I am, so in some respects I could be an only child. She went to Yale for a time. She’s a helluva lot smarter than I am in some ways. She can correct a Frenchwoman’s French.

Q: James in Passports is an only child. Isabelle has only much older brothers. Virginie is an only child. The list goes on. And the cultural differences you weave into the tale….

Nello: You realize you just ventured onto the subject of French girls? I did lead you there with my last answer, though. But you didn’t stop me? Are you paying attention to your own interview boundaries? Anyway, do you have an actual question?

Q: No. Just pondering the profundity of it all.

Nello: Okay, I’ll give you a moment. Who you pondering? What’s her name?

Q: Actually, where I was headed is the issue of the French hating Americans and vice-versa. You tackle that.

Nello: The discourse is complex and multifaceted on that matter. Did that answer sound suitably literary theory-ish?

Q: So do you also perceive how the cross-cultural difference of some of the characters may be interpreted as being at odds with the notion of them as individuals possessing unique inner voices, yet faced with a commercial and capitalist construct that outwardly demands they adhere to certain mores that….

Nello: Yes.

Q: Uh, I’m not finished with the question yet.

Free Stock Photo: A beautiful girl isolated on a white background.

Free Stock Photo: A beautiful girl isolated on a white background.

Nello: Look, I’m the intellectual here. I know where you’re going. Get to the Valérie character already, will you….

Q: God, you are indeed brilliant! You knew exactly what I was going to ask before I asked it.

Nello: I was channeling Gore Vidal again. Careful. Although I’m smiling, I could turn nasty on a dime. Us novel-writing intellectuals don’t suffer fools gladly.

Q: So you’d never appear on, say, Good Morning America ever?

Nello: Good grief, have you seen it? I mean really watched it? No wonder half of Americans think Beirut is in Northern Ireland.

Q: You champion social media, though. That’s full of lunatics.

Nello: At least they’re interesting and can be fun. You run into those who’ve figured out how the then Vice President of the United States was standing on 5th Ave on September 11, 2001, dressed as Madonna, and used a pacemaker to implode 7 WTC. At one time, independent thinkers like those were unable to make their voices heard.

Q: So you see social media as a positive?

Nello: Absolutely. Every now and then someone appears and follows you who you never would have imagined would. To be followed on Twitter as I am by Humphrey Bogart’s official estate? Wow! It’s flattering. Even for us geniuses. You do get to interact with other brilliant people.

Q: What do you think would happen if, via social media, your uncle discovered your book(s)?

Nello: He’d probably sue me. And we’d end up on Good Morning America: “Novelist uncle sues novelist nephew.”

Q: Now, a few more words about the upcoming sequel.

Nello: Oh, well, fine, if you insist….

Q: You’ve written it’s somewhat darker than Passports.

Nello: Yes. It’s not Stephen King, for God’s sakes. It’s just a bit rougher and less optimistic maybe. The death of our very close girlfriend in February still hurts every day. I miss her terribly. That did actually impact my writing. I sat down some days hating life.

Q: For a moment, this actually has become a serious interview….

Nello: I know. We’d better stop it. Here, look, I’ve actually been reading The Winds of War. Could this book be any longer? And the Pug Henry character is really amazed by writers. He should be. We are amazing human beings. I’ve also discovered the Pug in the book looks nothing like Robert Mitchum. What a real downer to learn that!

Q: Not that book again? Feel free to quote Humphrey Bogart. But don’t mention Camus, because no one reading this gives a damn about him.

Nello: Here we go. Typical. Getting all tense at being unable to control the narrative all the time. Maybe I should cry? It could be just like on Good Morning America?

Q: I think we’re finished now. Thank you for your time. I am sorry to say this Mr. Nello, but you’re damn exhausting.

Nello: Are we done again already? But I haven’t had a chance to turn over the coffee table? And I can whine like Ross if you’d like to hear it? Awwwwwwh….

_____
Note: If you missed the gripping Part I of this interview, here it is. ;-)

“So what do you think of Obama’s Syria policy?”

The Scottish independence referendum to be held September 18 reminds us that even if we don’t care much about politics, it is difficult to avoid it. As a foreigner here in the U.K., I watch what is happening worried about friends about to fall out, yet unable to do anything about it. In the end, us outsiders can only hope the outcome – whichever it is – is the best one for everyone.

And nothing like when I get questions here in Europe such as, “So what do you think of Obama’s Syria policy?” “How come the U.S. doesn’t have a health service?” “Why do Americans love guns so much?”

Uh, do we have to go there? ;-)

We have all heard the cliché about never discussing politics (or religion) over the dinner table. Even among friends, we might not like what each other think if we dig too deeply, so perhaps it’s indeed best to say as little as possible to each other. I have friends and relatives who run the spectrum from extreme conservative to extreme socialist: I’ll definitely alienate somebody.

Free Stock Photo: Joe Biden and Barack Obama in Springfield, Illinois, right after Biden was formerly introduced by Obama as his running mate.

Free Stock Photo: Joe Biden and Barack Obama in Springfield, Illinois, right after Biden was formerly introduced by Obama as his running mate.

So I am firm believer that politics should not define us. What we believe politically is not all that we are as human beings. Well, it shouldn’t be anyway.

I try to slip that “life outlook” into my books. I enjoy writing characters who are “all over the lot” politically, for I feel that makes them that much more believable. They may voice views that are insightful, or inconsistent, or inaccurate, or even arguably wrong; but those are part of real life as well. Views shared may also occasionally surprise us – just as in real life:

“All this in the stores here [on Long Island] and no one asks why,” Lena observed, gesturing generally to the full racks and the shoppers around them taking the selection for granted. “Before Gorbachev, before the Party gave in, in Russia we had very little to buy like this. You could get only what the Party allowed you.”….

….Isabelle asked directly, “So you don’t think [communism] can be made to work?”

“No, I don’t,” Lena replied, absolutely sure of herself. “None of my grandparents left the Soviet Union. They were not allowed to. The Party feared letting them see the world. Every year the holiday was the Black Sea. I would kill myself. I will not live behind a communist wall. They can take their Marx and F-off.”

Then there are other perspectives:

“And we have to because of the Americans,” Béatrice declared. “They rule everything.” She pointed at James approaching and smiled disparagingly. “You! You vote for Reagan! He was evil!”

Isabelle teased her friend. “You say you don’t speak English well because you don’t like Americans? We know you do speak English very well!”

“Actually, I didn’t vote for Reagan,” James replied assertively as he sat down next to Isabelle. “But he wasn’t evil.”

Stéphane yelled from the kitchen, “Former darling, you promised no politics!” He rushed to the lounge with a wine glass. “Here, stop saving the world for tonight. Drink!”

Yes, alcohol may help lighten things – up to a point. ;-)

We may also find ourselves facing suddenly voiced opinions we had been unprepared for, leaving us scrambling for a polite response:

“It was a terrible shame,” Valérie replied. “The war came about because the Palestinians made so much trouble because of Israel.”

James disagreed cautiously. “I read the PLO ended up in Lebanon after it was kicked out of Jordan because it tried to overthrow King Hussein. It wasn’t Israel’s fault the PLO was so irresponsible.”

“Don’t misunderstand me,” she responded. “I’m not someone who demands ‘Death to Israel!’ Not at all. Just that there must be a solution to the Palestinians so we stop the killing.”

Others may then later have their own opinions…. about those previously voiced opinions, and perhaps share what they feel are ulterior motives:

“And Valérie! God, how she looked at you! And she will visit in New York soon. Glamorous!”

“Should I say she’s ugly?” he laughed again. “You’d know I was lying then!”

“Politics? Israel? Ha!” Isabelle threw up her arms. “She cares nothing! She loves shoes and handbags!”

And how often do we admit that we – as individuals of no particular standing – feel essentially powerless anyway:

….[Isabelle's father] smiled, wiping his brow. “The Legion was there. I hope President Clinton does not attack Iraq again.”

“I don’t know what he’ll do,” James shrugged. “When I’m next at the White House, I’ll ask him.”

Finally, there reaches a point where it’s time to give it a rest:

Isabelle reappeared at the edge of the patio. She called out to them, “Lunch soon! Enough talking!”

“Coming, little one!” her father shouted back.

“Always blah, blah, blah!” she tossed up her hands laughingly as she turned around to return inside.

Yes, lunch is often far better than talking politics. Have a good Wednesday, wherever you are reading this. Let’s try not to argue too much. :-)

Gentle Reminder: Making Stuff Up Is Called “Fiction”

BBC Magazine, September 5:

A point of view: When historical fiction is more truthful than historical fact

“More truthful” are the key words in that headline. An historian would argue that mixing fiction with history is precisely where a great danger lies. However, according to Lisa Jardine, a professor of Renaissance Studies (in the Humanities) at the University of London, and writing at the BBC web site, there is apparently little to worry about:

….For some time I have been researching the lives of a group of scientists who worked on the development of the atomic bomb during World War Two. Although there are several impeccably researched non-fiction works on the subject and a number of biographies, none of these really conveyed to me the emotions and convictions that drove their work – I simply could not connect with the personal principles of the scientists who collaborated with such energy to produce the period’s ultimate weapon of mass destruction.

In my search for understanding the motivation of those who joined the race to produce the bomb whose use at Hiroshima and Nagasaki appalled the world, I eventually decided to turn from fact to fiction. If historians could not fill the gaps in the record that made the knowledge I was after so elusive, perhaps storytellers less shackled by documented evidence might do so….

….Sometimes it takes something other than perfect fidelity to sharpen our senses, to focus our attention sympathetically, in order to give us emotional access to the past. Silence comes between the historian and the truth he or she looks to the sources to reveal. Thank goodness for the creative imagination of fiction writers, who can reconnect us with the historical feelings, as well as the facts.

I am very uncomfortable with that “point of view.” Here’s why.

In the absence of their own words and thoughts, it is perfectly understandable some desire to invent words and thoughts in order to be better illuminate historical figures’ motivations. However, there is a line. Every writer must be cognizant of it.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of two medieval knights.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of two medieval knights.

If you have seen the John Adams miniseries, you heard dialogue coming from historical figures. As something of a Thomas Jefferson hobbyist, I discerned just about everything the Thomas Jefferson character said on screen was something Jefferson had written at some point in his life. It may have not been written in the exact context used in the series, but Jefferson pretty much said it at some time or another.

Relatedly, coincidentally you may know I just decided to entertain myself with a read of The Winds Of War. Writing about the run up to World War II, Herman Wouk did not use his historical fiction to try to get “inside the heads” of historical figures. Insofar as I can tell, he leaves the “thinking” to the fictional characters he had created and 100 percent controlled.

Both are by far the sounder approaches. For if there are no words, well, sorry, there are no words. To pretend we can “read minds” is a profound disservice to history. I wouldn’t want someone 70 years from now trying to read my mind. Would you?

Oh, yes, when you as an author are giving historical figures dialogue “to focus our attention sympathetically, in order to give us emotional access to the past,” you may know the line. But you’re playing with serious fire. Most readers and viewers probably will be unable to spot the difference between established fact and your storytelling that is, uh, “less shackled by documentary evidence.”

“Byron, have you ever been to Warsaw?”

Recuperating, my Dad found The Winds of War mini-series on Netflix. Couldn’t resist it. We sat and watched the first two episodes together yesterday afternoon and evening.

Based on Herman Wouk’s 1971 novel about Americans in Europe before Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II, it was shown originally in February 1983. My wife and I bought the DVDs a few years ago, and feasted on it during several evenings’ viewing. A prominent American officer and his English “paramour” (of course, right?) became a particular focus of humo(u)r between the (English) Mrs. and myself.

Winds was remarkable television, made before U.S. network TV became dominated by people behaving like circus performers in cheapo “reality” programs. It boasts some absolutely superb actors from the era. How the fictional characters are woven into history is usually clever and eminently believable.

Years ago, teaching college on Long Island, I regularly heard from some students – and still hear from some people now – how “dry” history can be. However, Winds is about often ordinary people living amidst a downward spiral of terrible events usually beyond their control; their individual fates are uncertain. It’s not about memorizing “dates” for some test.

It’s still a spectacle over 30 years on. Wikipedia says it attracted an average of 80 million U.S. viewers each night over its initial 7 night run. Save for the Super Bowl, a U.S. network TV broadcast almost never gets anywhere near that sort of viewership any longer.

Yeh, it is romantic. And it can also be melodramatic and “soap opera-ish” in spots. Viewed from 2014, some of the production values are naturally somewhat dated too.

But it’s often greatly moving and memorable. If you’ve never seen it, give it a chance. Above all, it’s entertaining, and you’ll may learn lots without even realizing you are. ;-)

Quai d’Orsay

I watched this on the plane over to the U.S. last week. Thoroughly entertaining, it even made me laugh out loud several times (embarrassing on a plane), and took my Dad’s illness – which was why I was flying to the States – off of my mind for a little while. As such, it deserves a post:

How to characterize Quai d’Orsay? In simple terms, it struck me as sorta loosely a combination of, say, Yes, Minister and The West Wing. Like the former, it satirizes a shallowness in politicians. Similar to the latter, it’s fast-paced, with lots of rushed conversations while walking through hallways at a retreating camera.

You have to follow along [read the subtitles] closely, or you’ll miss lots. Forget it’s about France. (If you feel you don’t know much about French politics.) If you like well-written, political comedy on screen, you’ll probably like this.

The ensemble contains an actor now likely most famous outside of France for a closeness to the, uh, current real French president. Leaving that aside, she’s at times hilarious in this fictional role as an adviser on Africa policy. For instance, when, during a foreign policy crisis, she’s drafted into keeping the Maronite Patriarch busy for an hour, the expression on her face, and her reaction, is priceless.

Naturally it also has a decidedly French flair and cultural grounding. The fictional French Foreign Minister fancying himself standing up for France’s “grandeur,” sharing his pretensions to personal literary and intellectual prowess with a patrician pomposity (that is somehow not ultimately off-putting), and topping it off with an “I know best” glint in the eye – while it often also seems he is about to poke himself in the eye – would not readily fly written for a U.S. on-screen politician. I don’t think U.S. audiences would buy it.

Meaning I suspect it would be close to impossible to portray a U.S. Secretary of State in a manner similar to that French minister. Yet you have to believe someone in Hollywood has already optioned the rights to this (because *it’s French*) to try to concoct some U.S. version. And they’ll probably eventually produce some predictably weak, watered down film, over-straining to be funny.

An Incredibly Dangerous Job

Ernie Pyle was embedded with U.S. forces on Iejima, Okinawa, in 1945, where he would be killed by Japanese machine-gun fire.

Photographer Robert Capa landed on Omaha Beach with U.S. troops in the second wave on D-Day. A decade later, traveling with French forces, he would die in Indochina after stepping on a mine.

ABC’s Bill Stewart, in Nicaragua covering the Sandinista rebellion in 1979, was shot at a government roadblock in cold blood despite having on his person, and having presented, press credentials issued by the Nicaraguan president’s office.

History is full of so many other examples of how war reporting is incredibly dangerous even when a journalist is accredited to one side and a “frontline” is relatively clear. But attempting to report from a “fluid field” is even more problematic: reporters may end up largely on their own in “no man’s land.” Being a journalist does not provide automatic “neutrality.”

Errol Flynn’s son, photojournalist Sean, was captured by communist Vietnamese forces and (presumed) killed in Cambodia in 1971 by the Khmer Rouge.

More recently, back in May, French photojournalist Camille Lepage, covering the horrific and confusing civil war in the Central African Republic, was discovered by French peacekeepers in a truck, having been murdered.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a newspaper and magazine.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a newspaper and magazine.

Now James Foley has been added to the terrible list. He will not be the last, of course. We should always remember those who bravely choose to place themselves in potentially fatal harm’s way to try to give us back at home some insights as to what the hell is going on. :-(

“You fascist!”

….No, no, no, the post title doesn’t mean I’m calling *you* (friendly reader/ visitor) a “fascist.” Please don’t misunderstand. I used it because that (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) accusation is hurled in Passports during a morning, uh, “friendly exchange of views,” between Isabelle and Uncle Bill at Bill’s Rhode Island coastal cottage:

Next Bill called to the dining room. “Isabelle, toast and eggs?” Unexpectedly, he expanded the menu choices. “Want anything else? If you were being polite last night, don’t be. This is a continental house. Feel free to smoke.”

Despite being unsure if she had again misunderstood Bill’s English, Isabelle nonetheless dived in.

“White coffee and toast please, Uncle Bill. That will be lovely. Thank you.” Both feet on the floor now, she crossed her legs and pushed aside hairs hanging down on her forehead. “And so you know,” she added, “I don’t smoke. You think all the French are the same? We all smoke?”

“Well, all the French I know seem to smoke like chimneys,” Bill maintained as he advanced to the table and chose the seat across from her. Next he changed conversational topic mid-paragraph as he often did. “So what about that Mitterrand? He’s done over there soon, isn’t he? Who’ll be the next president?”

James sat on a longer side of the slightly rectangular table, between them, as if positioned inadvertently to referee. Taking some toast, he joked, “Uncle, you been watching the news on public television again?”

Isabelle responded from across the table without hesitation, “Balladur or Chirac, of course.”

Pouring orange juice, Bill questioned, “Who?” He moved the toast plate closer to Isabelle. “Please, have some more. You know, I sensed it last night. You’re a Gaullist. You fascist! Gaullists hate Americans!”

“No, they don’t,” she answered softly. “They love France. It is the Socialists who hate Americans. Mitterrand has been a disaster for France.”

Bill smiled broadly and looked over at James sitting to the side. “Nephew, you sure can pick ’em.”

“Okay,” Isabelle began to question Bill mockingly, and a bit flirtatiously, “who should be President of France, as you sit here, great American writer, judging the world from, ooh, what little state is this again? Uh, Delaware? I forget.”

Bill lobbed a calculated grenade at Isabelle. “Whoever the Socialist is. We need socialism in the U.S.”

“Bah!” she dismissed that out of hand. “You have not lived under socialists. I know communists, yes, but I do not want them to rule France. You have been with Spanish writers and Cubans. They do hate America. I bet they are communists. We thanked God that Mitterrand had to spend so many years sharing power with Chirac.”

Ignoring her charges, Bill went another route. “God? I thought young Europeans today were a lot smarter than our Bible-thumping Americans?”

Isabelle was at a loss. “Aren’t you Catholic like James and your family?”

Taking a breath, he explained, “Right. You know, Isabelle, I think of myself as a Unitarian.” Seeing her appear to go blank at the word, Bill appended, “We believe in sort of everything.”

Isabelle was underwhelmed. She knew what a Unitarian was. “But do not Unitarians believe in God?” she grilled him pointedly while grasping her coffee mug. “And to say one believes in everything is to hold nothing sacred.”

Bill pronounced, “Nephew, she is definitely French!”

James complained, “Uncle, I didn’t think I was in this breakfast debate?”

Had enough? As James has? What? You mean that back and forth didn’t cause you as a conservative to turn socialist, or vice-versa?

I follow many of you who are also authors – or musicians, or actors, or you travel blog, or you’re interested in cultural issues, or you’re just sharing thoughts with us. It should go without saying I’m flattered if you follow me. In organizing my followings here deliberately along mostly “apolitical” lines, WordPress has become for me a welcome island of friendliness, learning and calm compared to much else out there in major media.

As we know, nothing exists in isolation. In recent days I’ve been surprised by several generally “non-political follows” who’ve suddenly taken to mounting Everest-height soapboxes. They’ve filled posts with barrages of heavy-handed political invective. (That’s being “charitable” in describing the content. I could use stronger language.)

If you wish to read diatribes from those who support your “worldview” (whatever it is), it is usually easy enough to find out there. Follow a few of the crazies on Twitter. Or just click over to commenter cesspools that are found on sites like CNN’s.

In a friendly Twitter exchange I had had with a CNN.com producer about so many of the incredibly nasty online comments, he noted that he simply tells op-ed contributors not to read the comments below their pieces. Can you imagine? Yet it’s easy to understand why: the bigotry and viciousness some spew via keyboard is appalling – and, one has to believe, mostly also from those who would likely never be so rude to someone’s face.

Free Stock Photo: The White House in Washington, DC.

Free Stock Photo: The White House in Washington, DC.

I know I have on occasion blogged here on somewhat contentious issues. Amanda Knox, Devyani Khobragade, and immigration, immediately come to mind. But when I do, I try to do so with moderation, within the framework of my own knowledge and experience, and while remembering my self-imposed guidelines for this blog. (See the top banner.)

Civility and respect: where have you gone? If you want to scribble vitriol online, of course you are free to do so; but I did not follow YOU to read that. I firmly believe that chest-thumping, name-calling, and jumping up and down usually wins no friends who don’t already agree with you, and rarely changes minds.