Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hey out there, what do you think about Graphic Novels?

When I was a kid I used to read what were called the funnies. Smilin' Jack, Dick Tracy, Mandrake the Magician, Gasoline Alley and many, many others. They were, for the most part, serial stories, and I followed them with religious fervor. The New York Daily News building where I later worked as a copy boy gave guided tours, the highlight of which was to show us what was happening in the future to our favorite "funny" characters. Then came comic books with stories of Superman, Batman, and on and on.     

I gave up reading them in eighth grade. By then I had switched to real books, haunted libraries, read every young boy's adventure story on the shelves of the Stone Avenue Library in Brooklyn. Then I upgraded to the genuine classics and contemporary novels and stories. To me reading is a way of life. How can one write if one doesn't read?

Perhaps it is the essence of this writer's snobbery, but I am definitely not a fan of the so-called graphic novel. It is nothing more than an extended comic book with drawn images and word balloons designed to tell the story. It demeans the word "novel," abuses it, makes it seem lesser, kid stuff. Maybe it's the category title that bugs me. I'm not saying it doesn't have its place, but I can't see how it enhances one's ability to read and understand how the imagination enriches the word pictures of the mind created by the writer.

Am I an old meany? A curmudgeon? A purist? Or just plain cynical? I would love to have your comments, but please be nice.

Warren Adler is the author of 30 novels, including The War of the Roses and his latest, Funny Boys.

Writing Contest is No Joke

Ever have one of those days that make you think my life is a gag, a sitcom, a dirty joke? Put it on the page! Submissions are coming in fast, but there is still time to enter the Summer 2008 Warren Adler Short Story Contest. The contest will remain open until August 15, 2008.

See complete details.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

First in a series: How I got the idea for my novel Trans-Siberian Express

Of all the questions asked of fiction writers, the one most common is: Where do you get your ideas? It is a crucial question that goes to the heart of the storyteller's art. One might generalize and assert that it comes from an amalgam of one's life's experiences, stories told by others, books read, movies seen, dreams and fantasies, and the molten mix in the cauldron of one's imagination. This is one writer's attempt to pinpoint the spark that ignited the idea that became the story and its aftermath.

I was having a drink in a Pub in London with a British diplomat who was on leave from his post in the British Embassy in Peking in the mid seventies. It was at the height of the antagonism between China and the Soviet Union, and a hostile relationship existed between China and the West.

In those days, in the midst of the Cold War, we lived in a perpetual state of tension and uncertainty with the threat of a nuclear disaster always alive in our minds as an existentialist threat. The media was inundated with confrontational possibilities with the Soviets and Chinese, both real and imagined, and the spy stories of John Le Carre and others dominated the bookshelves and movie theaters.

From various subtle hints conveyed by my friend, I suspected that he was involved in highly classified intelligence work for his government.

I had met my friend years before in Washington where he was on assignment to the British Embassy in some capacity that he never defined, but which I intuited had some cloak and dagger aspect about it. I was a young soldier then, assigned to the Pentagon as the only Washington Correspondent for Armed Forces Press Service.

We had kept up our relationship, which included our wives, and had kept in touch as he traveled from various assignments in many countries. When we reunited in London where my son was attending a summer course in acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, I had already published a number of novels and my trained inner antenna was geared to trolling for ideas for stories.

It must be said at the outset that a committed novelist, like a prospector searching for gold, is always on the lookout for an idea that will spark a story. Every observation, every person he meets, every episode in his life, every thought, memory, reflection and cogitation is geared, consciously or subconsciously, to the concept of what will make a story. Everything in the zeitgeist was and is fair game.

Since China in those days was a closed society, I was anxious to hear about his experiences in this world and, after a pint of two, he was happy to oblige. Most of his stories were gossipy. He had played frequent tennis games with George Bush, the elder, when he was a representative in China during my friend's multiple assignments. He told me about how his oldest child was fluent in Chinese courtesy of a Chinese nanny, about the poverty he saw all around him, about the food and how the diplomatic community was deliberately isolated by the Government.

Then it came. The ignition spark. He described how he had periodically hand carried the Diplomatic pouch to Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia twice a month. He explained that his route was to take the railroad journey from Peking to Mongolia and explained how the Trans-Siberian Express was linked to this line and that he had taken it himself from Moscow.

As he described his journey on the Trans-Siberian Express, I became more and more intrigued. He told me it was the longest railroad trip in the world, a 7,000 mile journey through numerous time zones, that it's original route was from Moscow to Vladivostok, the latter a naval base that was then off-limits to foreigners. He told me that the Russian track gauge was wider than the world standard, and the carriages had to be raised and the new wheels attached to ride the rails outside of the Soviet borders.

He told me that sleeping compartments were assigned without regard to gender and that the food was ghastly and the third class passengers had to buy their food from vendors along the route through Siberia. He told me about the monotony of the Siberian tundra, the various ethnic groups that used the train as it traversed the route and that the train was pulled by giant steam locomotives, the largest in the world at the time.

One must relate this eureka moment to the context of the times and my world as a child growing up in the earlier part of the twentieth century. The train was the principal mode of land travel in those days. Railroad travel was exotic and far-reaching. The celebrity culture was built around trains and boats. Photographs of celebrities disembarking trains was a common media event. Railroad stations were palaces. Grand Central Station in New York City was a work of art, one of the most celebrated structures in the world.

Model trains were the ultimate toy for a boy and department stores featured elaborate displays to hawk these toys. Railroad travel was exotic and romantic and were featured in books and movies. Staterooms were shown as the height of luxury and private cars were the ultimate in luxurious travel. Graham Greene's novel Stamboul Train and the movie The Lady Vanishes, among many others, offered exciting stories about train travel. I was a child of those times, and when my friend spun his yarn about his experiences on the largest train ride in the world, my head began to swim with story ideas.

The idea had everything, Cold War intrigue, spies, staterooms assigned without regard to gender, the paranoia of the times, the closed world of the Soviet Union and China. The setting that filled my mind was a novelist's dream, and my imagination began to conjure up a story that would take place around the centerpiece of a journey on the Trans-Siberian Express.

My friend saw my enthusiasm, and when I shared my wish to take this journey, he offered his help. He told me that when he returned to the Embassy in Peking, he would send an official request from the Embassy for me to visit Peking. We both knew that it wouldn't assure me a visa, but it would be worth a try.

I was enraptured by the idea and presented it as a possibility with my publisher at Putnam, the late Clyde Taylor. He too had grown up in the days of romantic train travel. The title "Trans-Siberian Express" was enough to sell him. "Write it," he said. The world of publishing was quite different in those days. The corporate bean counters and impersonal international conglomerates had not yet taken over.

By then Nixon had opened a tiny door into China, and the Chinese had opened a mission in Washington, D.C. a few miles from where I lived in Chevy Chase, Maryland. I received the invitation to Peking from the British Ambassador and with great hope applied to the mission for a visa. While I waited I absorbed myself in research. I researched the history of the Trans-Siberian Railroad which began construction at the turn of the century, and I delved into all the literature of Siberia that I could find.

Living in the Washington metropolitan area and involved in the life of the capital city, and a political junky by inclination, I had a pretty good handle on the politics of the Cold War. The local media was filled with information. In effect I was living in the background of what I needed to give heft to the political intrigue required to form the basis of my story.

In those days, a writer could roam the stacks of the Library of Congress, and I was able to tap into their vast supply of titles that were germane to the subject. I visited with experts on train travel with specific reference to the Trans-Siberian, how their carriages were configured, how the on-board service in all classes were carried out, what cities were on the route, what their stations looked like, the climate in Siberia, and ferreted out as much material as I could gather on the mind-set of the Russian people and their leaders.

The Soviets and the Chinese were at each other's throats at that point in time. Both had an atomic arsenal. The thirst for Soviet hegemony was well known, and it was no secret that what they wanted was world domination. Unfortunately, the Chinese, despite their slow emergence from isolation, were still in thrall to their leaders penchant for secrecy and their paranoia about any foreign influence. Unfortunately, I waited in vain for an answer to my visa request and ultimately I gave up hope of every being allowed to make the complete journey on the Trans-Siberian Express through to Peking.

With my hopes for eyewitness research on the Trans-Siberian dashed, I had to recreate the journey through my imagination hoping that my research would give it authenticity. The awesome power of the human mind never fails to amaze me. Frankly, it defies analysis, and I would rather not tinker with its explanation. The point is that it must work since I did receive numerous letters from people who had taken the journey and pronounced my take on it as accurate as their own.

With all the ingredients for an exciting story in place, I began to develop the characters in my mind. Every novelist has his or her own technique. Mine is to conceive the characters and the venue and allow them to work out their own destiny. In my mind they become real people and create their own story. I know that sounds a bit mysterious and it is. Harold Robbins once told me that he channeled God to write his books and my old novelist friend Rod Thorpe once told me that he wouldn't be able to write a novel if he knew in advance how it would end.

There was another aspect of the story that was forming in my mind. In all my novels, my obsession with "love," the mystery of attraction and its implications, is one of the consistent themes, and the idea of staterooms being assigned without regard to gender offered an opportunity for me to explore this theme. Most great and enduring stories, from the Bible through Shakespeare and all of the world's most memorable novels, in some way, deal with this theme.

Without going into the intricate details of the plot, a log line might be that my novel can be described as a love story on a train against the background of international intrigue. It was a resounding success, translated into many languages and garnering the first of my ten options and sales to the movie industry.

It was optioned, then bought by a prominent group of producers that included the late Sir Lou Grade and the famed producer Marty Richards, who later produced Chicago and many hit films and plays. Unfortunately, it was never made, which is the fate of the overwhelming majority of books bought for film adaptation.

All books have a life of their own. My novel The War of the Roses has become a classic movie that plays all over the world with astounding regularity. Another film adaptation, Random Hearts, continues its life on the screen as well.

But the soul of this narrative is geared to answer the question about how ideas emerge in the writer's mind and become full blown stories. Of course, I can only speak for myself, but the question is posed so often it seems an essential bit of information for anyone who seeks a career in writing fiction and for those who read the result of these ideas which emerge as stories.

I confess that I find the process interesting enough to me to explore how other ideas became my novels, short stories and plays, and I hope it will be interesting and helpful to others. My intention is to go through my work and try to pinpoint the tiny spark that lit the fuse that became the story.

Read the first chapter of Trans-Siberian Express NOW!

The Pursuit of Happiness

One of the first things you learn as a parent is the fidelity of a promise. If you promise something to a child, you had better well keep it or he or she will bust your chops for not keeping it. This basic moral contract is the foundation of all civilized transactions.

Unfortunately such purity of intent gets short shrift in practice and the child's view is quickly hammered by life's experiences. In the marriage ceremony people pledge to stay together. Fifty percent renege on such a promise. In the law courts people swear on a Bible to tell the truth and often violate the oath. Contracts are written to confirm a transaction but are often broken in practice.

Sadly, the Latin phrase Caveat Emptor, "let the buyer beware," is the more accurate interpretation of what being honest means in real life. If you truly believe in the concept that a man's word should be his bond, you are dubbed a naïve fool. Ask any cop, prison guard, lawyer, diplomat, salesman and countless others in every walk of life and most will laugh in your face if you profess belief in such a concept.

So why get all excited when it comes to politics when you know in advance that a politician's word is not worth, as Yogi Berra might say, the teleprompter it is written on? A politician in campaign mode is merely a conduit for the erratic crowd mind, which shifts its focus and allegiance based on the manipulative skills of the campaign. Forget labels. Forget all the verities like honor, conscience, fidelity, conviction. A politician in a campaign is like a windsock. He promises wherever the wind blows.

Bottom line: He is selling you on his version of what he can offer that will make you happy, happier, happiest. He is zeroing in on your hopes and dreams, your expectations, feeding your optimism that his views, his talents, his experience, will offer you the magic pill that will best solve all those pesky problems that interfere with your happiness.

This was a rather roundabout way to get at the main theme of this essay. Happiness.

Jefferson, by some strangely mythological insight really, tapped into something. He wrote that "the pursuit of happiness" is a self-evident truth. We know that he did have a little editorial help and, after all, the signers had to debate the text, but it baffles me how "pursuit of happiness" was shoehorned into the text of the Declaration of Independence. It seems so jarring, so seductive, so obviously pandering for such a political manifesto.

And yet so true, so right.

What was really meant by the insertion of that phrase in the founding document of the rebellion against its British overlords which subsequently formed the basis of the American experiment?

As near as I can interpret it, it meant that happiness and its pursuit is a universal yearning. All people, all of us, without fear or favor, should be allowed to live a long healthy, safe and secure life without pain, without discomfort, without displacement, enjoying all the benefits and joys of freedom, personal fulfillment and pleasures of the mind and body, and to pursue our hopes and dreams to their full potential. The implication, of course, was that only after the bonds with Britain were cut would the citizens of the thirteen colonies be able to pursue happiness and that we, the signers, held the key to unlock such unfettered pursuit.

To me it is the key phrase of the Declaration of Independence. That other stuff about all men being created equal, as we all know, is a bit of rhetorical overkill for political purposes and hardly the prevailing view of many of the signers. In the age of the double helix, the idea of "creative" equality has lost its cache, not to mention its accuracy.

But that "pursuit of happiness" phrase endures because it carries an essential truth. It is the assertive wish of all mankind and is the bottom line of all political systems, especially ours. Everything is about the pursuit of happiness and every promise made by any political leader is geared to that idea.

The key word, of course, is "pursuit," and the more leeway you have in pursuing happiness the better chance you'll have to attain it. Where repressive leaders reign your chances are a lot slimmer. But in a people's choice democratic government like ours, even with all its flaws, at least you'll have a reasonable shot at attaining it in some realistic measure. It doesn't mean you'll catch the big "H" in all of its manifestations. Chances are you won't. But with luck you might get a piece of it, even though you know it can never last since we all know that this life's final lap isn't much fun.

Of course, there are those who believe that earthly happiness is an illusion and that the real reward, the real happiness, is attained elsewhere. Just ask any suicide bomber, providing you ask him before he wiggles the toggle. Of course there are those who believe in the path to an afterlife that does not require mowing down your fellow man to enter. That is a debate we'll leave for another time, but for now, I'd prefer to stick to events that transpire on planet earth.

Getting down to the concrete in today's political terms, our choice is, as always, between which of the two major candidates, Obama or McCain, will make it easier for us to "pursue happiness." Whatever vision of the future they propose, whatever programs they espouse, whatever promises they make, whatever words they employ and however they're hyped and parsed, it will all boil down to that one very simple idea that found its meandering way into the crucial document of the American experience.

It would be interesting to know how others define the phrase "pursuit of happiness." As for me, I'm running as fast as I can.

Warren Adler is the author of 30 novels, including The War of the Roses and his latest, Funny Boys.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Blog Away, Brothers and Sisters

I hadn't realized it, but I have been blogging for decades. I used to write a column called "Pepper on the Side" for the Queens Post, a weekly newspaper in New York. I was 22 years old, and because I was the editor, there was no one but myself to screen or edit my columns. My own youthful judgment was final. That circumstance, aside from the technical way my so-called pearls of youthful wisdom were delivered was, by any definition in today's parlance, a blog. Frankly, I prefer the old fashioned definition of such compositions. Essay sounds a lot classier.

In these blogs of mine, like the blogs of today, I was able to rant, bluster, declaim, fulminate, rave, scold, and vociferate. I reveled in the illusion of my own importance. I was speaking my mind, telling it as it is, getting my point across, justifying my arguments against all the perceived injustices of the world, rattling my sword against other people's supposed obtuseness and perceived ignorance.

Writing these blogs made me feel all-powerful, righteous, important, and seeing my name in bold-face, my by-line, the me of me, assured me that I was somebody special, a legend in my own mind. I particularly remember one column in which I reviewed Ernest Hemingway's Across the River and Into the Trees. I killed it, demolished it. Me, a recent NYU graduate English major so full of myself, the balloon of my ego bloated to near bursting, daring to criticize as a failing old hack one of the great American writers of the twentieth century. Alright it wasn't his best book by far, but who the hell was this little schmuck with a typewriter to call to account one of my great all time champion fiction writers?

To be honest, and all bloggers believe in their honesty, integrity, and superior wisdom, I am still at it, blogging away, making copious use of the first person pronoun with embarrassing frequency while the air inside of my ego balloon could be getting stale with overuse and repetition. (Please discount the false modesty and self-deprecation since I still believe absolutely in the wisdom I am retailing.)

And what I am retailing today is the obvious truth that anyone with a by-line, whether in print, on television or on the Internet fits this new definition of a blogger. Many bloggers are free agents. They answer to no one but themselves... like yours truly. But many bloggers are part of a blogger collective, an umbrella blogging medium, like a newspaper, for example, or a magazine, or a website. These collectives have an overall bias and point of view, some clearly stated and others more subtle, and are even willing to showcase blogs that seem contrary to the bias of the enterprise. They are designed to stimulate negative comments from the base, their like minded community.

A case in point might be The New York Times, which I have read daily, except when it could not be obtained, since I was eight years old. Years ago the Times, except for their columnists, had a mere smattering of by-lines which served as a reward for a story well done meaning one that provided all the facts, the what, when, where and who, of classic journalism in a non-personal, non-opinionated, neutral way, like a dispassionate human camera eye.

Today the Times is a blogging collective with most writers by-lined and offering their personal spin on every story, all of them operating within the parameters of their collective zeitgeist. To illustrate their idea of alleged impartiality designed to burnish their reputation, the editors have offered counter bloggers like David Brooks and William Kristol to blog their own opinions. These offerings, as I pointed out earlier, provide a foil to their base, which, for the most part, expresses itself in the carefully chosen "Letters to the Editor" segment.

As a committed centrist, I use the Times as an example of the way blogging has changed the dynamics of information dispersal. The Times, after all, must operate under the terms of their long standing reputation of dispensing "All the News That's Fit to Print," which is their hallowed logo. Unfortunately, their left bias is so pronounced that, to a seasoned observer, they are having a tough time trying to fit their reportage into their mission statement. It makes me wonder whether their blinkered leftward march is exacerbating its decline, although the evidence of the newspaper industry's sinking economic fortunes seems to have more to do with our changing world than the political spin of content.

Of course, all attempts at perceived neutrality are equally evident where right bias is the theme of the umbrella collective. At times the bias is so self-evident and obvious that one can spot it instantly. It doesn't take a genius to see the difference between Fox News and CNN, for example. News junkies, like myself, can see the marketing ploy involved in the way the visual blogs are positioned. Bill O'Reilly goes for the fed up conservative gang. Lou Dobbs goes for the fed-ups on all sides of the political continuum. Larry King fishes for whatever is running in the stream. What they're doing is trolling for your eyeballs, monetizing their demographics.

Blogging in general gets its momentum from the fed-ups looking for like minded fed-ups. The Bush fed-ups are a rich target audience, good for another few months at least. Just think of what's coming when the Obama and McCain fed-ups start blogging their hearts out.

Note that I have morphed from the point of view of the blogger and his or her motives and satisfactions to the consumer of all this cornucopia of blogging spawned by the information revolution and the pervasive culture of the Internet. On balance, all this blogging is a good thing. People who blog feel good about themselves, living with the idea that some people might be actually tuning in. Blogging may also encourage literacy and improve the way ideas are expressed. Indeed, blogging may be good for your physical and mental health as well, unplugging emotions, releasing frustrations.

Bloggers believe they are being heard or read, that they have a chance to get things off their chest, to hawk their beliefs and opinions and emphasize their uniqueness and individuality. They might even be changing deep and heartfelt opinions, although that is probably a long shot.

Blogging is fast becoming a spectator sport as well as bloggers clash with bloggers. It used to be that blogging was exclusive to the print and television medium, a kind of one way street. With the Internet, bloggers can talk back. Media exclusivity is disappearing. Big Brother can no longer blog on a one way screen.

On the negative side, blogging may become so ubiquitous that cyberspace may be likened to a crowded restaurant where nobody hears anybody.

Many still earn their living blogging in newspapers, magazines, television, and, to some extent, on the Internet. The dilution process may change that equation, as the army of unemployed former journalists grow exponentially and turn to blogging to exhibit their wares. Of course, there will always be bloggers who, for whatever reason, collect a wide audience and, hopefully, find a way for their popularity to be monetized.

Bottom line. Blog away, brother or sister. Somebody out there may be reading, watching and listening and, after all, it's nice to be noticed.

Warren Adler is the author of 30 novels including The War of the Roses and his latest, Funny Boys.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Persuaders Are After You: A Call to Arms

I no longer take anything at face value. Like Freud asking “What do women want?” I find myself asking this question without regard to gender, embellishing it further with yet other questions like: “What does he or she really mean?” or “What is he or she thinking?” or “What does he or she want me to believe?”

Perhaps being steeped in the irony of my profession as a novelist, I am getting paranoid since I have discovered that I am developing a kind of shell, an armor that is trying to protect me from manipulation. My level of distrust has expanded exponentially as I grow older. I find I am resisting all manner of attempts to persuade me about anything. As a result, I have discovered that I am subliminally blocking out all forms of commercial or political attempts at manipulating me to act in the manner that serves other people’s agendas.

When I see or hear the word “free” or “sale,” for example, I feel the symptoms of nausea. Nothing is free and a sale is dumping products that never sold. Celebrities who hawk goods strike me as an inside joke. Are there really idiots out there who believe them? Did Ronald Reagan, whose ubiquitous advertising posters were plastered all over the subways of my youth, really believe that Chesterfields were good for you? And did nine out of ten doctors prefer… was it Camels or Chesterfields? Considering how much lung cancer has inflated the pockets of doctors, one must pay attention to the laws of unintended consequences.

Speaking of doctors, there is something obscene happening today where we victims in the patient pool are being persuaded by massive advertising to try this or that prescription drug by pushing our doctors to prescribe them. Somehow it seems that it should be the other way around. The doctors should be telling us what drugs will benefit us. There is even more subtle persuasion going on here, since the advertising is also directed to those who buy these drugs on-line from websites where no prescriptions are required.

Never mind the illegalities of such ventures. Indeed, even the word illegal is taking on new connotations. Take the case of illegal immigration for example. Crime used to be defined as breaking the law. “Crime doesn’t pay” was the mantra of my youth. By today’s standards some crimes actually pay pretty well.

As a group, advertising people tend to be brilliant and cunning persuaders. (Pardon the bit of self-flattery here. I once was a member of that gang.) They have researched us down to the atomic dust in our brains and they really believe that they know all our secret urges and alleged needs.

Advertising people will tell you that what they are doing is trying to get your attention and hopefully get you to buy the product they are charged with hawking. It takes great knowledge of the craft of manipulation to dip into the mind of an indifferent public besieged by competing products and motivate them to part with their cash and choose the one they are pushing. The objective is to create a need in your mind, to seduce you into believing that this or that product or idea will satisfy an urgent or latent desire, to entice you to believe in what they are selling. It isn’t an easy job since the competition for your attention and your bucks is fierce.

Caveat Emptor” we are warned. Let the buyer beware. I am not knocking the process. Consumption lies at the heart of our capitalistic society and often the product being hawked might, just might, really improve our lives. There is a vast army of inventors and entrepreneurs who are perpetually innovating, creating, and embellishing various products that do indeed improve and extend our lives. Our judgment of the efficacy and usefulness of these products can be swift and sure. You buy it, try it, and you evaluate it. If it doesn’t work for you, you reject it.

Behind every effort to persuade us is the vast network of focus groups, pollsters, and analyzers who track what they have broken down into bits and pieces of what they allege is your psychological profile, your habits, your predilections, hoping to dig deep into your heart, mind, and soul to determine your preferences so that, as the fly fisherman say, they can match the hatch, hook you and reel you in for their own purposes.

Indeed, they believe in their results and have, so it seems, an excellent track record in predicting outcomes, but always with the caveat that their predictions can be a few percentage points off. They allege that they have worked out their tactics with scientific precision and can break you down into broad labels, like liberal and conservative, and then slice you into unlimited categories with the precision of an algorithm. Politicians and all sorts of commercial enterprises employ these professionals, whose results and determinations form the basis for their marketing ploys.

Yet, despite the fact that their conclusions are often chillingly correct, I feel quite resentful that I can so easily fit into a pigeonhole. It strikes to the heart of my individuality and mocks my own worldview and my sense of my own uniqueness. Are we so alike that we can so easily be categorized and labeled? Is our place in the culture so predictable? Are we so unified in opinion that we can be put in little lock step compartments? Such determination seems anathema in a so-called free society.

I can’t stand the idea of being categorized, dubbed a statistic, tucked away in a demographic. I hate the idea of being targeted to persuade me to buy a product or an idea based on my gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, appetite, or whatever.

Worse, I am appalled by the idea of being labeled, right, left, center, liberal, conservative, tall, short, old, young, etc. Everything in the media seems self-serving and cynical. I try valiantly, perhaps futilely, to resist this attack on my individuality. I read and view all media content with a jaundiced eye, searching zealously for signs of manipulation. Unfortunately, it is everywhere, ubiquitous, powerful, and often subtle.

The Internet with its Tower of Babel-no-holds-barred opinion machine choked with bizarre grievances, angry rants, and misinformation is a particular challenge and worrisome, but I’ll leave that for another time, since my tendency at this moment is to throw out the baby with the bath water. Never mind that I am using this media to distribute my own pearls of wisdom.

When it comes to politics, I admit I listen carefully to each candidate’s words, trying to determine what they really mean. I have found that my own interpretation is very different from what I know they want me to believe. I am immediately suspect when I see staged political rallies. Remember those brilliant films of Leni Riefenstahl depicting Nazi rallies with hands heiling in ecstasy as the evil mass murderer Adolf Hitler strode to the rostrum? It takes an enormous effort of will to resist such mass persuasion.

As a live participant in such rallies, it is almost impossible to be indifferent to the heady excitement and hysteria of such seductive crowd enthusiasm. Even observing it second hand on television and on film inspires your participation. We yearn to be part of the crowd mind I suppose.

So called soaring rhetoric, which is an integral part of these carefully staged rallies, makes me immediately suspect. I know exactly what the political manipulators are doing. I used to be one. All political campaigns are exercises in mass pandering.

But it is one thing to know you are being manipulated and for what reason and quite another to resist the invasion of your mind. The brutal fact is that you need the information, however packaged, to make a decision on anything. You can’t be part of the real world by ignoring the avalanche of information coming at you. The best you can do is filter it through your own defensive anti-pollutant mechanism.

Information, you see, is like oxygen. You can’t make any decisions without carefully weighing information, subliminally or consciously. All life is about making choices, fulfilling real or imagined needs, responding to your inner urges. Sometimes you have to take the path well worn or, as Robert Frost suggested, it might be better to take the path less traveled.

Perhaps it is the political season that prompts this call to arms against the persuaders. After working your way through the clichés and occasional nuggets of wisdom, consider this little rant a warning label from an old hand and practitioner of the art of manipulation.

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