Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hitler at the UN

Among the many instruments in the fiction writer’s toolbox is one
whose principal function is to re-imagine past events and personalities and present them in a reconstituted reality created in the writer’s mind.

The recent meeting of the UN General Assembly and the appalling speeches and conduct of many of its participants suggests just such a scenario.

What if the United Nations had been created in the thirties and one of the principal speeches was delivered by the then leader of Germany, Adolph Hitler in say, 1936? What would he have said and how would that have differed from what numerous speakers inflicted on the Assembly in 2009?

He would have pointed to Nazi economic policies with pride, citing that the profit motive was now regulated by the Nazi state in accordance with its needs. Copious use of taxes and subsidies was the policy of the state and he would brag about its progress. What he would not have said was that compliance was mandatory and based on terror. If you didn’t comply you were kaput.

But his principle point would be to extol the ethnocentricity of his regime and what he would term as the principle obstacle for creating that pure ethnicity, the Jew, and its alleged international cabal. While he might not have used the term Zionist, he would blame this Jewish cabal for Germany’s defeat in the First World War, the international financial depression of that time and all the other ills on the planet.

Even to the bitter end he was berating the Jews for engineering his downfall, notwithstanding that he had systematically exterminated most of the Jews in Europe in the most disciplined documented government sponsored killing spree ever devised.

He would have cited The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which continues to be a best selling book mistakenly categorized as non- fiction in Iran, Egypt and other parts of the Arab world. He would cite the contrived lies in that absurd book as exposing the truth of his assertion that the Jews were planning the takeover of the world and, in the context of his time, that the rise of the Bolsheviks was in accordance with that grand plan.

He would have cited the Arab Jihad as another necessary tool to eliminate the Jews and extol the logic of such a necessity. Indeed, it would be remarkably similar to the existential threat hurled by Iran’s sinister President Ahmadinejad to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Is not its echo chilling? Hitler’s speech would certainly be eloquent and to most of the audience electrifying, soaring would be the operative description, inducing extensive standing ovations.

Most of the delegates would have remained in the auditorium since everyone was doing business with Hitler in those days despite his anti-Semitic rhetoric, including the United States.

Put it in the context of the recent speeches at the so-called United Nations and you would look hard to find any difference in subject matter of a number of the participants and speakers. After all, more than half of the UN formal condemnations have been about Israel’s alleged atrocities while real violators of human rights, too numerous to list here, have gone unmentioned.

One shudders to think of the future of our world dependent on such vapid and clueless leadership on display at the General Assembly. The posturing and absurdity of some of the speeches, particularly those of Ahmadinejad, Chavez and that Libyan clown as well as those whose speeches were filled with silly repetitive fatuous feel-good clichés about working together in peace and harmony, as if the bloody landscape of our contemporary world did not exist.

Just think of what some of these fools would do if they had at their disposal a weapon to wipe out civilization as we know it.
Perhaps, the faux geniuses of Hollywood have it right in presenting their doomsday scenarios that will soon flood the screens in a neighborhood theater near you. Imagine, too, what might have happened if that aforementioned and easily diagnosed psychopath Adolph Hitler had won the race to the atomic bomb. Indeed, the evidence of the UN General Assembly suggests that psychopaths continue to stand at its rostrum and spew their horrendous invective.

Worse, some of them, like the religiocentric Iranians, owing to the paralysis and lack of historical hindsight of those who have the ability to abort an impending horror, will soon have their own doomsday weapons. Considering that their religious convictions decree that they will get their reward in some after death pleasure palace, one should have little doubt that the use of these weapons will not be deterred by the fear of death or the concept of mutually feared destruction.

To those of us who have lived long enough to remember history beginning in the thirties and to those who study it, the idea that the past is a precursor of the future is a relevance that cannot be denied.

Remember that famous quote by George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Indeed, the idea goes back even further. There is a passage in Deuteronomy in which, Moses urges the Israelites, to “ Remember the days of old, consider the years of ages past; Ask your father, he will inform you, Your elders, they will tell you.”

So the lesson of history was there from the beginning. Unfortunately not too many people paid attention.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Race Card, a Joker

You do not have to be an expert in history to know that hatred, blind, bigoted, ignorant, cruel hatred is a pervasive element in the human psyche. Perhaps, given the bloody record from the beginning of time, it is one of the most dominant features of the human condition.

The litany of hatred is infinite. Yes, there are people who hate blacks because they are black. People hate Jews because they are Jews. People hate Moslems because they are Moslems. Buddhists hate Moslems, Moslems hate Buddhists. There are endless sub categories, Shiites hate Sunnis, Hutus hate Tutsis. The point has been made. The sad fact is that this endless menu of hate has had horrendous, appalling, painful and murderous consequences, resulting in the deaths of millions of our fellow creatures.

Even in enlightened America where our Declaration of Independence proudly proclaimed that “all men are created equal” it has taken more than two centuries and a bloody civil war that took 700,000 lives to begin the process of “equalizing”, a condition that is still a work in progress. Even the most dispassionate observer can point to this progress with pride, optimism and impatience.

What prompts me to offer these historical and contemporary clichés is the current absurdity that any criticism of President Obama is a litmus test on racism. That is an insult to the innate intelligence and maturity of the American people who, despite all the parsing and hullabaloo gave a resounding electoral slap in the kisser to the idea that we are still an ignorant racist nation.

In a strange way, I feel sorry for President Obama, who wisely has rejected the characterization. The attempt to racialize his Presidency is a direct blow to his credibility and legitimacy. People who attempt to use this sledgehammer of stupidity are doing all of us a disservice. Yes, there are white people out there who continue to hate blacks and black people out there who continue to hate whites. We all know they are on the fringes, hardly mainstream considering the evidence of the last election.

Besides, the President is neither all black or all white, which makes the charge ludicrous. Indeed, the situation is made even more bizarre by a senile and increasingly shrill ex-President, Jimmy Carter, our worst chief executive in modern history, making overheated and absurd statements that tend to embolden rather than cool the ever-present forces of bigotry. The poor man is obviously suffering from a galloping case of white guilt caused by generations of his southern ancestors who abused, tortured and enslaved black people.

President Obama is right not to dip his toe into this simmering and bitter cocktail. Indeed, the growing middle class of black Americans should slap down such criticism before it gets out of hand, especially by some black politicians, who seem to be sprouting increasingly desperate methods to assure themselves re-election.

Sure there are minefields out there that continue to inhibit people’s aspirations because of prejudice and bigotry, but there are multitudes of people who have learned how to pick their way safely through these aberrant minefields of nastiness and hatred and take advantage of the vast opportunities offered in our multi-cultured, multi-layered, multi-racial landscape of opportunity.

It is both dangerous and foolhardy to label anyone who disagrees with President Obama a racist. It is time to declare it outside the rules of political combat. Such an act is antithetical to our concept of democracy. Worse, it sets up a false barrier to protest.

I, for one, would fight vigorously against anyone who would inhibit my right to protest, however vehemently, against the policies of any President, including our present one.

In my lifetime, I have seen all Presidents since Franklin Roosevelt publicly praised, lauded, vilified and disparaged. I have seen them cursed and satirized and burned in effigy in the streets and castigated in the media. So what else is new? Why should Obama be given a pass? Besides, he is well aware that he is the target of the opposition and is undoubtedly prepared for the virulent antagonism to his policies. He also knows that race is the joker in the deck and that most card games are played sans jokers. Race, for him, is a joker. It must be thrown out of the deck.

I will always remember the ugly hatred of my colleagues in the Pentagon, during my service in the Korean War, who berated President Truman for multifarious sins of commission and omission. He was characterized as the stupid haberdasher way out of his depth when he ascended to the Presidency after Roosevelt died in office. He is now a revered ex-President.

I keenly remember Johnson literally driven out of office by anti-war protestors and, of course, Richard Nixon who was roundly and universally condemned in the Watergate affair, which forced his resignation. And then there was Carter, contrived in his folksy sweater, telling us we were, to paraphrase, lazy and worthless, because we didn’t harken to his clarion bleat. History has proved us right on that call which moved him forthwith out of the White House and left him free to grouse, carp and castigate.

I often wondered how George W. Bush, could get up to work in the morning after the withering whipping he took from the media and the political left and right. History is still out on that one, although his Vice President can’t seem to shake off the lingering anger and personal animosity.

So now we have Obama, the ambitious upstart, black-white President, an amalgam of all of us, making a grand attempt at changes that most of the American people are not sure they want. Whatever the merits of his program, he is indulging in public relations gone amuck. It is one of the cardinal rules of public relations, of which I was once a practitioner, to know when to walk, albeit temporarily, off the stage. We’ve all heard his act so many times that he’s getting too repetitive and his speeches and pronouncements are quickly becoming somewhat boring clichés.

I know that sounds harsh, but he is really squandering his capital at breakneck speed. For the record, I am worried about the consequences of our astounding deficit, the terrible unemployment numbers and his ambivalent and dangerous foreign policy.

You can call me a horse’s ass or worse for my opinions. I will take no umbrage. But call me a racist and I will go along with Helena in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, don’t “bait me with this foul derision.”

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Back in Print

For authors who are elated by Google’s action to digitize all out-of-print books and pay out royalties it is, of course, a welcomed development. Despite the challenges by others who fear Google’s power, the concept of out-of-print digitization is here to stay.

Unfortunately, for those authors and their copyright heirs who see themselves as potential financial beneficiaries, I would suggest they don’t break out the champagne.
The primary reason for those books to be out-of-print in the first place, with few exceptions, is because they were deemed by their original publishers as a no longer promising investment, taking up precious warehouse and catalogue space. This is not to say that they did not merit preservation as viable entities, perhaps masterpieces, but for a variety of reasons, some patently unfair, they were relegated to the so-called dust bin of the book trade.

There were also many books lost to posterity when their publishers expired through death or business failure or simply got lost in the shuffle of history.

In many cases, these books do enjoy a modest life-cycle in second hand bookshops and Internet used books dealers. In libraries, they are eventually discarded. Libraries rarely rebind old books anymore. No additional royalties are ever paid to authors by any of these existing venues.

What authors can expect from this massive digitization is, above all, availability. The out-of-print books will join the millions and millions of digitized books in cyberspace, tiny particles in a vast crowd of text, novels, plays, poetry, and textbooks on every subject known to man, the contents of countless libraries. To quote the great Bard, “words, words, words,” an avalanche of words. It will be a Tower of Babel reaching to infinity.

With this endless rejuvenation will come the hopes of living authors, the heirs of dead ones, and other assorted claimants that they will enjoy an unprecedented revenue flow from readers who are just aching to download out-of-print books on the devices that are now exploding worldwide.

By what technical miracle will these digitized books come to the attention of the potential reader? This is the key issue for those who see in this process resurrection, rediscovery and perhaps, a big perhaps, some revenue flow.
As an author of works of the imagination, novels and shorts stories, I rescued my books from out-of-print status a dozen years ago by having my rights returned from the many publishers involved in the original publications, both in English and foreign languages. I resurrected them in all digitization and print formats and they are, of course, available now wherever books are sold.

My objective was to keep my authorial name alive in the only venue that can guarantee, at least theoretically, perpetual survival—the Internet. The objective is to keep the brand alive for as long as possible hoping that a new breakthrough book or rediscovery of an old one will create interest in all of my past works, which will never ever go out-of-print and, with luck, be recycled into movies or capture the imagination of future generations. Everyone has fantasies, hopes and aspirations. That is mine.

The problem is how to find a way for these works to rise above the incessant chatter, to be noticed, bought and read. That is the central challenge for both the author and the publisher, finding readers in an environment that has become a patchwork of a jillion niches.

With mass media outlets in print and television which can set the marketing fires ablaze with their reviews and best-seller lists declining precipitously, one can speculate with reasonable accuracy that they will slowly disappear as mass communication portals. The once dominant newspapers that were the target of choice to disseminate news and cultural happenings will morph to the net, shrunk to niche proportions along with a vast array of competitors that will splinter any attempt to make a big blast marketing push for a single book.

Marketers in the near future will be faced with how to carpet bomb the niches to gain attention, a challenge of epic proportions. All of the creative juices of the advertising and marketing world are attempting to meet this challenge and few have come up so far with an economically feasible plan.

Book publishers use the mass media to ignite the spark of word of mouth, which is the way most books gain real traction. Sometimes it happens naturally, albeit miraculously. But with the big box bookstores wrestling with present and future decline what will be left is the Internet which, so far, Amazon has mined successfully to sell its huge basket of books through its enormously successful portals. But when the time comes when the original kindling, no pun, of the mass media slowly loses heat all the Internet portals selling books will need to revamp their focus to satisfy the swiftly growing e-book audience. Of course, none of this will happen overnight, but my own best guess is that it will, indeed, happen sooner rather than later.

Publishers, too, will have to reorient their marketing strategies as they are faced with a cyberspaced distribution setup. Undoubtedly their strategy for survival will be to hone their communication skills and use the money saved on warehousing and printing to carpet bomb the Internet to gain exposure for their books. It seems a logical ploy but no one can be sure it can work successfully in such a moving target environment. Nevertheless, they will have the bucks to experiment.

Perhaps the day of the best-selling author will expire, lost in the Tower of Babel of the future. Branding authors will be harder and royalty advances will, as a consequence, decline. Serious novelists bent on a lifetime career and financial stability will have a hard time adjusting to the new reality.

Internet bookstores will depend strictly on volume and price wars are sure to proliferate. Publishers, who still control the commercial content gateway, will use the Internet to publish more and more digital books to chase their cash flow. Certain genre categories like romance fiction, mysteries, science fiction, series books and others will probably do well on the Internet although they, too, will run into problems of scale as more and more content comes into the infinite digital marketplace.

For the individual author, which is my focus, the challenge will be monumental. Can the major publishers one day discover the technique of carpet bombing the niches and get the word out for their authors? Or will they abandon their reliance on their few star sellers and bow to the lure of the niches by increasing their content output in every genre and category?

Will the individual author who tries to beat the odds through self-publishing rise above the chatter to gain enough audience to sustain themselves economically? At this moment there are thousands of sites offering self-publishing and promotional services to writers, ignored by the commercial publishing community, who thirst for self-expression, ego satisfaction and dreams of literary celebrity, fame, and fortune and who yearn to make their mark on an indifferent world.

The publishing business is not alone in gaming the future revolutionized by digitization and the Internet. Yes, fellow authors your books will never go out of print ever again, they will be available. That is no small achievement.

Reading is a two way communication system. This means that creating the text is only half the process. The challenge is to connect the two halves. It will not be easy.