Monday, December 29, 2014

End of the Afganistan War, and our Predatory Economy

Yesterday, the US federal government declared an end to the thirteen-year-old war in Afghanistan. I hate to be a nay-sayer, but I’ll bet that the military action in the Middle East will continue, and within a few years America will be at war again. 

Why? In doing research for my work-in-progress, which is about greed, gun violence, and the American war machine, it has occurred to me that the reason America has been at war, almost constantly since the Regan presidency, is that Americans have let their government create a war economy. So much of our GDP and so many of our jobs depend on national defense, that without war, without killing, the American economy would collapse, sending us into the most devastating depression ever.

Before Regan, the US Government maintained a small, yet well equipped military, swelling the numbers as needed when American security was threatened. Even after Vietnam they shrunk the military to reasonable numbers. Regan, however, got the bright idea to expand the military machine to boost the lagging economy so that he could win a second term. It worked so well, and the defense industry began giving politicians such grand kickbacks, that politicians—Republicans and Democrats—just kept expanding and expanding the war machine.

But of course, without some valid national threat—some war to fight—the taxpayers will eventually catch on. So George and Dick came up with the perfect solution, give them a war nobody really cares about, a war that will drag on forever, bleeding the Middle-class of trillions of dollars and funneling that money into the board rooms of Halliburton, Raytheon, DynCorp International, Hewlett-Packard, Pratt & Whitney, General Electric, Northrop Grumann, General Dynamics, Boeing, Lockheed Martin. Lockheed alone bleeds over thirty-five billion from taxpayers each year. The list of corporate fat cats goes on and on, like pigs at a trough. The crimes these politicians have perpetrated on the middle class are even more horrendous than the torture our government inflicted on POWs in Iraq and Guantanamo.

And why? The almighty dollar. It’s all to prop up what has grown into a predatory economy. The only thing our Defense Department defends is their own corporate profits. I wonder how many “good Christian” voters realize that their financial stability hinges on Americans killing people around the globe? I’ve read estimates that as many as 1.5 million Muslims were killed due to America’s actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, although I find that number hard to believe.  

In my novel, The Plain of Bitter Honey, I describe the fall of America. In opening the story, I wrote the following:

The fall of the World Trade Towers at the beginning of the century brought a sharp change in the political climate. Politicians still boasted of the country’s military might, the benefits of technology, and increased corporate wealth; CNN still claimed the country was the land of freedom, but outsiders asserted, on the contrary, that the U.S. was dying, as did Rome, of iniquity and pride and vanity. People were more concerned with Hollywood’s latest scandal than how many people were killed in order to keep the nation’s troughs full. But events confirmed the darker suspicions. After all, a predatory economy can only flourish for so long. Wars bled the country into feebleness and debt while parasitism ran rampant, eating into the country's vitals. The blinded eagle could neither seize new prey nor remove the maggots that feasted in its own flesh.

Countries that were once allies turned hostile. The very people who profited most from the crumbling culture were the first to escape—the rich gathered their wealth around them like cloaks and fled to other countries, engrossing themselves in their private amusements rather than their public duty. Overburdened by their debts—from wars, the astronomical cost of raw materials, the need for Hummers in every garage and flat-screen TVs in every room—the middle class, who had once made America great, defaulted to their creditors, causing a collapse of the world banking system. Desperate people on the fringe became homeless, forming lawless bands of marauders roaming the countryside, seizing what they needed to survive.  Inside the cities alcoholism and drug addiction became the norm; while outside it was every man for himself. Farmlands went fallow, the cost of food skyrocketed, and the epidemic rate of obesity actually fell for the first time in America’s history.

Those who could afford to flee the country did so, and in 2035 when Congress sought to forbid the further exodus of the population, they were talking to empty air.

Public works were visible in the colossal municipal buildings, empty shopping malls, and power plants. Indeed, large-scale expenditures for new Christian cathedrals, sports arenas, military spying technology, and monuments to the fallen heroes of war were widespread. These projects were paid for by budget cutbacks in infrastructure maintenance, which hastened the decay, and the country began to crumble.

In the face of steady deterioration, the remaining population’s belief in the “American way of life” and “a benevolent God who loves and protects us”—the opium of the self-centered masses—remained incorrigible. They were convinced that there would always be a United States of America, and that technology and Christian ideals would keep them at the pinnacle of human culture. So they thought until one man came wandering out of the wilderness, wielding words and ideas rather than guns, to lead them toward a true salvation. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Holidays From Chiang Mai

Wishing all my friends, family, and supporters a fantastic holiday season and the best new year ever. Let's all focus on love in  2015--give it, take it, spread it everywhere you go.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Earning Merit the Chiang Mai Way

Herman and I ambled into a rare opportunity three nights ago. We were wandering round Chiang Mai after dinner dropped into the Wat Chedi Luang temple, where the monks were having some sort of Buddhist celebration. There were a few dozen spectators, another dozen monks, and a man chanting in front of a shrine.

The man, who had to be in his eighties, chanted for thirty or forth minutes in a strong voice. The monks were passing out very sweet tea to us spectators. Apparently they though we needed something to give us more stamina for just listening. When the man completed his chant, the monks invited all the spectators, including Herman and me, to help light the lanterns as offerings of merit. 

Herman and I both sent two lanterns floating up to the heavens. I’m not sure how much merit that earns us, but it was great fun to be included in the ceremony.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Kill The Messenger

Herman and I saw an interesting movie the other night, called Kill The Messenger. It was a political thriller based on a true story of Journalist Gary Webb. I enjoyed the movie, but can’t recommend it to anyone who still believes that the US Federal Government gives a rat’s ass about anyone but themselves and the one-percent who pull their strings to make them dance, because this movie will pull their heads out of the sand and they will loose all respect for the people ruling this country.

The plot is about a reporter who uncovers a government plot: When Congress refused Regan the funds to fight his war in Nicaragua, he had the CIA setup an organization that flew billions of dollars of cocaine into major American cities to raise the money so the Contras could buy weapons. Yes, all part of the Iran-Contra scandal. The whole time Regan was telling the country that drugs were our number one problem ripping apart society, and that people should just say no. During the Clinton era, the CIA published a four-hundred page report admitting their guilt, but of course they published it during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and the country was so busy being outraged that the President got a blow job that they ignored the fact that, under Regan, the CIA was selling crack cocaine in the nation’s ghettos to pump billions into the defense industry board rooms.

Of course, that was peanuts compared to Bush and Cheney, who started the Iraq war in order to funnel two trillion dollars from middle-class taxpayers to the stockholders of Halliburton, Raytheon, DynCorp International, Hewlett-Packard, Pratt & Whitney, General Electric, Northrop Grumann, General Dynamics, Boeing, Lockheed Martin. Lockheed alone bleeds over thirty-five billion from taxpayers each year. The list of corporate fat cats goes on and on, like pigs at a trough. The crimes these politicians have perpetrated on the middle class are even more horrendous than the torture our government inflicted on POWs in Iraq and Guantanamo.

I sorely wish my father could have lived to see this film. Back in the day, he thought Regan walked on water, while I thought he was the worst president ever, even worst than Nixon (that, of course, was before George W. set the bar at a new low). Dad and I used to argue like cats and dogs over Regan’s shortcomings. I do wish I could rub his face in the fact the Regan was responsible for the CIA selling billions of dollars of crack cocaine to America’s youth.

“But,” he would say, “they were selling crack in the ghettos, to people of color, so who cares? And it was for a good cause, to fight communism.” He would lift his head and with a tear in his eye and admire his hero all the more. Perhaps it’s a good thing he and his kind are dying out.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Buddha’s Bad Boys Goes To Print

For the last five days, I’ve been proofreading the final galley for my anthology of short stories, Buddha’s Bad Boys. I submitted these stories to Bold Strokes Books back in March, and they plan to release the book in February. I’m excited, because this is my first anthology.

Normally, the process for Bold Strokes Books is that an editor goes through the book making edits, and then the edited manuscript is sent to me with all the edits highlighted. I get the opportunity to approve or reject each edit. Once I send the approved manuscript back to BSB, the process is repeated with a different editor. When we’ve been through two rounds of edits, they send me the final galley for one last proofread before it goes to print.

This time, however, they didn’t send me the edited manuscript. I only received the final galley. I emailed my editor to ask why I was left out of the editing process, and was told that they didn’t make any wording changes, just a few spelling corrections and some commas here and there. The original manuscript was so clean they didn’t feel the need to bother me with minor punctuation changes.

Wow, that is a first for me. In the past, there was normally more red ink on the pages than black when I received their comments. Looks like I’m finally beginning to get the hang of this writing stuff.

I actually wish they had included me in the editing process, because while proofreading the final galley, I found areas where I dipped heavily into melodrama, and also repeated myself. The editors chose to let that pass. If I’d had a hand earlier in the editing process, I could have corrected that. It’s funny how clearly those problems stand out to me now, but I didn’t see them a year ago when I was writing these six stories.

Still, I believe these stories are well plotted and have likable character who have genuine depth. I hope readers will overlook the flaws and appreciate the stories.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Characters I Write

My career as a writer had been occupied in writing about characters who don’t fit into the social patterns. Most of my protagonists are gay men, but not all. These characters are very varied; some don’t fit in because of sheer defiance, some because they are terrified of society, some are simply scandalous. There are some, however, who have such a high degree of integrity that they don’t fit in anywhere in a world tainted by corruption.

The one thing they all have in common is that they are outsiders. They have many voices, and all sing, some loudly and some whisper, against the social norms. They are people who have few friends, yet value absolute loyalty to the personal relationships they find; they cling to those relationships as the plot darkens and they must fight to save themselves and the people that matter to them.

E.M. Forster once said: “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” This, I believe goes to the heart of my outsider characters that I try to create. I’ve always regarded loyalty to friends and loved ones as going beyond admirable to heroic. It represents the best qualities of the outsider.

I write about outsiders because I believe the outsider is, should be, really, one of the most socially valuable people in the whole community. Because he/she often, more often than not, challenges the social norms, doing what he/she thinks is right, rather than what’s accepted or easy.

Admittedly, I’ve always felt myself to be an outsider, and not by choice. So that by creating these characters, I’m questioning my own experience, what I am and what I am becoming. I create these characters and plots to find out if there’s meaning in the external world for me, and then, I suppose, if I decide that there isn’t, to impose a meaning of my own.

There are as many reasons to write and create characters as there are writers, but I’m explaining what I feel motivates me as a writer, and that is my own experience. I take those different experiences and mold them into a real constructed, contrived novel or short story which has a plot played out in action and also a philosophical plot which either proves or disproves a question, which it the story’s main theme. It has motifs as in a symphonic work, and it comes to a conclusion. But at the heart of that plot are the main characters, and I tend to paint a detailed portrait of these characters. And within the heart of these characters lies the soul of the outsider struggling against society for ideas they believe are truth and just.