Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Perchance To Dream Free On Kindle

Tomorrow through Sunday I will be offering my book Perchance To Dream free on Kindle. It's the second of a series but it works very well by itself. Here's the link: http://www.amazon.com/Perchance-Dream-Amazing-Morse-Book-ebook/dp/B00F7O5C20/ref=la_B00847RE9G_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1443577825&sr=1-2

And here's a brief little sample of what you will find inside it:

     He was a little child, a boy of no more than eight years of age. The world had been a mystery to him, but up until now a pleasant one. He was alone in the quiet murmurings of a summer afternoon. The movements of birds and insects could be heard along with the sound of leaves rustling in a mild breeze. The world around him was alive with a myriad of small movements, the growing plants nearly sentient. In front of him was a tree with a swing made of a rope and a tire. He was delighted at this discovery, this little grove he had never been to before, a spot that was alive in a way only the youthful senses of a child could fully appreciate.
     And yet…and yet there seemed to be a slight stain on all of the life around him. It was as though there was a darkness hidden in the heart of the greenery, something that contradicted the innocence and health that surrounded him. Suddenly, he sensed a shadow between the sun and himself, or perhaps there was a darkness behind the sun, a shadow hiding at its back. Holes began to appear in the quiet little world he knew, and dark terror seemed to pour through them. He knew there was something hidden in the grass nearby, something that gave lie to the brightness of the day, even as he knew there was a darkness in his mind that he had been unwilling to think about. Some small hole in the earth seemed to drain the light from the world like a drain hole in a sink. He could feel his world being sucked through that black hole. He was just a child, but he would never experience life in a childlike manner again. He tried not to look at the thing hidden in the grass, tried to shut his mind from the reality that made false all he had known. He tried to pretend he had never seen it, to cover it over with the life he had always believed he had known. But he felt a scream building up from the inside…

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Writing of a Different Sort

A couple of years before I released my first novel, I was busy doing some writing of a different sort. Below are a couple of pieces of music I composed and recorded. Both were done on my Yamaha CP-33 and recorded on a 4-track Boss Digital recorder. The first I called Master Of None because I attempted to throw in a variety of techniques and styles without thinking I was much good at any of them. Looking back these years later I definitely hear my desire to play like Franz Liszt as well as Frederic Chopin:

Here is one other piece of music I managed to upload to YouTube before realizing writing novels gave me a better chance of expressing myself.
     Music is still my first love. I hope someday I will have the time to return to it. But for now, I hope you can semi-enjoy my early attempts to create something for the ear. If you'll notice, with The Fall Of, I was already attempting to tell a story through the pictures I chose. The story is one that has played itself out no doubt quite often in history. Typically the narrative goes that a civilization has sinned or become decadent, and so it is punished. What I attempted to say here is that such catastrophes can happen at any time without reason, and individual humans have to bear the responsibility for the suffering that results from such misfortunes rather than saying it is God's will. It also says that misfortune will come, and misfortune will pass. I'd like to explain it further, but the point is that it's all a little beyond human understanding why bad things happen at all. Where we become involved is how we deal with what comes our way. We humans have our role to play in this universe, an important one, even if it's perhaps not the starring role.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Seven Stones Is Now Available As An E-book And A Paperback

I am very happy to announce that my newest novel, Seven Stones, is ready to be read. You can read the first chapters for free or purchase now by clicking here: Seven Stones

A few short words on why I think you would want to: I have taken everything I've learned from writing my first three novels and crafted this work with an eye towards both being an entertaining read as well as having moments that I hope will stick with you long after you have read it. It is historically accurate while weaving very magical and imaginative elements into the fabric of history. It has definite horror elements mixed with action/adventure and a certain hopefulness even in the darkest of moments. Please take a taste. Perhaps it will not be to your liking but I think it is worth risking a sample.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

An Argument On The Free Market and The Function Of Government

I had a little discussion on YouTube and have culled these words from it. It is not especially well said or unique but I think it was worth saying and perhaps worth reading.

     Seen through our own paradigm, we are the perfect society, because we use our own gauges in determining exactly what the best society is. Likewise in the Soviet Union the Communist Party saw their society as superior, because they could more or less feed their people and everyone was more or less equal. Our perception of freedom here is the ability to own a Harley Davidson, at least in my neck of the woods. It represents to many the lure of the open road as well as their ability to own something they truly love. But the image is a finely crafted one and the poor saps who own one often work 6-7 days a week at a job they hate in order to have their little chunk of paradise. I think owning stuff is a very good thing, up to a point. But beyond that point it becomes a sort of fetishism, a mass hysteria and a very limited view of what makes life worth living. I see our society as one that is unhealthy and that is hurtling along like a runaway train towards an inevitable crash. We have divorced ourselves from every ethical belief of the past so that now we consider greed to be a good, discipline bad, and caring for others as a weakness. We view age as a sickness rather than a part of the life-cycle, and few of us ever really continue to grow emotionally past the teenage years. Middle-aged men pop Viagra when perhaps they should accept the calming of their urges in order to fulfill the much needed role of guiding figures rather that randy old men. A quarter of our society takes psychotropic drugs in order to cope with their existence rather than take the journey towards making their lives meaningful, Almost everyone is suffering under crippling debt, as is their local, state, and federal government. And if you look at it fairly, you could make a good case that each of these problems has at the root of it our consumer culture to blame. 

I don't believe in a perfect system, just a workable one. A consumer society is one that tells us we shouldn't wait to save money for something we should buy it now. It is a society in which we don't actually ask if we need something, but rather base our purchases on an emotional rather than a rational decision making process. I don't blame the consumers so much as those who propagate such a system, who believe that their sole purpose in life is to make a profit and if we all just do our job of selling and consuming we will achieve the best possible of worlds. We are inundated with countless messages from every source of media, all of them trying to sell us something. Even churches have let in televisions, giving to them an elevated place. Count how many times today you are prompted to buy something, be it from Facebook, television, your phone, radio, or billboards. Then think of how often you are prompted to quiet introspection, work in the garden, or visit an aging relative. I don't think any society in the world has ever been asked to view life on a purely economic level as we are, except perhaps the Soviet Union. And the Soviet Union could not dream of the propaganda machine we have created.

I would like to see a workable system that maximizes human happiness. I know happiness is something hard to define, but so is freedom and nobody is afraid to mention that as a necessary goal. I think we can both agree that it is not a fear of starvation that drives a Warren Buffet or a Donald Trump, so why do we think the best way to motivate people is to work or die? Yes, it motivates, but it is the motivation of the stick rather than the carrot. It is the kind of motivation that causes some to become drug dealers or thieves, corporate or otherwise. The market, like fire,is a wonderful invention but we should treat it as a tool to be used rather than a mysterious force too powerful to control. To suggest that the market should be responsible for society is to suggest that we are not active agents in the process, it is a way of surrendering our humanity to outside forces. In primitive cultures, when a man mistreated his worker or his slave he was apt to be kept up all night with the cries of anguish. In other words, employer and employee had a closer association and the actions of either were more closely felt by the other. Nowadays we have distanced owner from employee so that a worker in Thailand can be beaten and worked 12 hours a day without the person who gets the stock dividend even being aware of how they earned their money. We need to maintain our humanity in our business practices rather than seeing humans as merely numbers on a spreadsheet. Man is an inherently tribal and social creature: if we isolate ourselves from one another and from the community we live in, we will become dysfunctional. I'm not saying the solution to our alienation from our own humanness has an easy solution, but if we do not accept the reality of the situation, it will be impossible. We cannot expect what is a simplistic economic theory to solve the complexity that is the human situation. Government is a tool, and in the hands of an educated electorate, a pretty efficient and powerful tool. To simply abandon it would not only mean that we would not benefit from it, it would mean that others would pick it up and use it as they saw fit. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Snippet From Perchance To Dream

Here's a little something from my second novel in The Amazing Morse series, Perchance To Dream. There is nothing supernatural going on here, it is merely a description of a Halloween show put on by the magic show that magician Dave Morse works at. The illusions are fairly standard ones, but I attempt to put my own spin on them:

Located on a side street off of the main street of Wisconsin Dells, almost directly across from the Museum of Historic Torture Devices, Douglas Slattery’s House of Magic was a rather fitting place for Halloween festivities. It had a cultivated air of mystery and shadow about it. It was difficult to achieve such an atmosphere on a sunny day when the street was crowded with tourists, but the autumn night lent credibility to the props and less than authentic items that the store contained. Through the store’s display window, a chair could be seen, made of ornately carved wood and covered with rich red velvet. Two swords spanned the gap between the arms of the chair and upon the sharp edges of the swords sat a severed head. Not your normal everyday severed head, either, but one covered with tattoos. So many tattoos that the head was shaved in order to display them all. Nor was this severed head an inanimate prop, but a very active and curious thing that looked back at those who gawked at it through the window. When a couple who were walking past happened to gaze upon the spectacle, the tattooed head opened its mouth and stuck out its forked tongue at them like a snake giving warning. There was a defiance in its eyes, as though hatred was what kept it from the death it deserved. The woman leapt back as the thing’s eyes suddenly met her own and stared a challenge at her. The couple continued on their way. A moment later, several others had gathered outside the window. A sign in the window’s lower left corner read: “Enter if you would dare to see more.” The people soon entered the building.
They entered into a small room with a closed curtain at the far end of it, just in time for the next presentation to begin. The curtain was pulled back by some unseen source, revealing the body of a woman with the glaringly obvious lack of a head. Into the neck poured metal pipes, apparently to bring nutrients to the body in order for it to maintain a semblance of life. Various equipment that looked to belong to a hospital were around the body, one of them showing the vital stats. There were also two clear plastic vats filled with crimson fluids which intermittently bubbled as the fluid was pushed into or out of the body via tubes connected at the woman’s throat. Before long, the pre-recorded voice of an overly-clinical man could be heard through speakers located somewhere in the ceiling of the room: “What we see here is a recent development in health and beauty aids. In front of you is the body of a woman who was evidently born with good genes, but unfortunately without the material means to maximize their potential. She was forced through economic necessity to work in an industrial setting that made use of some rather dangerous heavy machinery. A moment of carelessness on her part resulted in a complete decapitation, the head being damaged beyond the opportunity for reattachment. Fortunately, modern medicine has been able to maintain the life in her body even though she is, sadly, no longer able to hold down a steady job. But her misfortune shall work in the favor of some other woman who is able to afford this magnificent physique. In the future, tummy tucks and other such painful, inconvenient operations will no longer be necessary, as bodies such as this will be available to women who simply do not have the time for exercise. Already, scientists are hard at work, busily trying to replicate the genes that have made this attractive physique uniquely suitable to matching and not rejecting another’s head.
“If one of you would like to step toward the computer screen, we will demonstrate to you that this body, while not technically ‘alive’, is still fully functional.”

At the railing that discouraged the crowd from getting closer to the exhibit was a touch screen with simple commands displayed. One simply had to touch “lift right hand” in order to make the body in front of them obey, if rather awkwardly. Another square had the command “cross legs”. When pushed, the woman’s attractive nylon-clad legs moved in a rather lady-like manner, crossing from one direction to the other. The audience was given the opportunity to press every button, or at least enough to get the point across. Once this was done, the crowd was instructed to exit the door on their left, allowing the room to fill up again with the next crowd of onlookers.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Capitalism Needs Competition

     I’m just a sheet metal worker, but today I got to listen to an hour-long discussion of Cervantes’ Don Quixote while at work. It was preceded by an hour long discussion on the refugee crisis in Europe. When I say discussion, I mean a respectful, thoughtful discussion of ideas rather than a couple of guys hurling abuse at each other.
     I Shouldn’t have to tell you it was on public radio, it’s sort of a given. I have heard a thousand other such instances of elevated hour-long discussions on issues ranging from John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme to the accomplishments of John Quincy Adams. And what did I hear on commercial radio when I turned the dial? Well, commercials, mainly. An astounding string of them. In fact I hit three in a row.
     To make a similar comparison, I flipped through the channels on TV tonight to see what was playing. Not on the normal channels but on the elevated ones that some cable salesman once tried to impress me with. I thought I might have to fudge the schedule a little just to make it seem more extreme, but such exaggeration was unnecessary. Here is the list of actual programs on the channels I deemed most highbrow:
                History Channel—American Pickers
                Arts & Entertainment—Duck Dynasty
                American Movie Classics (Note the word “Classics”)—Gone In 60 Seconds w/Nicholas Cage
                The Learning Channel—My Big Fat Fabulous Life
                VH1—Dating Naked
     Let’s face it, corporate media is a cesspool.
     It wasn’t always that way, though. Check out this interview from 1958, it’s an example of what television was once capable of producing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alasBxZsb40 . You can also find Erich Fromm on 60 minutes, and Phil Donahue interviewing Ayn Rand. On a daytime talk show!
You see, back then the corporate model had competition. They were afraid if they didn’t provide for the citizenry that the citizenry might choose some other kind of model to provide not only their news and entertainment but their other needs as well. The U.S.S.R. still existed and there was a battle for the hearts and minds of humanity.
     But now there is no longer any competition and corporate media has grown fat, lazy, arrogant and stupid. It throws an entire day of the same reality program on a channel the way a farmer would throw slop in a trough for the consumption of pigs. Even Public Radio is far more dependent on corporate underwriters than it should be.
     It seems that a lack of competition has made corporations soft. Competition has always been the redeeming feature of capitalism, the check upon the greed that drives it. Knowing someone can come along and do your job better makes a guy or a corporation work harder and act smarter. But the idea that competition between corporations will do the job is demonstrably false (keep in mind the examples I gave you were from those channels that were most likely to supply adult programming).

     Perhaps capitalism itself needs honest competition from another form of production, another way of providing for the needs and wants of society. Maybe corporations need to face a real threat to their existence before they can show what they’re capable of. It’s time to start thinking outside of the box. Viewers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but Honey Boo Boo.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Our Preference For A Small World, A Simplistic Understanding

     Grow up in a certain time and place and the oddest things will seem normal to you. Mood rings and pet rocks, earth shoes and bell bottoms were things we never really questioned in the 70’s. And if you grew up in a society where they cut the heart out of a virgin in order to appease the volcano god, well, that seemed like a perfectly rational thing to do at the time.
     Of course, you see the absurdity of it all, don’t you? You see the madness of a society that advocated slavery or wearing powdered wigs in order to look important, right? That’s the thing; when you’re outside of it it’s easy to see what is wrong with a given era. But when you’re trapped inside of it, it’s almost impossible to see the absurdity that takes place right under your nose. There is some fundamental flaw in the human intellect that leaves a person blind to the obvious if those around him are similarly unaware. We are tied to a greater communal mind in ways we cannot understand and are unlikely to admit. We are less the rugged individualists we see ourselves as and more like the sheep we tend to mock. We tend to rebel in more or less the same way. Hence tattoos as a symbol of self-expression, because a Maori design on your shoulder so marks you as an individual.
     You see, a given mindset is a hard thing to shake. We all want to believe we are free from biases, but the evidence suggests otherwise. But as much as mindsets are quick to come and go, there is one bias common to the sun worshippers of primitive times and modern day hipsters: we all believe that we were born in the one place and time that got it right.
     This is not to blame those who are unable to see past their own backyards, as it seems to be something universal in our nature. But by realizing our penchant for group-think we should arm ourselves against it. We can do this by deliberately stepping beyond the borders of the here and now, and perhaps the best way to do this is through reading. By reading we can visit other lands and times, can permit another’s mind to guide us through a different train of thought. But do not read a book about Victorian England written by a contemporary writer for this purpose as it will contain contemporary biases. Read a book written in a different age. It doesn’t so much matter if it is a classic, a romance, or a comic, you will know it for what it is. If a child’s story, you will see how an adult spoke to a child in a different era.
     Read an old magazine and glance through the advertisement as well as the articles. Immerse yourself in a different environment. When you return from it you will see things differently.
     That is what troubles me about libraries is that they are quickly replacing those testaments of ages passed with new interpretations of them. But like a photograph, anything that is copied loses some fidelity with each copy that is made. Go back to the original, back to the source, the real thing, or at least as close as possible. The powers that be of any given age wish to keep you blind to other perspectives, wish to have you see the world in the way they are trying to paint it. They want to purge the world of historical perspective, which is why The History Channel has day-long blocks of Pawn Stars and Car Wars or whatever the hell they are showing nowadays. Step outside of the cage others would make for you, or else the heart that is sacrificed to the volcano god might just be yours.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Childhood In Three Generations

     My wife and I walked the dog tonight, up past the water park/mini-golf course that was recently built eight blocks away from my home. It was built to give kids something to do since there isn’t a lot of open space nearby. As we walked by the eight foot tall gate that barricaded the amenities against those who might not have the money to pay, I couldn’t help noticing the domed piece of darkened glass that covered the camera that was observing us as we walked by. Surely it was there to keep the peace, surely it wasn’t bothering anyone who was obeying the laws. And yet I couldn’t help thinking that our world has changed lately, changed with both a speed and extremity that has never been witnessed before.
     I think about my own childhood and I think of endless hours of play outdoors, whether it be on the streets or in the field a couple of blocks away from my home. Either way it was play far from the eyes of the adults. The field I’m talking about was no nature preserve, rather it was a bit of land that had been cleared in order to make it just another piece of the suburban puzzle of square plots of land. But for whatever reason, the project was halted halfway through and abandoned. The result was not too different from a sandbox where a child had been playing with Tonka trucks before getting bored and moving on to some other endeavor, just on a grander scale. But it was a place where we learned how to negotiate both an external reality and our relationships with our fellow man (or boy, as the case may be).
     But kids don’t explore the real world while figuring out how to get along with others nowadays. It’s bad enough with the waterpark example, where they are constantly monitored by not only the lifeguards but by video cameras. They are not discovering anything, rather they are caged in like animals at a zoo, free to play in an artificial environment that might amuse but does not instruct them how to live in the wild. And this is when kids are at physical play, burning off the energy nature has given them. More often they are busy exploring artificial worlds with artificial people. I refer, of course, to video games, where adults construct reality to which the children respond. It’s like play, only nothing ever useful is learned. Instead, children are taught how to steal cars and kill a bunch of people and if the game stops going your way you can just hit the reset button.
     This is the point where you say, “Aw, just an old man talking about how hard his childhood was and how easy kids have it today.” Not at all. I loved my childhood. I feel sorry for kids nowadays who will never get away from the world adults have fashioned for them. Of course, even in my day I knew there was something artificial about my life that made my experiences feel a little less than legitimate. See, my dad had grown up during the Great Depression and he exited that straight into the greatest war the world had ever seen. His generation had a connection to reality very similar to every other generation that had come before. Prior to the last 70 years or so, you would had to have been a very rich and alienated aristocrat if you wanted to be able to escape the laws of nature and the fundamental lessons that life teaches. When my dad wanted to go swimming, he and the other kids in the neighborhood would dam up a stream until they had a pool. Imagine what that taught them about working with others and getting along in order to accomplish a goal. Now a kid just has to have parents with the money to get past the iron gate. Of course, maybe they’ll come out with a swimming game for PlayStation and save them the hassle. They could cliff dive in Australia, bodysurf at Waikiki or compete in the 400 meter freestyle against Michael Phelps. I’m sure it will teach them good hand/eye coordination. 

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Game Of Monopoly

     The reason the game of Monopoly does not permit borrowing is that the game would never end. Not only would it never end, it would soon become intolerable. Those with all the property would only become richer, while those without would only go further into debt. There would be no joy to be derived from the game by the losers and no joy either for the winners unless they had some pathological need to acquire money and property beyond measure. Even so, they would require a little bit of sadism in order to derive any measure of enjoyment from such a game.
     Now imagine that each time you were to play Monopoly that you carried your previous score with you. And not you only but your score would be passed down to your children and grandchildren so that if you were a loser your children would be forced to move their thimble across a board where all the property is already owned (the winner’s kid would have the racecar, which was bargained away from you when you landed on Boardwalk with a hotel on it).
     Who would call such a game fair? Who would wish to play such a game? And for those in perpetual debt, who would blame them if they overturned the board, scattering houses and hotels everywhere?
     Of course the Chance cards would be rigged too, so that the one in debt would have to shoulder the burden of the taxes. The card would read “Pay $500 in taxes” but it would have an asterisk next to it stating that property owners could deduct $50 for upkeep for each building owned.
     The loser would spend a lot of time in jail. Indeed, that might be a place of safety for him, a place where for a brief span of time they wouldn’t have to worry about racking up further debt. The loser wouldn’t really care about keeping out, wouldn’t worry about landing on the Go Directly To Jail square. Free Parking would be his only hope. The property owner, of course, would never have to worry about spending any real time in jail. Sure, he could get sent there, but he’d always have enough to buy his way out the next roll.
     Every lap around the board, the loser would be reminded of the time when he was just starting out with a little house on Baltic Avenue. Sure, it didn’t seem like much at the time but it was all he really ever needed. Of course, there’s a motel on there now, but it’s not his own, and the price is rather steep. Still, one has to rest somewhere eventually, even if it drives him further in debt.

     Happily, those are not the rules of the game of Monopoly. If they were, nobody would want to play. It would be the dumbest game ever.