The Price of Independence

September 7th, 2013

If the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, as Thomas Jefferson said, then the price of independence is eternal diligence.  But do most people know the difference?

Freedom is, after all, the absence of oppression—in simple terms, nobody telling you what to do.  But independence is far more difficult to achieve—it is the ability to be self-sustaining and not dependent on others. We were free from British power once we won the Revolutionary War in 1783, but we were not truly independent of British power and influence until the War of 1812.

So it is with writers nowadays, particularly those of us who self-publish on Kindle, Kobo,  Apple,  and the like. We are free from the dictates of publishers and editors telling us what to write, how to write it and when to publish–but we are totally dependent on our own efforts when it comes to publicity, promotion, sales and distribution. And when it comes to that, the job is endless. It is exactly like having a business in which you’re designer, manufacturer, distributor, sales and publicity all at once. If you do not want to be what the Japanese used to call a salary man—or woman—and you want to live life on your own terms, you have to hustle.

The danger of eternal diligence is that you forget the reason why you’re independent to begin with, which is to create on your own terms.  You must always remember that hustling, or in the writers’ world, social media and publicity, are a means to an end—and that end is to write the way you want to for the audience that you have in in mind.

That same lesson can be applied to all facets of life. If you really want to be independent, you can never rely on anybody but yourself, which is exceedingly hard to do—you have to do everything and do it well.  So yes, I don’t subscribe to the 4 -Hour Work Week, the 4-Hour Body, the 4-Hour Chef or the 4-Hour anything. That is just a hoax.  But if you succeed at achieving independence, you will be truly your own person, beholden to no one—and the closest thing to God that any human can be.

LONG TIME NO SEE!

July 12th, 2013

It sure has been! Like an old Hollywood actor said, a lot of Scotch under that bridge!

OK, so I’m going to start slow after all these years and I’ll just make a couple of points.

For an author, no, excuse me, for any intelligent reader, there is hardly anything more depressing than reading the daily e-edition of Publishers Weekly, especially when book deals are concerned. Inane, puerile, dim-witted books for children and equally childish adults seem to be all the rage: tales of how a child eats, sleeps and poops; a novel about a lizard faced policeman chasing a transparallel Jean Valjean; yet another dystopic future where children are saving the remnants of civilization, so on ad nauseam. Here’s the question:

WHERE ARE THE GROWN UPS?

Can anybody tell me?

I LIKE IKE! Obama, not so much…

January 10th, 2011

The more I read about Eisenhower the more I like him.  A friend the other day sent me this quote from his military-industrial complex speech, aka his Farewell Address, which I thought was very approppriate for today:

“Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

“Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present — and is gravely to be regarded.

“Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

Sure, Ike had McCarthy to deal with—or not. But, as you know, there was Communist infiltration in the country—and ultimately, wasn’t it an Army lawyer, Joseph Welch, who did him in with his “Have you no shame? Have you no sense of decency, sir?” comment? Perhaps Ike was just waiting for the fever to break, or the boil to grow enough to be pierced and drained.

Besides, think about the greatest Democratic icon—FDR. He was pretty ruthless when it came to civil rights. I think tens of thousands of Japanese had every reason to detest him. Plus, he wanted to intern all people of German and Italian ancestry in the US, only the fact that the US Attorney General advised him there wouldn’t be enough camps to hold them all got him away from that madness.

That’s why my all time favorite president is Geo. Washington. He could have been king but he refused, he could have stayed in office forever, but he quit after two terms, and he could have kept all his slaves for his family but he freed them all upon his death and he was never known to mistreat any of them. Plus he was a war hero from the French and Indian War. Sure, he was funny with the money when it came to expense accounts and Washington DC just happened to be on land that he owned but hey, who’s counting? That’s what government was for, then—and still is, by and large, to the well connected. I’d rather someone of his stature rake it in on the side than to have fools and war criminals screw up the country and still manage to make millions. Anybody remember LBJ and his radio stations? Or Halliburton and a certain Darth Vader VP?

Well, enough of that. Obama is a disappointment but he’s what we got right now. Patience is a virtue, or as the I Ching wisely counseled me once ten times in a row, perseverance furthers.

Adios.

The Great Netwar Scare

September 29th, 2010

So today all the talk on the radio is about the latest computer worm, Stuxnet, which as the Washington Post reports, is the “first known case of malware designed to sabotage an industrial control system” (check out the entire article here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/27/AR2010092706606.html) It seems this worm has been under the radar for about a year and may have caused an industrial plant in Iran to blow up, perhaps one of those doing the uranium processing for the bombs that Iran says it’s not making or has plans to make. (Ha!)  

Apparently Stuxnet is such a complex piece of work that all the experts think it has to have been created by a nation state, with the money, time and talent required. My first thought is that this a prime example of what RAND researchers called Netwar, with results potentially as crippling as a round of carpet bombing–I mean, this could cause the entire electrical grid of a country to go down in flames! 

You would think that RAND would be all over this, with press releases and information, I mean, they imagined this more than years ago. (see http://rand.org/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG877.pdf) Instead, the RAND website offers advice on Helping Haiti Rebuild, Coping with the Economic Rise of India and Supporting First Ladies in Africa. These are all fine and honorable efforts, no doubt, but c’mon, this is really right up your alley and you can’t hit it out of the ballpark, to mix sporting metaphors? Think of all the research projects this could justify, why, it could be a mini Sputnik! 

Or maybe RAND researchers are reserving their best advice for the U.S. government… Or maybe Stuxnet was their idea to begin with…Stay tuned….

Are we a democracy?

August 27th, 2008

After a recent appearance on the radio program Coast to Coast,  a listener emailed me the following note: “We are definitely NOT a Democracy. I feel that it’s dangerous to not distinguish between a Democracy and a Constitutional Republic. This is one of the reasons our govt is in such a mess…WE THE PEOPLE do not understand our govt!”

As Jack Benny would have said, Well! (Does anybody out there remember that greedy practioner of the one liner? With just one word he would convey so much worried yet ironic contemplation of a conundrum that the audience would break up in anticipation.)

I still believe in the old adage of Lincoln–of a government of the people, for the people and by the people–if, for nothing else, because we still haven’t become a military dictatorship. Sure, there is chicanery in government–and yes, votes are sometimes erased, stolen or dismissed, but never on the scale of, say Argentina, or Venezuela. Sure, that’s  awful, when the U.S. has to compare itself to failed states to look good but that is the way of the world today.

If only the good voters of West Palm Beach had put on their reading glasses in 2000, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in right now. Of course, if Al Gore had had the cojones to go to Washington and denounce the Supreme Court decision, we wouldn’t be in Iraq right now either but that’s another what-if.

My point is, even a republican form of government must depend upon the consent of the governed–which is basically what democracy really means. We can still make a difference–and yes, your vote counts. Do we want another eight years of the Reagan/Bush continuum that has ruled the country since 1980, or do we dare hope and vote for a change.

I know what my choice is. What about you?

SO HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR RATIONAL CHOICES NOW?

July 16th, 2008

When the U.S. was sold a bill of goods by the Reagan Administration and its rational choice/free market mavens, Americans were promised that the invisible hand of the economy would cure all ills.  You take care of yourself, your neighbors take care of themselves, and society will right itself from the shoals of the Nixon/Ford/Carter years. What people didn’t catch on was how that spirit of what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is also mine if I can get it, would devolve into a financial and ethical free for all that would cut off the American way of life at the knees. How could Americans really think that as individuals they would be able to overcome the aggregate power of corporations and other vast financial interests which freed themselves from the one entity capable of controlling them, the government? But no, governmment was the problem, not the solution.

Americans failed to realize that the problem was not government but mismanagement.  Seduced by the promise of lower taxes and cheap goods, American consumers devoured the toxic cotton candy of rational choice/free markets. Now, thirty years later, we are having to cope with a metastasized financial cancer that threatens the life of the nation.

The subprime mortgage debacle, rising energy costs and spreading joblesness have finally woken up the country. (Never mind that in real terms, after inflation is taken out of the equation, the average American family has not made any financial headway in the last thirty years–and that now it requires two income earners to support a family that used to be able to make do with one salary.) Real gains have been realized almost exclusively by the top ten percent of the U.S. population, the lucky, well connected few.

Yet, more than just money and financial security has been lost. Americans have also lost the spirit of community and cooperation, the feeling of ‘we’re all in this together,’ that kept us going through the Great Depression and World War II.  America has become atomized, splintered into separate and competing worlds by a philosophy that makes egoistical satisfaction the end-all and be-all of existence. Kenneth Arrow, the Dr. Frankenstein of rational choice, called this state of being “the sovereignty of the consumer.” It should propertly be called the foolish state of the deceived.

It’s time for a change.

Hello again

April 23rd, 2008

To all of you who have waited for my book on RAND to come out, the wait is over. Although official publication date is May 14, it’s already for sale on Amazon and all major bokstores.

Early reviews have been very encouraging, and we’ve been promised reviews in The New York Times, The Washington Post and other major media. I did a podcast for the WashPost the other day, which is supposed to be going online sometime this week or next. The editors wanted to wait until the Pa. primary was over so it wouldn’t be swallowed up by the political news. I also did another one at TheWrittenWord.com, which is available right now.

For more info, check back with my site in a couple of days, I’m updating it with all the news about SOLDIERS OF REASON. I should add that I’m going to be appearing at the ALOUD series in the Los Angeles Public Library in June with Mike Shuster of NPR. Needless to say, I am both flattered and a little nervous. I hope all of you who read this will be there to lend moral support. 

Speaking of Pa….As a Democrat, I am saddened to read how many people in that state still said they considered race to be an issue when deciding on a candidate. I had really hoped we were all beyond that, and that what counted in the U.S. was no longer the color of your skin but the content of your character.  Even the size of your bank account as a deciding factor would have been better than the subtle racism that permeated that campaign. 

Of course, it was a battle of the millionaires, but Obama’s three or four mill hardly compares to the $100+ that Clinton earned over the last decade. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge her the money, but I do think that knocking back boilermakers and claiming to be a hunter (full disclosure–I belong both to the ACLU and the NRA) as a way to reach out to the average voter was just a bit too rich for my taste. I just couldn’t believe that all the good people of Pennsylvania, in all those both beautiful  and  blighted rural counties, would fall for that pitch. 

Now that they’re both onto Indiana, I wonder just how sharp an elbow Obama will throw at her to finally get her out of the game. Will he continue to play the part of the idealistic but ultimately ineffectual Stevenson–or God forbid, George McGovern–or will he rememeber his South Side training and become the canny ward politician that JFK was?

This continues to be the most intereresting primary season since the Vietnam War.

THE WORD

April 23rd, 2008

In the beginning was the word–John 1: 1

No, this is not a religious blog–although there is certainly nothing wrong with that. I myself am a religious man, but religion is not what I want to talk about today. Since this is my first blog, I want to remind readers that narrative is at the heart of all human understanding. It is our capacity, correction, our desperate need for narrative that frames our existence.

We may be because we think but we think in narration. We are always the heroes of our own tales, and as Aristotle discovered, we always look for antagonists, if not villains. Thus the worldwide popularity of Hollywood tales and their mechanical three act structure. Thus also the need to understand the world around us in narrative arcs, to seek beginnings, middles and endings, in an echo of the way we perceive our own existence from birth to grave.

This then will be my attempt to impart some measure of narrative to the often apparently incoherent world that surrounds us. Especially here in Los Angeles, which is fast becoming the epicenter of a new kind of city and a new hybrid civilization, which takes disparate elements from myriad cultures and races, mixes them all together in unexpected ways and hurls them back out to see if they can survive in our burning alleys and polluted thoroughfares as if in some kind of mad Darwinian ordeal by fire.

Or maybe it’s all intelligent design…But that’s for another day. For now I have to get back to my book on RAND and the way the world really works…