I hope you had a very merry Christmas! I sure did.

I prefer to say “Merry Christmas” to the people I meet, rather than “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.” But that’s my Christmas-celebrating Christian nature showing through. Some people are quick to point out that not everyone celebrates Christmas, but since a poll found that 96% of Americans celebrate this holiday, I find it difficult to get all that excited over catering to less than 5% of the population.

I guess that makes me one of the horribly oppressive people trying to force my religion on others. At least that’s how anti-religious groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) view it. You can see this sentiment reflected in the way they attack anything Christmas-related displayed on public lands. Bill O’Reilly has been talking about the “War on Christmas,” and John Gibson wrote a book about it. They both cite examples of how companies and stores are dropping “Merry Christmas” in favor of the more generic “Happy Holidays.” Unlike these two gentlemen, I don’t have any problem with companies doing this. A company does business by appealing to as many customers as it can, and the generic greeting is more inclusive. But it appears that growing numbers of people are angered over the blander, non-holiday-specific greeting. I really couldn’t care less. For me, Christmas is primarily about getting together with family and friends, and that’s more important to me than any present I might give or receive, so I don’t care how the stores greet me. They are free to say whatever they think will bring them more customers.

But I do care when the government tries to stifle Christmas. Most often, people who are against the practice of religion in public life will point to the First Amendment as the reason why government shouldn’t have anything to do with religion. And when they say “religion,” what they really mean is “Christianity.” The ACLU has been instrumental in fighting against any public display of Christian symbols. A tiny cross on the Los Angeles County seal had to be removed because it might *gasp* lead to the Inquisition! Well, probably not. But the ACLU campaigned aggressively against it. “No establishment of religion,” they reasoned. Funny that they didn’t mention anything about the much larger image of the goddess Pomona which appeared on the same seal. Apparently symbols of ancient Roman and modern pagan religions are acceptable, but Christianity is strictly verboten to the ACLU. It’s no wonder that the organization is sometimes referred to as the “Anti-Christian Liberal Union.”

What does the First Amendment actually say about religion? It is rather straightforward: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” So what part of “Congress shall make no law…” applies to the Los Angeles County seal? If the Ten Commandments are posted in the Alabama State Supreme Court building, how does that violate the First Amendment and its prohibition on Congress passing laws?

The real tragedy is how school districts, scared spitless over the possibility of lawsuits from the ACLU and other anti-Christian groups, banish any mention of Christmas in schools. You can’t call it the Christmas Holiday — it’s now “Winter Break.” Any religious carols are banned out of fear that they might be construed as an establishment of Christianity in the United States. Each Christmastime brings more news reports of kids being told that they can’t say “Merry Christmas” at school, or stories like the one of a 7th grader being kicked out of the school dance because he had the audacity to dress up as Santa Claus. I have to ask again, what part of “Congress shall make no law” applies to sanitizing public schools until no taint of Yuletide spirit remains?

And what about the second phrase in the First Amendment — the one the ACLU always seems to forget? You know, the part that says, “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”? It seems to me, and to a growing number of Americans who don’t like the idea of Christmas being excised from the public square, that the ACLU’s anti-Christmas lawsuits constitute an attempt to get government to prohibit the free, public exercise of one particular religion.

November is over, and that means National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) is also over. My goal for the month was to write a novel of 50,000 words or more. I first got word of NaNoWriMo near the end of October, and decided to take the challenge. I knew it would be difficult for me to complete this goal because of my busy schedule in November. While I didn’t reach the 50,000-word goal, I did manage to write just shy of 19,000 words during the month.

Having gone through the process, I think I now have a good idea of what’s necessary to reach the goal next time. I’ll outline the main points here.

First, you should learn your writing speed. I’ve found that I need close to three hours each day to achieve the daily output of 1,600 words. Writing dialogue requires even more time. This means that to achieve my goal, I’ll need to start cranking out fiction as soon as I get home from work. Saturday will have to be my catch-up day, with 6+ hours of writing. Knowing my personal writing speed, I think November is the wrong month for me to be taking part in NaNoWriMo. My wife’s birthday is in November, as well as the holiday of Thanksgiving in the United States. We didn’t travel this Thanksgiving, but my parents did come over for about a week–and as much as I like to write, my family comes first.

If I were in charge of scheduling NaNoWriMo, I would place it either in October or in January. There are no holidays in October in the United States other than Halloween, and that’s at the very end of the month. If you’re really close to finishing, you could get your spouse to do the candy duty. January is also nearly holiday-free, but some people could start the month at a disadvantage depending on how much drinking they do on New Year’s Eve. Both October and January are in cold and dreary parts of the year, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, so you can’t be tempted outside by a warm, sunny day. Since many people travel for Thanksgiving and Christmas, October and January may be better novel-writing months since people could be expected to stay at home during those months. And if you make New Year’s resolutions, January is a great month to fulfill your writing goal.

Although November wasn’t the best month for me, I was hampered more by my story than by the time. As I see it, a good story needs a setting, plot and characters. The story needs some place to happen in, whether it is inside a neutron star, in a mysterious factory, or in a galaxy far, far away. For years now, I have been contemplating a story in an interesting location. I was looking forward to setting a story in this location, and I looked forward to writing about it, but a detailed and interesting setting is insufficient to create a good story. A story needs more than a setting.

A story also needs a plot that will engage and entertain the reader, whether it is recovery from a horrendous disaster, a boy and his grandpa visiting a fascinating place together, or a rebellion against an evil empire. While I had an overall idea of what I wanted to do with the story, I didn’t have enough details in mind about how I would get through the plot. I guess it’s the difference between saying, “I’m going to drive from Los Angeles to New York,” and having a detailed map showing the exact planned route to take across the States, with hotel reservations lined up and an idea where one might take a detour to see the sights. I had a high-level plot in mind, but I spent far too much time contemplating the smaller scenes necessary to make the novel a reality. Sitting at my desk and thinking up a scene isn’t writing; it’s thinking of writing. And while thinking about writing isn’t bad, the goal for the month demands actual output, not just thinking.

The third critical part of a good story is an interesting cast. If you don’t have characters who can engage your reader, why should the reader care about the plot and setting? Would you rather read about an intelligent alien the size of a sesame seed, an eccentric candy-maker, or a crippled disciple of darkness? I think I have the most difficult time coming up with believable characters, and I found I spent too much time messing with unimportant details like names. I have a check-list of questions that I should answer about my characters before I can write about them. This list will help flesh out characters and turn them into people. The more I know about a character’s background and individual characteristics, the more rounded and believable that character will be. Once I have a detailed knowledge about the characters in my novel, I will understand better how they will react to the plot points they will encounter. I’ve heard it said that at times a character will refuse to do what an author intended him or her to do; it seems as though the character takes on a real life and changes the story. No, I don’t think that characters literally come to life and change your story, but I do believe that if you really know the characters, your familiarity with their preferences and dislikes has a tendency to change the plot in ways both subtle and overt–and that should make for a better, more believable story.

It was fun writing during November, but I learned that I’ll need to do more planning and background work to complete NaNoWriMo in future. I don’t think I’ll get the background work done in time for a January writing month, but I want to do it before summer distracts me. I will spend my time until then working on my setting, plot, and characters.

Of the slightly less than 19,000 words I’ve written, I think only the prologue is worth keeping since it can stand on its own.

I was talking politics with some co-workers, and the conversation turned to the burning of Paris and France. After I expressed my opinion that the French were reaping some of what their policies have sown, my friend commented, “It sounds like you don’t like the French.” She was right, but only partially. I have no beef (or boeuf) with the French people. I don’t know them, but I assume that they are composed of saints and sinners, much like citizens of the U.S. My sister-in-law spent 18 months living in France, and loved it there. I have visited Paris several times, but I am no more qualified to judge the French people after my visits there than foreign tourists are fit to judge the entire U.S. after a handful of visits to Washington D.C. Hereafter, when I say I have a problem with the French or that I dislike the French, I am referring specifically to the French government and not to the French people as a whole.

I have inherited some of my dislike of the French from my father. He remembers flying missions over the harbor of Hanoi in Vietnam and seeing merchant ships flying the French flag, providing supplies to the North Vietnamese. The term for what they did is “giving aid and comfort” to our enemies. If an American company had done what France did during that war, it would be considered treason.

Since France has given aid and comfort to our enemies, can we truly consider France to be our ally? How many times does a friend have to stab you in the back before you take him off your Christmas card list? While it’s true that France came to our aid during our fight for independence from England, any lingering debt for that aid was paid in full with American blood during both World Wars.

I bring up the instance of France working against us in Vietnam because they appear to be backstabbing the U.S. again. During the run-up to the war against Saddam Hussein, French President Jacques Chirac told President Bush privately that France would stand with the United States. France’s Foreign Minister–and later Prime Minister–Dominique de Villepin told then-Secretary of State Colin Powell the same thing. Then the French proceeded to stab both men in the back by announcing publicly that France would never support the use of force against Iraq.

At the same time, the U.S. came by a document suggesting that Saddam Hussein wanted to buy yellow-cake uranium from Niger. Sec. Powell used this document as one of the reasons why Saddam Hussein needed to be removed from power. Once Powell had publicly voiced support for the document, word was leaked that the document was actually a fake. Rocco Matino, the Italian who brought the document to light, revealed in court that it had been created by the French and handed to him to pass around to various intelligence agencies. Why would the French want to pass off bogus documents to the U.S.? I believe they sought to publicly embarrass the U.S. They didn’t want to support our fight against Saddam Hussein, and the continuing Oil for Food scandal suggests that many French officials were benefiting financially from the status quo in Iraq. They did not want the U.S. to step in and stop the flow of money from their Iraqi cash cow. So the French first planted the document and then exposed it as a fake to slap at the U.S. and muddy the waters.

To this day, liberals point to the 2003 State of the Union address and its now infamous 16 words, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” The British still stand by their assessment of Saddam’s desire for uranium, and the discovery of tons of yellow-cake uranium in Iraq shows that Saddam Hussein had purchased it. But France was still successful in angering many Europeans and turning them against the U.S. This was the political equivalent of letting loose with a nasty fart and blaming the guy next to you. And getting away with it.

At this point in the story, enters the liberal cause célèbre — Joseph Wilson IV. The forged documents happened after Wilson went to Niger, so they could not have been the reason he was sent. James Lewis points out in his article in The American Thinker why Wilson went:

The reason why Wilson had to travel to Niger in person to “investigate,” while drinking mint tea with his uranium mining friends, was to establish his bona fides – to make him an instant “expert witness” on Saddam’s dealings with Niger. Did French intelligence urge Wilson to make his trip and enlist his wife Valerie to propose him? Without that trip, Joseph C. Wilson had no special claim to any expertise about Saddam’s weapons. It was Valerie Plame who was the CIA WMD expert, but it was Wilson who became the front man.

Notice that the modus operandi for the Wilson trip was much the same as for the Niger forgery: a classic con game. Find a sucker, tell him what he wants to hear, and use that credulous embrance[sic] by the mark to destroy your enemy. In the first case the sucker was Colin Powell. In the second case it was the New York Times Op-Ed page. In both cases the enemy to be shafted was George W. Bush and the administration. This is how disinformation is supposed to work.

Joseph Wilson has succeeded in generating a huge media storm and becoming the enfant terrible who spawned the brouhaha over the revelation that his wife, Valerie Plame, works for the CIA. Liberals and the press (but I repeat myself) have called for heads to roll over her “outing,” but I’m sure this is not in the literal Islamofascist sense.

Wilson has a multitude of French connections, so the idea that he is operating under French direction is not inconceivable. He met his first wife in Washington D.C. at the French embassy. His second wife was a French diplomat. His third wife, Plame, wrote in a CIA memo, “my husband has good relations with both the [Prime Minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts)…”

Lewis points out that there isn’t a smoking gun which proves Wilson is a French tool, “but it is certainly at minimum, an interesting coincidence that a man with such extensive and intimate French connections should be conducting a ferocious nationwide crusade against the President of the United States, who also happens to be hated by the French government.” Lewis also wrote, “While we do not know all the facts, there is no question that Joseph Wilson has acted precisely as we might expect from an agent provocateur.”

To some extent, I can understand why the French might be doing what they appear to be doing. After all, France has its own agenda: it desires to lead the European Union and act in opposition to the United States. Raising a political stink with faked documents and with misinformation from the Francophile Wilson I recognize as normal nation-statecraft, but when the opposition turns deadly or provides aid and comfort to America’s enemies, a certain line has been crossed. Lewis points out how France has moved into the second category:

French hatred of American power is the reason why France pressured Turkey (anxious to enter the EU) to block the US IV Infantry Division from crossing Iraq’s northern border to help knock over Saddam Hussein. Had the IV ID hit Saddam from the North while Tommy Franks attacked from the South, the current Iraqi insurrection might have been crushed even before it got started, the Baathist hardcore unable to flee north to the Sunni Triangle and entrench itself among the small percentage of Iraqis who benefited from Saddam’s rule. The original plan envisioned just such a pincer movement. We therefore owe many of our 2,000 soldiers’ deaths to deliberate and malicious French sabotage, with thanks to Dominique de Villepin and Jacques Chirac.

Is there concrete proof? No, but these events do seem to have a whole mess of French fingerprints all over them. I didn’t see French ships aiding America’s enemy as my Dad did in Vietnam, but I am starting to see enough suggestions that France is working to thwart our efforts to make Iraq a better place.

Now you know why I don’t like the French government very much.