Wednesday, January 4, 2012

An independent voter's observation

Listening to what pundits of the American news media say about our country’s politics never ceases to puzzle me.  I come away believing that Americans appear to be incapable of thinking in any way or fashion other than in terms of absolutes – left or right, big or small, right or wrong, win or lose, all or nothing.  It seems that they want us to ignore the wide gray areas that exist in between these extremes. Or is it that they know we easily get carried away by our boundless enthusiasm in pro or against any given premise?
            I cringe when I hear some of the aspiring candidates to the 2012 Republican nomination for president disparage against the incumbent president, Barack Obama, accusing him of socialism, populism, etc.
            What a nonsense.  To label Obama's agenda as socialism for the sole reason of his espousing a social agenda that seeks to respond to the needs of all the people is to forget the very foundations of our nation.  Let’s not forget that the premises of our Constitution—where it states that “We the People of the United States…”,  or Abraham Lincoln’s most famous exhortation “…that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth”—did reflect a certain collectivism. Both statements inherently promised a social agenda, certainly not socialism.
            In this year’s election, the Republicans' efforts to whitewash and return to an economic system whose reckless inequities have produced terrible suffering to our middle and working classes, and to label as socialism an agenda of providing a much needed “social contract” for all the people, is sheer stupidity.
            Having a social conscience doesn’t mean socialism. It simply means common sense. In any case, it is the government’s constitutional responsibility to protect all the people, not just some people.

Monday, June 13, 2011

7 Billion: A Demographic Milestone

As we approach a new milestone−−7 billion of us trampling about the Earth−−it's time we ponder on where we, homo sapiens, are headed to. Are we advancing toward a brighter and ever more powerful future, as little gods in the making, poised to discover, colonize, and eventually exploit new extraterrestrial worlds? Or are we headed toward extinction like most pre−Man inhabitants of our planet Earth, only this time with an implosion metaphorically comparable to the Big Bang?
Most people enthusiastically believe that our technology-driven world all but assures us of an infinite future. Only few will argue that Man is destroying the Earth; and often those who say it are vilipended, accused of being naysayers and fear mongers. So, where lies the truth?

When 30 years ago Americans celebrated the first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, universities across the country put a halt to their anti−war protests and instead rallied against pollution and population growth. The day would acquire historical significance, for it marked the beginning of a new era of reckoning. It also served to line up the two opposing forces that would govern the attitudes of people toward our environmental problems−−the unrelenting materialists who cling to the notion that nothing must be done that may hurt the economy, and those who see beyond the Now and warn us that unless we shift into reverse, not only our civilization but our Earth itself will be heading toward catastrophe.

Global Footprint Network (GFN), an alliance of scientists who examines the Earth's sustainability, calculates that at our current growth rate, and using our current technology, we will soon need the land and water equivalent to more than 1.5 Earths to produce the resources we consume and absorb the waste we produce. GFN further warns us that we are growing at a rate that is using up the Earth's resources much faster than they can be sustainably replenished. At this very moment, our growth is using the equivalent of about 1.5 Earths. One doesn't have to be a mathematical genius to recognize that Mankind is facing a real problem.

So, as we approach the demographic 7 billion mark, it'll be wise that we all−−government, industry, business, and we the people−−pause and reflect on what we'll be leaving to our children and grandchildren. Mankind will not become extinct in their lifetime; although in some unfathomable distant future, surely we will follow the fate of our Paleozoic Era predecessors.

The future stares us into our eyes. We, the soon to be 7 billion, need to backpedal a little. We need to realize that an ever−expanding population produces an ever−expanding economy whose demands the Earth will not be able to sustain.

Friday, January 7, 2011

In Defense of Literary Fiction

As a writer–editor–translator working in a newsroom before my retirement and subsequent turn to trying my hand at writing literary fiction, I occasionally attend critique group meetings, which I find quite beneficial in terms of camaraderie, but somewhat wanting in effectiveness.
In my humble opinion, one cannot expect a proper critique at a two–hours meeting with writers of different genres whose critiques are no more than attempts at editing or even proofreading. The absence of in–depth discussions of the work examined renders the effort meaningless.
Expanding on the above, critique groups are mostly organized by excellent writers associations. Unfortunately for the literary–minded writer, most of these associations are mainly geared toward the commercial side of the written word, like genre fiction, mass–market fiction, self–publishing, etc., all in detriment of literature as an art, an expression of beauty and intellectual growth. It can justifiably be argued that today's explosion of commercial mass–media fiction is contributing, at least in part, to the demise of literary fiction in our culture. And many writers associations, wittingly or unwittingly, are participating in the killing. What a shame.
It would be an excellent idea for writers associations to create special groups for established or aspiring writers of literary fiction. People who see in writing an art and not only a craft; who strive to get published the traditional way, knowing that this is the best proof of one's real worth as a writer.

William H. Cole, in his essay "The Anatomy of a Wannabe Literary Writer," makes a wonderful case for what constitutes a literary writer, and what is required of him to become one. His essay can be found at

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How to Understand Globalization

The following is not meant to repudiate globalization, merely to open people's minds about its potential influence on the world's future if practiced without the restraints of strict regulations based on wisdom and morality.

What should we do to understand it

1. Follow the money trail, follow the power
2. Discern illusion from reality, especially with media outlets
3. Listen to experts who offer a meaningful critique
4. Study & verify sources and footnotes
5. Apply liberal doses of common sense

What is Globalization? It is the collective effect of purposeful and amoral manipulation that seeks to centralize economic, political, technological and societal forces in order to accrue maximum profit and political power to global banks, global corporations and the elitists who run them.
"Free Trade" is the central mantra. Globalization is set against national sovereignty, closed borders, trade tarrifs and anything that would restrict its goals and methods used to achieve them.
Globalization promotes regional and global government, a one-world economic system of trade and a form of fascism where global corporations and their elite control the policies and directives of individual governments.
The original and primary perpetrators of modern-day globalization number only in the 100's, representative of which, but not exclusively, are members of The Trilateral Commission.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Thoughts about the Slow Demise of Literary Fiction

Not too long ago, an aspiring writer worth his salt would follow the great masters of literature as his role models. Thus, the emergence of literary giants like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Saul Bellow, Paul Bowles, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and many others. These writers wrote their novels at a time when fiction was an undivided part of literature. The term literary fiction wasn't even known then, for there was no need to distinguish between serious fiction and any other form of story writing.
Only after World War II did we begin to hear about popular fiction, a form of paraliterature––by definition a less serious alternative to literary fiction.
The post–war technological explosion, characterized mainly by television, marked the beginning of the decline in book reading as a major source of information and entertainment. Book publishers had to find ways to awaken new interests in a diversified readership base. They did this by targeting the less educated among us, who never were interested in literature. Publishers introduced what was and still is known as commercial fiction, also referred to as genre fiction––nonliterary work that includes categories of mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance, western and horror. Genre fiction appealed to large segments of the American public, much to the delight of the traditional publishing houses. As their catalogues grew, the publishers encouraged promising young genre writers to submit their manuscripts. With this, great writers like Stephen King, Michael Connelly, Sue Grafton, and many others, appeared on the scene.
At roughly the same time, however, the new digital era produced the first, albeit small, challenge to our traditional book–publishing industry by way of what was called Desktop Publishing. The writer himself could publish now his work, banging his computer to produce typeset–like pages to be later printed in book form by conventional printers.
When this proved to be impractical, our ever-alert business hawks devised the ultimate publishing scheme. Entrepreneurial non–traditional publishers began to offer the unpublished writer ways to self-publish his books, bypassing the big traditional publishing houses. There was a catch, however. The writer would pay a fee, an amount rather small thanks to the inexpensive production costs made possible by the computer.
The new self–publishing industry mushroomed. Anybody could now see his or her name in print, with their byline in a book, like a published writer. The number of new writers exploded, as evidenced by the hundreds of writers groups that sprouted all over the country. So did the self–publishing companies, the real beneficiaries of all this. Soon, this type of publishing would be known as Vanity Press.
The genre fiction market exploded. More and more newcomers began clogging the serious writer's world. Writing–related entrepreneurs sprang up like mushrooms––print shops became publishers, unsuccessful writers often turned into proofreaders, editors, lecturers. All aiming to profit at the expense of the struggling aspiring writer.
Without realizing it, these writers became potential customers. Instead of hoping to be paid advances so they could continue their work, they now paid an advance to see their byline in print.
Fortunately the old system of traditional publishing isn't dead. Many new, inexperienced writers still see their future in the traditional publishing houses. However, the sheer number of unsolicited manuscripts overwhelmed the slush piles of the already overworked editors. The publishers erected barriers in the form of literary agents, who act as first perimeter firewalls by selecting manuscripts the traditional publishing houses might want to buy. For the unknown writer, this pretty much closed the gates to the traditional, advance–paying, publishing house.
But the gates closed only so much. Like in any other endeavor, talent, perseverance and good work can still open them.
Today's new writer should remember that none of the world's greatest authors got their first submissions published. And he should be wary of people who cater to mediocrity, for they will steer him in the wrong direction.
Self-publishing may be all right for those who write for tiny readerships or for the desire to see their bylines in print. The serious writer, however, should think of his work as an art and not just a craft; an art that offers his readers an intellectual and spiritual journey into the realms of an unknown world.
To summarize, instead of succumbing to what is considered nonliterary writing, the new writer should steer his aspirations toward higher grounds, where, if his efforts are worthy, they still are sought by traditional, advance–paying publishing houses.
If you are a writer worth your salt, either of literary or genre fiction, seek a traditional publishing house over a self–publishing company.
The Writers Guild of America doesn't recognize self-publishing as a standard for membership.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Tiny Ray of Hope for the World?

The other day, while researching some matters related to conservation, I lost myself in the maze of Twitter's tweets and retweets. As suspected, I found innumerable ideas––some trite, others well thought, many real good, and a few brilliant.
One tweeter got my attention. In his tweet, he said, repeating the hackneyed thought: "When the last tree is cut, the last river poisoned and the last fish caught, we will discover that we can't eat money." Another tweeter answered, raising the ante a bit: "There's a simple solution: Let's stop idolizing the economy; scale down free enterprise; or else we'll all be dead soon."
So here is the thing. Most people will agree on what the first tweeter said, even though he really hadn't said anything but a nice–sounding sentence that didn't propose any solution. The responder, on the other hand, proposed a solution, which many of the world's top scholars endorse, but do not express because of its unpopularity.
Now, everyone with a clear mind knows that the pursuit of money alone, when morally unrestricted, can lead to a blind greed that recognizes no limits. As it happens, we, more than any other people in the world, idolize our free enterprise and economic systems, many times to the exclusion of other values of much greater import.
When I raised this issue with my brother–in–law O, who lives in Uruguay, a peaceful, relatively prosperous country, he said to me, "That's precisely the problem with America. All that obsession with money––you guys live and die for it––is what makes your country so much admired, but also so much disliked." After I objected ardently saying that most likely his country wasn't much different, he said categorically, "No, no! Here the economy is important, but not exceedingly so," he said. "People here don't live exclusively for money. Maybe that's why most don't have much of it, but almost all of them will tell you that they are happy because of their relatively carefree life."
To convince me, my brother–in–law said, "Why don't you come and spend time with us, and find out for yourself." With tongue–in–cheek he added, "Look, maybe you can help preserve the world's trees and clean its rivers and save it from self–destruction, by learning that there are alternatives to your kind of freedom and prosperity. Come visit us. Be our guest for as long as you like. All paid. You won't have to spend a penny.
I kind of felt embarrassed. I discovered that perhaps he and his fellow citizens were richer than I and my fellow citizens.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Food for Thought

Remember the day, when inspired by a speech given by President Dwight Eisenhower, the media and most of us aimed our collective venom guns at what he called the Military–Industrial Complex? When the president, himself a military man, warned against the collusion of these two powerful forces in our society, a complicity that eventually resulted in the Pentagon paying zillions of dollars for a lousy toilet seat? Well, it appears that yesteryear's corruption has turned our national ethos into a gigantic hydra. It poisoned our nation to the point where nobody talks about it anymore. Where most of us pay lip service to the myriad of immoral practices this hydra has unleashed upon us, the most damaging of these being the new mega collusion we may well call the Military-Industrial-Banking–Government Complex.
We have seen this expanded complex playing out its hypocritical schemes. All the way from the time of the Reagan Administration's market economy––a practice that upended the applecart by changing the old moral–based equation of "cost plus reasonable profit" into the new immoral one of "whatever the market will bear," which opened the floodgates to irresponsible greed and price gouging––aided and abetted by our country's successive administrations' utter mismanagement of our nation's resources.
And yet, We The People, keep relatively quiet, knowingly or unknowingly accepting everything that is thrown at us by Big Business, and yes, also by a government that always seems to side up with it, rarely with the middle class, almost never with the average John Does.
But, is it possible that we are not as enlightened as we think we are?
We heard that the Big Bailout of Wall Street, the auto industry, etc.––anybody but the middle class or the regular John Doe––smacked of socialism. Since when helping the richest is socialism? It is capitalism at its devious worst.
As voters, come election time, we forget our dissatisfaction and fall for the ever–repetitious slogans and promises of the candidates, whose real interest too often is self–promotion and how best to fit into that golden cage, the military-industrial-banking–government complex.
We stand by and allow big business, with government consent, to rob us clean – first by dumping on us a recession they and they alone created, then by misleading us into accepting new laws and regulations meant to help our people, but which at the end only benefit the big guys in business.
Finally, Obama, who scared everyone out of their wits with his feared populist–socialist leanings, now appears to have fallen prey to the very same evils he so eloquently denounced when he came to us in the guise of a savior.
My friends, nothing ever changes. Contrary to the old Western movie stereotype, where the hero cowboy rids the town of the robber barons who took it over, in our real world, the greedy, government–sanctioned, robber barons always win at the end of the day.