Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Reply to Science vs. Religion

In the forums http://www.online-literature.com/forums/forum.php

Lacking the training to get too specific, I would like to contribute my personal experience to the general conversation.

Like many of us, I suspect, I was born a Christian and rebelled against it later in life. I searched for answers to the many questions that would arise during such a rebellion, but no answer was quite so easy or satisfying as "God." Nonetheless, knowing the inherent contradictions of the established religions and encouraged by the obvious abuses of the religious, I never went back. This because the only reason to go back is that it was easy.

It is easy to believe in Heaven, and angels, and everlasting life. It is much more difficult, tragically so, to know that death brings the infinite, timeless darkness. In the deepest corner of our minds, we all suspect this is true - but most cannot and will not accept it. This because such a thought imbues a great responsibility: You only have one life. Religion has spent innumerable years and efforts to escape this responsibility. As a tool of rationalization, it is fundamentally wrong.

Knowing that religion is wrong, does that make science right? No, not necessarily. That is a grand example of a false dilemma (apologies if this was said before). I suspect the answer is somewhere in between, as is usually the case.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Europe’s Weakness Highlights Putin’s Strength

The European Union is a financial amalgamation of states and currencies, bound together in order to counter the financial power of the United States, and more recently, China. This has been generally good for the whole of the continent. But as a cohesive self-defense unit, they are totally unreliable and cannot be depended on to counter the aggression of Russia. NATO is also suspect.

As Putin presses his advantage, and America and her allies stumble over their “diplomatic” options, one has to wonder what realistic options are available to stop Putin from pressing all the way to the doorstep of Europe. Bold talk seems to be the order of the day. Russia presents a united effort to press and hold their own interests while the rest of the world pauses, considers, and hesitates.

America and Europe have made a terrible mistake by assuming that Putin and the Russian army have neither the gumption nor the expertise to actually seize and occupy territory. But they have done that – much more effectively than in any of the wars fought by America in the past decade. By taking and holding Crimea without warning or resistance, Russia has shown the capability to wage modern war more effectively than its most visible competitor.

And so sits Europe, dangling like a fat fruit, ripened by decades of peace and prosperity. If the tanks begin to roll over the countryside, what power could stop them? Could any country in Europe muster a successful defense, or even slow down the modern jets and highly trained troops as they wreak havoc and assume control? Was the whole of the continent so satisfied with the treaties and the protection of America, that they are all but powerless in a conventional war? And what of America? Would war-weary America put itself forward as the shield of Eastern Europe? Would America jeopardize its entire military and economic well-being for Latvia, Romania, or Poland?

In times of stress, the faults will begin to show. As pressure continues to build, individual countries will inevitably look to their own interests. Germany may roll up its good will in favor of more self-protective measures. The same could be said for the United Kingdom. Spain and Italy may not survive in such an environment, with their own governments and economies so fragile. Greece, Macedonia, and other Baltic states may welcome the opportunity to support Russia, and vis-à-vis gain their own economic and industrial advantages. What side might Libya and Northern Africa take?

There must not be a second underestimate. Russia and Putin are working masterfully on the diplomatic and warfare stages, leaving America and her allies struggling to catch up to the moment. America and Europe must assume that this is but the first in a series of well-planned and prepared actions, carried out by experts with decades of experience. Even now, there may be agents turning the wheels on the next phase, sowing discontent and weakening resistance in new theatres. There must not be a second underestimate.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Trip to California

From a letter to my brother.

The California trip. The first flight was a 6+ hour excursion, due to what the pilot called “strong headwinds.” I didn’t think it was too bad, because the plane was pretty comfortable and the accommodations were very nice (we basically had a fully functional TV for each seat, and also soft drinks on demand. I like Virgin America). However, Mom and Dad were not having such a great time. Though Mom handled the trip very well overall, she did admit that she was feeling claustrophobic for the duration of the flight. Dad was also mentally sore by the end of that trip, later saying it was “pretty much his limit” for length of flight. None of us slept very much. The lousy travel, mixed with the jet lag, meant that Mom and Dad had very limited energy for the next three days. But they were good soldiers, and kept a good attitude throughout. I am very thankful to them for that. Farda and I plan to get them something special for their anniversary, as a thank you. I guess I should find out when their anniversary is.


Farda picked us up at LAX – an adventure in itself. Fortunately she knew what she was doing, because we were like logs in the river. I looked out across 3 or 4 parallel roads, all with different functions, and wonder how anyone ever gets where they are supposed to be.


We did breakfast the first morning, with Farda’s immediate family. That’s when we “made it official.” Mom asked Farda’s Mom for permission to join our families. Everyone was happy, and that put me at ease. Mom and Dad also tried some new food, and liked it. The whole thing was about as good as I could ask for.


Then we went to see the Pacific. They took us to all the local beaches, and some of them were simply breathtaking. Makes Jersey look like even more of a dump. Huntington Beach was massive – long and extremely well maintained. You could fit hundreds of thousands of people there, comfortably. Newport was another experience. It felt like a private beach, but it wasn’t. They built those fancy houses almost to the edge of high-tide. It was beautiful, and I envied the people living in that place, with the ideal weather, with their roof-top lounges and sweeping balconies. What a life that must be. Then, we went further south, towards Laguna, and stopped at a cliff face overlooking the ocean. We didn’t know what the beach was named, but it was stunning. There were a line of rocky hills, and between them were white-sand beaches. They built condos and houses into the cliffs like the elves of Rivendell. Quite a display. I even took a few pictures with my phone. Finally, we made our last stop at Laguna Beach. It was a very nice town, swollen with shops but not too touristy. We ate an early dinner there, outside (in January), at a nice little Inn overlooking the beach. That alone was worth the 6-hour flight, in my opinion.


By the time we got back to the hotel, which was about 6:00, Mom and Dad were struggling to stay awake. I was also struggling, but I wasn’t afraid to use coffee. Coffee definitely saved me that night.


Farda took me to a Sushi place, to meet her friends. That was pretty great – they were very nice, and the Sushi was beyond excellent. West Coast Sushi is simply better. Like New York Pizza, there’s no comparison. I also tried Jamba Juice. Overrated.


And that’s about the end of the end of the excitement. We went to meet some extended members of Farda’s family the next day, for an engagement party. Farda was dressed up to the teeth, looking very pretty. The party at first was a bit unsettling, because everyone there was treating me like I was the man. Like, the man in charge. Everywhere I looked, people wanted to get me things – tea, food, a seat, gifts, etc. They were asking me for permission to do things, like start eating, or to introduce themselves, or to leave the house. I was the center of attention. It’s a cultural thing. And, by the end of the party, I was enjoying it. I might feel like a real King at the wedding.


The plane ride home was much better. 4.5 hours, smooth flying, plane only half-full, and in the sunlight so it felt less like a prison. We landed tired but happy, and drove back to our normal lives.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Found Nothing, Coming Home – Free from January 17-19

Some days are just super nice. Friday. Birds chirping. Bright sunlit sidewalks. Friendly neighbors. Smiling faces. Your coworkers bought your favorite coffee, because you’re just a great person. And then, you see that there is a free ebook for your reading pleasure.

The boss walks into your office. “Take the rest of the day off,” he says. “Go enjoy yourself. You deserve it!”

With a smile you stroll into the sunny morning, eager to enjoy the well-earned hours with your free ebook, on a bench by the park.

Find that beautiful day and that free ebook here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HJDFXZS



Until then, please enjoy an excerpt from the book, below:

He woke with a sour taste in his mouth and stiffness in his back. He stood quickly, and saw that the clock read 7:50. “Shit,” he said to himself, half-excited. Immediately he called Anna - she picked up and told him they would be late. Ron wanted to apologize, but she already hung up the phone.

He took a minute to spray some cologne and make sure his hair wasn't too bad. Then he shuffled down the stairs, jumped into his car, and sped to Anna's place as fast as the car and the streets would allow.

She was waiting just outside the door. She was wearing a blue dress, flowy and elegant; it was something to be worn on a special occasion. It hugged her hips and shaped tightly around her mid-section. As she walked, one of her legs slid out of a slit in the skirt. The neck was cut somewhere between classy and risque. The makeup highlighted her eyes, which were already a bright and generous display. Her hair was done in a bob - a new and aggressive look for her. She was wearing pearl earrings, and also a pearl pendant necklace. The whole ensemble was nothing short of stunning.

She wanted to know why he was late.

He said he was busy.



Wednesday, January 8, 2014

(Approximately) 100 Ways to Write More

Like most of us aspiring writers, I have struggled to find the time and the energy to write.  I’m sure you agree that writing is an intensive and time-consuming process.  It’s not something that can be done sitting in front of the TV, or on a cell phone, or during that 20 minutes between classes (or jobs). 

In compliment, I’ve been told that writing is a necessary step to be a writer.  I tend to agree.  In the same way that taking a class in civics does not make you a lawyer, writing one story that one summer a while ago does not make you a writer.  It is a constant process, a constant calling.   

So, let me pass on some good advice that I have received throughout my life. 

1.  Wake up early 

This one cannot be stressed enough.  Often, the early morning is the only quiet and composed time that we will get in the day.  That goes double for those of us with families.  Toughen up, set that alarm 90 minutes earlier, fire up that coffee pot, and embrace the dawn. 

Ideally, this would be a 7-days-a-week process.  I actually find that my best time is early mornings on the weekend, while the world sleeps off the presumptive hangover.  This isn’t always possible, but to be effective, it should be at least 3 days a week. 

2.  Schedule time to write 

Almost as important as number 1.  We all fall into the trap that goes something like, “I’ll write when I have more time.”  Of course, we either never get that time, or find a far less productive way to fill that time.  The only way to make sure you actually take the time is to set it in stone.  Put it on your calendar.  Tell your friends.  Prepare yourself for the event (ie, coffee & snacks).  

And be as specific as possible: 
On Wednesday, from 7:30 until bed, I am writing.  Nothing else will happen except writing.  No one may contact me during that time – any requests will be ignored.  Good day.” 

I find that people generally respect your desire to commit time to your passion.  And certain people (ie, the ladies) may admire that commitment (wink wink). 

3.  Make it regular 

In tandem with the first two.  In order to get into the “habit” of writing, there needs to be some normalcy about it.  Writing should not be a special event, but a typical event.  It should be part of your life in some way, everyday. 

Being more of a mathematics/logic thinker, I find that weekly scheduling is the best way to do this.  I’ll look at what I have planned for that week, determine what can be done to accommodate my personal and family obligations, and then block off time for writing.  That way, I make sure that I have set aside the time, for each and every week. 

4.  Set goals continuously

Maybe you want ten pages this week.  Or 2,000 words.  Whatever metric you choose to use, make it ambitious.  But not too ambitious.  And, set those goals early and often. 

If we set a huge goal, like “Finish this book by the end of the year,” it’s very discouraging when we continually see that goal being proved too much to achieve.  Instead, set a weekly or monthly goal.  That way, if you don’t quite make it to that goal, you can try to “make up for it” during the next phase.  It’s a good and easy way to motivate yourself. 

5.  Make a hive

There should be a place that is quiet and comfortable for writing.  Hopefully, you have an office or a bedroom with a desk where you can shut the door and politely tell others “do not disturb.”   

But if you don’t, strongly consider finding a “hive.”  This could be at a local library, a coffee shop, or even a bar.  Whatever place is most comfortable for you, and whatever has the fewest distractions.  Simply being at home, on the couch, with the TV and the cell phone and whatever other gadgets you have, all make it harder to write.  Distractions distract.  That’s what they do. 

But when you go somewhere different with the specific purpose of writing, it only helps get into the necessary mindset. 

8.  What happened to 6 and 7? 

12.  Get rid of resistance 

If you have somebody in your life that, for whatever reason, is resentful or resistant regarding your writing time, then you should strongly consider remedying that situation.  I’m not saying that you should break up with your bf/gf - but instead have a serious conversation about your desire and dedication to writing.  Insist on your desire to write.  Be aggressive, if need be.  This goes for friends and family members, as well. 

You will most likely have to deal with disappointment when you turn down social events or casual hang outs in favor of writing time.  That’s part of it.  But if it is a constant resistance from a particular source, you need to be proactive.  Or else that other person will win the fight, and you will be writing less and less over time. 

47.  Read 

My personal opinion on reading is somewhat different from most actual authors, so take it with a big ol’ grain of salt.  While I agree that reading before you begin a project is extremely important, and revisiting sources of inspiration is also extremely important, I believe that reading while you are actively writing is of less importance. 

Nonetheless, it is indeed beneficial to keep your head in the game, so to speak.  Revisit the works and authors that inspire you.  Read articles about writing and publishing.  This will rejuvenate you, give you new ideas, and therefore aid your writing.  Most importantly, this is something that can be done in 15-20 minutes (unlike writing itself). 

72.  Celebrate 

We all achieve certain milestones as we go through a project.  Perhaps it is the first 10,000 words, or completing the rough draft, or successfully rehabilitating that abysmal fourth chapter.  Whatever your milestones may be, be sure to reward yourself for the hard work – because it’s almost certain that nobody else will be near as happy as you. 

Typically, I’ll find a way to buy a good bottle of booze, or maybe indulge in a trip to a favorite restaurant.  These little celebrations feed into my energy to write, and give me something to look forward to. 
That said, don’t get carried away.  Don’t throw a party every time you finish a chapter.  Or else you’ll be doing more celebrating than writing, and it loses its effect. 

100.  Be Assertive

If you haven’t learned by now: you don’t get much by being nice to everyone.  In order to make the time for writing and get the project written, you will need to be assertive; which is a polite way for saying jerkish.  You may have to occasionally piss off people you love in order to achieve your writing goals.  If you aren’t prepared to do that, then you should reconsider your passion for writing in the first place. 


Friday, December 27, 2013

Found Nothing, Coming Home

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HJDFXZSI was 22 years old, and had just graduated college. There was a short time period after graduation when I could live near campus, because classes stopped in early May but my lease was good until mid-July. I chose to stay away from my parents’ house for that 2-month period. My justification was that I could focus on the job hunt, and that I had fewer distractions at school because most other students would be gone.

My parents bought it. That said, I did make a token effort in the job search. Still stubbornly naive, I had all confidence that I would be able to land a job within minutes of actually applying myself to the task. So, why waste this valuable time with the real world? After all, this was my last chance to enjoy the freedom of college life.

I wanted to do something big, and I had a few ideas. They mulled around in my mind for a day or two, sparring and struggling for dominance. There was a science fiction/fantasy idea, which I had been thinking about and somewhat planning for several years. In the same vein, I considered going full-force into my ideas for a new role-playing game in the style of Dungeons and Dragons (if you’re too young to know what that is: Wikipedia). That new game is something I had actually worked on, in substantial detail, the previous summer. To answer your question: No, I didn’t have many friends.

However, there was another potential project, which was winning the skirmish at the time. It was what I considered to be my great philosophical endeavor. You see, I loved the library. I loved books (I still do). I especially loved parsing the depths of the library, in the lower levels where nobody ever went, to find an inspiring philosophical treatise that hadn’t been checked out since the 70’s. I’d take this forgotten gem, perhaps something by Spinoza or Schopenhauer, and sit in one of the big easy chairs in one of the reading rooms. And then I’d read until I couldn’t stand it any more.

Accordingly, I’d take all this reading and apply it to my own endeavors. I thought I could easily write my own philosophical work, and take great care to do it right. Of course, I would include hundreds of citations and quotations, and be mindful of criticisms. I’d polish it until there was nothing left but brilliance. After all, I was a brilliant person.

But I guess I was mature enough to realize that I wasn’t mature enough. Someday that was an achievable goal, perhaps, but not right then. I entertained the idea of doing a less extensive philosophical work – a thought experiment somewhat in the style of Hume - but that didn’t garner the same kind of energy. So, for another day or two, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with this time I had available. Luckily, I had a lot of TV to catch up on, and the “on demand” feature had just been coming into stride. Therefore, I'd hesitate to say those were wasted days, because I enjoyed myself thoroughly. If a 12-pack of cheap beer and 15 hours of Discovery Channel programs isn't a good day, then I don't know what a good day is.

That night, late, I was stirring with an unusual energy. To borrow a cliché (and I hate clichés): it hit me. Great works have interesting characters. So, I needed something that had great characters. People who were exceedingly complex, constantly intriguing, never quite certain. And thereby, serve as a metaphor of my young adult life in general. The frustration! The demands! The drama! I needed an Armory Blaine. I needed a Jake Barnes.

Such was my ego at the time. Nonetheless, I was not short on inspiration.

This novel became a series of short stories, which failed and proved frustrating, and was then pushed back into novel form. It was meant to be a novel - that was how I wrote it in the first place. You see, it was divided into chapters, like a novel. Generally, I would write one chapter a day. Some days it didn’t happen, due to my own personal distractions or a lack of energy. But otherwise, I was full into writing. And I felt proud of it.

Of course, the current chapters do not represent the chapters at original writing. This book has been pulled apart and put together a half-dozen times. There were about 15 chapters in the first writing. Many of those have been cropped, merged, or eliminated entirely by now.

It was a lovely time. The days were long, warm, and sunny. My uniform was a T-shirt and gym shorts. I could wake up when I chose, eat when and what I chose, exercise, nap, watch morning TV (I was into international soccer at the time). You know, whatever I felt like. But I also had the time and the energy to write, to really write. I wrote of my own personal ambition and volition, for perhaps the first time in my life.

Ten days passed and I had ten chapters in place. Some of them I liked more than others, but I was overall very proud of the achievement. It was about 60 pages of typed text. Then or about then, I concluded that I really enjoyed writing, and wanted it to be my profession.

That should give you some idea of my mindset at the time I originally drafted this thing.

When the work was all done, it was about 20,000 words. Not exactly novel length, but I didn’t let that discourage me. I sent it to the few friends that I had, including the parents of one of my good friends. It was a proud moment for me, to share my work while still in its adolescent stages.

Much to my surprise, the reviews of the short novel were less than outstanding. I was told that it needed more work, that it felt incomplete. And they weren’t sure what the real plot was, like it didn’t come to a conclusion. This came as somewhat of a shock, because I felt quite the opposite. I thought it was very complete and had a clear message. I thought the character development was excellent, and patiently arrived at a Joyce-like epiphany – No, several epiphanies!

But, they didn’t agree with me. Yes, but what about the characters? I asked. They liked Anna. Why Anna? I asked. What about Ron - the person to whom most of my energy was dedicated? They responded with a collective shrug of the shoulders.

As you might expect, I was discouraged. I let the book sit idle. Eventually I went back to my parents’ house - a familiar trip that was the curse of my entire generation. I spent the rest of that summer drinking, sleeping, and fattening.

Later, towards autumn, the boredom roused me from my funk. I sent the manuscript of the novel to a dozen different publishers via email, postage, and one faxed copy. Though much reduced from my original arrogance, I was still very hopeful that I would get something. I was almost expecting to.

To no one’s surprise but my own, nothing came of it. For most of them, I never heard back. For the few I did, it was a chafe of words: “No thank you,” or “Resubmit later.”

And so, the novel went into hibernation. I lived the real life in the meantime, slowly becoming an adult. Therefore, by the time I revisited the book, most of my idealism and optimism had left me.

Revisiting was an interesting task. Even though my ego was much diminished, I felt that there were still a few good parts to the novel. One or two of the characters were genuinely interesting, and some of the situations were genuinely dramatic. Why, with a little work, this could be a serviceable text.

I pondered, and then there it was. A young man’s idealistic short novel, which could be reworked and arranged into something at least presentable. Effectively, the highlights of the former novel.

I hope you will enjoy it.  Now available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HJDFXZS

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Think Better, please

I had a short but revealing discussion the other day. It may have been yesterday. In which I came upon my philosophical shortcomings. Indeed, if you were to ask me Why (insert anything), I’d probably have a smart-ass answer and a laugh, then go back to worrying about my money and planning my daily itinerary, grumpily stamping my way through the daily motions, confident that my efforts will lead to a higher station and a better life, someday.

This led to a pondering of purpose – not just generally, but overall. What is the purpose of this life, that I seem so predetermined to lead? Why am I here in this place? What the hell do I hope to accomplish with this fleeting gift of consciousness? And why haven’t I thought about this in… years?

Of course we are assuming, like most of my generation does, that religion is not the answer. God is for old people. We prefer to die alone, cold and lost. (Or maybe we just don’t ever expect to die). Or maybe, as our bodies degrade and death becomes close, we will scramble back to the comforts of the religion that we left in our parents’ homes. Am I moving this topic around too much?

Back to the pondering of life. And my former beacon of admiration, the stoic Marcus Aurelius:
“For a man can lose neither the past nor the future; for how can one take from him that which is not his? So remember these two points: first, that each thing is of like form from everlasting and comes round again in its cycle, and that it signifies not whether a man shall look upon the same things for a hundred years or two hundred, or for an infinity of time; second, that the longest lived and the shortest lived man, when they come to die, lose one and the same thing.” (Meditations, book II, 14)

You’ll be damned if that isn’t blowing your mind. Because you and I, we don’t think about these kinds of things every day. Hell, we don’t even get close.

There seems to be a general lack of thought. A general lack of intelligent dialogue, even between intelligent people. And this perplexed me. Because in our age when everything can be done so quickly and efficiently, why should there not be time or energy to ponder the Universe? To question the way things work, to challenge the political system, to progress society in an idealistic way?

Perhaps a book could be commissioned to answer these questions. Because I cannot here answer them, not in my present state.

So, I implore you people, whoever might read this. Go read something meaningful. Let its wisdom cascade over you. And then, think about it. Think hard and deep.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

In its entirety, the Mann Act Memorandum

Note: This was a simulation exercise; all cases and statutes are fictitious -JEG

MEMORANDUM


Introduction

You have asked me to address the following; the material facts are not in dispute. Joseph Hurtz is married to five women by right of his sect of Mormonism. In order to keep his hardware store in business, Hurtz took his 5 wives to Nevada so that they could make money as prostitutes. They worked in a licensed brothel in Lyon County. Two days after arriving there, Wanda Dresher-Hurtz was detained by Nevada State Police in relation to a public intoxication incident; Dresher-Hurtz is the youngest of Joseph Hurtz’s wives. In the routine questioning by police officers, Wanda Dresher-Hurtz revealed that she was from Utah, and also that she was in Nevada for the purpose of prostitution. Wanda was later released without charge. The following morning, Joseph Hurtz was contacted by Nevada State Police. In a recorded phone conversation, he admitted that he was from Utah. He also admitted that he did bring all his wives with him into Nevada. However, Hurtz never admitted to coercing his wives into prostitution. Hurtz refused any knowledge of the prostitution of his wives. As a result, you are concerned whether Joseph Hurtz has violated the Mann Act.

Issue

Whether the transportation of five wives across state lines by Joseph Hurtz constitutes a violation of the Mann Act?

Discussion

The Mann Act prohibits the transportation of women across state lines for immoral purposes. In particular, statute 2a reads, “Any man who transports a woman from one state into another shall be subject to the statutes herein.” And, in tandem, statute 3a reads, “A man who crosses into a state shall be subject to the definitions of morality as determined in the courts of that state.” Indeed, in most states, prostitution would be considered an immoral act. However, in the case of Nevada, prostitution is a legal enterprise and a mark of the tourism industry. In Francis v Dark Street Video, 35 F. 2d 28 (3d Cir. 1992), prostitution was affirmed as a legal business and subject to business taxes within the state of Nevada. Therefore, it would appear that prostitution is not immoral according to the state’s standards. This is especially true when considering the case of Masterson v Jameson, 37 F. 2d 38 (2d Cir. 2003), whereby Masterson was found liable for payment for services rendered by a prostitute in a licensed brothel. Truly, in some counties of Nevada, prostitution has been rendered illegal. But this is a local matter, as there are no state laws disallowing prostitution. Hurtz is indeed held accountable for transporting women across state lines for prostitution, as one of his wives admitted. However, when considering these above stated cases, prostitution is not held as an immoral act in the state of Nevada. Accordingly, Hurtz did not violate the Mann Act because he did nothing immoral.

Conclusion

The transportation of five wives by Joseph Hurtz from Utah into Nevada is not a violation of the Mann Act.