Monday, December 19, 2011

Laughs Abound

New York City — Reindeer Arrests Stir International Butter Crisis

The arrest last week of five reindeer by New York City police horses has brought the support of European dairy farmers and the opposition of Canadian Caribou attorneys.

The reindeer were arrested when they refused to help police horses with crowd control. Busy shoppers were bothering the horses with signs of, "Only the One Percent Can Afford Butter Cookies.”

The reindeer were read their rights and hustled off to Rikers Island stable before being rein arraigned.

A police horse veteran said through an interpreter that reindeer visiting New York should aid the civil control that keeps the city moving, especially for the top one percent of horses who qualify for extra hay and oats.

A spokeself for Thorsnowfall, Santa’s chief of staff, denounced the arrests. He said, “The reindeer were planning the new weight allowance demanded by air carriers for Santa’s sleigh.”

Those weight allowances were changed to dairy farmers. Thor said, “That does not help the 99 percent of people who believe in Santa’s giving.”

New carrier weight regulations were set into effect as a response for the dairy farmers in Europe who wanted to keep more butter in Europe and noticed that most extra weight came from carriera shipping butter to US gourmet stores that helped the one percent.

The news about the butter crisis has been noticed at National Public Radio, which broadcast a recent story about the butter crisis affecting Norwegians. The usual display of butter cookies for the holidays decreased to where butter hungry children sought friendly cows who would let them churn milk drops.

The Norwegian crisis extended to the border where people tried to smuggle Turkish butter through Finland and Russia. However, butter sniffing dogs at checkpoints threatened the smugglers as new teams of the agency Minimizing Emulsifier Liquids Taskforce (MELT) acted to stop the smuggling.

The US is considering forming such a MELT unit and adding it to the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

“Now all we need is another weapon, like the powerful butter knife to be added to the bureau,” said Norman Cloture, the ATF spokesman. “And people forget how hurtful those ice cream scoops can be when you bite on them.”

The European dairy farmers were appalled that reindeer would support the 99 percent because the farmers wanted help from the Santa faction. “When we succeed, everyone is better,” said Chloe Estarole, the butter spokeswoman.

Butter petitions were faxed to New York City in support of the horses’ decision to arrest the reindeer.

However, a Caribou lawyer from Québec, who specializes in reindeer civil rights, has traveled to New York with briefs signed by animal notaries that verify the reindeer right to have international status. “These are not nationals of New York or even the US,” said Ann Tler, the Caribou through an interpreter. When asked what she thought of the horses’ blatant display of force, she said, “Grunnn…blu.”

New worries abound as the smugglers arriving into Norway from Russia seem to be aided by the Russian Mafia who take some butter off the top to supply their illegal quantities of potatoes.

Russian bars are now opening in places as scattered as Oslo and New York where people can pick up butter in ounce bags to sniff at private parties. One Russian bar even specializes in offering butter on top of caviar.

The new income from the Mafia is leading to increased crime where the mob charges increased amounts from buyers. Those buyers then resort to crime by stealing Velveeta from convenience stores in the hope of creating new butter by free-basing at home.

The leading imprisoned reindeer, Vixen, promises to keep up the protest in Rikers until all US animals realize that if any one species can be imprisoned to support human greed, then all animal species are threatened.

Image courtesy

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Words Come Alive

Conflict's Pacing

Your character enters the dark room, hearing the ticking of the bomb, ready to explode. But as we place our characters into the major conflict of the story, how do we blend the mini-conflicts? Who set the bomb could be one question. What prompted the character to a life of danger, or are more than two factions fighting, could be other questions.
These questions go beyond the writer who craves to build a story. These methods of analysis help anyone who views the news, faces daily stress or tries to solve problems.
Pacing the conflicts allows you to blend the mini-conflicts with the major obstacle so you can round out your story.

Three steps can help —
Link the mini-conflicts by thinking about the social, political, ideological, cultural, and economic forces in the major conflict.

Find a way to segment the time when the conflicts strike.

Find a way to segment the way the power is used in the story.

Let’s explore this with a hypothetical example. While the following comes from the world of fantasy, the concepts apply to any conflict — lover’s quarrel, court room drama, or health crisis. In this case, let’s have a protagonist who must prevent the Dark Lord from using some magic within a stone that enslaves people.
Link Major Conflict With Minor Ones Using SPICE.
Notice how SPICE can stand for Social, Political, Ideological, Cultural, and Economic forces. Those are forces that surround the character.
You could design a mini-conflict around the magical stones being held only by nobles or a member of a high caste elite, hence a social issue. However, the leaders of the society are the Quarry Masters who rule over the location of the stones. This could be the political issue. In the mix, you might have a requirement that only Shamans can give blessings for the use of the stones, which produces an ideological and cultural dimension. Then add to the blend the idea that the magic can only be found in rare stones, which supplies an economic factor.
¶ Segmentation Divides the Time.
You can add to the suspense of the conflict by setting a time frame on the protagonist. Break up the activity of the protagonist into solving mini problems on the path to the overall goal. 
Maybe the protagonist needs to prevent the enemy from seizing a key quarry and that means taking the character one week to accomplish. Within that week, other problems confront the protagonist. To start the process, the protagonist could be assisted by a Shaman where the priest’s blessings are necessary. That could take one day. On the way, the character needs to find noble support. That might demand him to side track his goals for two days. But the protagonist needs to warn some key quarry leaders and that obstacle could lead the person on a three day trip. All of this happens within that week where the character has to seize that one vital stone quarry.  
¶ Segmentation of Power in Magic
Divide the power in the magic so several factions have some control.
By segmenting the power, you can design twists in the overall conflict. Think about the possibility that the stones only work when held by nobles. But even those nobles need the Shaman’s blessing to work the magic. Maybe the stones fail when the necklace is chipped. Chip fixers become important even though they are low on the social hierarchy. Stone power could change to the opposite energy when the bearer is ill from herbs. Herb masters could be used by nobles to protect the power. Then necklace makers might harness a separate power that controls part of the magic.
In the combination of these steps, think about how the blending helps you create twists and suspense. One description or way is to think about a disaster-hope connection. Solve each mini obstacle by giving the character some answer to the overall goal. You can then take that answer and use it to create larger obstacles or new conflicts in upcoming scenes.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Spiritual Help for the IndieGoGo Campaign

We would like to thank the Spiritual Aide Jay Weinstein for his support, helping the Daring to Ask Campaign on

Jay’s favorite quote from a character comes from musician Bob Dylan, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

Monday, November 14, 2011

Author Interview — Nonviolence Stops Oppression

Barry Clemson takes us for a ride though the imagination of how nonviolent resistance can change events. His alternative history novel, Denmark Rising, shows how the Danish population forestall and confuse Nazi occupiers during World War II.

In reality, the Danish resistance did decide that nonviolent resistance worked better than a violent struggle. Yet that occurred midway through the occupation. Clemson’s work shows how planning could have developed from the outset of the invasion.

Clemson shows through the characters of the Danish teen Arne, the major organizer professor Hal Koch, Prime Minister Thorvald and several German officers, the ways nonviolence stymied and frustrated the Nazis.

The Nazi Army wanted key resources from Denmark, and in the beginning of the war, craved world wide acceptance that its invasion was desired by the Danish people.

Yet nonviolent tactics are powerful weapons. Massive crowds kept Nazi actions in the light. Links to major news networks with camera shots exposed torture. Work slowdowns, deliberate mistakes and general strikes…these and other tactics slowed train deliveries and weapon buildups. And the refusal to do violence so divided the enemy that some officers and entire units refused to move against the Danes.

The following is an interview with Barry Clemson on his thoughts about the novel and the concepts of nonviolence.

Daring to ask: Your novel, Denmark Rising, speculates on how nonviolent passive resistance could have countered the Nazi occupational threat during World War II.

A few questions on writing prior to asking about the concept of nonviolence. You setup some key characters that represented various factions in the story. Did you consciously use those characters to describe those factions?

Barry: Yes, the story is fairly big and complex. In order to keep the book to a manageable size, I spent some time thinking about what sort of characters could show which parts of the story.

Daring to ask: Why did you decide to focus the protagonist as the teen Arne rather than the professor Hal Koch, the team organizer?

Barry: I don't know, it just worked out that way.

Daring to ask: Is Arne symbolic of the student dissident?

Barry: Yes, I guess so … although I didn't really think of him that way.

Daring to ask: Arne seems to flow easily into the spirit of nonviolent resistance, yet that comes right after he appeared confused by the entire process at the beginning of the story. He wanted to fight in the traditional way and he only witnessed the massive appearance of the crowd before he became a nonviolent advocate. How did he understand the importance of the technique so quickly?

Barry: Arne is a fast learner? Seriously, the way I thought about Arne is that he wanted to do something that would make a difference. Because he was so young, he had not been through the training on strategic nonviolence so the only thing he knew at the beginning was the traditional way to fight. Given that the entire nation was prepared to fight nonviolently, Arne understood that violence would undermine the cause and he was then able to fall in line with the strategic nonviolence.

Daring to ask: How did you plan on the pace you used for the plot?

Barry: I don't know. This was my first novel and there was a lot of trying things and then revising them. In general, I wanted the story to move along as fast as possible while still showing what I thought were the key points in the overall conflict.

Daring to ask: You showed the confrontation between the Nazis and the resistance by examining the way the occupiers wanted food and war material to be sent to Germany. What type of research did you have to locate to describe the food distribution or train transport systems?

Barry: I bought good maps of Copenhagen and Denmark and studied them a lot.

Daring to ask: Since the concept of nonviolence is so crucial, please sum up in a couple of sentences the major ideas of using nonviolent resistance.

Barry: Ouch! 1. Historically, nonviolent movement are about twice as likely to succeed against dictators as are violent revolts. 2. Nonviolent movements often win over the armies and police to their side but violent revolts do not. 3. Nonviolent movements are vastly cheaper (in lives and property) than are violent campaigns. 4. Violent campaigns that “succeed” usually replace one tyrant with another but nonviolent movements generally move a society toward greater democracy, fairness, etc. To sum up, nonviolence is both cheaper and more likely to succeed than is violence and is morally superior.

Daring to ask: In showing the effectiveness of the nonviolent strategies, you describe how political leaders, middle management, and the average citizen planned in advance to withhold cooperation from the oppressor. However, one question could be posed that this type of unified reaction would require much training and internal cooperation. How would a society develop such a unified agreement on how to proceed?

Barry: You already said it … much training, lots of training. I pretended Denmark had seriously prepared for strategic nonviolence, i.e., every person over 18 had at least some training and managers, government officials, etc. had quite a bit of training. The military does massive amounts of training, including war games. There is no reason to think that a nation could pull off strategic nonviolence for national defense without extensive training.

Daring to ask: While each case of nonviolent resistance is different, your scenario differs from the cases of the Civil Rights Movement and the Gay Community with Harvey Milk in San Francisco. Your character of Arne divides the German SS from the average German soldier by showing a cultural link between the Danes and the Germans. That link was not available in the South with Civil Rights or the general public in San Francisco with Gay Rights. In the South, the average person did not feel a shared link with the African American and the average San Franciscan did not feel a connection with the Gay person. How does the protester educate the public to move to the stage where he can operate like Arne?

Barry: I can't really speak to the San Francisco situation, but I was part of the voter registration effort in Mississippi 1964-65. Almost all of our effort took part in the black community. We had a small handful of Southern whites who were attempting to work within the Mississippi white community but I don't think they ever made any headway. So, basically we were ignoring the white community in Mississippi and the rest of the South. We were paying close attention to the rest of the world and were constantly working with the media from around the world to portray what was going on in Mississippi and places like Birmingham. The Klansmen who murdered Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman at the beginning of the summer ensured that the entire world would be closely watching and in that sense did our work for us. Similarly, the bombings and the brutality of Bull Connor in Birmingham convinced the world that the racists had to be stopped. So we ignored the white community except in terms of what the world's press was telling them. And one of the things that happened is that the decent people of the South could no long pretend that “our nigras” were happy and that everything was OK except for the work of a few “outside agitators”. The businessmen and the decent people of the South were pretty much forced into opposing the extremists by the reaction of the rest of the world.

Daring to ask: Nonviolent strategies depend on media presentations to reveal the false claims of propaganda. Were the Nazis in Denmark less effective in media control than the state in North Korea? The North Korean machine has almost placed the entire population under a rock. How does the present state of technology fit into the ways media is needed to aid the cause of a nonviolent resistance?

Barry: Both in my novel and in real life, the Nazis were pretty unsuccessful in managing the news in Denmark. Numerous underground newspapers sprang up all over the country almost immediately and the authorities were very inept in shutting them down. I suspect this was another case where the Werhmacht didn't really try very hard or they would have been more successful. The question of modern technology is a critical one and one that I wish I was clearer on. The research so far on this question is sort of mixed. The internet and cell phones seemed to be critical to the movement in Egypt. In other cases, the state has managed to largely shut down these tools. In general, it seems to me that the internet and cell phone use, particularly the disposable-pay-for-minutes-in-advance type, provides tremendous assets for any sort of people's movement. The downside is that the government can very easily monitor email traffic and cell phone conversations, especially with computer programs that look for key words. As always, technology is a two-edged sword.

Daring to ask: What is the significance of the African European figures on the cover of the novel since no mention is made of such people in the story?

Barry: The people on the cover are actually my blonde daughter and one of her sons. I hadn't noticed that they look sort of dark.

Daring to ask: When the SS resorted to crime to intimidate the population, you show how neighborhood watch groups lay in wait for the SS to stop that activity. In today’s world, how would such neighborhood groups counter the increased specialization that the oppressor uses — like Blackwater Opps assassins?

Barry: It took the Danes a while to adjust to the Nazi assassinations. When they did, they chose tactics designed to counter the specific methods the Nazis were using. If the assassins were Blackwater Opps or some sort of special forces using different methods, then the movement would have to come up with tactics specifically tailored to counter those methods.

Daring to ask: The Danish population became unified with the goal of aiding the Jewish community to escape. But those Danish supporters performed that way because they were not susceptible to Nazi propaganda. How could nonviolent groups in Poland or France have acted to engage those populations to help them counter the propaganda they faced?

Barry: Good question, but I can't answer it because I do not have detailed knowledge of those situations.

Daring to ask: How do you see the size of the country affecting the abilities of nonviolent tactics? Denmark is a smaller place than India and Gandhi had to deal with a landmass several times larger, making it perhaps more difficult to share his beliefs with his supporters.

Barry: Size of course matters, both in that it makes preparation more difficult, but also it confers advantages for an actual campaign. Gandhi's situation was very different from my alternate history in that he did not have the luxury of adequate preparation ahead of time nor did he have a government providing training for millions of people. So Gandhi's situation was totally different, but I do not think size of the country was the important difference.

Daring to ask: In your novel, Arne confronts a Danish youth who wants to use violence. While Arne dissuades the youth, don’t nonviolent tactics run into extra problems when the population is larger and crowd control requires extra training?

Barry: I don't see this. Both the committed nonviolent group and the group wanting to use violence will be larger in big countries. The important question is the relative number in the two groups.

Daring to ask: What lessons of nonviolent use can we learn from the April 6th Movement in Egypt?

Barry: I have not made a detailed study of the Egyptian movement, but it seems almost a textbook example of a nonviolent campaign. They did at least some study of Gene Sharp, the main theorist of nonviolence, ahead of time. So, at least a core group knew what they were doing. By remaining nonviolent, they quickly gained the support of the army who early on protected the demonstrators from the police. With the army standing with the people, Mubarak didn't have a chance.

Daring to ask: One principle of nonviolent resistance is to discover a need the oppressor has and to withhold cooperation from supplying that need. What method of this process helps find the key need of the oppressor when several might stand out?

Barry: An excellent question but again, I don't know. The best nonviolent strategists are just like any political or military strategist in this sense: they need a deep understanding of their culture, what moves people, and what will motivate them, etc. Successful strategies are always those which are exquisitely tailored to their specific culture, economy, power-structure, etc. etc. This is why very few of us are good strategists.

Daring to ask: The SS in the submarine facility struggled for over a year with management supervision while only one submarine was produced. The SS then began flogging workers, which weakened the resistance. How does a resistance operate if the oppressor reacts quicker than the example you list?

Barry: A nonviolent campaign against a ruthless enemy is a deadly chess game. At every point, both sides are trying to find a move that will put the other side in trouble while gaining some advantage for themselves. And every campaign is unique: there are no standard answers. Just like generals, we can study past campaigns for ideas, but any general or nonviolent strategist who slavishly tried to copy the tactics of a Rommel or Sun Tzu or Gandhi would most likely find himself dead.

Daring to ask: When the Libyan resistance confronted violence, they turned to guns to protect themselves. Would the deaths of many at that moment have led to a quicker defeat of the oppressor when the world saw violence coming only from Kadafi?

Barry: We can't be sure, but it seems likely that taking up arms was a mistake for the Libyans. A favorite tactic of tyrants is to provoke a people's movement into violence because they know that will cause the army to support the regime and it also alienates much of the general public.

Daring to ask: What is the message about Arne’s sense of guilt in leading a team when death hits some members? Does this call for a psychological preparation within the protest community so they are ready to deal with this element?

Barry: Arne, who was a bit arrogant, was devastated by the death of his teammates and went from being arrogant to blaming himself. I think that deaths of comrades will always traumatize people, just as it traumatizes soldiers in combat. I don't know whether there is any training that would help with this.

Daring to ask: What is the link between nonviolent resistance and conflict resolution? In South Africa the concept of Ubuntu meant that everyone in society was linked, despite any hurt done by a guilty party. That means the process had to re-incorporate those guilty parties back into the community. If Arne could influence the average German soldier, does that mean that the next step could become that of reaching out to the entire wider public of the enemy to show them the problems with the extremists in their society?

Barry: I firmly believe in Ubuntu, the connections among all of us. Further, forgiveness of those who have hurt us is necessary for our own health. Now, I don't know if reaching out to the wider public of the enemy is the next step, but it certainly is something that would help heal everybody concerned.

Daring to ask: Your book uses the imagination in developing nonviolent tactics to face a multitude of scenarios. Could this application of the imagination help devise tools so others might become aware of the importance of nonviolence? Tools like computer games or role playing games?

Barry: Role playing has been used in nonviolent training for a long time, since the 1950s that I know of and probably much longer than that. Computer games certainly seem possible and desirable. Peter Ackerman and his associates have a nonviolence computer game but it only runs on Windows so I haven't had a chance to play it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Worlds Meet

Wall Street's Dawn

In the beginning of Octavia Butler’s Dawn, the protagonist Lilith is awakened once again to serve masters who need her human abilities to keep their society alive. Lilith’s comment at the outset of, “Alive…still alive,” could easily fit into our world. We dare ask if the Wall Street protestors feel a new spirit directed against entities that seemingly control their lives the way that Lilith’s oppressors rule. Those oppressors continue through a series that includes the book, Adulthood Rites.

The similarities are striking. Lilith and her human friends are controlled by the Oankali, a group which has evolved with specialized organs but lacks genetic diversity. The protestors’ lives are controlled by financial interests that push them to buy mortgages, consumer products and serve a financial community of specialized instruments like Credit Debt Obligations. Lilith at times is naked, lacks reading material to improve herself and cries for clothing. The protestors are being told that while their worker productivity since the 1970s has risen 30 percent, they should accept less than a zero increase in benefits.

While Butler visioned Lilith’s story as a symbol of the torture from slavery, we dare to ask whether the same conditions now apply to most people because of the structure the financial interests have imposed on most people. The growing inequality between the business community leaders sitting in corporate offices just might resemble the power difference between the Oankali and Lilith’s humans.

Both the Oankali and corporate state have promised to improve life for most people. The Oankali arrived to aid humanity after a nuclear war that threatened all existence. They provided medical advances and security. They also offered to trade with human kind, promising genetic improvements. The corporate state offers global advances where remote fishermen can sell their wares with cell phones to markets because of technology. Some people can live longer because of improved diagnostics in healthcare. And travelers can use credit cards without carrying cash around the globe.

But while the advances seem worthwhile, the workers and middle classes of the globe have lost control over their lives. Employers looked at the 30 percent increases in productivity from workers and thought those profits were wonderful. But they faced a decreased work force once the age of the 70s unleashed computer aided production. Hence the need to seek those profits from overseas workers. So the average person lost not only the extra value of increased productivity, but also the ability to hold a job.

The controllers, whether Oankali or the corporate state found ways to transform the language so their control could meet with little opposition. The Oankali flooded the humans with ideas that the Oankali offered an egalitarian life. That human problems happened because of human waste. The corporate controllers blamed the financial crisis on homeowners. To balance out their losses on Wall Street, the corporate state told workers to accept the end of certain healthcare benefits and even embrace half pay.
Language had been changed. Instead of slavery, the Oankali claimed they were raising the standard of living for humans. Instead of ripping rights away from workers and the middle class, the corporate state focuses on how they create jobs, and spending or debt is the problem.

Butler thought of the chains of slavery, but the image of chains can change. The weight of Lilith’s problems, trying to keep a family alive resonate with the physical chains of the slave ships in the 1700s. Our world of Wall Street occupiers feels pressures such as, possible evictions, job layoffs and other ethical dilemmas. Even though Lilith’s human could not vote against the Oankali, our protestors have found their votes being scattered in the wind as the same controllers who created the financial crisis dictate to the elected leader. 
So the language is skewed, the system of redress is flawed and the weight of the new chains limits the shoulders of the protestors. Maybe Lilith would fit right into the group of occupiers.

Image courtesy of

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Laughs Abound

Austin, Texas — Governor Perry Promises Changes

In starting his campaign for the Republican nomination, Governor Rick Perry has railed against the unnecessary use of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and promised to change things.

“We don’t need these silly rules from the EPA that kill jobs,” said Smoky Stacks, a campaign aid. “Imagine — rules that stop a darn good right businessman from sending factory waste into the air.”

Last year the Governor approved through a fast track process the building of eleven new coal power plant units. It was a move that Stacks claimed was needed because coal is being thought of as an evil pollution.

The governor doesn’t fully accept Global Warming, stating recently that he never saw oxygen so he’s not certain it exists. “Carbon could be another gimmick from those Liberal scientists,” said Seymour Fox. “Who ever heard of footprints affecting the sky?”

Those around the governor were suggesting that maybe oxygen was a Liberal idea to help sales for oxygen tank companies in healthcare and the scuba equipment people. “People are healed in hospitals because the mask gives the patient comfort, not because of some fool gas,” Fox said.

The governor also hopes to speed up hydraulic fracting. But his words in a small Texas village were interrupted repeatedly from people with coughs. He stated that he knew of no examples of groundwater being affected by chemicals.

His address was shortened when a watermain burst, spewing yellow-greenish acids. “We’ve always had acids in the ground,” said Sy Nide, an environmental advisor to the governor.

Governor Perry appeared holding a six-shooter to show his independence from Washington. “He’s from the state that prided itself on the Alamo,” said D. Crockett, his foreign advisor. “The governor hasn’t had too much foreign knowledge, but he’s from the Lone Star State, so we know how to go it alone — we don’t need those foreigners in Europe, Asia or Washington telling us how to run our lives.”

The governor did pride himself on learning about other countries since Texas shares a wide border with Mexico. “The governor even learned how to eat a Taco,” Crockett said. “He picked it up quickly. You don’t BBQ it.”

As president, Governor Perry promises to unleash a new building code for Washington DC. “Government buildings should be in ranch-style houses, spread out over the entire Maryland area,” said Wily Spurs, a housing expert. “that way, politicians would not be crowded together around the Beltway — after all, Americans are Cowboys at heart.”

- Tom Pope

Photo from

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Laughs Abound

2012 — Washington DC — Republicans Reel From Palin Look Alike

Republicans gloated over their recent election victory until they discovered their candidate was Tina Fey instead of former Governor Sarah Palin. President Fey tried to tell her advisors about the mistake during the convention held in Disneyland, but most advisors laughingly dismissed her.

Campaign advisors failed to realize that President Fey’s many appearances on TV were because of her comedy routines. “We saw her on the screen so we didn’t check the content of her messages,” said communication advisor Skim Alittle. “Isn’t TV used for election campaigns?”

President Fey’s visits to the usual liberal Northeastern part of the country produced key electoral votes when she campaigned on cutting money the health insurance companies could charge patients.

Her campaign manager, Rush Head, said he thought she was talking about cutting money the government spends. “She used the word ‘cutting’, didn’t she?” he said. “That was all I needed to know what she meant.”

Republicans were caught off guard when it was discovered campaign funds of over $500 million were used to support Tina Fey’s production of new Madmen episodes. “I knew she was spending on advertising,” said Alittle. “I just didn’t look beyond the word to see that she mentioned the Madmen TV series — I thought it was campaign advertising.”

The news of the discovery of Tina Fey came just one week after her foreign policy advisor, Red Ninelegs, appointed actor Alec Baldwin to be the new ambassador to Russia. “Doesn’t he know some naval people there?” he asked.

Alittle was relieved of his duties when the connection between Fey and Baldwin in the TV series “30 Rock” became known.

“We just thought he was the best to know about the Russians,” he said, “since we thought that the President would not be able to see Russia from the White House.”

Mistakes have plagued the party. “We didn’t do anything wrong,” Alittle said. “We live on sound bites, so we don’t usually look deeper into the facts.”

Republicans are complaining that the Hollywood industry has been too large and powerful. “We just can’t control them anymore,” Rush Head said. “We made the government small so that we could spend less — now the industry is calling the shots.”

- Tom Pope

Image courtesy of

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Behind The Mask

Truth, Justice and the International Way

Throughout the years, comics have incorporated real world events and politics into their hero’s storylines. Despite a new controversy over Superman’s citizenship, the act fits in with the tradition of staying in touch with world events. Back in the 1960’s Captain America battled Nazis during World War II and Bruce Banner and the Hulk dealt with Soviet spies during the Cold War. More recently, Marvel’s Civil War storyline dealt with the fears and paranoia of a post 9/11 atmosphere. The 2006-2007 crossover pitted hero vs hero in a more esoteric battle that posed the question of whether civil liberties or security were more important to uphold. That focus occurred in a world where the general Marvel Universe not only had to deal with the threat of another terrorist attack, but the possibility of more destruction caused by the heroes and villains of Marvel Earth. DC Comics has decided to take things a step further by having Superman renounce his American citizenship.

In the recent issue of Action Comics #900, Superman decides to renounce his citizenship after a visit to Tehran to support a protest going on there. In the comic, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sees Superman’s action as part of United States policy and believes America is declaring war on Iran. Because of his action, Superman decides to give up his national identity, as he states in the issue, “truth, justice and the American way…it’s not enough anymore.”

Ever since he burst onto the comic book scene in 1938, Superman has been called everything from the ultimate boy scout, to the one hero, outside of Captain America, who upheld American values and ideals. Even though he came from an alien planet, Superman was as American as apple pie. So, it comes as no shock that many readers and conservative groups were in a bit of an uproar over DC’s decision to have the Man of Steel renounce his citizenship. These groups felt that the issue belittled America and showed a distinct lack of patriotism.

Unfortunately, these groups also failed to understand Superman’s motives going forward. If anything, Superman (finally) realized that the world is more complex and dangerous than ever. He needed to use all the powers at his disposal to operate on a grander scale, especially if that meant protecting his adopted homeland (the USA). The renunciation of his American citizenship did not mean he had renounced his core values of promoting freedom, helping all those less fortunate, ending war, and trying to make things better – all American values and ideals the last time I checked.

I highly doubt that the current creators of one of the world’s most famous comic book heroes plan to get rid of all the qualities that have made the character great and everlasting with the one revelation about his citizenship. They’ve just done something that should have been done a long time ago. They’ve made the character more relevant for the times that we live in. So rest easy America, as long as Superman upholds the tenets I listed above, the American way is still safe and secure.

Perhaps a better question we should ask ourselves is if the past few administrations have actually upheld these same principles.

- Hamilton Maher

Image courtesy of

The Response Meter

The Dangers of Too Much Email

While email still remains the most cost effective way of promoting to a subscriber or customer, publishing and media companies can hurt themselves by saturating their customers and advertisers with too many eblasts. There are a number of steps companies can take to alleviate email fatigue and ensure that their messages are getting through to the right people.

In the past, circulators would often send out emails to as many people on their databases as possible, especially if they were in a time crunch and needed to meet specific marketing goals. In the short term, this proved to be somewhat effective, but publishing and media companies found that they weren’t necessarily getting the right people to sign up for their products. By sending emails out to any and everyone, they also found that their IP addresses were being added to company spam filters, which in turn caused open and click through rates to plummet and messages to fail in reaching recipients.

With publishing and media companies fighting for every dollar and name, the smart companies need to segment their lists and have targeted messaging to specific industries or job titles. A healthy, segmented database as well as an integrated database will also allow for cross marketing opportunities and the generation of new leads for promotion. And as the old saying goes, “knowledge is power” and the more information a company has on a current or potential customer, the easier it is to promote to them.

It’s also vital that email databases are updated frequently and that any deletes or changes to email addresses are made in a timely fashion. Otherwise, a company could face potential lawsuits from disgruntled customers who are sick and tired of getting spammed. Frequent updating is also important to ensure that the quality of a company’s email database remains intact.

And lastly, having up-to-date tracking and analytic tools as well as people who know how to decipher them is crucial. That way, messages can be more easily segmented and response rates will increase regardless of whether the message is geared toward promoting an event, generating a sale, or the renewal of a print or digital product.

- Hamilton Maher

Image courtesy of

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Words Come Alive

An Interview with Stephen Leigh

Stephen Leigh explores the struggles of youth in the new contemporary fantasy, The Woods, where reality and fantasy seem to exist side by side. The characters Rob Mullins and Mark Dyson face a growing fear about adulthood streaming into their young lives that threaten the world of magic, which they believe exists.

For Stephen Leigh who also writes under the name of S.L. Farrell, the latest novel brings his total to 24 books for the Cincinnati-based author. He also enjoys a background with over 40 short stories under his belt. Besides writing, he teaches creative writing at Northern Kentucky University.

Leigh embellishes his works with a wide canvass of cultural influences such as the Celtic world in the Cloudmages series or the Vatican connections in the Nessantico Cycle.

The Cloudmages series mixes a Celtic mythos with a unique cyclical magic emergence that becomes a quest for power for the regional lords. Yet the scope is wider, as the magic can be controlled by sealife and rock entities.

The Nessantico series blends politics and war with sorcery and religion where the world evokes a city state on an island like that of Paris or the Rennaissance power found in Venice. The following interview deals with how magic fits into the realm where fiction and reality meet.

Daring To Ask: The blurb for your novel, The Woods, states it is a ”contemporary novel where the borders between reality and fantasy are blurred.” Our blog, Daring To Ask, examines the intersection where reality meets fiction. As a writer, why do you consider that intersection important?

Stephen Leigh: I’ve always been fascinated by the thought that there might be hidden realities that are there if only we had the ability or the inclination to see them -- much like Alice staring into the mirror and wondering about what the world on the other side would be like. I’ve played with that concept a bit in other books, like ABRAXAS MARVEL CIRCUS or THE BONES OF GOD or even the CLOUDMAGES series.

In this one, that intersection is especially blurry. A reader could conceivably question whether the ‘magical’ elements are real, whether they have an explanation, or if they exist only in Rob’s head.

Daring To Ask: Your novels show how characters face social, political and economic pressures from their worlds. The role of nonfiction tries to inform people of how we face those forces in reality. Does fiction have an advantage in showing specifics of how characters face those forces?

SL: The advantage (in my opinion) that fiction always has over non-fiction is that the non-fiction writer is limited by reality. In fiction, if I want to explore something -- such as, for instance, what defines ‘gender’ and how that impacts us, as I did in DARK WATER’S EMBRACE -- all I need to do is invent a world that allows me to play directly with that concept. I’m not confined by history or geography or the way things are now. I don’t have to go searching through history or countries to find a social situation that might happen to fit and try to shoehorn my theme into it.

Fiction is much more free and pliable... and as a result, sometimes lets us get at things that we can’t really examine all that well in non-fiction. Don’t get me wrong; I love non-fiction, and I mostly read non-fiction anymore -- but I’m reading it for the creative sparks I receive. For me, non-fiction is often the source of fictional ideas.

Daring To Ask: Do you see your contemporary example of magical realism as in the vein of del Toro or García Lorca — how would you describe its difference? Is this an example of how a story moves away from words to see what those words represent? Or showing personal feelings through some distortion of natural images?

SL: I can’t claim to be a genuine magic realism author, but I do play with some of the tropes of magic realism in this one -- for one, the fantasy element just is, and I don’t try to explain it or justify it. I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Borges (and del Toro and Lorca too). I’m fascinated by the way the Latin culture (in particular) accepts a supernatural component as part of their reality, and thus allows the blurring of the line between fantasy and the rest of their lives.

In a similar manner, I think younger people and some adults who haven’t yet lost that ‘childishness’ are also able to see things: they’re there, they’re accepted, and sometimes trying to find explanations can just push them away. I remember my daughter creating an entire imaginary circus of people and performers and animals in her head in incredible detail (run by the magical Caleb Mundo, whose name I stole to use in THE ABRAXAS MARVEL CIRCUS). She created it all out of her dreams and her imagination, populating that place with all sorts of fascinating creatures and intricate relationships. She could do that because she hadn’t let the world put constraints on her mind, hadn’t let adults tell her that it wasn’t ‘proper’ or ‘healthy’ to use her imagination in that way.

Daring To Ask: Do you see nature, as in the woods, being more tied to that other world of magic? Does this mean that some life force could be present within the other world that can’t be detected though reality’s science?

SL: The neighborhood of THE WOODS is based on the neighborhood in which I grew up. There were woods directly behind my house, and behind the houses across the street, and it was a rare day that I wasn’t in those woods. They were truly magical for me -- the “Seven Caves” in the book describes a place that I and my friends found and played in. Everything in the woods seemed imbued with a long history or some magical connection... or at least we could believe that it was. For a long time after my friends stopped playing there (about the time we hit adolescence), I would still return to the woods, just to walk around or maybe just sit there and pretend I was somewhere else, in a true primordial place, a place where fantasy was still possible.

I won’t say that there was a ‘presence’ there, but I felt that there was. I wanted it to be there.

Daring To Ask: The way Rob and Mark are described seems to hint that adolescence is closer to that intersection of reality and fantasy than adulthood and that as we age we move further into a reality that shuns aspects of a magic or even thinking out-of-the-box. What forces are making this possible?

SL: When I was a kid, we played fantasy games all the time: we were knights and ladies riding out to find dragons, to capture gold, to fight battles, to rescue those needing our help. We were soldiers fighting WWII in a French forest. We were American Indians sliding through primordial light and shade. We were astronauts exploring a strange and new world where there were no humans at all. We were anthropomorphic bears or wolves. We were anything that our imaginations could come up with.

I remember being -- perhaps like Rob and Mark -- someone who wanted to stay longer in that fantasy-land, even as my friends were moving away from the woods and our games toward the more ‘adult’ world of cars and sports and girl- and boyfriends. I found myself more often alone in the woods, as I also found myself more alone reading my science fiction and fantasy books, writing, playing music, or drawing.

Even through high school and college, I’d occasionally go walking in the woods, and see them as some other place -- and I’d note that the trails I followed, trails that had been wide and bare of grass and weeds during the time that we had all played there and worn into permanence by our sneakered feet, had mostly been reclaimed by the woods now.

I don’t know what it is that turns us away from ‘imaginative play’ as we age. It doesn’t always happen, and it doesn’t have to happen. I think role-playing games are another version of the types of things we did as kids, and I’ve played (and run) many RPG games. I think immersing oneself as a writer in a fictional world is yet another aspect of the same impulse.

Some of us never quite ‘grow up.’

Daring To Ask: Does the present state of global economics, or fast-paced need to grow up create more difficulties in retaining a sense of magic or fantasy?

SL: Honestly, I don’t know. But I do think that having a sense of magic or fantasy can provide a respite from a dreary and unpleasant world. Sometimes we all need that! The danger is when we start thinking of the fantasy as reality, and stop even trying to cope with real life.

Daring To Ask: Are the woods a symbol of the womb or some place that provided another reality?

SL: No -- as I said, I spent much of my childhood and early adolescence in the woods that surrounded my neighborhood. It was my place, the place where I could escape and be whatever and whomever I wanted to be for awhile. To me, the woods represent that time of relative innocence in my life (and the characters).

Daring To Ask: What reason prompted you to use the first person? How do you see the difference between using the first person and using an internal POV third person, especially in a story like, The Woods?

SL: In general, first person narrative has the ability to create a strong identification and bond between the reader and the narrator, and that’s what I wanted. Sure, you can get reader identification with a character in third person as well (especialy if you’re using a very close, limited third person, where you’re giving the reader a sense of the POV character’s thoughts), but there’s still the sense of the author standing between the reader and the characters and relaying the scene. In third person, the author is always there as the ‘interpreter’ for the reader.

Frankly, there’s more freedom for the writer in third person. With first person, you have the character himself or herself talking directly to the reader without the shadow of the author between them, but you also have the limitation of voice (you can’t use language that the character wouldn’t use) and you also can’t describe anything that the character isn’t directly experiencing.

In this story, I thought the reader needed that strong sense of direct connection with Rob. I don’t often write in first person in novel-length stories, but in this case, it felt right.

Daring To Ask: In writing the sample, you use the narrator, Rob, with a quick paced flow of language that replicates the adolescent anxiousness. However, a couple of words seem more advanced for him than most of the passage. Words like glacial-deposited and rivulets could be more advanced than the character’s usual. Was this a conscious choice on your part? How should a writer view the way he selects words to show the voice of the character?

SL: The novel itself is book-ended with short sections that are narrated by Rob as a much older adult, who has come back to the neighborhood that he left. You don’t see that in the sample, of course, which is the third chapter of the book. The novel is actually ‘written’ by a very adult Rob, remembering this time. Hence, the vocabulary is more advanced. It much the same technique, for instance, as in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, where an adult Scout is relating to us the events that seven or eight-year old Scout experienced.

Daring To Ask: The sample shows an anger from Mark when he kills the dog, Kitty-Kitty. Are we seeing that anger emerge because of a sensed betrayal because Mark knows Rob is leaving? Or a loss of the peer influence Mark has enjoyed during adolescence?

SL: Mark is having family issues -- his father is abusive to both Mark’s mother and Mark himself, and that abuse has been escalating. Rob, as well as the woods themselves and the fantasy play that Mark and Rob engaged in, has always been Mark’s escape from the harsh realities of his home life. Now he’s learned that Rob is leaving the city -- and for Mark that’s send his anger boiling over. He feels betrayed by Rob, even though he knows that Rob’s not really responsible for his leaving.

Daring To Ask: Does Sheila represent the aspirations of one plane that might become lost to the adolescent as he enters more of a world filled with social pressures or added responsibilities? Or perhaps does the emergence of Sheila fit into modern literature where the adolescent meets an outsider who encourages him to seek other paths even if he has to turn away from previous beliefs?

SL: I see Sheila as mostly a vehicle that allows Rob to access what he’s actually thinking but is perhaps too afraid to voice or act upon. She gives voice to Rob’s own inclinations even when he’s afraid to admit them -- or perhaps when those inclinations are so deeply buried inside him that he doesn’t even realize that they’re even there.

She allows Rob to act as his nature would have him act. She allows him to accomplish what he otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. As Sheila says to him at one point in the book, it’s not her who’s making the changes in his life, it’s him and his desires.

Sheila is a mirror that reflects Rob’s wants and needs -- as she would have been for Mark had she ‘chosen’ him. Or perhaps, Sheila facilitates Rob’s ‘magical thinking’ about what he wants to happen.

Daring To Ask: If every wish and desire bears a price, then how should we view the different levels of prices that affect adults from those that affect adolescents?

SL: We all pay a price whenever we make a decision. The act of decision closes off all the alternate paths while opening another. Part of the price is that we can never know whether one of the other paths would have been a better/happier/more fulfilling one for us.

Of course, we also don’t know if those other paths would have led us to a darker and far worse place -- because that’s just as possible.

I don’t know that children and adolescents pay a larger ‘price’ for those decision than do adults. As a child, I probably believed that my choices demanded a higher price than those of adults. I probably responded to such things with more emotion and more angst than I might now. As an adult, I’ve also learned that life-paths wind and twist and turn, and sometimes we find ourself back on a path we’d thought we’d left behind ages ago.

Daring To Ask: Do you see the development of these adolescents differently from the growth experienced by Jenna and her daughter Meriel in the Holder series?

SL: Certainly -- mostly because their societies and cultures are so different. Jenna and Meriel (as well Meriel’s children Sevei, Kayne, and Ennis in the last book of that series) are forced to grow up far faster in far harsher environments than Rob and Mark in THE WOODS. Children in the society of the Cloudmages books don’t have the luxury of the long adolescence we give our children now -- by the time they’re Rob and Mark’s age, they’d be expected to be functioning mostly as adults.

And for Jenna and her daughter and grandchildren, having the clochs thrust upon them so early forced them into confrontation with and immersion in the adult world -- with all the life-and-death results that comes with the territory.

For Rob and Mark, the consequences have weight, yes, but are ‘smaller’ in scale than those that confront the adolescents of the Cloudmages books, but still very real and intense to both of them.

Daring To Ask: The culture of the Celtic world played a major part as one of the forces that drove the characters in the Holder series. Which type of culture do you see exerting a force on Rob and Mark in The Woods?

SL: The culture that most influences Rob and Mark is our own (at least the culture of the 1970s in which they’re growing up). More specifically, they’re growing up in a working middle class neighborhood, with all that implies: these aren’t rich kids, nor poor urban kids. They’re suburban, Caucasian, and Catholic -- and that’s the world that they know and in which they’re cocooned for the moment.

I see Sheila is essentially a nature spirit, and I largely drew on Native American background for her.

Daring To Ask: From a worldbuilding perspective, the design of the magic strikes us differently when we see a world with the feel of the Middle Ages as compared to that of a contemporary scene. Which elements do you advise writers to consider in constructing magic when they shape a modern fantasy?

SL: Because I was using the parameters of magic realism, I didn’t worry too much about constructing an elaborate magic system with THE WOODS(as I did with both the Cloudmages trilogy and the more recent Nessantico Cycle. I didn’t worry about all the ‘rules’ that magic had to follow... and, in fact, as I said earlier, I left open the possibility that perhaps there was really no magic at all.

I’m currently working on the draft of another contemporary fantasy, this one set in Ireland -- as a result, I’m again drawing on Celtic myth and background with that one. I feel that in fantasy set in modern times, in real places, that the author is obligated to draw from the mythological and historical sources of the setting. So if I were writing a modern fantasy set in the United States, I might be tempted to use Native American mythology as the basis.

Or maybe not, depending on the set-up of the novel and who the characters were. After all, those who came to North America from other places brought along their own beliefs and superstitions, and perhaps those would still be operating as a result.

That’s the kick in writing fantasy: you get to create your own shadow reality, and populate with whatever excites you -- and hopefully the reader feels that excitement!

Image courtesy of Denise Parsley Leigh

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Worlds Meet

They're All the Same

As NBC’s series, The Event, resumed recently, the attitude shown by presidential advisor Blake Sterling could be seen as narrow as that shown by Congressman Peter King (R-NY).

The Event’s conflict shows how two cultures struggle to find acceptance as they interact to survive. A group of humanoid beings from another world who crash-landed decades ago have been kept in prison by the United States. The humanoids are virtually human and cannot be told apart from Earth people. But as the plot evolves, both cultures face rebellions. The president is threatened by assassination from Americans, and the leader of the “others” is in danger because her son wants to use violence against human society.

One crucial scene that shows Sterling and King’s intolerance occurred when Sterling attempted to interrogate one of the imprisoned “others”. Sterling wanted to find the leader’s son who planned violence. The “other” being interrogated tried to tell Sterling that the group wished no violence against humans. Actually, the son’s actions were not endorsed by the group. Sterling could not think that members of the “others” held different ideas about violence. When asked if anything could be said to show him the nonviolent hopes by the group, Sterling answered, “I don’t think there’s anything you can say.”

That mental attitude resembles the present state of mind from Congressman King as he conducted hearings into Radical Islam. King didn’t need to bring in experts on Islam, he only needed to bring in a few people who had anecdotes of violent behavior. That was his thinking. Those revelations should have been enough to show the entire community was violent — right? The fact that terrorism has no real tie to religion passed his grasp. The history of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt renouncing violence and spurning groups that still wanted to use killing didn’t enter into his thinking. Maybe he, too, believes nothing can change his opinion. King has admitted that he is obsessed with the events that happened on 9/11. We dare to ask how any real change could ever occur if that is the foundation of his thinking.

Literature and the screen display the flaws of characters so we can learn from their mistakes. When we have so many examples of political factions that erupt with sub factions who disagree, we are educated on how we should view each faction separately. Most experts of political science or crisis management support that. However, human fears often stop us from using our knowledge. We have to learn how to see when people want to pick up the handshake instead of the gun. When Nelson Mandela took office as president of South Africa, he used some former members of the Secret Service who were White. Those White Secret Service members accepted Mandela’s offer and shook hands with their new leader. But more often we dare to ask why some real people fail to learn the lessons that jump at us from narrow characters on the screen.

- Tom Pope

The Event image courtesy of
Peter King image courtesy of

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fiction's Philosophy

The Price of Solitude

In literature as well as the real world, characters and people might deal with their world by seeking isolation, but perhaps their philosophical view of the reason for life comes from a desire to avoid the very contact they fear.

Man’s quest to not only explore, but conquer nature is practically as old as well, man himself. Many have succeeded and many failed, although their quests may have been driven by a yearning for solitude or ways to cope with social contact. For some, their failure was due in large part to inadequate preparation or research, a miscalculation in direction or weather patterns, or just plain bad luck. In the cases of both Aron Ralston in the movie, 127 Hours, and Christopher McCandless in the movie, Into The Wild, I dare to ask if the tragedies that befell the avid adventurers and naturalists were due to something even more insidious than not choosing to alert their friends or family as to where they were going.

Both men made decisions that ended with tragic results. Ralston made the agonizing decision to amputate part of his right arm after his hand and wrist wound up being pinned against a canyon wall after an eight hundred pound boulder tumbled loose as he was descending a portion of Blue John Canyon. Ralston’s story was also described in the book Between A Rock and A Hard Place. Chris McCandless’ story was movingly captured by author Jon Kraukauer in the book and movie with the same name of, Into the Wild. McCandless wound up forsaking all of his worldly possessions and trekking all the way to Alaska where he hoped to enjoy a solitary existence of living off of the land. He met a tragic and untimely demise when he accidentally ate a poisonous plant that he believed was safe.

While no one can argue that both Ralston and McCandless had a genuine love of nature and appreciated the freedom and the beauty of the lands they explored, they both craved the solitude of the wide open spaces they were a part of. In both Between A Rock and A Hard Place and Into the Wild, Ralston and McCandless comment frequently that they looked forward to being alone, away from either the boredom, mundaneness or in Chris McCandless’ case, the pain, heartache and chaos of everyday life.

For Ralston, his need to be alone against the elements seemed to come from his supreme confidence in his abilities as a climber, medic and overall naturalist and adventurer. It was also a desire to see how long and how far he could push himself. There was an air of invincibility and a slight arrogance within him. A feeling that he had taken all that nature could dish out and was still standing. For Ralston, it seemed that there was no situation he couldn’t handle while out in the wild. For Ralston, family and relationships were pushed aside for more adventure and more solitude.

McCandless’ motives for burning his money and most of his other worldly possessions and heading to Alaska seemed to be due to his disillusionment with the conventions of living a “regular” life. He held a great deal of resentment and harbored many internal scars toward his parents, who he felt were pressuring him into living a materialistic, typical American lifestyle. For McCandless and his naïve idealism of challenging himself and living off of the harsh Alaskan land, solitude in the Alaskan wilderness also meant not having to deal with the stresses and vapidness of everyday life. It also meant having minimal contact with others. Minimal contact meant not having to deal with the baggage, and in McCandless’ mind, the inevitable hurt and disappointment that came with establishing a connection or a relationship with someone.

But in the end, when both men were slowly, agonizingly dying, they both had the same epiphany - that in the end, it wasn’t solitude that they were craving. But rather, it was the relationships and bonds that they had forged in life with friends and family that had meant the most – relationships that both men had ultimately forsaken for their own selfish or fearful reasons. Before summoning the strength to make the brazen decision to amputate his arm, Ralston wondered if his sudden enlightenment was his body’s final desperate attempt to persevere or if it was a final, cruel lesson about his life and how he lived it.

Unfortunately, Christopher McCandless would not have the opportunity to follow through on his realization. He died from starvation near Denali National Park and Preserve, alone in a beat up school bus that he used as a makeshift form of shelter. One of McCandless’ final statements as he lay near death and was barely able to move was the following, “Happiness is only real when shared.”

Despite losing part of his right arm and nearly bleeding to death, Aron Ralston would be the only one to heed McCandless’ advice and learn from his mistakes.

- Hamilton Maher

"127 Hours" image courtesy of
"Into the Wild" image courtesy of

Laughs Abound

Chicago — Loss of Collective Bargaining Stops Trains

When Governor Vel Veta took away the collective bargaining rights of workers in his state, he probably didn’t know the act would stop trains going east of Chicago.

Workers on trains faced muscle strains from lifting the luggage of residents fleeing to the West after several states took away those rights to workers.

Veta simply stated that he thought states could no longer bargain with workers and workers had to take the scraps of whatever was left in the budget.

“They have to contribute to the financial solutions,” Veta said, as he loaded up several suitcases filled with cash from the funds unions set aside to help out two years ago.

Veta suffered a back strain from lifting, but couldn’t reach his healthcare company because his judge voted down the new Healthcare Affordable Act for his state. “We shouldn’t be addressing healthcare when we have to stop spending money first.”

When asked why the state faced the shortage, he answered, “We have to pay so much on healthcare it creates a budget crisis.”

The recent drive to stop the rights of workers to bargain began when he arrived at the negotiations carrying a small card table. “I ain’t gonna share this table with nobody,” he said.

Union leaders had to sit against the wall without chairs in the hall while Veta sat on a platform with his small table. “They don’t have to bargain, we can tell them what to accept,” he said.

Veta’s emergence into the governor ship occurred when the cheese manufacturers in the state backed him and saw a jump in statewide profits. Part of the surge came when they decided workers should contribute to the cheese cutters needed to make the cheese.

“They need to do their job,” he said. “They should contribute to paying for the cost.”

When some workers complained that they were losing their homes because their payments couldn’t meet the rent and mortgage obligations, Veta told the manufacturers to let them have some rind to keep them happy.

“Our financial crisis means we have to support our businesses making the cheese,” he said. “We can’t expect them to pay out to help the state — they’d all leave us high and dry.”

As flocks of people flee from the affected states, they have strained the train systems so that engine parts are breaking down. Those train workers are now being asked by companies to help pay for new rails and wheels so that the train firms can make a profit.

“If the porters strain their backs, they might need some doctors’ help, but we just don’t have the funds because of the crisis,” Veta said.

Workers who sat at the negotiations wanted to have some power at the small table to decide on workplace issues. They said that the governor and management control hiring and salaries, and that collective bargaining was the only weapon the workers had that would give them a fair shake.

“They got jobs, don’t they? They should be happy with that,” Veta said.

- Tom Pope

Image courtesy of

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Behind The Mask

Wasted Death

As we all know, and as I mentioned way back in my January 2010 blog article about death and rebirth in comics, comic book death never lasts forever. But now, Marvel Comics has decided to take things to a new and ridiculous level. At a ComicsPro retailer summit in Texas, David Gabriel, Senior Vice President of Sales at Marvel said, “As a result of the Fantastic Four sales and media coverage, Marvel is going to kill a main character every quarter.” He followed up this statement by saying, “This is not a joke.” I dare to ask, and hope that if this is true, it backfires in Marvel’s face in a big way.

For those of you who do not know, Marvel spent many months and many marketing dollars hyping the death of one of the core members of the Fantastic Four. Cynics speculated, correctly so, that this was a publicity stunt to jump start a comic book franchise whose sales had lagged behind such Marvel stalwarts as the Avengers, the X-Men, Spiderman and the Incredible Hulk for many years. Unfortunately, the public also bought into the hype and made Fantastic Four #587, the death of Johnny Storm (aka The Human Torch), Marvel’s highest selling comic for the month of January.

Aside from the fact that readers did not see the actual lifeless body of Johnny Storm (the last image we have is Johnny being overwhelmed by FF villain, Annihilus’ hordes), the skeptical fan was already predicting that the Human Torch was just being put “on ice” so that he could make a triumphant return when the FF celebrate their milestone 600th issue. Whether this occurs remains to be seen. Next on the Marvel death circuit appears to be the Ultimate Universe version of Spider Man. Oh joy. And then we have the next big Marvel event, Fear Itself, which should continue the Marvel kill parade.

If Gabriel’s statement is indeed true and Marvel plans to kill a main character every quarter, they will find that this bold, novel idea will go the way of polybagged or foil comics, the yearly summer mega event, or the 90’s era of comics with fancy art but little, to no, story. Big sales and lots of media attention will be generated in the short term, but then reader fatigue will set in and sales will go down the toilet. Death will become an even bigger joke and loyal comic book readers will roll their eyes and yawn. Hopefully they’ll leave the Marvel fold altogether. Death, in essence, will become as common as the Hulk getting stronger as he gets angrier during a fight.

But the main problem with Gabriel and Marvel’s statement is that they are ultimately destroying their characters and what makes them “heroes”. In the not-so-distant past, death in comics was a jaw dropping, rare event. When a hero died, if the writer and artist did their job, the impact was staggering and left the reader feeling as if he or she had lost a member of their family. The reader felt the impact of the hero’s sacrifice because he knew that in all likelihood, his or her favorite hero would not be returning. Or, if their favorite hero was returning, it wasn’t going to be anytime soon. Can anyone honestly believe that if Marvel decided to kill off, Wolverine next month, he wouldn’t be back in a year or two tops? If you do, I also have a bridge to sell you.

Sadly, with this announcement Marvel is just confirming what many suspected all along. It’s not about producing good, well thought out, satisfying stories, but generating gratuitous hype in the hopes of bringing in big bucks. But as we all know…hype will only get you so far.

- Hamilton Maher

Image courtesy of

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fiction's Philosophy

Philosophy of the Complete American Dream
When the character, Harrison Shepherd, speaks to his attorney in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, The Lacuna, Shepherd wants to understand America’s hatred toward Communism. Yet his lawyer Artie’s answer could equally speak to the language of today’s Tea Party.
Shepherd dared to ask why the public in the early 1950s could be so confused between facts and propaganda. In his daring, he questioned whether the public really felt hatred towards another enemy.
Artie commented that, “Anticommunism is not much concerned with Communism.” He stated that the image the anticommunists had about America was that of a finished product, so any new change to that product would become a perceived threat.
The conversation occurred in the novel when Shepherd sought advice to deal with the ways the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) clouded his past. Shepherd grew up as a cook and then secretary for Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo. He later served as secretary to Leon Trotsky before his assassination. Both Trotsky and Shepherd shared a horror of Stalin’s oppression. Then Shepherd migrated to the states where he helped coordinate the transfer of famous paintings for storage for the state department during World War II. 
However, Shepherd's crisis with HUAC arose when the country feared Shepherd's novels would endanger people because of his background. The HUAC spurred propaganda portrayed Shepherd as a threat because all Communists were the same. The HUAC’s propaganda resulted in showing Shepherd as making a quote to disparage the country’s leader instead of revealing that the quote came from a character in one of Shepherd’s novels. The propaganda resulted in distorting Shepherd’s activities. Because of his job transferring art work, Shepherd was stated to still be working for the government. Shepherd’s writing notes with Trotsky on the terror of Stalin were explained as though Shepherd wrote material to encite people to overthrow the American government.
When Artie told Shepherd that the public knew nothing about Communism, he pointed out the public failed to think through a charge and simply reacted to primeval fears. Shepherd thought most workers would appreciate the means of owning and controlling a product or service. But the idea of oppression by an elite group that called itself Communistic should not be seen as an example of Communism. 
Artie, however, spoke to Shepherd about the charges levied against Shepherd as if the charges only touched on surface issues. The 1950’s public held fears because of a loss of security with the advent of the nuclear age. The public feared a new global society beckoning. That countered their vision of America being a finished product. The vision believed that the American system went beyond the problems of Europe in the 1700s. That dream carried the vision to the West coast and any idea of changes meant a loss to the scope of that vision.
Artie could have easily been thinking about today’s Tea Party dialogue. The messages chant that government should spend less, taxation hurts the average person and the government should stay out of healthcare. 
The chanting misses the mark like the propaganda from the 1950s. The Tea Party people fail to see that less spending means that local towns have to lay off police people and teachers. The new propaganda fails to make connections between taxes and funds to help spur job growth. Government incentives have long helped the oil industry despite the vast profits accrued by those firms. Government incentives could help the alternative energy industry grow, but the dialogue from the Tea people only focuses on the taxes — not the result. A failure to tax the top three percent of the population means that the rest of the people would pay more because they would receive fewer services. The new language also fails to recognize that private firms control healthcare and only a larger government system could stop those firms from raising premiums on the average person.
In both cases, the propaganda uses language that clouds the real fear. Artie said the HUAC feared the bomb and the changing scope of the world. We dare to ask where the real fears of the Tea Party people lie. In chanting for a taking back of America, are they worried about a more diverse America with many ethic faces to go with Gay Rights and more respect for Women? Was the American product finished with an all White, Protestant, female-working-in-the-kitchen household? Artie and Shepherd might answer that Tea Party dialogue should think through their messages and learn more about the facts they abuse.  
Picture Courtesy of
House UnAmerican Activities Committee
Picketing HUAC, Los Angeles, CA 1962

Monday, January 31, 2011

Nonviolent Power

The Value of Direct Communication

When the characters of Professor Will Esterhuyse and Thabo Mbeki turned their backs on stereotypes in the PBS presentation of Endgame, they chose the path of direct communication for South African factions that faced the danger of civil war. We dare ask how important is that communication to nonviolent resistance.

The characters were shown as batting heads in negotiations that led to the South African government speaking to the African National Congress (ANC). The talks paved the way for the release of Nelson Mandela and a one person one vote rule in the country.

While most people believe nonviolent resistance focuses mainly on protests of marches, the element of direct communication stands out as a necessity to end any oppression. Goals set up by factions cannot be obtained when part of the goals are cloaked in secrecy.

In the presentation of Endgame, the goals were not clear in the beginning. Esterhuyse believed he was sounding out the ANC to find out when violence could be stopped. Mbeki thought he was breeching a barrier that would open up a dialogue with other Whites in the country. However, the government’s acceptance of the meetings occurred only because the state security force wanted to learn methods to weaken the ANC. In almost a similar manner, the ANC was fearful that too much information sent to Esterhuyse would weaken the ANC.

In one key scene, Esterhuyse and Mbeki saw each other as people instead of the inhuman enemy. That they struggled to learn about the best ways to solve a common problem. Esterhuyse defied the government to listen to the abuses from his government. He ignored his country’s security leader to confide in Mbeki so the talks could continue. Mbeki listened to the worries voiced by the White community through Esterhuyse. And Mbeki defied the radical part of the ANC that feared a loss of power through the conversations.
But real change blossomed because direct communication worked with the nonviolent strategies. Once the barrier of thinking the opposition is an evil nonhuman has been cast away, then the listening by each side enables the process to hear the cries of an opposition. Mbeki said that only when the ANC was viewed as an equal partner around the table could they begin to have meaningful change. Then when the talks start, the conversation could mirror the language of the opposition instead of express false beliefs that arise from propaganda. The Whites could hear about the problems of travel by Black workers. The ANC could hear the voice of land holders who sought to retain ownership. 

The Endgame presentation showed two men staring into each other’s eyes to seek a different way to solve conflicts instead of picking up the gun. Communication often is blocked by the propaganda spewed from the opposition that makes real people appear like animals. Communication usually is blocked when fear stops the process of hearing the other’s concerns. But, when people bypass those obstacles, and communication flows, each party can stop the cycle of pain. We are prompted to ask, if this process from South Africa was used to aid the Irish crisis and is being looked at by Hamas, why those same concepts could not be used more often in diplomacy.

Graphic credit to Endgame (2009) - IMDb

Laughs Abound

Albany, NY — Pension Reform Spurs Economy

New reforms to take away employee pension benefits have started producing an upsurge in the state’s economy. Sales of Mercedes, high rise penthouses and 30 foot yachts now post the largest growth since the days of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The drivers of the state’s economy have suffered from losses during the last few years because corporations over stepped their Wall Street investments. Yet, recent government efforts have found new funding sources by taking the money from pension plans set up to aid the public workforce.

Corporate CEOs and business managers lost the ability to merge and consolidate with other firms while bonuses shrank to levels where only three homes per CEO were affordable to this sector.

“Workers should contribute to helping the economy,” said State Senator Rich Jowls. “Why should they deprive the wealthy of having funds for a merger that could take their company to an international level?”

When the financial crisis hit, the corporation, Schools Are Us, lost $100 million from Wall Street and could not partner with another charter school. The management staff suffered by reducing salaries to just under $500,000 a year. And the firm could not force the evictions of several neighborhoods to use land for new headquarters.

“Teachers are not considerate when they ask for a raise above the poverty level,” said Rip Emoff, the corporate owner. “Imagine them wanting a set pay when they retire to help pay medical expenses — why don’t they have the money they saved up by counting pennies?”

However, the state government does not want a duplication of the scene in New Jersey where a government official was YouTuped wrestling with a teacher in a supermarket over the contents of a shopping cart.

“Tenure?” Asked Rip. “Why should they be protected in their careers — they aren’t CEOs who pay huge country club fees to influence board members and really need the dough.”

On the other hand, increasing talk about taking the money from workers has shown policy makers a certain wisdom. Economic survival filters down from those who buy the Mercedes and penthouses. After all, some teachers have to guide the users of the Mercedes how to drive and the residents of penthouses how to dump the garbage. “Money filters down,” Jowls said. “Why, I just gave my doorman a quarter to hold my money bag of $200,000 that I needed to add a device to my Mercedes — now I can connect with my yacht.”

Graphic credit to

Laughs Abound

Albany, NY — Pension Reform Spurs Economy

New reforms to take away employee pension benefits have started producing an upsurge in the state’s economy. Sales of Mercedes, high rise penthouses and 30 foot yachts now post the largest growth since the days of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The drivers of the state’s economy have suffered from losses during the last few years because corporations over stepped their Wall Street investments. Yet, recent government efforts have found new funding sources by taking the money from pension plans set up to aid the public workforce.

Corporate CEOs and business managers lost the ability to merge and consolidate with other firms while bonuses shrank to levels where only three homes per CEO were affordable to this sector.

“Workers should contribute to helping the economy,” said State Senator Rich Jowls. “Why should they deprive the wealthy of having funds for a merger that could take their company to an international level?”

When the financial crisis hit, the corporation, Schools Are Us, lost $100 million from Wall Street and could not partner with another charter school. The management staff suffered by reducing salaries to just under $500,000 a year. And the firm could not force the evictions of several neighborhoods to use land for new headquarters.

“Teachers are not considerate when they ask for a raise above the poverty level,” said Rip Emoff, the corporate owner. “Imagine them wanting a set pay when they retire to help pay medical expenses — why don’t they have the money they saved up by counting pennies?”

However, the state government does not want a duplication of the scene in New Jersey where a government official was YouTuped wrestling with a teacher in a supermarket over the contents of a shopping cart.

“Tenure?” Asked Rip. “Why should they be protected in their careers — they aren’t CEOs who pay huge country club fees to influence board members and really need the dough.”

On the other hand, increasing talk about taking the money from workers has shown policy makers a certain wisdom. Economic survival filters down from those who buy the Mercedes and penthouses. After all, some teachers have to guide the users of the Mercedes how to drive and the residents of penthouses how to dump the garbage. “Money filters down,” Jowls said. “Why, I just gave my doorman a quarter to hold my money bag of $200,000 that I needed to add a device to my Mercedes — now I can connect with my yacht.”