05 October 2013

Angela 2: The Guardian of the Bay and Our Policital Ills

Angela 2: The Guardian of the Bay is now available on Amazon. In it the story of Angela Fournier and her friends continues. Familiar faces return but there are new characters introduced. The friends get caught up in the town's controversy between the oil interests, who want to build a refinery on the edge of the nature preserve and a pipeline over the barrier island and across the bay to the refinery, and the defenders of clean water, the wildlife, and the original purpose of the preserve. I am currently writing the third book, Silver Path of the Moon.

One plot element in each book deals with the issues faced by our society. That's why, though this blog is not political, I often write about controversial issues. Please allow me to weigh in on the matter of the government shutdown.

The Constitution gives Congress the power to pass legislation, which becomes law when the President signs it. Congress may also vote to repeal existing legislation but the President must sign the repeal for it to take effect. The President may veto any legislation or any repeal, in which case they do not take effect. Congress can override the veto and have the laws or repeals validated, but it takes a two-thirds vote by both the House and Senate. Nowhere does the Constitution envision Congress making or repealing legislation by refusing to pass an appropriations bill.

As I write, the Speaker of the House is refusing to introduce an appropriations bill with no conditions (the proper procedure), even though it clearly has the vote of the majority of the House, just to please a group of some 30 extremists who call themselves the "Tea Party." I find this situation incredible, senseless, and destructive. Regardless of one's political inclinations, we should all insist that a conditions-free appropriations bill be passed immediately and put the government back into full operation, before we are plunged into an economic depression. We should also demand that House members accept the political process so that, when a bill it passes does not pass the Senate, they should move on to other matters and do their best to get a majority for their party in the Senate. If they can't, it is their duty to bow to the will of the people.

One last thing: the rebels who took the action called the Boston Tea Party were protesting taxation without representation in Parliament, not against any and all taxation. Call the extremists to account; we are not an extremist country.

Please see my books, including Liliana y el espejo (in Spanish) at www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid

Thank you.

16 July 2013

Our "Race" Problem

I just finished re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird, that wonderful American classic, for the first time since I started writing my Angela novels. As an author you begin to see much more in the fiction you read, elements you never saw before or you paid little attention to, because you have become focused on the interaction of characters and many other elements of writing a story. I would like to point out two important aspects of that book.

The first is voice. The narrator is a fictional character created by Harper Lee: Scout (Jean Louise) Finch. It is the adult Scout telling us about her childhood experiences, recounting them with humor, insight, and an adult perspective. At the same time, Scout's actions and dialogue in the novel are typical of a six-to-nine year old, her ages in the story. The adult voice and child mentality work together seamlessly. It is an amazing accomplishment, all the more so because Lee went against the prevailing modernist practice of telling non-stories. In so doing she produced what may be the best American work of fiction in the 20th century.

The other element I wish to discuss fills me with sadness in the light of the events of the last week. After the jury convicts Tom Robinson, a black farm worker, when it is clear from the evidence presented at the trial that he is innocent, Jem, Scout's older brother, complains to Atticus (his father) that maybe we should do away with juries. Keep in mind that Scout and her family are white and respected in their town even if they are considered eccentric. Atticus' answer, referring to the trial and to an earlier event in which a group of men tries to pull Tom out of jail and lynch him is:

"Those are twelve reasonable men in everyday life, Tom's jury, but you saw something come between them and reason. You saw the same thing that night in front of the jail. When that crew went away, they didn't go as reasonable men, they went because we were there. There's something in our world that makes men lose their heads--they couldn't be fair if they tried. In our courts, when it's a white man's word against a black man's, the white man always wins. They're ugly, but those are the facts of life."

A little later down the page Atticus says:

"As you grow older, you'll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don't you forget it--whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash."

Ouch! Will we ever change? My life experience, and the events of last week, convince me that it will not. I long for the day when the phrase "...with liberty and justice for all" becomes a fact.

I touch lightly on some of these issues in my Angela series. You can get the first of the three books at www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid . Ask for the new trade paperback issue, much cheaper than the hardback, of which Amazon has a few left and wishes to unload. But it's too expensive. Get the paperback at $9.50. The second book will appear in the fall and I am writing the third now.

01 July 2013

The Kennedy Assassination

In November it will be 50 years since one of the most horrendous events of the 20th Century happened in our country: the murder of visionary President John F. Kennedy by persons unknown.

The Clarín newspaper of Buenos Aires last week had a link to a video of 22 November 1963 put together from a large variety of videos taken that day by TV coverage and by a few individuals who had home movie cameras. Difficult as may be to imagine one half of a century later, there were only film cameras available at the time for consumers and only a minority of people had them. The result of editing together of the videos is a full narration of that day from the moment Kennedy arrived at Love Field to the announcement at Parkland Hospital that the President was dead. It is an effort to show everything, leaving nothing available out, in a chronological video narrative, most of it commented by the TV anchors covering the visit.

When the fateful moment of the shooting arrives, shown in two different films, one of them the famous Zapruder film, it is clear from both that the President was shot first in the chest from the front and then in the forehead where there is a small entry wound and a spurt of blood, confirmed by the clot of brain going out onto the trunk of the car from the exit wound in the back of the head.

Most of you know from my previous posts that I grew up in Argentina, the son of missionaries who served there for 40 years. We were on a required periodic furlough in 1963, living in neighboring Fort Worth. I was as shocked as anyone else and the sorrow of the country is seared into my memory. That is why I remember clearly a TV interview with Parkland Hospital doctors, who said that the exit wound was in the back of the head. That clip was shown once to my knowledge on the day of the assassination or the next, and it has since disappeared from existence, never to be seen again.

In the videos I reference, immediately after the shooting, the various cameramen scan the bridge above the glassy knoll over and over. People are all looking in that direction. After that, when the Dallas police arrive, they ignore the bridge and are seen looking up into the Book Depository Building, in spite of the fact that all indications were that the shots came directly from in front of the ill-fated President.

I have no idea who killed John F. Kennedy nor what the motivations were. All I know for sure is that the Warren Commission apparently issued their report to calm and reassure the country (a laudable motivation) but not to get at the truth. The only clear truth is that he was shot from the bridge above the grassy knoll. Let us honor his memory, catch a whiff of his enthusiasm and vision, and carry on his legacy.

Some readers may wonder why I am writing about these topics. As I have promised, my posts are never political. I do not believe that politics or politicians can save us. I do write about issues that transcend politics and invite people of both parties and all inclinations to cooperate. This is the spirit that informs my Angela trilogy. You can find the first of the series at www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid . The second will come out in the fall and I am writing the third and last book at present.

24 June 2013

A Bleak Future?

It is natural to value safety and security, all the more so when we feel at risk. Terrorism around the world has become a real threat to our security and to our way of life. The temptation is strong to react emotionally: it's the flight or fight instinct which served us well thousands of years ago. At the risk of sounding counter-intuitive, I would suggest that now is the time instead to keep a cool head and examine what is most important to us.

When it came out that the government is monitoring our communications to a far greater extent than we knew before, a common theme among the people whose opinions were asked on the radio was: If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about. How I wish that were true!

But you see, there is a corollary to that: If he was arrested he must have done something wrong; they would not have arrested him if the hadn't. That is a highly dangerous assumption. I heard this from people in Argentina in 1976-77 when the military took over the government and began detaining people they considered terrorists without due process.

In fact, there had been a considerable amount of terrorist attacks in Argentina by left-wing socialist groups trying to topple the government and by right-wing death squads trying to eliminate them. The problem was real. When the military stepped in, people in general were glad that they were catching terrorists. They said: "They would not detain them if they weren't terrorists and if you're not a terrorist you have nothing to worry about." People were wrong on both counts. It came out later that the government exaggerated by tenfold their reports of the numbers of left-wing revolutionaries in activity. The participants in the right-wing death squads were never touched. The detainees were taken from their homes at 2:00 in the morning, placed in secret detention centers, tortured to confess and to provide "intelligence" and then killed. They took actual terrorists, their spouses, sympathizers, people who organized to find out what had happened to their sons and daughters, people "fingered" by others under torture who never had anything to do with anything. The society as a whole began to find out about all this progressively as their friends and family members were "disappeared" and never heard from again. People became fearful and, when at last they felt they had nothing to lose, began massive protests, finally driving the military out in 1983. It took the deaths of almost 20,000 people for whom there is definite documentation and more likely 30,000 people, most of whom were innocent of any crime, before the nightmare ended. The pain, thirty years later, is still great. People no longer say "If they were arrested they must have done something wrong." They realize they themselves could have got caught up in the disappearances and are fortunate to be alive now.

By contrast, in the 60's there were some small bands of revolutionaries operating in the heavy forests of north-central Argentina. They had attacked some police and government buildings and killed some people. They were hunted down, arrested, put in a regular jail, and indicted according to law. They were found guilty by due process and served their jail sentences. They are now productive members of the society. It's clear which of the two ways to deal with terrorism was best.

Perhaps our cavalier and acquiescent reaction to last week's news about the NSA could use an attitude adjustment. How will we bring all the new surveillance capabilities under due process of law? Isn't that American?

Check out my novel Angela 1: Starting Over at www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid

31 March 2013

Caveat Homo Sapiens: Politicians and the Economy

I often say that Republican President Dwight Eisenhower was considerably more liberal than the last two Democratic presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. In this post I hope to show why. When I came to the US to college, the country was at the height of its affluence and it has never been that wealthy since. The tax structure developed during the New Deal was still in place, resulting in widespread distribution of wealth, rather than concentration at the top. Everyone benefited, even the rich, when the income gap between the wealthiest and the rest of us was not too wide.

It was also a time of tremendous social unrest driven by the slow response of society to the need of the minorities, especially the African Americans, for acceptance into the wider culture, dignity, jobs, and education. Some of the violent outbursts that occurred made many people recoil: they left the cities and took refuge in wealthy all-white suburbs and turned inward. The resignation of a president and then the shock of sharply increased oil prices on top of the social pressures gave people the sensation that the country was adrift and without purpose.

At the moment things began to turn sour, an intense propaganda campaign began to turn the equation conservative=bad (the opinion of most of my West Texas college classmates when I was an undergraduate) into conservative=good. Arguments that had been cast aside by our parents gained new life: "business friendly" meaning de-regulating and letting business do whatever it wants, and "right to work" meaning I, the employer have the right to hire you or not and you have the right to accept my offer or not; that makes us equal. Of course this is bogus: the employer holds all the cards and the job seeker has no money to get into the game. This is the thinking that created monopolies, horrible working conditions for measly pay, and the robber baron class of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth.

Since Americans abhor the study of history, they were taken in (and are still being taken in) by a totally one-sided view of business: It is always good, it is always right, it is the only model for all of society. It is taking over spaces we never allowed it to before: education, government, the church (all organizations whose purpose is not to make money, but who help the economy by spending).

In this atmosphere, it is not surprising that all regulation became suspect and that we have eliminated most of it. The confusion of free markets for the selling of goods (Adam Smith's free market of the eighteenth century, much like current farmers' markets but with the added feature of haggling for prices) with unregulated financial markets caused the Great Recession of 2008.

We need to relearn what we learned in the 1930's and 40's. We must have reasonable regulation of financial markets, keep banks from growing too large, stimulate the economy during times of recession, and wait to decide on budget changes when the economy is good. Government is not a business. Government spends money, as well it should. Government per se is not bad. It is supposed to be us (or our representatives). If we want to set our house in order, we need to start by agreeing on how to take money of the equation during elections. If there were no paid political propaganda on TV, the influence of money on elections would be severely curtailed and Congress may begin to feel that it can represent us instead of those who bankrolled their election. Let's at least think about this.

Please check out the new edition of Angela 1: Starting Over in paperback and at a much more accessible price: www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid . Angela is at the beginning of finding out how the world works, a process that will set her at odds with many ordinary people and especially those who profit from our ignorance or inattention.

15 March 2013

Caveat homo sapiens: gun culture

I have good reason to know how ingrained our gun culture is in our country. My mother grew up on a farm in Eastern New Mexico and could handle a .22 with her eyes closed. When she was a child during the Depression and living in what was still essentially a pioneer area, having a gun made sense. She wanted to have a gun in our house but my father refused to have one around. I want to tell you three brief stories about guns.

When we lived in the Patagonia area of Argentina, there was some concern (probably misplaced) for safety. My father had to go to meetings in Buenos Aires occasionally and it would be the three of us, my mother, my sister and I alone while he was 1000 miles away. She begged for a gun. "If an intruder comes in, I can shoot him in the leg," she would say. And she could. Dad did not question that. One day word came that a son of another missionary family in another Argentine city as far away as Buenos Aires was, but to the west of the country, was showing a friend his father's hunting rifle. He was thoroughly convinced that the gun was unloaded. It wasn't. It went off and killed the friend. After that my mother no longer asked to have a gun in our house. We never bought or needed one.

A decade or more later, when my wife was a young teenager, three men entered her house by force. The whole family was there and the men were armed robbers. One of them was injured. They of course ordered everyone to stay put in their chairs. It was clear they were desperate and would gladly shoot anyone who did not comply. A search of the house turned up my father-in-law's revolver. They simply added it to their arsenal. It was of no use whatsoever in defense and could have been used to kill its owner. My mother-in-law is a nurse and she tended to the injured man. That may have saved everyone's lives, while the gun was of no use. The siege ended when the owner of a car parked by the house appeared. The men raced out, ordered the man to turn over the keys, and made their escape. The police caught them soon after.

Last story. This week a member of our church choir reported that his grandson was in the hospital with a broken jaw. Two thugs forced open the back door of his house. The grandson had a gun. If he had run out the front door, nothing would have happened to him. Instead, when he heard the intrusion he reached for his gun and proceeded to load it. Before he could complete the loading, the men wrenched the gun from him and pistol-whipped him.

Clearly, guns are not a good protection but they are extremely dangerous. Most murders are committed by a member of the household using a gun people have in the house. Imagine how many people are angry at a family member and have a gun in the house that has never been used. The image of that unused gun works on the irate family member. What good is it having something if you never use it? You get the picture.

Clearly, the purpose of the second amendment to the US constitution was not to put us in this sort of danger. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court doesn't seem to care or to understand the constitution.

Responsible citizenship is the theme of my Angela series of novels for young (and not so young) readers: www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid

12 March 2013

Caveat homo sapiens: Waterways

It is well known that our waterways are in trouble: stinking rivers that catch on fire, invisible and tasteless toxins that build up geometrically in fish, oil sheens, visible and invisible plastics, and garbage of all kinds. Fresh water is a tiny portion of the water on the earth. Already its availability does not meet the needs of people: just ask the western and northwestern US states about their conflicts over water use. The still growing world population will need more fresh water at a time when it is dwindling. Warmer temperatures cause droughts because of reduced rainfall. When it does rain, the amount and violence of rainfall means that much of it is lost in runoff and does not penetrate the ground. If current trends are not reversed, the next wars will be over water and the losers will likely die (literally) of thirst.

As if all those factors were not enough, hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) for yet more oil with which to produce more global warming, uses large amounts of water, subtracting from that available for personal use and for growing crops. Along with the water, other chemicals and some solids are pumped into the ground. Some of the chemicals are known to be toxic. The companies assure us that the liquid is injected so far below the water table that there is no possibility of the mix entering the aquifers. But we all have heard such assurances before. The pipelines that carry the fracking water break from time to time (not maybe: they do break), leaking the mixture at times into the aquifers. Moreover, it is highly likely that fracking liquids will eventfully percolate upward into the groundwater. The only people who benefit from fracking are oil company executives and large investors. When fracking befouls a large enough amount of fresh water, all that money will do them no good.

You and I are responsible for another major danger: the acidification of the oceans. Warmer temperatures and increased loading of carbon into the ocean makes the ocean more acid, to the point that already, the organisms that store carbon by using it to build their shells are dying off: the carbon exceeds their ability to absorb. It's not just that we are quickly losing the natural sequestering of carbon. The dying foraminiferans release the carbon they have stored. We are in big trouble.

One thing we can do about it is to call on our governments to outlaw fracking, to stop subsidizing oil companies, and to invest money in a national network of electrical charging stations for cars and in the production of hydrogen fuel cells small and efficient enough to power our cars and public transportation. Let's do something, rather than nothing, about all this.

My character Angela Fournier is just beginning to learn about these issues. If interested, please go to www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid

08 March 2013

Caveat homo sapiens

Humans everywhere, beware! That is the meaning of the title.

I have written before about the collapse of the modern world around 100 years ago, when, owing to developments in science and technology, it could no longer account for the reality on the ground. Cultures change slowly however. Marshall McLuhan famously said that the medieval people saw themselves as Roman, while the people of the modern period saw themselves as medieval. It's no wonder, then that now we think of ourselves as modern. Said another way, most people are chronically behind the curve at any given point in human history.

The modern world view, with its emphasis on the here-and-now, its faith in reason, and its addiction to "progress," is alarmingly inadequate for dealing with the dangers we face: global warming, the toxification of our seas and fresh waterways, the gun culture, the mishandling of the economy by politicians, and assaults on our constitutional protection against unlawful search and seizure.

I'd like to deal with each of these in turn, taking global warming first. We should call it by its real name, global warming and not by the euphemism "climate change." The scientists all agree: the planet is warming more quickly than it ever has. This warming coincides with industrialization and the mechanisms are well known. The role of carbon has been discussed at length, but methane is barely on our radars. Methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon. Unfortunately, inconsiderate human activity is causing an accelerating rise in atmospheric methane, primarily by the prevalence of feedlots and indirectly by the warming process itself: melting permafrost and ice cover is releasing methane which had been trapped.

These trends are continuing and accelerating and our activities are the principal driver. We must change. Individuals can make these changes and encourage others to do the same. For example, we can switch modes of transportation. Riding a bus which runs on natural gas instead of a car with a gasoline engine will reduce carbon production as a first step. Saving up the money we would use to operate a car will enable us eventually to purchase and all electrical vehicle, which we can use until fuel cell technology can make electrical production relatively harmless. We can eat grass-fed beef and refuse to eat meat raised in feedlots. It will cost more, so we will eat less, improving our diet. When enough people join in, methane production will start to fall.

Beginning this process is an urgent need. We are unlikely to feel sufficiently motivated unless we take seriously the post-modern time we live in. What we did before 1900 (and continued to do in the 20th century) will not help us now. This is what Einstein meant when he said that "you cannot solve problems if we remain at the same level of thinking that created them." Will you be willing to go to that next level and help rescue us from the Age of the Machine?

In my three-novel series on Angela, the main character and her friends are beginning to grapple with these questions. Angela 1: Starting Over now has a new publisher, Progressive Rising Phoenix, and is priced at a much more reasonable $9.50. You can get it on Kindle even cheaper. Check it out at http://www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid .

02 January 2013

Gun policy and the Constituion

The Supreme Court has taken the position that gun ownership is a personal right guaranteed by the Constitution. I beg to disagree. The Court has often been wrong before, and appears to be so again in this case.

State militias are mentioned, but not explained, at several points in the main body of the Constitution. They seem to be connected to the need for raising an army, when and if needed, to protect the country against invasion. Perhaps militias were the 18th-Century equivalent of the reserves. The second amendment (the only one with a preamble) connects the right of gun ownership to the need for these militias.

Any serious hermeneutics (the art and science of interpreting texts) insists on the need to take all the context of any portion of a text in its interpretation. The second amendment must be interpreted as being created for the sake of the militias mentioned in the amendment itself. The amendment, in turn, must interpreted in the context of the entire Constitution. Up until the current Court, all Supreme Courts were careful to interpret the text as a whole and consequently ruled that the right to own firearms was created for the sake of the militias. To rule otherwise is to be an irresponsible interpreter.

One wonders, therefore, what motivated the present Supreme Court to make a ruling at variance with the Constitution itself and with over two hundred years of precedent. I would hazard the hypothesis that the politicization and polarization of the Court, which mirrors the polarization of the nation, is the culprit. The current justices were, in their majority, appointed by Republican presidents who, in turn, received major donations from the NRA and from gun and ammunition manufacturers. Both of these interest groups work in tandem and at present put immense pressure on our elected officials.

The question is then, what is behind this intense pro-gun lobbying and the answer is clear. Gun and ammunition manufacturers, like any manufacturing corporation, must have growth, that is, to continue, year after year, to sell not only as much as the year before, but more. By now 49 per cent of American households own firearms. The only way the companies can grow, or even stay in business, for that matter, is to convince even more people to buy guns and ammunition. When every household has a gun, what will they do? Convince us that a gun is not enough and that our safety depends on owning an arsenal? When we all have an arsenal, then what? We are conducting a domestic arms race and it is just as mad as the arms races between countries.

Do we really want our lives to be driven, not by our own true interests, but by those of commerce? All indications from our one single national value shared by all, which is to consume in ever greater amounts, are that the answer is absolutely yes. Well, not all of us share that value. Some of us like to think for ourselves and make our own decisions. Would that our elected officials do so as well.