Should I be writing about political issues?

Arts, publishing and books websites are showing us a large number of links about writers and politics these days. Some writers are speaking out (from one side of the aisle or the other) at rallies, via letters to Senators and Representatives, and posts on Facebook profiles. Others are writing poems, entire poetry chapbooks, essays, book reviews, short stories and novels that reflect their concerns about a wide variety of political, economic and social issues that became part of the very polarized national debate during the Presidential campaign.

Somebody–I forget who–once said that all fiction and poetry is at one level or another political. Perhaps so. My contemporary fantasies can’t help but show sadness over a world that relies more on technology than spirituality. My two Florida conjure novels shine a light on the racism of the 1950s. Nonetheless, my primary intent with these novels was telling stories I was passionate about rather than creating “message novels.”

When I think about the folk songs of the 1960s–and a lot of the poetry and fiction as well–I remember them as being intensely political, about “the military industrial establishment,” segregation, poverty, and the Vietnam War. We seem to have come full circle back to writings of protest and resistance against conservative policies as well as writings suggesting that that previous liberal policies created a mess that needs to be cleaned up.

Of course I have opinions about the issues. One opinion of longstanding favors a better approach to the environment, conservation, protection of wild areas and natural resources, and more care about not polluting the environment. Since these views go all the way back to the days when I was in the Boy Scouts and first began to participate in conservation organizations such as the Wilderness Society and the National Parks and Conservation Association, I will keep writing about this–and referring to it in my stories.

While I respect writers and others who feel a need to speak out for or against the issues that now threaten to further divide this country into camps that refuse to work toward consensus, I’m not going to do it. For one thing, I have no credentials that give me any special insight into whether we should be doing ABC or XYZ.  For another thing, much of the debate in both the news media and the social media is being driven by biased or skewed news, sensationalism and other misleading information, and voters on both sides of the issue who approach discussion with a “my candidate right or wrong.” All of this divides us further and makes the truth harder to find.

So my “voice” is going to stay focused on environmental issues and in writing fiction even if the two things get stirred up together a little bit. None of the rants–even those I basically agree with–on Facebook and elsewhere are changing people’s minds. Why not? Because they’re skewed toward the far right or the far left rather than a more centrist approach where people can really discuss the issues sanely rather than throwing gasoline on the fire with dueling wisecracks and graphics.

I welcome those journalists and other writers who do their best to look past the hysteria and tell us the facts and/or to carefully analyze the practicality, ethics, and legality of the issues in their news stories, features, essays, poems, and fiction. Anything else is pretty much spitting into the wind.

–Malcolm

 

There are days when I wish I hadn’t logged on to Facebook

We call Facebook social media, but it’s often anti-social media.

It offers us a chance to keep up with people–often old friends we haven’t seen since childhood or college–and to hear about new ideas, general news, books, blog links of interest, and a lot of other things that according to communications theories are supposed to bring various cultural groups and nationalities closer together through enhanced knowledge and understanding of each other.

assbookI’m not surprised when people use Facebook and Twitter to disseminate facts, ideas and opinions about causes such as the environment, the treatment of women in Muslim countries, military vs. diplomatic methods of resolving conflicts, and the current Presidential race.

In this country, we’re supposed to be champions of free speech. Among other things, that means defending the right of those who express opposing views to express those views. But somehow, that’s all gotten so polarized that people ignore the facts–or don’t spend time looking for them.

What’s changed?

Perhaps nothing, depending on how old you are and what you’ve experienced growing up through many decades of changing priorities and value systems. My feeling is that people aren’t doing their homework. So, when they feel moved to say something on Facebook, they often opt for a graphic or a video prepared by a biased source. Many of the things quoted during the Presidential race either were never said by the candidate or were taken out of context so they appear to mean something quite different than the candidate intended. Yet this stuff is posted as the gospel truth.

As a former journalist and journalism instructor, I not only think many news outlets have gotten warped, but that they are using their agendas to create public opinions that would be much different if those courses were making every effort to be objective. This skewed, highly managed sound bite “journalism” makes its way onto Facebook in all kinds of ways. Truth is the first casualty here. Oddly enough, if you point out to the person who posts a political graphic that the graphic is incorrect, their solution is to believe it anyway. It’s simply easier!

While I almost never post political statements on my Facebook profile, I often “see red” when I see a graphic or a poster’s opinion that twists a real event into something it wasn’t. Even if I say that I heard the speech the person is quoting and that they’re not reporting what s/he said, they don’t care. What they’re posting coincides with their opinions and the facts don’t matter.

Sometimes people ask me what my sources are. When I answer, some people say, “Oh, well I only listen to news sources I agree with.” Ultimate stupidity. You’re not supposed to agree with a source because that source is supposed to be neutral. If they’re not neutral, they’re not a real journalist. I despair when I see the Fox news aficionados and the CNN aficionados screaming at each other about objectivity when both of those news outlets are very biased. Yes, I know, it’s just easier to be led around by a figurative leash by sources who tell you what to think, but that approach hurts all of us.

I know I shouldn’t comment on those kinds of posts, but it’s hard to resist. The result: a lot of time is wasted and nobody’s opinion is changed. What a waste of time.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s new novel “Eulalie and Washerwoman” will be released Friday, October 14th.

Seriously, why do I need to know everything right now?

We’re living in a right now world.

Of course, it’s always now.

But the now I care about is the now I can see, hear, taste, touch and smell.

  • skunkIf I’m enjoying smelling the roses in my side yard, I don’t really need an “urgent” text message from a friend saying, OMG I just ran over a skunk on Interstate 75. (Unless the skunk or the smell of the skunk caused a car wreck, this information can wait until later–or possibly never.)
  • When I turn on CNN, I see that the words “BREAKING NEWS” are always on the TV screen even if the news happened a week ago. The primary breaking news on CNN is that a bunch of talking heads are telling me what they thing about the news rather than covering actual news. (I got fooled by this at first and though some hideous events were happening over and over again.)
  • Looking for interesting posts on Facebook, I don’t need to see status updates that look like this: “Good one.” “Oh no, look at that chick’s ugly dress.” “What a bunch of crap.” “Yikes, the killer is getting away.” (I took me a while to figure out that the people posting these updates weren’t necessarily crazy–though that’s possible. They were making comments about some TV show they were watching, you know, like were were all watching it together.
  • When I’m busy defusing a bomb that somebody left under the hood of my car after watching the movie called “Speed,” I don’t really want to get a slough of voice mail messages from you saying stuff like this: “Hi Malcolm, this is Bob, just calling to see if you’re still alive.” “Malcolm, I know you’re not dead, please pick up.” “If you don’t answer your GD phone when I call you, why do you have a GD  phone?” (Bob, the Earth circles around the sun rather than around you.)
  • When I’m watching an exciting episode of NCIS, I don’t really want my local network station to preempt the the show with five minutes of emergency “JUST HAPPENED” commentary about a dead skunk on the Interstate with on-the scene coverage from reporters saying, “This is Bob Smith standing next to a dead skunk a mile south of the Highway 53 exit for Calhoun. It smells really bad. Back to you at the station, Susan.” (Meanwhile, I missed the stunning conclusion of my program and have gotten back to the network feed in time for a Preparation H commercial.)
  • Let’s say I just ran over a skunk on I-75. You send me a text message: “7132 hh lol”  (First, I need to remind you that looking at text messages while I’m driving is illegal in Georgia. Second, I need to remind you that I hate text messages because typing is a lot more trouble than actually talking. Finally, I have no clue what that gibberish means anyway and think maybe you’re a troll or a hooker.)
  • I try to avoid Twitter because most of it’s gibberish from people who think I care about what they’re doing right now as opposed to what I’m doing right now. When you say, “fantastic sex with my hooker BF is happening while I tweet,” I want to respond with “TMI.” (Actually, I don’t want to respond at all and will assume you’re insane, arrogant, or are having lousy sex that leaves you time to be on Twitter.)
  • If you just discovered minutes ago that a Hollywood star most of us thought had been dead for years has just now passed away, it really means you just now heard of it and think that my life will be changed forever if I don’t know about it immediately. (As it usually turns out, the breaking news in this information is the fact you just heard about it even thought it happened last week.)

There are days when I want to throw away my cell phone, swear off Facebook and Twitter, and stop listening to the so-called breaking news that isn’t breaking.

If you just discovered something, please don’t call.*

–Malcolm

*Unless you think I just ran over a skunk and want me to know there’s a bomb in my car that will go off if I don’t keep going at over 55 mph in spite of the smell.

 

 

Trick Falls wonders: ‘Is trailer trash talk the new normal?’

There’s a certain reality show (I won’t say which one because I don’t want to get sued by anybody) that I believe intentionally recruits contestants that use a lot of in-your-face -profanity, are arrogant and full of themselves, and generally behave like the worst trailer trash on the planet.

Ratings, ya think?

Wikipedia photo
Wikipedia photo

Even so, I assume these people act on the show the way they do in real life. If so and if this is the new normal, then our country’s in worse shape than I thought.

This comes to mind today because a Facebook discussion got started on a friend’s thread about whether people hanging out on the social media should simply expect to the discounted about anything and everything. My answer was no. I thought it was out of line for people to come out of nowhere and randomly criticize people’s clothes, hair, eyes, career choices, and various other personal attributes because (hopefully) they wouldn’t do that kind of thing in person and remain friends.

Others said that if you do anything (or are anything) on the social media, people are going to comment. I think personal attacks there are out of line, but agree that if one posts something about politics, religion, current events, and a variety of other issues, there will be a lot of commenting. That’s why those posts are put there unless people think they’re just preaching to the choir and that everyone who sees the post will click LIKE or say AMEN and move on.

I see a lot of libelous material on Facebook and often wonder why that’s necessary to “win” an argument about whether ABC is better than XYZ. Many of the comments sound like they’re from people who talk like those on the reality show I’m thinking about. But God help us, these are (I assume) regular people. Those of us on Facebook weren’t selected by central casting to come out there and stir things up to increase Facebook’s ratings.

Of course, trash talk is easy. If somebody makes a political point, it’s easier for somebody to say, “well, you’re an asshole” than to come up with anything factual and relevant to say in response. And, should anybody ask where you got your information, it’s easier to say, “those bitches at that place are all f_cked up.” I’ll wondering, of course, when it became okay to use the word “bitches” as a synonym for women and if the people that do think they’re winning any points in the discussion with the “F” word as well.

Sounds like a lot of high school posturing to me. But it’s coming from adults who, somewhere along the line, decided that talking like an immature juvenile in the middle of a temper tantrum was good for their jobs, their friends, their lives and their country.

By the way, if you happen to live in a trailer and don’t talk and act like the people on that reality show, you’re in the clear. If you call me an asshole on Facebook because I’ve just found a factual flaw in your political argument, you’re not in the clear.

My dear old daddy used to say, “trailer trash ain’t never going nowhere no matter how they strut around the block because they end up back where they started.”

I used to agree with him. Now I’m thinking times have changed.

–Trick

A resident of Two Egg, Florida, Trick Falls made a killing in the gigolo business before going into the philosophy business.

 

 

Facebook Suffering Typewriter Infestation

It begins subtly.

There’s a small ad in the right-hand column from a nostalgia stock photo agency showing a guy with a pipe writing the great American novel on an ancient Underwood typeriter.

typewriterclipartA few days later, a woman is shown in a sponsored post typing her memoir, or perhaps journaling, via a somewhat more modern (but non-electric) portable.

Few people notice.

The following week, typewriters begin to appear in book promotion posts, inspirational status updates about the myth of writer’s block, and in pleas from publishers asking us to send them our best work (albeit in a DOCX file).

So far, the Centers for Disease Control appears not to have noticed the infestation.

Speculation from conspiracy fans is rife: (a) Those who distrust writers want to hypnotize us into using outmoded equipment, (b) there’s been a security breach at an Area-51 lab experimenting with sending hexed typewriters to third-world planets, (c) Somebody found an abandoned warehouse filled with typewriters and is trying to unload them on aspiring writers before they (the writers) learn there’s no place to buy typewriter ribbon.

Is Facebook’s typewriter infestation innocent nostalgia, an on-gong “Throw Back Thursday” of yesteryear images, or just a lot of overworked copywriters copying each other?

Perhaps.

I don’t have any proof yet, but I suspect the glut of typewriters appearing on Facebook is more nefarious than we can imagine and that if you look closely at any of Nostradamus’ more obscure prophecies, you’ll see that he said this was going to happen.

If you’re a writer, run for your life.

–Malcolm

 

Basing decisions on Facebook LIKES

In her blog The Green Bough, Oriah writes that “We do not need permission to live our life guided by that which lives within us.” Nonetheless, she believes we often wait for it or ask for it.

americanpresidentmovieIn the 1995 movie “The American President,” Michael Douglas (the widowed President) wants to date Annette Bening (a lobbyist). When he mentions this to Martin Sheen (his chief of staff), Sheen offers to “crunch some numbers” to see how much of a “hit in the polls” the President would suffer. It’s both an amusing moment and a strong hint about what our leaders must think about day to day.

After all, we put them in office to serve us.

On Facebook, I see pages (everything from organizations to public figures to authors) seeking more and more LIKES. LIKES rule the roost on Facebook for, without them, status updates from official PAGES and personal PROFILES get less play in the daily news feed.

New conscience or new god?
New conscience or new god?

When people post political statements and/or platitudes, they often come with the suggestion to LIKE AND SHARE if we agree. Of course, this gets the word out about the new book, the petition drive, the cause or the event.

What gives me pause are those posts in which an individual is thinking of changing jobs, pondering a new point of view, ditching a lover or wondering whether they were too harsh or too lenient with a friend, child, spouse or co-worker. How do we help? With LIKES and associated comments.

I’m not sure this is a good way to live, crunching Facebook LIKES, so to speak, before we do or say what he already know we want to do or say. Do we really need permission from our online friends or even our non-virtual friends before we can act?

I hope not. Life isn’t an on-going political campaign or popularity contest, I don’t think. We know who we are without checking Facebook or crunching real and virtual LIKES.

Yes, it was funny in the movie; but when I see it happening on Facebook, it’s a bit frightening.

–Malcolm

Hello Pinterest Fans

joyoftravelEver cautious, I was the last to arrive on MySpace. “What is Facebook all about?” I used to wonder. I’m “on” Twitter, but there are days when I don’t know how to keep up with the tweets. True to form, I didn’t show up on Pinterest’s doorstep the day they opened for business.

In fact, I stayed away until this past weekend. All my colleagues at Vanilla Heart Publishing were all already creating boards and pins (whatever that meant) and wondered why I wasn’t.

This weekend, I was too tired to do anything else after mowing the yard, so I looked at Pinterest. Hmm, not too bad. I set up boards called Joy of Travel, Books for Fantasy Lovers, This and That from My Blogs, and Resources for Writers. Things went smoothly. It was fun. Here’s the link.

Coming up Next: Author Dianne Marenco Salerni (“We Hear the Dead,” “The Caged Graves”) will be here in several days with a great guest post. With today’s zombie fad, we usually hear about protecting the living from the dead.  However, there have been times when the dead needed to be protected from the living.

Malcolm

seekergiveawayStop by GoodReads for a chance at winning a free copy of my new novel about love, magic and fate. The giveaway ends May 21, 2013.

The Internet is Drugs

As I sit here in the sunny kitchen of my father-in-law’s farmhouse, I’m going through withdrawal because the Internet does not exist here. On a typical morning, I would have checked e-mail (pot), looked at several news screens (cocaine) and read everything in my Facebook (meth) news feed.

My Facebook status would be a no-brainer: blitzed, spaced out, and higher than the summit of Mount Everest. I recall those old, fried-egg-in-a-skillet public service announcements: This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?

Ever addictive, the Internet provides 24/7 instant gratification. Everything is now and now we can trip out anywhere we want from the illusions of You Tube right now to the mirages of web cams. On celestial days, the endless supply of self-evident platitudes on Twitter (hash) empowers us. On tense days, we can discuss causes on Linked-In (ether) or play free-base flame wars in the comments sections of news pages and friends’ profile pages and hope the experience doesn’t turn into the bad trip of being unfriended or banned.

Here on the farm, life is also now, but it’s a slower, less ubiquitous now. I cannot move at light speed from the kitchen table to the creek. There’s no creek icon on the window. While I can randomly hear the sounds of birds and horses and tractors, they are farther away than MP3 files and have no volume controls. Time was, contentment was easy to find in a farm or old forest because when I arrived at such places, my perception synchronized itself with the rhythms of the real world.

Today, the worlds of beach, river and mountain top begin as cold-turkey experiences away from the lovable and addictive noise of radios, televisions, cell phones and WiFi. Real-world taste, touch, hearing, seeing, smell and intuition have become dulled from lack of use. I can’t wrinkle my nose and download a new sight program nor stick out my tongue and update my tastes.

Daily, it takes more and more effort to see and hear the real world, especially the more subtle voices of trees and snakes and flowers. In fact, when I’m high on Facebook, I have my doubts about the existence of pastures outside my father-in-law’s sunny kitchen, much less the cries of gulls along the gulf coast or the songs of wolves in the Montana high country. The Internet will give me a semblance of all that. Truth be told, that semblance is faster and cheaper than walking out my front door and driving six hours south to Alligator Point, Florida, much less three days north by northwest to East Glacier, Montana on the edge of the shining mountains.

If the Internet existed here on the farm, I could experience, semblance-wise, the mountains and the sea right here, right now. I do see flowers blooming in the garden out past the kitchen sink. I remember once knowing what they were and what they smelled like but, without the Internet, I can’t “touch” the flowers’ images and see alt-text tags with that instant information.

The real world has become difficult to navigate and harder to imagine. I’ll be okay when I get back home and smoke a little e-mail and do a little Facebook. I’ll be fine because my brain will once again become part of the Internet and I won’t have any questions.

Malcolm