Thursday, February 26, 2015

My New Novel: The Labor We Delight

Please check out my newest novel, The Labor We Delight, available from Barnes and Noble (link), the Apple iBookstore or LuLu (link).

Here's a synopsis:

"The reader follows Henry Modicum through three jobs he holds over a summer’s vacation from college. The plot surrounds Modicum’s interactions with his hilarious and philosophical (usually unintentionally and often at the same time) co-workers in a fast-food restaurant, a shipping/distribution company and a parks & recreation department in a small Midwestern town. Modicum comes to acknowledge his own prejudices about blue collar employment, learning that higher education does not offer a higher ground…moral, intellectual or otherwise. The writing style is not overtly didactical; Modicum’s raucous, funny and mundane experiences are ends in themselves. At the climax of the story, Modicum witnesses a near death experience, which leads him to reevaluate his beliefs about free will and to acknowledge the chance for a freeing absurdity in every the life of every person."

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Success Ignored: Americans and the Ebola Outbreak

In the autumn of 2014, Armageddon was upon us. An outbreak of Ebola, the moderately contagious and incredibly deadly viral hemorrhagic fever, was tearing through the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. Some called it the worst outbreak ever seen. When Eric Duncan fell ill with the disease and died in a Texas hospital, full-scale panic ensued in the media and amongst politicians. Charles Krauthammer (a medical doctor) among other administration antagonists called (link) for quarantine of folks returning from West Africa—which makes sense, when said individuals are sick—and travel bans, which do not make sense and that epidemiologists who study disease outbreaks explained would hamper efforts to track, and thus contain and ultimately squelch, the outbreak. Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo, in a rare example of bipartisan pandering to the media, proposed and then promptly backtracked a quarantine plan for the New York/New Jersey port of entry to the USA. Dithering was (again) evoked to describe the American response.

Where do we stand 6 months into the future? Of course, as with every global initiative for good, the Unites States was the number one contributor (link)—by far, accounting for more than the other countries of the world combined. The outbreak is not over, but is has seriously abated (link and link), having never reached the dire predictions of thousands of new cases per week that some had foreseen in late 2014.

The headline you will not read is “American response contributes to stopping Ebola in its tracks” because simple examples of competency do not generate website hits. People no longer dying in great numbers does not set the pulse racing.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The War Film

What is the right way to fictionalize war? The precedent for modern Hollywood films has been set by Vietnam and falls into a couple different--often overlapping--camps: highly stylized ("Apocalypse Now"), realistic probing of the morality (and mentality) of the soldier ("Deer Hunter", "Full Metal Jacket") and criticism of the government who sends the boys over there ("Platoon"). 

Who is the audience and what is the purpose? Must a war film have a verdict, a moral in tow? It is likely impossible to watch one without considering this question.

"The Sniper" takes on, to the extent Hollywood can, a real story, about a real person. Eastwood clearly intended to portray Chris Kyle as what is right about the military (and maybe what is right about America)...and Bradley Cooper, whose performance is mesmerizing in its rawness and simplicity, plays him not so much as a man eternally conflicted about the decision between family and country, not as Jeremy Renner's protagonist in "Hurt Locker" as the soldier who cannot let go and who becomes consumed by the battle, but rather (just) as a person trying to do what is right.

Cooper's Kyle is not, despite stating that he wants to be, a cowboy. He is not a blood thirsty killer bent on revenge. He is not John Rambo--but he, Cooper's Kyle, is someone called on by his country to do something only he can. Kyle does nothing superhuman. But he is able, by "doing his job," to achieve greatness. 

"Sniper" has no moral, it passes no verdict on the American government or its enemies. It neither condemns, nor sanctifies. What it does is tell a story about something that happened, something that is happening, and something that therefore must be thought about. That cannot be ignored. There are no stunning effects, no abundance of gore. There are no steak barbecues or playboy bunnies choppered in after a day of wasting Charlie. There is only Chris Kyle, doing his job. While Eastwood's cowboys squinted into the camera for the Sergie Leone close-up, the Kyle of Eastwood and Cooper has both eyes open. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

On Ron Paul, Jeb Bush and Pure Morals

 A recent WSJ piece by Jeb Bush is getting some attention for its apparent clarity in calling for a return to old-fashioned capitalism, with REAL winners and losers.It’s heady stuff, with nods to the sins of “ruinous” taxation, and even an thinly veiled recap of the past decade’s fiscal (and non-fiscal) exploits of government action in the public sphere “We see human tragedy and we demand a regulation to prevent it” (the middle east? The housing crisis?) “We see criminal fraud and we demand more laws” (the housing bubble/bust? Predatory lenders?) “We see an industry dying and we demand it be saved” (surely the auto industry…?). “Each time we demand ‘Do something…anything’”, Bush gives us to summarize this litany, tacitly setting up government meddling as the false god he is about to destroy.

This is followed by some terrific thoughts and, to be honest, a quite succinct recounting of the fundamental tenants of Transcendentalism, of naturalists like Thoreau and Emerson as well as of the founding fathers of the country. It’s an inspiring essay, and reads like something written by a wide-eyed freshman fresh off a first read of Atlas Shrugged.

The problem with this appraisal, as well as with that held by the only true conservative in the race, Ron Paul (link), is that it’s simply na├»ve. Who would refuse a reality in which moral clarity was, or could be allowed to be, equivalent with moral purity, and we could act based solely on what could be solved in a philosophical proof. We do not live in that world. Self reliance, free markets, unfettered independence for the individual are philosophically unassailable. But these morally pure concepts exist in a real world of (in no particular order) religious fundamentalism, poverty, totalitarian governments, and vast disparities in access to education and wealth (solely on the basis of birthright) which serve to strip the purity from what may be a very clear description of high ideals.

Let’s be clear: moral purity we should all strive for independently, but this cannot be a real platform for any type of political reform. The machine will devour it.

Jeb Bush can get away with such statements because he isn’t running for office and because he doesn’t have to kowtow to his “party’s” line. It would be very interesting if he was given the chance to develop this into a national platform as a third party candidate; if he’s actually drinking that cool-aid, he may end up looking like a great running mate for Ron Paul.

As for Republicans-In-Name-Only or Democrats…these words and the parties they demarcate no longer have any meaning. American politics has completely devolved into vacuous statements that appeal to “us vs. them” labels.

Monday, December 12, 2011

GOP Message: Out of Control

Do these ignoramuses understand that by definition, covert actions are not talked about? In speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition, Romney and Gingrich in particular were quick to vow covert actions against Iran and Syria—and to decry Obama’s lack thereof.

Did it ever occur to Newt Gingrich that going on Fox news and ranting about how we are behind sabotaging of Iranian missile sites works in direct contravention of the goal of such covert actions and that, rather than bolstering his global military and political acumen, should serve to paint him as treasonous, sabotaging our own country’s efforts in the process? Newt is no dummy on foreign affairs and so one can only chalk this up to pure politics with regard to what President Obama cannot reasonably defend himself: Obama cannot come out as say “actually, guys, we are doing a lot of covert shit like X and Y,” because doing so would out his own Administration’s efforts in this area and would be equally nakedly political (were he that stupid to use this in his own defense).

This is so out of control that Romney said at an Iowa debate on this past Saturday he would ask Netanyahu “what would you like me to do?” viz a viz working with the Palestinians. What other situations, Gov, would you see it fit to consult with a foreign leader before making a decision as President of the USA?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas Gift for Congress

Since no one in Congress much wants to make any real cuts—such as to their salaries, benefits or terms—one thing they should be able to agree on is a nice Christmas present for themselves. I have it: Walter Issacson’s biography of Steve Jobs.

This should be mandatory reading for this Congress, the president as well, for the holiday season, as a reminder of the merits of hard work and the true meaning of the American spirit: innovation and building greatness.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Evolution Part 2

The rationale for limiting the president to one term is to remove the need to be reelected and to free up the hand of the executive branch to govern. Impeachment, of course, would still be an option if the bum needed thrown out, but politics would take on a fundamentally new tone in the executive branch: doing what is right and convincing the public it is right only secondarily, after it has been made to work.

Congressional service would be turned back to that—service—rather than a profession or job description. As originally envisioned by the fore-fathers, public service would be converted back to an act of self sacrifice to contribute to the direction of the country, rather than a permanent source of income. This will breed competition and select for individuals with business acumen, in so far as the congress will no longer be able to consider politics as a sole source of income.