I’ll Be Featured on Eight Blogs! (But fame sucks)

The French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923, aka “The Divine Sarah”) was one of the most famous figures of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She became an international celebrity even before movies were popular entertainment. When the Paris Universal Exposition opened in April 1900, a gigantic statue modeled after Bernhardt decorated the ‘Triumphal Gateway’ entrance arch in the Place de la Concorde (a strange art nouveau monument that looks like a cross between a giant slice of wedding cake, the Taj Mahal, and a garish fairground attraction. By the time the exposition ended in November 1914 almost 50 million people had passed beneath her frozen image.

The entrance arch of the Place de la Concorde, Paris Exposition 1900

The entrance arch of the Place de la Concorde, Paris Exposition 1900

My maternal grandmother collected this quote from Bernhardt: “You ask me my theory of life. Life is short and we must live for the few who appreciate us. You ought to hate very rarely, as it is too fatiguing, remain indifferent a great deal, forgive often, and never forget.”

We must live for the few who appreciate us. Great advice, Sarah. That is why I so value the folks at Making Connections on Goodreads, who are featuring my book, The Betelgeuse Oracle as part of their ‘Blog Tour’. Several bloggers have kindly offered to review the book and post interviews with me about my work. This is a great example of the supportive online communities that have become such an important part of writing and publishing.

One of the interview questions dealt with the issue of how I handle ‘the submission process’: going through the rigmarole of submitting work to publishers. My answer: ‘the submission process’ sounds ominously like a prison rite of passage designed to break the spirit of new inmates. I say “Screw the ‘submission process!’” I refuse to ‘submit’ to anybody! Thanks to groups like Goodreads and many others, writers are no longer obliged to beg publishers (and agents) to please!, please!, please! make money from our hard work. That absurd rulebook has been torn to shreds. Now there are dozens of ways to publish your work your way for free. Let’s call it ‘the DIY process.’

Sure, there are disadvantages to the DIY process. Free publication often translates into zero revenues. I am very thankful for my teaching career, which provides a fantastic standard of living, freeing me to write and publish what I please. (What price would any of us place on being free?) Also, without the backing of corporate public relations (read: propaganda), the writer has fewer opportunities to reach a mass audience. But who cares what the masses think? I’m a writer, not a politician.

Fame is toxic to the human mind. Look at the corrosive effects of fame on “celebrities” like Michael Jackson or Kurt Cobain. Look at what fame (infamy?) is doing to Justin Bieber, who is little more than a product. I have no desire for adulation, or to make a “great impact.” I only want people to enjoy and react to my work; to change how a few readers think or alter their approach to the world. At heart, I am what I do for a living: I am a teacher. I seek to do my best, but I am ultimately indifferent to the trappings of censure or approval.

I suppose it’s fair to say that if Sarah Bernhardt had never achieved her fame, I would never have been inoculated by her wisdom (with my grandmother as the vector!). Then again, according to the historian Margaret MacMillan, “almost everyone hated the giant statue” modeled after Bernhardt at the entrance to the Paris expo (The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914, p. 3). So fame, image, idolatry cashed out as the spite of millions. Big deal! And by 1923 “The Divine Sarah” took that ultimate trip. No matter how loudly the critics chatter, all of us must travel that road. As the Romans advised, Mors ultima ratio. Death is the final accounting, baby! (The ‘baby’ is my own addition!)

Further to Ms. Bernhardt’s advice to live for the few who appreciate us, I’m now off to do the vacuuming. Hardly glamorous, but my family needs it done. They are the people who appreciate me the most. Unless I really screw the pooch, they will still be there at the end. They deserve my dedication. What greater ambition could I have for my short life?

Here are the dates for the various blogs that have agreed to review the book, interview me, or include me as a guest blogger:

Some thoughts on Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance

Some thoughts on Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance. When he asserts that Western societies have been more successful than others how does he define the notion of ‘success’? I also wonder about his assertion that societies organized along tribal lines are less successful than others. Given the current situation developing in Ukraine, I would say that European society is still very much organized along tribal lines. There are ample historical examples that highlight the this idea. Moreover, the first half of the twentieth century amply demonstrated that Western societies need to be very careful about patting ourselves on our collective backs about our notional ‘success.’ The same goes when we consider factors such as climate change. At this rate, it looks like we might be undone by the very ‘success’ of our technological achievements. Even cursory examination of historical evidence clearly indicates that Western culture reached its current position of global dominance due to geographic good luck. Technologies and concepts that developed outside Europe like agriculture and animal domestication, written language, the compass and rudder, the so-called Arabic numeral system, lateen sails, windmills, etc. were borrowed by European societies from others and used to build global dominance. Why don’t the societies that developed those concepts get credit for Western success? By 1400 CE, China was far and away more organized and powerful than any European society. See the exploits of the explorer Zheng He as an example: decades before Columbus was born, Zheng was exploring the Indian Ocean with a fleet of hundreds of ships. Do we use this evidence to show that Chinese people were naturally selected for success? Based on Wade’s arguments, we would have to posit major genetic changes in the Chinese population over just the past six hundred years to explain China’s decline and subsequent re-emergence as a world power.

Wade should read the excellent book Guns, Germs and Steel by the physiologist Jared Diamond, which discussed these issues in depth. It is undeniable that some aspects of what Arthur de Gobineau, Herbert Spencer and other 19th century thinkers categorized as ‘race’ are biologically based. Skin colour, hair texture, facial features, body type, and even some ethnically-specific diseases (such as Tay Sachs and sickle-cell anemia) have genetic underpinnings. Some cultural behaviours are also probably underpinned by our genes. But by Wade’s own admission, any genes that code for cultural behaviours have yet to be discovered. Until they have been positively identified, I think our best position on this issue is agnosticism.


“Business as Usual”: Why Rob Ford Just Might be a Political Genius

No matter how Torontonians feel about their mayor, at least until the next election, they are stuck with him.

If Rob Ford was employed as an executive by any private organization he’d have been fired months ago. The question is: why? Illegal drug use? Sure, Rob Ford smoked crack while – by his own admission – in an alcohol-induced blackout.

As a recovering alcoholic, I understand the seriousness of his admission. I hope that at least some businesses have enough sense to not treat addicted employees like they are corrupt. However, I suspect most do just that. This is flat wrong, because addicts are by definition mentally ill according to the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. So, despite the reality that he would have lost his job in the private sector, Ford does not deserve to be fired because of his addictions. He is, however, obligated to seek treatment for his problems. Ford has not been honest with himself or his constituents. He has not even admitted he has a problem.

Alright, but what if Ford’s illegal drug use has negatively impacted his effectiveness as mayor? Wouldn’t that be grounds for firing him?

There is ample evidence that the scandal over his illegal drug use has certainly affected Mayor Ford’s ability to do his job. On November 13th, Toronto city council spent a great deal of time on two motions addressing the issue. After much heated debate, including an asinine stare-down contest between Mayor Ford and Councilor Denzil Menin-Wong, council voted 37-5 in favor of asking him to step aside. Ford then left the council and did not return for discussions on other matters.

More debates on Mayor Ford’s problems are scheduled for Friday November 15th. These motions, debates, and votes represent valuable time and energy that Toronto’s elected officials should be spending on the urgent business of running Canada’s largest city. If not for Mayor Ford’s very public imbroglios, the municipal government would be functioning far more effectively. Moreover, it’s difficult to see how Ford could now muster any support from city council for his own initiatives.

Here’s the real reason why Ford would almost certainly have been fired if he was a private-sector executive instead of a public sector one: far more serious than his drug use has been his hectoring, disdainful approach, not only to the original accusations, but throughout his time as councilor and mayor. Not only did he outright lie, he accused the Toronto Star of conducting a smear campaign, referred to members of the media as “maggots” on his radio program, and besmirched the reputations of several people who turned out to be absolutely correct.

In fact, Rob Ford transformed the mayor’s office into his own bully pulpit. He has not apologized about this outrageous behavior or addressed it in any way. It is his attitude of self-righteous, childish anger and entitlement that is truly disturbing, and are probably the roots of his substance abuse. Ford needs to take responsibility, which is the first step in addiction recovery. It is this glaring “crack” in his personality that truly makes him unfit for office. And yet, in his office he remains.

The uncomfortable truth is that despite all his apparent dysfunction, Rob Ford has proven to be an exceedingly crafty and skilled politician. Perhaps, dare I write it, even a genius! Even before the current mess broke open, he had already survived a hornet’s nest of scandals involving improper campaign spending, booze, drugs, run-ins with the law, offensive language and temper tantrums. So it’s not very surprising that he hangs on to his political power now. In fact, some polls indicate that his support has risen since Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair’s announcement that he had seen THE video.

What is Rob Ford’s secret to this outstanding political success?

Ford has been very effective at portraying himself as a “regular guy.” This creates the background against which “Ford Nation” can paint self- mollifying images of their hero as a hardworking, dedicated, straightforward leader who gets things done for his constituents. So what if he lets loose once in a while? He returns their calls.

Despite the current mess, Ford has accomplished something that very few politicians at any level are able to get away with. He has pulled a superbly Machiavellian bait-and-switch. Coming out the way he did, giving the appearance of an off-the-cuff, last-minute confession to the cameras, getting city hall reporters to repeat the key question and then responding to it authoritatively, all of these were brilliant maneuvers. Even his statement, “Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine,” asserted the primacy of the drug use over all those other issues.

Then, following the initial bombshell, after keeping reporters waiting for hours in a tense and hyper-alert scrum outside his office, came the self-pitying apology for using crack. Note the focus on himself, that his admission was the “right thing to do,” that he felt like “a thousand pounds had been lifted” off his shoulders. Note also backhanded self-justification of Ford’s statement of “how difficult this was to do,” his fervent hope that “nobody – but nobody – has to go through what I’ve gone through.”

Yes, it has been hard on him. Certainly, it would be far more difficult for the private sector executive who in Ford’s shoes would be treading the pavement searching for a new job.

Ford’s purposeful diversion to the drug issue has blinkered much of the media to the truly egregious shenanigans of his tenure. As political commentator Rex Murphy has noted, Ford, made admissions so extraordinary that the phrase “one of my drunken stupors” was merely a footnote. Since that afternoon, the focus of the discourse has been very tight: it’s all about the crack cocaine, stupid. The glare Ford himself created has virtually effaced his bullying, bald-faced lies, and blatant character assassination that have besmirched the mayor’s office.

This is nothing new for Ford. He exhibited very similar behavior dealing with the scandal over his 1999 Florida drunk-driving and pot possession arrest. When asked by a Toronto Sun reporter about the incident, Ford’s response was unequivocal: “No to answer your question,” he was quoted as saying during his 2010 mayoral run. “I’m dead serious. When I say no, I mean never. No question. Now I’m getting offended. No means no.” Then, when presented with impeccable evidence to the contrary, Ford changed his tune: “I completely forgot about it until you mentioned it right now,” he claimed. “You think I’m BSing you but I’m not. It completely, totally slipped my mind. It was nothing. It wasn’t a major issue. There’s more serious things in life.” The punch line is that despite the story the Sun broke, that paper continued to endorse Ford for mayor.
There is the tried and true Ford formula of success: deny, deny, then flatly deny with a strong dash of righteous indignation. Then, in cornered response to last-minute incontrovertible evidence, a half-hearted rationalization, and a good chest thump. And then certainly, it is back to “business as usual”: back to the same erratic, reckless behavior that caused him – and Toronto – big problems in the first place. Ultimately, Ford knows that even incontrovertible evidence probably won’t stick. He returns calls, remember? He’s a standup guy.
Mayor Ford should be applauded for his disquieting yet ingenious grasp of municipal politics. He has managed to achieve virtually unimpeachable power over one of the largest municipalities in the Western hemisphere. He has partied harder than granite. He got away with cruelly berating his critics on his weekly radio show, reaching tens of thousands in his own personal “nation.” And to top it all off, his support seems to be swelling. Due to the ludicrous weakness of the Ontario Municipal Act, Rob Ford cannot be fired unless he goes to jail. This farce sounds an awful lot like the iron-clad job security of unionized city employees that Ford built his career shouting about. As Machiavelli himself asserted, “Politics have no relation to morals.” Bravo, Mayor Ford.

Contest of Glorious Amazement!

Win a free copy of The Betelgeuse Oracle!

Short of funds, the Propaganda Ministry of North Korea is doing freelance work. They have designed this contest to publicize my website. Read the scenario. Write a short response. It’s that easy!

Suppose you are an alien entity. What appears to be your human body is really just a biological life-support system specially designed to sustain you for conducting detailed research on this strange planet and its inhabitants. As you examine your new surroundings, what strikes you as the most bizarre aspect of life here?

Leave your response in the comments section before 12:00 midnight on March 1, 2013. An esteemed panel of literary geniuses (a.k.a. Propaganda Ministry hacks) will choose the top three responses for their creativity, wit, and subversion. All three will win a free copy of The Betelgeuse Oracle.

Start writing!

Give it Away FREE, Commands Horus

I was awoken from a deep sleep last night by the latest commandment from Horus:
 
“Thou shalt maketh the electronic version of thy book available gratis!” (For some reason Horus always speaks in Charleton Heston’s voice.)
 
Even Horus is in on the spirit of giving this holiday season: for a limited time only, the Kindle edition of The Betelgeuse Oracle is available FREE!

To download The Betelgeuse Oracle to your Kindle or Apple device FREE while you can click here.

Cheers,
Joe

Quick Poll

Welcome and Thanks for Coming

I’m working on several projects at the moment:

THE BETELGEUSE CHRONICLES

This is a trilogy of apocalyptic fiction including strong elements of the supernatural, horror, and ancient Egyptian mythology. I mean, what’s not to like!

The first in the series, The Betelgeuse Oracle, is available to buy now in paperback from Amazon or if you prefer an e-copy of the book, it can be purchased on the  Amazon Kindle site.

Click here to read free excerpts and find out more!

THE QUIRE THRILLERS

Ajax Quire is the hero of this series: a mash-up of James Bond, Johnny Rotten, and Mark Renton. He’s a real bastard, but he usually finds himself on the side of right (even if it’s against his will!). I really enjoy putting him in impossible situations and waiting to see if he can find his way out.

Click here to see more, including a free Quire short story, “Quotidian Fever,” Ajax Quire’s personal blog, and excerpts from the first Quire thriller, Lurking in Plain Sight.

You can also find several short stories and my own blog, The Clio Files.

Enjoy, and don’t forget to leave some of your own feedback.

Cheers,

Joe