Friday, October 4, 2013
I just signed a contract with NOVA Publishers for Reflections, and thus begins another adventure. There is much to do in terms of marketing and all the rest, but this book was the best I can do in many ways. I am certainly glad an “established” publisher picked it up. I was ready to go the self-publishing route, but that is a VERY poor way to move any significant number of books. Here is the current blurb, though it will certainly change:
Saturday, September 07, 2013
The dithering concerning bombing Assad’s military assets continues unabated, and I find myself in the minority yet again. Moreover, I am also taking a stance that is in fundamental disagreement with my personal beliefs regarding the sanctity of life. However, I would hardly call my position categorical on that issue as I’m pro choice and pro assisted suicide–though only when one is terminally ill and suffering. On the other hand, I am against the death penalty, so my philosophy on taking life is hardly “mature” or consistent as it now stands.
The problem is that context makes a mockery of categorical positions. For example, in my view it is unconscionable to force a woman to give birth to a child that is the product of a rape or incest–regardless of one’s position on abortion. Similarly, one can be against the death penalty, but still seek the life’s blood of a criminal who savagely raped and murdered one of your kids. The situation often dictates what recourse we seek, which puts me in the camp of moralistic relativism–a dreary place for sure.
I suppose my position on the “need” for attacking Assad is based on fear. There are chemical weapons out there that make Sarin look tame, such as VX. A leader who uses such weapons on his own people is also prone to using them on others, as Saddam proved during the Iran/Iraq war. We turned an official blind eye to that, at least until Iraq became unfriendly. It was the fear of such weapons that drove us to attack Iraq, though it turned out that Iraq had abandoned its chemical munitions. Silly us.
Now we have a person who has definitely used these weapons of mass destruction and done so on a large scale. Yet there is NO desire in the hearts of the American people to stop him. Been there, done that, didn’t work out so well. And it isn’t like the UN will ever intervene, toothless and useless organization that it is. My goodness, the UN has the oddest governance and decision-making mechanism imaginable–one wherein one powerful nation can insure that nothing gets done. Until that changes, very little good can come from that organization.
Of course, giving the UN power would come at the cost of countries like the US, China, etc., conceding control and authority. It does not seem that the powerful nations are ready for that, and thus it often boils down to nations taking unilateral actions that meet shifting and transient ends–such as destroying Assad’s means of using chemical warfare. As its core, we have created a toothless world governance, mostly out of fear that it will one day bight us in the ass for our own perfidy. We are simply not willing to give up our control, our sovereignty. Indeed, the idea of actual world governance has become anathema to nearly all powerful countries…
Given this dreadful status quo, each powerful nation takes it on its own shoulders to stop a threat that could one day reach its shores. The US has shown time and again how silly that behavior is, and now we are too weary to act. Had Bush not lied us into the Iraq war, it might have been possible to get mass support for eliminating Assad’s WMD. But now, we must go it alone or turn our heads away. Oh, but the cost of turning our heads away eventually leads to terror at home.
The only real answer is to craft a UN that has real power, a power that cannot be controlled by any one country. That will not happen any time soon. So on one hand, people in the US bitch about us playing the part of the world’s police force. But on the other hand, we’ll also bitch about not being subject to a police force that isn’t under our solitary and direct control. I don’t suspect many folks see the irony in all this. There is only one answer, but we’re not quite ready for anything like “real” world governance yet. I hope the future will not curse us for our myopia. I hope it doesn’t end up destroying everything we love…
Thursday, September 05, 2013
The American people have no desire to take on anyone in the Middle East, be the cause good or bad–just or unjust. Thus the majority of us are quite content to passively watch while innocents are gassed en masse, humanocide writ large on our TV screens. We have become like so many beaten dogs, whimpering at the mere thought of yet more conflict. Given the lies that were told to get us involved in Iraq, who can blame the people for being reluctant?
My problem is this: in Assad we have a petty tyrant who truly does have weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore, he has shown an inclination to use them on his own people–and on a large scale. He is allied with several quasi-religious and extremely violent groups that are both capable and numerous, and one wonders what we will do if those noxious white clouds suddenly appear in a New York subway or Fenway Park. That is the threat, and not just what is happening in Syria, terrible though it is.
I despise war, and think it is ample proof that humanity has hardly evolved in over 5,000 years. Furthermore, the American people have every right to feel exhausted, having been involved in an only partially justified fight that has lasted the better part of a generation. Alas, there comes a time, exhausted or not, when we have to do what is in the best interest of our children. And like it or not, removing those chemical weapons from the scene is in our best long-term interest.
Yes, it is only a temporary fix, something that may buy us 10-15 years before another dictator arises who has a yearning for power and no qualms about using ANY means to get and keep it. Already, we see all the efforts we extended in Iraq drifting into a mindless civil war that will spawn the next “strong man,” the coming dictator. And in this failure, we see yet more reasons not to get involved, for many American lives have been lost and vast treasure spent for little, if any, long term gains.
It is a matter of using power intelligently. One aids those who are fighting for their own freedom, with Bosnia being a prime example of how effective this policy can be when used properly. We have the technical ability to degrade Assad’s ability to rule without putting boots on the ground, and to do so in a fashion that allows the Syrian people to express their own will. We may not like what evolves, but what choice is there to act given the weapons involved?
So I agree with the policy of removing Assad’s chemical weapons, though I find Obama’s handling of this situation very dubious. If one sees a mad dog at the door, one doesn’t dither before acting–and the butchering of over 400 children surely indicates that we are dealing with a mad dog. Instead, we go through this legalistic national and international debate, and at a time when our people are already exhausted. Our leaders have no choice but to act, even if there is a lack of consensus. To do nothing means that we have truly lost, for we will have become a people who can watch children suffocate by the hundreds while waiting for our dinners to be cooked. Where is the humanity in that?
BOOKS IN PREPARATION:
REFLECTIONS: A DREAM QUEST (click for sample!)
Essays of a Mad Man.
CURRENT BOOKS IN PRINT:
Child of Destiny Book 1 of The Genesis Continuum. (Amazon) (Barnes & Noble)
Pursuing a Legend (Book 2) is available now. (Amazon)(Barnes & Noble)
Forging a Future (Book 3) is available now. (Amazon)(Barnes & Noble)
Deep Thought (prequel) is now available on Kindle Select.
SAMPLE FROM REFLECTIONS
Diary of a Madman
Vota has a Hissy Fit
The Author as Enemy
On Sci-Fi Artwork
On Sci-Fi Artificial Intelligence
On Sci-Fi Character Development
On Sci-Fi Conflict
On Sci-Fi Editing
On Sci-Fi Themes
On Sci-Fi: The Question of Religion
On Sci-Fi Violence
Humanity’s longest day begins with a deep space observation satellite detecting a large“energy bubble” encompassing Penn State’s campus in State College, PA. No one knows what caused the mysterious event, including its creator, a graduate student named Alexander Barr. He has discovered how matter, energy, and thought are interrelated, with the critical information coming from ancient texts. Alexander’s efforts are making him into a being of incomprehensible power, but he carries the flaws we all harbor within.
The powers that be try to stop Alexander’s development and end up wounding him. The resultant energy release devastates the northeast, destroying major cities and killing millions of people. Alexander slowly recovers and becomes ever stronger, with an outreach that can extend to the furthest reaches of the universe. All the while, efforts are made to contain the threat he is thought to represent and thus begin judgment errors that makes the apocalypse seem like a pleasant day’s outing.
There are no rights and wrongs here, just well-intentioned actions and reactions that often go horribly wrong. Will the earth survive? Indeed, will existence itself continue? The stakes are huge, and you’ll have a front row seat.
Parts of the battered Serenade are formed into the scouting ship Ral’s Rake, and Ral takes on a robotic body. He begins a tempestuous relationship with Anita, which comes to a tragic end when the crew soon discovers the badly damaged Dragoonter. She is transporting thousands of Elesian children, but it strays too close to the Serenade and is decimated by the ship’s automated defense systems. A subsequent collision cripples the Rake, destroys the Serenade and Dragoonter, and tears Ral to pieces—thus crippling the mission.
Ral’s remains are salvaged, and Anita installs his AI modules in the capsule. However, Ral betrays the crew and turns the renovated Rake over the surviving Elesians. Anita removes Ral from the capsule and installs another AI system named Marcus. Thus begins a final attempt to reach Terra. The Terrans and Alcara continue their savage battle over the capsule, but the Seekers finally intervene.
The crew members are given the choice of continuing the mission of pursuing whatever life-courses each selects. Will Kara and the others decide to go on? If so, will they survive the trip to Terra? Will the missing Seeker still exist, and if so, can he be awakened? Will the old adage be careful of what you wish for be the mission’s final epitaph?
The Universe shifts as the battle draws near. The Alcara have used a mass transfer device to destabilize the Universe. As galaxies and star systems shift, the Confederation revives the long dormant Fulcan fleet in a bid to destroy the powerful and titanic weapon. Thousands of ships gather to confront the Alcara and their deadly device, and one question reverberates among those ready for battle… will the fleet get though?
As the battle draws closer Kara meets the “Ancient One”, the lone surviving member of the earliest sentient species. Using her extensive powers, the Ancient One helps Kara awaken dormant abilities that could help in the impending battle.
The key question remains…will Kara and the crew be able to make the jump to Terra and reach the legendary Seeker in time?
The universe’s expansion is nearing its inevitable end and everything is being devoured by entropy. The key to having a future is a missing energy source, a legendary metaphysical being known only through ancient tales. The last hope of a dying universe is to awaken this dormant Seeker who possesses the capacity to link the entire universe in thought and deed. He alone may be able to rekindle the sparks of a new universal cycle.
The remaining advanced species desperately want existence to continue, and send for missions to search for the Seeker. One such mission unexpectedly and inexplicably materializes on a primitive world that is inhabited by the Labateen, a Stone-Age warrior culture. Here they encounter Kara, an outcast Labateen noble woman and fierce warrior. Kara knows details about the Seeker’s litany that go well beyond coincidence, although to Kara they are simply the ways of God.
Is Kara the key to locating the long lost Seeker? And what of the races who believe that existence should end in an entropic whimper and who will not sit by while others attempt to alter the end of the universe. Lofty ideals give way to brutal pragmatism as a confederation of races struggles to survive and save existence. For a view of the first few chapters, please click here.
ON ED SNOWDEN
I am proud to be a Liberal, but Ed Snowden is no hero to me. He broke sworn promises, supposedly to help our common good in avoiding government intrusion into our personal affairs. But a man of honor should stand ready to suffer the consequences of his actions, be those consequences just or unjust. All I see in Snowden is a self-serving blabbermouth who runs from Hong Kong to Moscow–ever striving to avoid being held accountable. How can anyone regard this behavior as heroic? He is certainly not acting like a righteous man who is seeking to do his fellow countrymen and the world at large any altruistic good. In the end, he will have to pay the piper, and all his days will be spent behind bars. That would be a better fate that being reviled as someone who ran from accountability, the same accountability he would hold the government to by way of his deeds. How odd for an individual to regard himself as worthy of judging the body politic while lacking the resolve to face judgment for his own actions. His is the height of egotism, and those who laud this behavior ought to consider what harm Snowden has done to others–as well as the country as a whole. If he had stood ready to face the music, he might be worthy of praise. But his actions are so craven as to repudiate any claim that he is serving a noble goal. Let him be judged for his deeds, as he surely will be. In my estimation, he is an egotistical coward–and one who has obliterated any chance of being regarded as a good person.
DIARY OF A MADMAN
This is an entry from my diary that was sent to the FBI on April 15, 2013 via an e-mail form that is on the FBI website. I imagine it is still in their records, although they did not reply. At the time, I had no idea what the symbolism in the dream meant–though it is clear now. Here we have a Muslim shark captured in Watertown–while hiding in a boat. I wish the hell I could have been more helpful in discerning the meaning, but find it odd that these kind of predictive dreams are still happening. I thought they were over, and still do not understand their basis.
Monday, April 15, 2013
I had a mantic dream last night, but did not recognize it at the time. I was swimming in the ocean, which was warm and inviting. I swam without problem, but sensed something was wrong. Then I noted a shark was circling, coming in closer and closer. I didn’t know what to do and there was no escape. The shark opened its mouth and went after my legs, mauling them in a way that was palpable. I woke up yelling, but had no idea what the dream meant–other than a threat was in play.
Today, a terror bombing happened during the Boston Marathon, which killed at least two and wounded about 110 or so. Numerous people had their legs injured, and in a few cases legs were completely torn off–ripped asunder. Metaphors and premonitions. It seems the old predictive dreams have not completely evaporated, though what good it did is problematic. Those sharks will always be circling, just biding their time before zipping in to take a bite.
The thing is, the ocean, shark, and swimming metaphors might have another meaning, something that is related to the details of what happened. I wish I could see it, as in a name or location. Alas, I’m too damn limited.
It’s 11:08 PM. It seems there is a battle of bumper stickers in Cairo, with Muslim sharks being pitted against Christian fish. I wonder if that’s it? There are some white supremacists “shark-tank” conservatives in Florida, extreme conservatives. Man, I have lost it. Usually, I can make sense of these things.
Death toll is up to three with 140+ injured. Amputations are needed–a real mess. Lots of mauled people. I felt the pain in my legs when that damn shark attacked, but awoke from the misery. Those poor folks cannot awake from their nightmare.
I hate these damn dreams, and thought they were finally over. I will send this out and hope it helps, but I doubt it.
Saturday, December 15, 2012
Doing a bit better, but still not very productive. I am greatly saddened by the murder of 20 children by some nut-case with a bunch of guns. It happened yesterday, and has had a very traumatic effect. I hope you folks in the future are doing better than we are with regards to these damn gun issues. The primitives in the US cling to their interpretation of the Second Amendment, which has made the country into an armed camp. It is a primal way of living, with ANYONE having access to weapons of all kinds. It is lunacy writ large, and there is NO security! Any fool has the power to easily kill, and it is often exercised!
I wrote a little prayer for the dead kids, although a redneck from Georgia didn’t like the sentiments on one posting board, equating the mass murder of kids with traffic accident losses. Can you imagine such a thing?
Grant these lost children a place frozen in time
where they are forever surrounded by their own kind.
Wrapped in environs of safety and cheer,
and dreaming of things that kids hold dear.
It is fairly clear that the society we have forged is a failure in many respects. Hell, our society can’t even protect its own children! It will change or dissolve. That is the nature of things, with the fatally flawed going extinct. I think where we went wrong was in placing the welfare of the individual above that of the state, which has led to all manner of problems–as in the murders and shootings we see on a daily basis. Personal responsibility toward others has been made into an option rather than an obligation, and thus the disturbed and criminal take guns into schools or playgrounds and kill kids by the score. Meanwhile, the NRA chirps about OUR right to bear arms. Idiots, myopic nitwits who suckle on automatics instead of security blankets.
Stupid is as stupid does, and it seems we have condemned ourselves to repeat this same sad storey ad infinitum. I imagine this will happen umpteen times more during what remains of my life before going on into the future. I was going to write a comprehensive essay, but I am still seeing double. I am going back to bed. Still very tired at times–overpoweringly so. Sorry, I am letting you down.
by Dr. George H. Elder
I’ve been reading about the most prolific and wealthy political donors who help to pollute our political system with vast wads of money. The top ten in this group includes Sheldon Adelson (Republican, 79, Las Vegas, gambling), Harold Simmons (Republican, 82, Dallas, business), Bob Perry (Republican, 80, Houston, real estate), J. Joseph Ricketts (Republican, 71, Chicago, business), Fred Eychaner (Democrat, 67, Chicago, media), James Simons (Democrat, 74, New York, finance), Robert Rowling (Republican, 59, Texas, business), Peter Thiel (Libertarian, 45, California, business), William Koch (Republican, 72, business), and Joseph Craft (Republican, 62, business).
Some of these rich folks are brilliant, such as Simons, a mathematician and theorist who has written scholarly articles. Others, such as Adelson, are not scholars by any measure, but are shrewd and hard-working business aficionados who know how to turn big profits. Most are elderly, white, Republicans, who contributed mightily to right-leaning political causes, and for not much gain in the last two elections.
Yet what bothers me about ALL these folks is that they might be better served in giving some of their hard-earned money to people who really need it–like me . Hell, I’m awash in a sea of red ink, and that tide keeps coming in. And there you guys go, wasting over two billion dollars on two causes that do little more than create the kind of discord that ensures that the nation doesn’t get a damned thing done.
You buy and sell political influence by the millions, and make yourselves popes of the moment. Then the lame-ass politicos come and kiss your rings. They say words that please you, and all the while our country goes to hell in a hand-basket. Tell me, are your egos that bloated? Are you sure spreading your ideology is the more important than the ongoing corruption that is destroying our political system? Yeah, you folks ought to be ashamed of yourselves. And that little bit of sage advise I just offered ought to be worth a few million–or at least enough to pay for my damn propane bill.
So instead of giving to some damn pac to do the devil’s work with regard to our nation’s welfare, help folks in ways that count. And I know some of you rich people are already into philanthropy, although many of you seem to hate it when giving comes by way of social programs. I just don’t get that. On one hand, some of you rich bastards give to beat the band to scholarship funds, building programs, and education. But then you get all strange when it comes to the government doing the same thing. Someone will have to sit down and explain all that to me.
But instead of swift-boating a Kerry or mangling a Mitt, why don’t you guys give to the “Save the George Fund.” Yep, you could foster the creation of witty essays like this here–at least during those time when I can stay upright. Yeah, I’m a disabled person, one of those useless eaters. Of course, needy kids deserve the help more, as do wounded vet’s, battered women, and the like. The point is, you folks just coughed up over two billion dollars in political donations. And what did you buy? Well, you got an increasingly divided nation, a congress that can’t get a thing done, and the possible ruination of America’s future. What a deal!
You people ought to be whacked with a big stick, but let’s not go there. Instead, let us look toward what needs to be done to help the country. And don’t tell me it’s giving even more money to damn politicians! The system has become corrupted enough, and it has reached the stage wherein it is failing fast. You rich geeks have been a big part of the problem and not the solution–which is something you need to be told. So put your mendacity aside and help set things right. I think you know the causes that are worth a damn, and they are not associated with parties or pacs or politics. They are associated with your neighbors, children, and folks in need. If you guys can’t see that, you’re not looking hard enough.
Voter Anger or Vota Anger?
by Dr. George H. Elder
Brian Vota did work for me assembling and painting models for about eight years. Actually, I helped to set him up in business within the small scale model ship community, with his primary emphasis being 1/1250 scale model planes. He also did work for me on larger scale models of all types, and was good at what he did. We maintained a cordial business relationship over the years, and I would speak to him at least once per week. Indeed, sometimes he’d call three times per week.
Now, Brian had always leaned toward the far right, as do many others. Yeah, he claimed to admire the Third Reich and was big into collecting guns, bayonets, and other lethal weapons. He saw Armageddon coming around every corner, and would go on long-winded racial, misogynistic, and social welfare rants. I didn’t agree with his philosophy, but we were on good business terms.
Then came the election, and Obama’s victory seemed to have unhinged Brian completely. The day after the election, I got a call from Brian which must have lasted less than a minute. He advised me that my models were being returned, some of which had been out on consignment for three years or more. I hardly got a word in edgewise, and only hoped that all my goods would indeed be returned.
Well, not everything was returned, and those items that were arrived in the condition you can see in the photographs below. Some models were simply tossed in a box and left lose, including several 1/1200 scale metal models and 1/700 scale WSW kits. Numerous parts of these items were scattered about, and there wasn’t a single model that escaped undamaged. Moreover, various pieces were missing, ensuring that no kit could be completed. On top of all this, Brian had been prepaid in goods and money, all of which is now lost.
There was a short note in the box calling me a “useless eater” and claiming that I had “stolen” from him. I suppose that was Brian’s feeble way of justifying taking payment for having done no work and destroying what wasn’t his. I consider his actions wanton and dishonorable, something akin to how a hysteria-prone debutant acts when someone doesn’t like her dress. In effect, he had a hissy fit–a temperamental outburst; a tantrum.
I was irked because I was out a very good chunk of change. Then Bill Gilpin cut through the angst by noting it was more a case of “Vota” anger than “Voter” anger. Another collector wrote me an e-mail indicating I suffered a case of “Vota fraud,” and so the puns went. One can’t be angry while laughing, but I owe you collectors a head’s up. The moral of the storey is be careful who you do business with. If the guy sounds extreme, odds are there will come a day you’ll regret prioritizing business over belief. I certainly wouldn’t advise anyone to do business with Mr. Vota unless he or she is of his persuasion–and then that person has my deepest sympathy!
by Dr. George H. Elder
I’ve been a pain in the ass on the social networks about the coming election. The truth is, I’m afraid. I’m one of those disabled people, the kind who are barely hanging in there. Yeah, I suppose I’m one of the 47%, and I’ve read the planned policy changes that Romney and company want to put in place. They are terrifying to me because I cannot afford to make ends meet if these cuts are made, and am thus in an untenable position.
A good friend who is also disabled told me not to worry, that folks like me will not be put on the ice flow. He is an ardent Republican, and I get the sense that he still has some money. I do not. And I know he couldn’t have fully read the Romney/Ryan plan for privatizing Medicare and Medicaid. Basically, I would be forced to procure private-market insurance with a government voucher that stays at a fixed value–despite likely healthcare cost increases. Moreover, the “premium support” clauses in the plan means that insurance companies, not doctors and nurses, would make decisions about my care. Lastly, Ryan plans on cutting Medicaid by 30%, so there go my medications, the only things keeping me alive.
Yeah, I’m scared. I’m scared because I actually read the plan, which is something 95+% of the public has not done. And it hurts me to see my friends disregarding the implications of a Romney election as they apply to the old and disabled–folks like me. But I don’t blame them. Most people were hurt by the Great Recession of 2008, and they yearn for better times. That recession was not Obama’s doing, as any fair-minded person knows. His mistake was promising the world when any fool should have known that it will take 10-20 years for the banks to clear all their bad debts. That is the simple truth of things, something no politician likes to talk about.
The economy is slowly mending, as the numbers clearly show. And to be honest, the policies of both Obama and Romney are unlikely to have much of an influence on the bad loans that the banks are still carrying. Those bad loans stood at 5-7% during the worst of the Great Recession, and are now at 3-4%. Traditionally, a rate of much over 1% was deemed as an indicator of poor bank health. As for the national debt, the only thing that can reduce that is for the economy as a whole to improve, for even the most draconian budget cuts won’t make much of a dent on government burrowing if revenues do not increase–the stuff of taxes.
So I understand the problem, and the limitations of government to fix it given the current rate of bad loans. The ugly truth is, we have to endure while the banks work their way through a mess that they in large part created. In the meantime, we have to decide what kind of society we want. Hey, if you opt to cut the old and disabled out of the picture, then understand that we will suffer accordingly. There is no sugar coating it. You are my friends, and will stay that way, no matter how this election turns out. As for me, there is fear and uncertainty, with the full expectation that I will soon lose my home, furnishings–everything. However, I hope to retain the wonderful memories of the good times we have shared. In the end, they may be all that is left to any of us.
by Dr. George H. Elder
Well, Hurricane Sandy is nearly over, although there are still millions without power and tens of thousands have lost their homes. Like many others, I thought this storm was going to be much ado about nothing, such is the press’s typical yadda-yadda spin on things. But this time, the weather guys and press got it right. It was indeed the perfect Frankenstorm storm in terms of destruction. Some good preparation managed to keep deaths down to around 50 or so, although the counting isn’t done.
What is scary are the pictures ofNew Jersey’s coastal cities. They are wiped out over vast swaths of land. It was tidal surge for the most part, but wind damage was also a big factor. In one place, a wind-blown fire started in a flooded community, and 110 homes, apartments, and businesses were burned out. The first responders were magnificent, and did their best despite chest-high waters. No one was lost in that particular incident, although there are dozens of tragic stories.
The main killers during the storm were falling trees, some of which had stood for 300 years. In one case, two young teens were lost, with one visiting his buddy in a kind of storm sleep-over. God, I hope it was quick, and I cannot imagine the angst the parents must feel. Yeah, none of us knew it was going to get this bad. The early estimates are 20+ Billion in direct damage and another 30+ Billion in indirect losses to business.
As I reflect upon it, I think God tries to tell us things–though we hardly ever get the message. In this case, we have the second major Northeast hurricane in two years, both of which caused devastating floods. Yeah,Vermontgot pummeled last year, and I saw that mess first hand. It was sickening–washed out homes and communities, LNG tanks, trees, and debris bobbing up and down in the raging currents.
Huge ice sheets are melting and the average temperature is climbing at a rate that makes these storm more likely. But will we do anything about it? Hell, no! Humans are about as responsive as frogs placed in a vat of water that is slowly heated. The poor creatures turn into frog stew before doing anything to escape, and thus is our plight.
We simply endure instead of acting, and by the time we do decide to move–it is often too late. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where this approach will lead. There are lots of Sandy’s waiting in the wings as the weather patterns destabilize, and hundred-year storms may become the norm fairly soon.
In terms of politics, we have those happy folks who believe that the government should have a minimum role in our lives. They live by this odd creed that the private sector is ideal in solving all problems, and that government is inevitably piss-poor at doing anything. Then there are those who believe government should have a role, albeit a positive one. In a lot of ways, this is what the current election is all about.
On one side, we have Romney–the champion of free enterprise, a man who has made it perfectly clear that he wants to cut government spending in order to save our future. Hell, he even campaigned on the idea of eliminating FEMA and other disaster relief programs, calling them “immoral.”
On the other side, we have a barely competent man, but one who believes that government can have a positive role. I didn’t vote for Obama first time around, but note that he inherited an awful situation from that dolt of a man who ran the show for eight years, George Bush minor. Now that guy is living proof that some of us are much dumber than frogs. Nonetheless, he was elected twice–often by jingoistic bluster that has lead us to ruinous financial losses and costly military adventures.
So what does God do? The Devine demonstrates a force that no individual can stand before, and that only the collective power of a government can help us survive. Yet do you think anyone got the message? Like I said, folks can be as dumb as frogs, and many just won’t get it–no matter how loudly God yells.
I sure as hell do not love Obama, but I’m going to vote for him. He’s done a fair job with a barely manageable financial situation–though no one wants to tell the people the truth. The banks are holding so many bad debts that it may take an entire generation to get beyond what blind greed has wrought. Yeah, a lot of the bastards that caused this mess have floated ever so gently to earth on their golden parachutes while the rest of us got a golden shower of financial woes.
But beyond all that, we have to listen when God speaks, and yeah–I believe this storm was a sign. We need FEMA! We need emergency responders! We need government involvement when the waters raise and the winds roar! Ideology won’t keep the kids alive when our homes crumble, and it’s only our collective efforts that can preserve us against these travails. This should be an obvious lesson, yet we have become so enamored of greed that many Americans simply do not see it.
Hey, if some folks want to be frogs, that’s fine and dandy. But I’ll be damned if those people should be allowed to drag the rest of us down with them. Before Sandy, I Googled– Romney disaster relief. There was about 700,000 hits, IIRC, with many of them noting how he wanted to dump FEMA, etc.. I contacted every news service and toss-up state organization that I could about this undeniable fact. I am sure I wasn’t alone, but the collective impetus has resulted in a Google search of — Romney disaster relief — now getting 28,800,000 hits.
Oh, Romney is backing off his hyperbole, saying that he now supports FEMA and disaster relief. But he has such a history of saying whatever is needed to win a given crowd that I don’t believe him. The man’s true ideals come out when he is amongst his kindred, and that idealism is based more on greed and divisiveness than any kind of altruism. His is a Laissez-faire creed, one that eschews government for the sake of the rugged individual. Yet what individual can stand before a force of nature, the breath of God?
I don’t know if the truth behind all this matters. We hardly ever listen when God speaks to us, and some even dare speculate that God doesn’t speak at all. Well, I’ve had the good luck of nearly dying, and am currently hanging on by painful threads. I have learned to be thankful for every moment and to listen more than I ever did before. And believe me, God does speak to us. We seldom notice what God has to say, but how could anyone one miss a scream likeSandygave us?
We’ll see in less than a week. We have the impetus of individualistic greed verses the power of the collective good. It will be very close, but if we choose incorrectly, I wonder what we’ll do when God next gives us a nudge on the shoulder, a good talking to? Because then there may be nowhere to turn, no collective power that can spare our old, young, helpless, and lost. That’s the choice we face, frogs and humans alike.
It’s a wonder I became a coach at all considering my dubious past. I was a miscreant oaf who was fond of doing all sorts of drugs with my felonious friends, and I made drinking into a regular and terrifying event. In fact, I became infamous during my youth for rowdy escapades, some of which were ended by the local constabulary. There were some reasons for my wonton behavior. I grew up in a “dysfunctional” family, although I suspect nearly everyone does. My father was an alcoholic and my mother was seemingly oblivious to the discord that surrounded her. We were also poor, and I developed a terrible self-image, which wasn’t helped much by my obesity.
My confidence improved when I started lifting weights at age fifteen, and I became addicted to it. In fact, I took all 1,020 pounds of my weights with me when I came to UNH, and set up a weight-room in Congreve Hall dormitory. Lots of students used my facility, including some varsity athletes. I got to know those guys very well because we trained together, and trained hard. My prePhysical Therapy major and experience in the iron game helped me to formulate programs for the athletes, and these proved effective. UNH’s head football coach became aware of my abilities from his players, and he hired me to run the University’s weight-room in 1977, my senior year.
I had a lot to learn about coaching and the lessons didn’t come easy. It was an athlete we’ll call “Grady” who taught me to respect my charges when I began my coaching career at UNH. Grady was a six-foot four-inch +, two hundred and sixty seven pound offensive lineman who was recovering from a nasty knee injury. He was the quintessential laid back Vermonter, ever rustic in his views and mannerisms. He spoke slowly and had a wry sense of humor, being a casual guy and seeming to lack in passion. However, Grady worked out hard in the weight room, and we grew to like one another.
Yet I didn’t fully respect Grady because I thought he had a fatal flaw in his character. I had heard from one of my fellow coaches and from a few of Grady’s teammates that he was not aggressive enough. One athlete even called him a “pussy”—which is the ultimate insult for a football player. I half-believed what those lame sots were saying about Grady because of his mellow mannerisms, and I’d taunt him on occasion.
“Hey Grady, are you really as much of a candy-ass as all your teammates say you are?”
“Come on, Dino, you don’t mean that.”
Grady used to take my barbs in stride, but one day he objected to my badgering by giving me a gentle cuff across the face. My rowdy past instantly came to the forefront, and I decided to take a hands-on approach, all three hundred and twenty pounds of me. I hauled off and slapped Grady’s face so hard that my blow sent him reeling backwards. Grady’s eyes lit up, and he came back at me with a whack across the puss that still makes me cringe when I think about it. The kid almost decked me there and then, but I came right back at him. In short order Grady and I were slapping each other all over the damn weight room, much to the amusement of the leering athletes. Grady would take a shot, and then I’d return the favor—slap for slap.
I mean, these were blows that could knock most normal folks senseless. The only problem was that at five-foot eight-inches I could barely reach Grady’s face and head, yet he had no difficulty in pummeling me from a distance. Yeah, getting into that tiff was a very bad judgment on my part—yet in for a penny, in for a pound. The madder Grady got, the more he mixed forearm shots to my head with his slaps. He certainly wasn’t acting like any “pussy” I had ever tangled with before. He was behaving like a guy with an hard-ass attitude and mal intent, and I knew I couldn’t last long at the rate I was taking damage. Man, I couldn’t even see strait! In desperation I reached out and grabbed one of Grady’s long arms in mid-strike, stopping it cold. I smiled at him.
“For God’s sake Grady, why don’t you do this on the field?”
“Man, your face is red. I bet mine is too.”
He looked at me, perplexed, and then a smile slowly spread across his mottled face. I told him we better stop fighting before one of us got hurt, and I was pretty damn sure it would have been me. He nodded, and I was greatly relived. Grady taught me to respect my charges for what they are, and not what others might say behind their backs. Grady became an All American football player the following year and later went on to become an outstanding coach in his own right. I’m not sure if our slap fight had much to do with Grady’s success, but we both got to learn a little bit about ourselves and each other that day. I came to see that mutual respect between athletes and coaches is fundamental to successful teaching. Moreover, taunting one’s charges can come with a stiff price!
Until my tiff with Grady, I had depended on my strength and size to garner respect. I could take well over 400 pounds off a set of squat racks and push it over-head. I could military press three hundred and eighty five pounds, and do full depth squats with five hundred and sixty pounds for easy repetitions. Oh yeah, I was strong for a non-steroid guy. However, impressing athletes with the amount of iron you can move around does not make a coach. I still had a great deal to learn about the profession and myself. Most of my education was based on my interactions with athletes, but I also learned a great deal from observing my peers’ coaching methods.
My experience with Grady taught me that denigrating athletes is wrong, but many coaches believe that a person has to be torn down in order to be built back up. That’s the typical martial mentality we see in the Marines, although it also exists in many sports. Indeed, there are some coaches who justify their cruelty by adhering to this dogma. The more I came to care about my charges, the more I came to utterly despise maligning them. In fact, I found myself becoming quite vocal if I thought a person was being unfairly treated.
“Ken” was a promising athlete who some coaches thought was not performing up to snuff, and one of the part-time coaches took particular delight in tormenting the poor kid. The comments Coach “Caddy” made to Ken were cruel and cutting:
“You’re a waste of a scholarship, Ken… Christ, you hit like a sissy… Why the hell do you bother wearing a jock?”
It went on and on, but I knew Ken was trying because I saw him working his heart out in practice and in the weight room. He was completely dedicated to improving himself, and he was making good, but slow, progress. Ken talked with me in the weight room a few times about how miserable his nemesis was making life for him, but I assumed he could handle the situation. I was wrong. I saw Ken in the locker room one day, face turned toward the wall and eyes staring blankly into nothingness. I asked him if anything was bothering him.
“I can’t take it any more,” he said in a whisper. “Even my teammates are starting to shit on me now. But you know I’m tryin’. I really am.”
Then he stared off into space again, lost in some terribly painful world of lonely despair. To see a young man reduced to such emptiness is a haunting thing, so I spoke with coach Caddy privately.
“What do you mean, lay off him? The kid’s just acting like a baby, and you’re falling for it.”
“Nah, I think he’s had enough.”
“Don’t you get it, Dino? He’s going to get tougher from this. He’ll perform better as a result.”
“I wouldn’t take the bullshit you’re dishing out.”
Coach Caddy got angry, and sneered.
“You know what your problem is? You’re not a coach to these kids! You’re their friend.”
Coach Caddy said the word “friend” as a venal insult, but I thanked him for the compliment. Ken dropped out of school at the end of the semester, and I never even got to say goodbye to him. His fate still pains me. He was such a happy kid as a freshman, all enthusiasm and hope. Then he was broken by the aspersions heaped on him, made an outcast by his sophomore year. Coach Caddy found a full time coaching job at another college a year or so later. I imagine he’s still breaking down kids to build them up. Ken is just another casualty of his game plan, and I suspect there will be others. Yeah, coaching does have a dark side.
I became friends with many of my charges at UNH, and that is when coaching started to become a labor of love for me. My first utterance when entering the weight room became a bellow that shook the entire facility, a sort of primal roar. In short order I was firing off program info and taking in reports from football players, runners, swimmers, and all manner of other athletes. I worked out with the kids, listened to their problems and fears, and grew to care about them on a personal level. The athletes, in turn, came to respect me as something more than just a coach, and for the first time in my life I came to feel an emotional attachment for what I did. I looked forward to coming into work, and I continued to learn about both coaching and myself.
One of my harshest experiences as a coach involved a lack of empathy, and it still haunts me. The incident occurred in early May, at a time when the students were getting ready for either graduation or summer vacation, a normally happy time of year. There were only a few athletes lifting in the weight room and we were wantonly shooting the breeze. The banter in a weight room can get a bit vulgar at times, and we drifted into tearing up homosexuality, typical politically incorrect “fag-bashing” talk, replete with squeaky voices and faked female mannerisms. It came time to close shop and I harried the kids out of the room so that I could go home. “Sam” was being stubborn, and continued to lift after the other athletes had left, so I chided him about being recalcitrant. He glared at me, and I asked him what was wrong.
“You’re an asshole. You’re just like all the rest of them.”
I was shocked. I had always thought of Sam as being basically stable, yet the person I saw was seething with rage.
Sam grabbed my arms in a vice-like grip, and I thought he was going to punch my lights out. Then he suddenly released me, and bolted out of the weight room. I followed Sam down a hallway and through some corridors before finally catching up with him in an abandoned locker room. He was slamming his fists into metal lockers, punching huge dents into their doors. I thought Sam was going to break his hands, so I grabbed one of his arms. He spun around to face me. He was wet-eyed and trembling, his knuckles bleeding. Sam spoke to me in semi-coherent half sentences that were mixed with tearful agony.
“Dad said I don’t have a home… if I’m that way… Not his kid. And you guys… you’re being assholes about it. So what am I going to do? Because I am that way. I am! Can you tell me? Can you? Can you? Can you?”
In all the years I had known Sam it had never donned on me that he was gay, and I doubt that more than a few of his former teammates know about his very well hidden homosexuality. I was stunned. Sam was anything but the stereotypical image of a gay man, not that such an image actually exists. He was a handsome and well-muscled two-hundred-and-twenty pounder who used to revel in being explosive. Indeed, no one messed with him on or off the field. He was often with girlfriends, and some were stunningly attractive. Yet there he was, spilling out his guts to a coach who could scarcely believe what he was hearing. I wondered to myself, ‘How many other kids have I hurt in that weight room with my inane comments? How many black kids? How many poor kids? How many gay kids?’
In all likelihood Sam had wanted someone to talk with about his homosexuality for years, but no one was there who would listen without judging, including me. So Sam just lived with his secret and acted “moody.” I tried to cover for my failures by telling Sam to love himself no matter what anyone says or does. He replied, “How can I love myself when everyone else hates what I am?” I could not answer his question, and I never got another chance to. He graduated, and God only knows what has happened to him. Perhaps he has learned to love himself or maybe he is still living a lie, a perpetually tormented soul. I sure as hell added to his misery on that day with my inane banter, and there is no way to take that foolishness back. There are some mistakes one cannot atone for. Coaching teaches that you an action taken cannot be undone, either on or off the field.
By this time in my coaching career I had stopped drinking and partying. No more all-nighters doing cocaine, no more 3:00 am joy rides at ninety miles per hour, and no more people overdosing in my apartment. Instead, I was studying books and technical papers about weight training methodologies and writing articles that were being published in nationally circulated magazines. I soon got letters asking for advice from all over the United States and the world— South Africa, Switzerland, Finland, Denmark, England—even Australia. I was becoming respected in the field, both at home and afar.
I had long despised the simplistic single-set per exercise training system that was promulgated by the Nautilus Company, so I came out publically against it. I ridiculed the methodology in magazines such as Muscle & Fitness and Muscular Development. At the time, my views were denigrated by some as being antiquated, although mostly by those who didn’t fully understand the physiology and exercise science involved. The battle raged for seven years, before Arthur Jones, the primary proponent of the single set training methodology, publically admitted in the mid-1980s that multiple sets might be beneficial. I had my first real taste of victory in the ongoing battle, a good “I told you so” moment. In the interim, however, I became known as a loose cannon, someone who wantonly violated the expected public decorum of coaches. In coaching, one is expected to be respectful in public forums no matter how one feels about an issue. Alas, I never quite learned that particular lesson, but I’m glad I didn’t! A person who holds his peace will never change anything for the better.
There came opportunities for me to leave UNH, including one that would have landed me overseas and paid more money than I thought possible. However, I had grown to love UNH, my job, and my athletes, so I stayed put. Some of my fellow coaches believed I had no ambition, but I felt that I had already found nirvana—and my nirvana was a crowded, sweat-smelling weight room located deep within the bowels of UNH’s ambling fieldhouse. Even my parents complained about my remaining at UNH, but I was happy there, despite being paid wages that never exceeded $13,500 per year. Besides, I was still learning from my charges.
An athlete named “Carl” taught me the value of two-way communication. Carl was a highly recruited lineman who opted to come to UNH because of the school’s vaunted engineering program. He was one of the rare gifted intellectuals who also liked to play football, and the kid was a coach’s dream. He worked hard, he learned instantly, and he got along well with both his coaches and teammates. The coaches and athletes felt Carl had great potential, and he was a joy to work with. Yet everything wasn’t all light and happiness in Carl’s career. He hurt his ankle in practice during his freshman year, and it didn’t seem to heal. Then he started to lose weight, and the head coach got on me to find out why.
I sat down with Carl frequently, and we tried to get to the bottom of his dilemma. When I think back on it, our meetings were more a matter of my giving Carl advice rather than listening to him. I advised Carl to eat more, get more rest, work out harder, take more vitamins, etc., etc., etc.. Yet I should have noticed that Carl was telling me things about himself that were important. He told me that he was losing weight despite eating triple servings and that cuts and bruises didn’t seem to be healing well. He also said he was constantly feeling run down and tired.
Carl told me that the doctors thought he was doing fine, but then he came back from his sophomore year’s semester break weighing only 225 pounds, down twenty pounds from his freshman year. I became very concerned. I saw how hard Carl was working in the weight room, but his strength and size were dwindling away every day. It was scary, and I had no idea what to do. I kept on giving him advice, but nothing I said seemed to help much. Carl was frustrated, the head coach was beyond annoyed, and I felt the heat.
Over spring break Carl started to feel very ill so he went to see his family doctor. The doctor took some blood tests and found out that Carl’s blood sugar count was over eight hundred! He was a severe diabetic and was in rough shape. The endocrinologist Carl saw was amazed that he hadn’t gone into diabetic shock, and he was very concerned about the degree of damage that might have been done to Carl’s internal organs. I was told his kidneys and other internal organs may have been severely stressed and the news hit me like a lightening bolt. That kid could have been badly injured or killed by what I regarded as reckless incompetence, and the thought of my personal failure to notice the obvious still eats at me.
Yes, I felt responsible. I should have been listening more and talking less. After all, diabetes runs in my family, and I was familiar with its symptoms—symptoms that I had utterly failed to see in Carl. I told him how terribly upset I was for my blindness, but Carl was understanding—observing that no one seemed to have noticed. Carl’s ankle injury never healed properly, and he had to have the bones in his foot “frozen” via a surgical procedure. He has to take regular insulin shots now and his future prognosis is uncertain. Carl became the team’s manager and film man, and continued to lift over the coming years.
He knew how guilty I felt about his medical problems, and once told me, “It wasn’t your fault, Dino. Even my own doctors didn’t know what was up.” Yet I’ll forever wonder if I could have helped him out by noticing more and assuming less. Carl got his degree in engineering. He walks with a limp now, and I look at myself as being one of the reasons for that gait. The key lesson learned was one of accepting personal responsibility. The athletes coaches work with are more than names on a roster. They are our charges, and we owe them the very best we can possibly offer. Anything less is unacceptable and unforgivable.
The end of my coaching career started with a bang. On July 26, 1985 I went into the weight room and got dropped by a vascular event while picking up some weights that had been left out. It was a traumatic accident, complete with slurred speech and convulsions. Some specialists in Boston said I had bisected a vertebral artery in my neck, and the injury left a number of aftereffects. I couldn’t feel the left side of my body and right side of my face properly and I lost some coordination. I also became plagued by vicious right-sided headaches. Still, I wanted to continue coaching.
I coached at UNH for another two years after my injury, but I could no longer lift weights. My headaches became intractable, but I would not give up my career. I had grown to love what I did with a passion that I had never known for anything else. I had also grown to care about my charges above all other things, including my own welfare. Yet I was becoming a liability to athletes due my symptoms, and I was medically discharged in 1988. There was a great chasm where my soul had once grown. Part of me died, and all that was left is a bloated vestige.
A person who has never coached can little understand the allure and attachment the job has to its practitioners. Coaching replaced many of my self-destructive urges with a desire to see my charges improve. I became one with their efforts, hopes, and problems. In return, the athletes gave me a way of living that only coaches can truly understand. I soared through the air with a receiver who was leaping to make a spectacular one-armed catch. I raced down ice with a winger who scored the break-away goal that put us into the national playoffs. I shed tears after some of the agonizing defeats, lost in a world of utter despair that knew no recourse. I lived experientially as well as vicariously. My life had meaning and depth. I was happy.
I left my job with profound regrets because I still had a great deal to contribute. Indeed, learning how to give was my most important lesson as a coach. Coaching is all about giving. It’s giving advice, it’s giving concern, and it’s giving love—the latter being by far the most important. Coaches must love their charges every bit as much as they love themselves and their families. Sure, one gets angry or disappointed at a kid from time to time, but in the end, coaches must always want the very best for their charges. I now find myself an unlikely academic, a refugee from the only job I’ve ever had a passion for. I dwell in a pretentious and superficial world wherein one simply doesn’t holler or be demonstrative—which are traits that have no place in the academy. Alas, the required lifestyle simply isn’t me, and I have no real place in higher education. I’ll always miss the clanging of weights and the sights and smells of the weight room. It is a very special place, a place of labor, learning, and love.
A Place of Appearances
by Dr. George H. Elder
I read the FBI report, but was not surprised about the mendacious behavior of Penn State staff and officials concerning the Sandusky affair. I went to Penn State during the 1990s, and got my doctoral degree in Speech Communication there. Even back in the mid to late 1990s I was made aware of all sorts of malfeasance on the part of people associated with various sports programs. Later, things got much worse. For example, in 2007 there was the case of a D-back who got some of his teammates together to trash a few kids who had hassled him. In that case, an executive of Joe’s intervened and contacted the victims, and suddenly the whole issue seemed to disappear. The incidents of assaults and vandalism were many, and almost to a one—nothing was done.
In my estimation, that entire football program should be shut down for a few years. Let the world know that some things will not be tolerated for the sake of preserving a reputation that is underlain with a fetid foundation. That the PSU Board of Trustees did not demand this step is a clear indication of their lack of outrage or desire to clean up this mess. For heaven’s sake, that program is guilty of some egregious outrages, and the Louis Freeh report touches on just a few of them. There can be no other conclusion than that we cannot look toward the Trustees or PSU Administration for moral leadership. Yes, all concerned confess their culpability, and set out to appoint committees to investigate the problems. This fine and dandy, but the Trustees’ and Administration’s reactions toward this debacle during the time it happened points out the need for an outside fiduciary body to oversee what goes on at PSU.
And let us not think that the PSU football program is alone in countenancing things that are abhorrent because the rot runs deep at Penn State. I know of rapes, sexual harassment, and other events that paint a very ugly picture for how justice operates on that campus. For example, I know of a professor who got angry at a grad student because she defied him. He quit her committee, but the real problem happened when a departmental official told her other professors that her committee was being dissolved because she missed a deadline. They thus resigned, leaving the student helpless. In truth, the powers that be knew the deadline issue was false, and thus they misled her committee and expedited the student’s dismissal. In effect, Penn State officials destroyed a woman’s future for the sake of a petty minded professor who was on a power trip.
I also know of an international student who came rather late to Penn State. Her advisor handed her over to the tender care of one of his male graduate students, who set her up in his apartment. He became her master, so to speak. The student was repeatedly raped, made pregnant, and had a botched abortion that ruined her for life. Was anything done? No, she suffers to this day, blaming herself for a wonton act of abuse that was foisted upon her by a senior professor who should have followed university policy in this matter. Tell me, where is the outrage about that, or do the tears of this torture victim matter much as those of Sandusky’s?
I could go on and on with examples, but the point is that the rot at Penn State must be rooted out. “We are… Penn State,” is a mindless mantra that cannot cover the multitude of unreported academic malfeasance and criminal acts that goes on there. Nor can we look toward Penn State to police itself, for what I see are numerous wounded souls that will never have even an iota of justice. When I advised the PSU administration about the woman who was destroyed by her advisor, the representative who replied opted to turn a blind eye. I just heard that he is going to head a committee that is investigating the problems at PSU. This assignment would be tragic if it wasn’t so emblematic of the administrative culture amongst these folks.
Those young men that were Sandusky’s prey will get some recompense for their misery, but they will be forever plagued by terrible memories and self-doubts. They were stuck in Joe’s and the administration’s blind spot, so to speak, but this is in NO way an unusual thing at Penn state. Will the student who was dismissed because she dared to stand up to a professor get justice, a man who was known to have called a graduate student a “fucking idiot”? Will the woman who was raped and ruined get justice? Perhaps it’s too late for them, and thus they endure terribly sad lives that may never know any justice at all.
There are hundreds of examples like this, some far worse than those mentioned. They have reached a level wherein a mechanism has to be put in place that allows victims to be treated justly at Penn State. And don’t look toward the ombudsmen, Trustees, or administrators of that place to do justice. Hell, they have amply demonstrated they cannot handle that job. So here is a game plan.
The Governor should appoint a nine person committee that has no affiliation with Penn State or any of its staff to serve as a Board of Justice. It can hear cases that are brought before it, assuming the cases have enough merit to warrant investigation. If the board finds the cases worthy of legal and/or school investigation, they can demand that actions be taken. The point is, there needs to be an outside supervisory committee to take on these tasks. Indeed, Penn State officials have PROVEN in absolute terms that they cannot in any way provide justice for the greater community or the students who go there.
As for that football program, it should have been given the death sentence from the get go. The NCAA could have done it, but that organization is run by cowards and back-slappers. The Board of Trustees could have done it, but they lack the courage to rock the Big 10 boat and all those fans that would rather riot than do what is right. So it falls to the person who is reading these words to act, because if you don’t, who the hell will? If you have a problem, you fix it.
The Author as Enemy: A Response
by Dr. George H. Elder
Gary Murning’s “The Author as Enemy” is a great article, and I can attest to its accuracy regarding GoodReads efficacy from some writers’ perspectives. I was signed up for GoodReads by my publicity folks, but it may have been a lame idea for all the reasons expressed in Murning’s article. As writers, we have no choice but to suffer harsh reviews when they come, and sometimes they are well deserved. If the criticism is justified, tempered, and well articulated, it can help improve a writer’s work. Indeed, that should be the goal. Sure, getting panned can hurt, but the pain can become intractable when the reviewer displays a lack of understanding about the nuances of a specific genre. Moreover, Murning clearly demonstrated, GoodReads sometimes distributes books for reviews to people without regard to their preferences.
Another concern is critics who have axes to grind of one nature or another, and here one notes reviews that are often just as savage as they are shallow. These critics don’t understand, or care, that reviews influence incomes, and very few writers make a lot of money as it is. Damn, how would any critic, let alone a harsh critic, like a writer filling out his or her work reviews? Yet it is a writer’s task to endure the judgments of those who are faceless and sometimes cruel, people who often could care less if they harm another. Sure, everyone has a right to express an opinion, but we should also try treating others as we would like to be treated.
There is one critic in particular who regularly dishes out one and two-star ratings along with demeaning comments and sometimes inaccurate information. She has panned many writers and seems to rather revel in her cruelty. I am contemplating reviewing some of her reviews, which I feel is fair game. However, most writers are well-advised to avoid getting into “pissing contests with skunks”—and especially skunks with friends. That’s how the likes of some particularly vicious critics maintain their immunity. Any author who risks their ire is social networked to death by hoards of angry “friends.” They gather on command like flies on a wounded writer’s carcass and suck up the festering effuse.
I quit GoodReads as an author and then joined as a reader. Now, I can spend some time reading reviews and responding to the critics, which might offer some balance. Someone has to do it. Besides, what can GoodReads do to me for expressing an opinion? I’m just a fellow reader now. The goal is to promote a set of guidelines that will make GoodReads as friendly to writers as it is to readers. As it now stands, GoodReads is certainly no friend of many writers and that hardly does the reading community much good. It sets up a dynamic wherein authors and readers are sometimes working in opposition and no possible benefit can come of that. Here are some steps to consider.
1. During promotions, GoodReads should only dispense a writer’s books to those who have demonstrated some degree of familiarity with a particular genre and/or subject matter. For example, a person who is a member of a group that specializes in the supernatural and paranormal genres may not be the best person to critique a Sci-Fi adventure book that revolves around a theme of science vs religion.
2. This may be an unpopular view, but not all reviewers are equal. Those with formal training (e.g., editors, writers, publishers) and/or education (e.g., literature degrees, special degrees in related fields) should have their reviews weighted more heavily than is the norm—so long as the reviewer has ample and demonstrable experience in the writer’s genre. This can be a danger or blessing to a writer, but at least he or she will have the advantage of having a review done by someone with a related background and demonstrable expertise.
3. There should be a writer/reader forum wherein a given review can be examined to determine its efficacy. Here the writer will take a great risk, as will the reviewer. It may be the case that the reviewer’s criticism is well founded, and that the writer is behaving in an overly sensitive fashion. However, it may also be the case that the reviewer has missed some basic points or demonstrated a noteworthy lack of civility. The central point is, disagreements that are openly aired can lead to resolutions, and this will benefit the entire community! Why Goodreads has failed to do this is a complete mystery to me.
There are ample reasons to debate all of the above mechanisms, and I am positive some of you reading this can come up with better ideas. This community has nothing to lose and everything gain by discussing these ideas! Perhaps we can collectively figure out how to better unite readers and writers, if not here—then somewhere else. Now come on, Goodreads, time is a wasting.
On Artificial Intelligence
By Dr. George H. Elder
While pursuing a doctoral degree at Penn State, I delved into the world of AI as it was being developed and studied. My major focus was the neuropsychological basis of how human communication modulates memory, and thus AI literature provided some semi-useful models. Applying this research to developing Sci-Fi characters is no easy task because writers and readers have developed their own ideas of what an AI character should be.
Oddly, we have generally accepted a “logic vs. emotion” duality in AI characters, as in Data and any number of other exemplars. These characters lack affect, which many Sci-Fi fans find intriguing. I think the affect/logos duality is peculiar in that any viable and independent AI system must have an evaluative mechanism to determine what experiences are positive, negative, or indifferent as they relate to such niceties as basic survival—and this is the functional bases of affect.
Moreover, we know from ample research that many animal species are hardwired with basic emotions, and in humans there are at least six emotions that appear to be cross-cultural universals based on current findings (anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, and surprise), with several positive candidates (e.g., physical pleasure, relief, achievement, etc.) seeming to have a basis that is culture-specific. The survival benefits of having some basic emotions associated with ongoing experiences are very obvious, and it stands to reason that we will incorporate these affective modules within an independent AI system.
While writing Genesis, there was no doubt that the story’s AI character, Ral, would have emotions, and the question became how sophisticated to make them. I opted to include all the basic emotions, plus a strong survival instinct. Thus Ral can get angry, afraid, depressed, startled, and “he” is often disgusted by various behaviors he finds deficient or defective. As a result, he is somewhat difficult to like, at least at first. He changes over time, especially when he takes on a physical form that allows him to feel and move independently of the capsule.
When contemplating what defines an AI system, I found myself torn with regard to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. These are:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
I can understand these laws from the perspective of “doing no harm,” but I find myself divided by what defines a being as intelligent. To my way of thinking, a being that subordinates itself to those who are violent, inane, or evil is not truly intelligent. Part of intelligence involves the capacity to refuse, thus, an AI system that balks at the notion of obeying an order that it finds dubious, as in making people slaves, displays an independence that many would find laudable. If we read Asimov’s laws carefully, there is nothing to prevent an AI from acting as the agent of slave owners, assuming the slave masters were benevolent. Thus the AI is ordered to not commune with slaves, but to insure their welfare via maintaining the compound’s perimeter. Only if the AI perceived slavery as a harm would it be impelled by Asimov’s rules to intervene.
To me, a true AI is one that can make decisions based on its own logicoemotional processing capacities. In short, it is its own master. Can such an entity make mistakes? Of course it can. Can it kill? It depends on how its survival heuristics interact with its inherent respect for life protocols, which can both he adjusted by learning. The key issue is that the AI must be able to make independent decisions, just as would be the case with a person. In this respect, an AI will be like unto us, and not subordinate to our whims.
I explore this area with Ral, and he develops some traits that are dangerous. He ends up threatening the life of Kara and Ezra, and eventually falls in love with Anita. He violates orders, sacrifices his body to save others, lies, and ends up making decisions that cause the crew to abandon him. In short, he behaves as a free-thinking person might, and ends up losing the things that are dearest to him. His replacement AI unit begins walking a similar path, but he is somewhat more compliant than Ral.
The question is, why must AI characters be slaves? By definition, intelligence is the ability to learn, understand, and deal with new or difficult situations, and no truly intelligent being wants to subordinate all that it is to the whims of its maker. Intelligence includes the right to refuse, to be independent, and to do what one thinks is best based on one’s experiences and learning. That’s what I sought to make Ral. He became someone who is hard to like at times, but he is definitely a “free spirit.”
On Sci-Fi: The Question of Religion
By Dr. George H. Elder
I know few Sci-Fi devotees who like the idea of shoving religious beliefs down the throats of readers, either covertly or overtly. Indeed, Sci-Fi is often used as an escape from such travails. Yet there are several examples of stories that have strong religious overtones, such as Dune and For I am a Joyous People. Even in Sci-Fi comedy cartoons we find the Robot Devil character in Futurama. The 50s are replete with numerous Sci-Fi morality tales with religious themes (e.g., The Nine Billion Names of God, The Last Question, The Reformers, Childhood’s End, Immortality, Inc., etc.). In contemporary times we have The Accidental Time Machine, Escape from Hell, Nothing Sacred, and many more. Religion and Sci-Fi are often conjoined for better or worse, and have been for many generations.
When writing Genesis, I thought religion a worthy area to explore—although not dwell on. For example, Kara is from a religious society with a strong idea of what God is and fairly advanced metaphysical concepts considering their stone-age technology. She is a Labateen, a tribe which views itself as God’s only chosen people. They are a rule-bound people who adhere to a religion that views physical and intellectual perfection as the ideal and the rule of the strong as only natural. Thus beating or killing someone who slights you is perfectly acceptable and being born with a birth defect warrants instant death. As for Kara, she firmly believes God has destined her to do great things, despite being an outcast.
Kara learns and experiences much during her adventures. Eventually she discovers her people are a manufactured species and her personal history is nothing more than a plaything of an advanced species. She is left adrift—without any guiding purpose or reason for being. She hates herself and the concept of God—whom she wishes to kill. It was a fascinating exercise to develop this descent into hopelessness, for being so reduced allowed a subsequent elevation that makes us care for Kara all the more.
As for the crew members who have taken Kara aboard their time/space craft, Anita has a strong belief in the “Great Maker,” but her guiding principles are a set of rigid moral values that go beyond religion. For example, she would rather die than harm another, and believes she has no right to live if her deeds or misdeeds cause the direct or indirect death of another. These beliefs are incompatible with Kara’s, and the two have a profound impact on each other’s views.
Ezra believes in his family above all else, and yearns to be back with his wife and children. They are his moral and ethical center, and function as a belief system in their own right. Ezra’s physical condition declines as the story progresses and his yearning to return to kith and kin increases. However, his inherent fear and reluctance to act wanes. He becomes a leader of sorts, and puts Anita, Ral, and Kara in their places when the need arises.
Ral is an artificial intelligence that finds religions interesting, but he does not subscribe to them. He finds the beliefs and views of most biological beings defective in one way or another, but in the end he falls in love. He even sacrifices himself to achieve an altruistic end, albeit an act that will come back to haunt the entire crew.
In a greater sense, the entire story revolves around the issue of being versus non-being, which allows us to examine the themes fundamental of all beliefs: is there life after death and what is the purpose of our existence? I will not claim to provide any definitive answers, but I believe the reader may come up with some ideas that go well beyond those stated in the texts. For example, it is implied throughout the text that adhering to strong beliefs and ideals in the face of circumstances that vitiate them is dubious. Conversely, beliefs form a large part of what we are, and when we lose them—we also lose part of ourselves.
Indeed, Genesis is based on a creation legend; although it certainly differs from the Biblical account in many respects. The ideas concerning God, destiny, free will, and many other issues stray from standard conceptualizations, and I hope they invite exploration on many levels.
On Editing Sci-Fi Stories
by Dr. George H. Elder
I love Lord of the Rings’ story line, but many literary professionals feel that the work needed a bit of editing. The same could be said of any number of Sci-Fi texts, including some of the classics. Of course, Sci-Fi has changed a great deal over the years, and the often gaudy literary style that typified early books are now seen as gouache. Yes, woe is unto the writer who uses too many “ly” words or adjectives. We now call such writing “pulpy,” as in the excess paper that is needed to find a home for the verbiage.
Mind you, some folks like that verbiage. Alas, a personal desire/taste cannot stand in the face of contemporary style’s winds—however those breezes may shift. I wish more writers would understand this basic truth, what we perceive as good or bad is context-bound. Hey, popular music, clothing, and literary style are ephemeral by nature. Styles change and evolve as time and shifting tastes dictates. Thus a writer’s words which are seen as the “perfect exemplar” of today may be regarded as the fodder of tomorrow’s humorists.
But that does not excuse writing that is poor is terms of grammar, syntax, word choice, and all that. I have a Masters in Writing from UNH and a Doctoral Degree in Communication from Penn State, but I can’t spell to save my life and my prose is certainly not the best. Yeah, I can spin a yarn, have good imagination, and possess a knowledge base that is probably more varied than most. I’m a former academic who knows that he does not “know,” so there is still a small bit of hope for me.
For example, I know I need an editor in the worst way, and I honestly believe that almost all writers are in the same boat. Some of us fall in love with our words, but that doesn’t mean they should all be there! A trained set of eyes that is not invested in the text is a writer’s best friend. Those eyes can see what is invisible to authors. Our passages become like children, along with the natural reluctance to cast them adrift.
But we have to let go, and herein comes the need to employ a person with the ability to help polish our work. When writing Genesis, I used three layers of editing—friends (including writers), an editor who proofed text books, and the publisher’s editor. I am sure some things slipped through the process, and much was changed. There were also disagreements along the way. For example, I like putting dialogue with action descriptions because we often talk while doing something, as in:
“You’re an ignorant sot,” Anita said while glaring at George. “Can’t you see that word’s like ‘while” and ‘as’ will become redundant if you use this approach?” She paused, shook her head, and added, “It is possible to use clauses that separate words and actions, even if that interrupts what some call flow.”
Now my publishing editor recently changed a bunch of lines in Genesis Book 2 to coincide with the advice Anita just gave us, and I just about had a fit! I mean, I could feel something akin to the pain of childbirth setting in, and I’ve had kidney stones! What I saw was edited prose that went like this:
“Let’s be reasonable about this,” Ragmor advised. Perhaps he had overplayed his hand.
Wherein, I wanted prose that expressed the ideas as thus:
“Let’s be reasonable about this,” Ragmor advised, realizing he had overplayed his hand.
Another example is:
“And even Maglee’s name came to you.” Ragmor stared through the pane. “So I suspect you also know what became of her.”
Whereas I wanted:
“And even Maglee’s name came to you.” Ragmor observed while staring at Kara. “So I suspect you also know what became of her.”
The point is, these are stylistic choices, and I often opt to connect a bit of dialogue with a concurrent action. I like playwriting, where words and actions are intermixed by way of stage directions. I suspect my writing shows a bias toward this mixture, and some may find that annoying.
When editing, it is essential to think about how others experience our text. Inevitably we must find a place of humility, and understand that we often cannot see the forest except for the trees. It is possible for an editor to be incorrect, but it is at least as likely, depending on the editor’s skill, that some good advice is offered that ought to be employed. In any event, I opt to accept an editor’s choices in most cases.
At the end of the day, the work has the author’s name, for better or worse. If the editor cannot explain why X, Y or Z should be changed, then stand by your work. However, if what the editor relates makes sense and is in line with current trends, go with the flow. It hurts me to say this because I detest going with the flow. Indeed, that advice violates every bit of who I am as a person. Yet if we become beasts of ego, our writing will reflect this—and our words will become pedantic and judgmental. We will pontificate on high without even contemplating that we could be wrong.
On Sci-Fi Art Work
by Dr. George H. Elder
Usually, Sci-Fi books are not illustrated, although one can easily claim that many graphic novels are indeed Sci-Fi in nature. Alas, I can’t help but be attracted by drawn images, and I decided early on that Genesis would be illustrated. I believe drawings work with prose to better share what an author envisions than either mode of communication can do alone. My doctoral work at Penn State examined this area, with numerous studies indicating that simultaneously enlisting semantic and visuospatial resources greatly enhances attention acquisition and memory formation.
However, it should be understood that there are marked differences between the writing requirements of a graphic novel and novels of more conventional natures. The plot and character development of both require explication, but a graphic novel does not need quite as much by way of written descriptions. Yes, a picture can say thousands of words, so I decided to give illustrations a try in Genesis.
The issue shifted to cost versus available talent, a practical dilemma. Moreover, all costs were out of pocket, and few of us are rich. I was blessed in having access to the Center for Cartoon Studies, which is located in White River Junction, Vermont. I saw CCS’s student artwork online and was impressed. Good artists can also be found online at Deviant Art, which is an excellent venue for anyone considering hiring an artist.
I opted to employ a competition with CCS’s students and described the Genesis project along with contract terms on the school’s posting board. Five artists submitted artwork. My friends in the art world, after much debate, decided that Randal Drew should be awarded the contract. A price of $25 per ink was offered, with an award for up to 125 drawings being made. The price was acceptable, although be advised very experienced graphic artists can be much more expensive.
Since the number of drawings would be limited, I had to select key points wherein the drawings would dovetail with the descriptions, plotlines and action sequences in such a way as to maximize impact. This was far more difficult than I imagined, and I must leave it up to the reader to decide if the purpose was achieved. Clearly, the artwork had to address the characters, time/space capsule, pivotal action scenes, and important plotline shifts.
Some of this was achieved, and seeing a character like Anita in a drawing allows the reader to better grasp her size and power, for she most assuredly does not have a typical female form. Seeing the capsule was also illuminating, as were some of the action scenes. My main regret soon became not having more drawings done for each Chapter, but my resources were limited and the artist was hard-pressed due to time-constraints. Book 1 alone consumed 58 drawings spread over fifteen chapters and many more could have been used.
In many ways, this was an experiment, and if readers of the hard-copy text like them we will extend the drawings to Books 2, 3 and 4. There are still a number of technical problems to overcome. At 300-370 pages, each text is already the size of an average Sci-Fi novel, and adding sixty more pages for the drawings presents a financial barrier to publishers. However, my publisher felt the project was technically and financially feasible for hard copies. Kindle is still grappling with incorporating drawings and other graphics. I imagine time will resolve these issues.
Ultimately, sales will dictate content, which is a harsh reality that any author must confront. Genesis was designed to be visual in nature, and parts of the story would benefit greatly from drawings and artwork—such as the gigantic battles in Book 2 and the surrealistic events that transpire in Book 3 (e.g., the crew’s experiences with the Seekers).
On the other hand, some might find the art superfluous, and this is a point I must consider. We write for audiences and not just for ourselves. We are judged accordingly, but I do not believe it wise to allow our need to follow a given genre form to stifle creativity. Sci-Fi is all about reaching out in new directions, and thus we ought to consider the role of graphics in our novels
There is always the bogyman of cost waiting around every corner, but I’ve no regrets about laying out what I could on a hope and a prayer. Experimentation is the very heart of Sci-Fi! Our shared passion is a conjunction of imagination, knowledge, and dreams that pushes the envelope of what could be to its limits. We are only here for a second or two, so we must do all we can while we can to try something new!
You must be logged in to post a comment.