Nothing but another ‘filler’

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 29, 2001

On worn soil

Labors a verbal tiller,

Offering nothing

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But another "filler."

"You’ve got to read it," urged my buddy S.C., referring to James Kilpatrick’s article, "Sometimes your just lucky enough to find plumb beautiful writing," The Birmingham News, May 20, 2001, 3F.

I read it, and halfway through I realized Ol Kil had offered nothing but a "filler," the commonest staple in the writer’s armamentarium. The article bulged with quotes.

Kil probably reached for the nearest folio on his desk and hummed, "Let’s give these unfamiliar guys a pat on the back."

As an unsolicited apologist for Kil and others of his ilk, I must divulge a few trade secrets.

Syndicators literally live by the word and must bash out acceptable verbiage before every deadline, competing for space on the editorial page.

Under that kind of pressure neither Kil nor anyone else, however gifted, can produce quality work week after week.

Most articles, according to writers’ concensus, grade fair, about 20 percent good, and a smigden, "plumb beautiful writing."

Aware of this drawback, a heedful editor can salvage even a loser with a catchy byline, and slip it past the uncaffeinated reader who usually forgets much or all content before lunch.

But a writer disregards bylines and is seldom fooled.

Christopher Morley portrays the archetype of the profession. In 44 Essays he "reads to see how the other fellow does it; to note the turn of a phrase, the cadence of a paragraph, carrying on constant comparison with my own work."

A "filler" you may already have guessed, "fills" a void attempting to overcome writer’s block. I will not condemn it as outright cheating; instead I consider it a harmless peccadillo.

The "filler" comes in three guises: 1) quote loading; 2) revising a previous article and 3) reprinting a classic.

The first resembles a sophomoric essay, "How I spent my summer vacation," pilfering material from a travelogue.

The second revises a second rate specimen or to update status.

The third reprints a classic, timed with holidays or auspicious occasions.

I cannot say whether or not Kil has peaked, but talent, everyone agrees, eventually fades, subject matter exhausted, repetition inevitable and the "filler" the last resort of the effete.

Doubts of future creativity also torment me. Of more than 260 essays, fiction and poems published since 1995, I have, like Kil, resorted now and then to a "filler" which proved better than disregarded original junk.

Unfortunately, "plumb beautiful writing" rarely occurs in a newspaper, because the casual eye prefers to scan, and discovering gems is not a priority.

But that limitation will not deter the conscientious writer, who, after all, writes to please himself.


Polls show Bush, GOP weak on policy issues

Morton Kondracke, Syndicated Columnist

President Bush’s poll numbers are holding up well despite a soft economy, but support for his program and his party are shaky, indicating that Democrats have a good chance of dominating the 2002 Congressional elections.

Most polls show Bush’s job-approval rating dipping slightly, but still in the low- to mid-50s. But the Democracy Corps poll, run by former Al Gore pollster Stan Greenberg, puts Bush’s approval at 58 percent.

The Greenberg results are especially interesting because the respondents were likely 2002 voters, not just general adults, as in most polls.

The Democracy Corps poll indicates that Democrats enjoy just a 2-point lead on the generic 2002 Congressional ballot, but that it expands to 8 points when voters are given arguments for and against Bush’s tax cut, which deserves to be the centerpiece of the campaign.

The endgame of this year’s Congressional budget action could also play into Democratic hands if Bush can be induced to veto popular education and health spending proposals because his tax cut won’t accommodate them.

Asked a straightaway question about whether they support Bush’s tax and budget plans, 54 percent of likely voters said they do, according to the Greenberg poll.

However, when presented with a Republican candidate’s case that Americans are overtaxed, that no changes should be made in Bush’s "biggest tax cut on record," and that Democrats want to repeal parts of it and spend the money in Washington, 43 percent of voters say they’d support the Republican candidate.

A rival Democratic candidate polls 51 percent arguing that Bush’s tax cut is too big, that it benefits the top 1 percent of taxpayers the most, and that breaks for the rich should be canceled to "increase spending on education and keep the Medicare trust fund solvent."

A June 8 Gallup poll of adults gave Democratic candidates a 50-43 edge on the generic question. Last month a Zogby poll showed that Democrats have a 4-point lead, but also found that a plurality of adults are undecided.

Such generic results, of course, showed no correlation whatsoever with the latest real-world Congressional election, won by Republican Randy Forbes in Southern Virginia, by a margin of 52 to 48 percent.

Bush and his party have plenty of time to convince voters that their policies are working, but the polls indicate grave doubts at the moment. In the Greenberg poll, for instance, 70 percent of voters supported canceling rate cuts for the top 1 percent of taxpayers to create a prescription drug benefit for all seniors. Bush’s plan contains money only for aiding low-income seniors.

On other questions, 65 percent of voters would support canceling the top rate cut to ensure there is no borrowing from the Medicare trust fund, and 61 percent would do so to increase education spending by $200 billion.

Public polls conducted so far indicate that Bush himself still enjoys a substantial advantage over potential 2004 Democratic rivals — 50 percent to 38 percent in a rematch against Al Gore, according to a Fox News-Opinion Dynamics poll, and 49 percent to 43 percent in a Gallup Poll.

The Fox poll showed Bush leading Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., by 53 percent to 32 percent. However, when Greenberg matched Bush against a no-name, generic Democrat, the two tied at 44 percent.

There’s a difference among polls, incidentally, on whether Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., running as an Independent, would draw more from the Democrat or from Bush.

According to Greenberg, McCain would draw 22 percent, giving Bush a 42-percent to 29-percent edge over an unnamed Democrat. Similarly, Fox showed McCain winning 20 percent and giving Bush a 44-percent to 28-percent lead over Gore.

However, a Gallup poll showed that McCain would pull Bush down by 11 points and Gore by 6, leaving them in a virtual tie.

Meantime, the new CBS-New York Times poll shows that the public is skeptical about most of Bush’s domestic policies. By 64 percent to 28 percent, adults would rather have the budget surplus spent on Social Security and Medicare than on tax cuts.

Regarding Medicare, by 62 percent to 35 percent, respondents favored a drug benefit for all seniors, not just those with small incomes. And by 50 percent to 11 percent, they favor allowing patients to sue their HMOs, even if it results in higher insurance premiums.

Beyond shaky polls on issues, Bush faces the possibility this year of being forced to veto programs the public favors. He has vowed to use his veto power to hold spending to a 4-percent increase. Democrats are determined to seek more.

Conceivably, a series of budget veto fights could lead to a partial closing down of the federal government, which would give Democrats a chance to portray Bush as a gentler version of ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga. If that happens, 2002 could be a bad year for Republicans.


Letters to the Editor

Catholic-bashing column undeserved

Dear Editor,

It is hard to imagine a good reason to print Joan Ryan’s venomous and malicious Catholic-bashing column in The Troy Messenger. She so trashes the Catholic Faith that it would take months of daily columns to clear up her inaccuracies and misconceptions. (I would be glad to supply the columns.) I was wondering about the author, then I read that she is syndicated out of San Francisco. Though this poisonous diatribe may find a receptive audience in San Francisco (where the Catholic Church is certainly in conflict with the culture), Troy, Alabama, hardly seems an appropriate place for such inanity. The South has been known for years as a place where anti-Catholicism is embraced and espoused. I have, occasionally, run into it myself (even among the non-Catholic side of my family). Fortunately, over the years, facts have begun to replace fiction as more people in the South have met and come to know Catholics. Ryan’s column smacks of the Knownothingism of the 1850s. Is this really what we need to be promoting today? I think the Messenger owes the Catholics of Troy (and their readership outside of Troy) an apology.

Fr. James Dean

St. Martin Catholic Church

Troy, AL


To the Editor:

Joan Ryan, an ex-Catholic, can’t understand why the Catholic Church would reject the liberal sacraments of sterilization, condoms, and abortion.

She claims Catholic moral rules "aren’t the laws of Christ," but rather "laws of men who believe they speak for Christ."

What would Jesus say about these sacraments of liberalism?

Sterilization is a particularly vicious type of self-mutilation, one that destroys an entire biological system. St. Paul reminded us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, to be cared for wisely. Jesus did say destroying an eye or a hand is preferable to losing eternal life with God, but his use of this image reminds us of the horror of self-mutilation.

Even liberals seem to understand that smoking is contrary to God’s will.

If smoking is evil because it destroys the respiratory system, how can liberals encourage the deliberate destruction of the reproductive system?

Condoms are relatively unreliable devices for preventing conception and avoiding sexually transmitted diseases.

Ryan ignores their manifest unreliability and urges their use as a preventative to AIDS.

I doubt any thinking person would be so foolish as to trust a fragile piece of latex as a barrier against a killer virus.

Would Jesus allow the use of condoms? Recall he described marriage as a sacrament in which a man and a woman become "one flesh."

Note, too, that he restored God’s standards of chastity.

One could commit adultery in the heart, he said, without having physical sex outside of marriage.

Above all, there is no question that Jesus would oppose abortion. He reiterated God’s unyielding command, "Thou shalt not kill."

He showed a special fondness for children, urging the disciples to "suffer the little children to come unto me." The gospels recognize the humanity of the unborn John the Baptist, who "leapt" in Elizabeth’s womb in recognition of the unborn Jesus. They further record the unique trials that surrounded Jesus’ conception and birth, including a horrific slaughter of innocents under King Herod in an attempt to assassinate Jesus-an early version of late-term abortion.

If Joan Ryan would acquire a God-given conscience, she would recognize the wisdom of the Catholic Church in helping us avoid the miseries of sin.

However, she will not develop God’s conscience as long as she persists in ignoring or ridiculing God’s word.

Bruce Murray



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