Saturday, April 30, 2011

Latest wrinkle in self-publishing: "enhanced ebooks"

As many of you know, I'm a big advocate of self-publishing, especially via ebooks, and on platforms such as The possibilities that new do-it-yourself technology are opening for authors and readers are stunning.

Consider the emerging opportunities in "enhanced ebooks": "You can incorporate mixed media, such as video, audio, pictures, maps and interactive content. Best of all it's in full color, so it allows for more vibrant content."

Believe me, you will not recognize what a "book" will become in the near future. Imagine reading an ebook spy thriller, then being able to click on links that provide full dossiers on the characters, or Google Map street views of locations, encyclopedia entries on weapons and gadgets, video or audio interviews with the author . . . The possibilities are boundless.

Exciting times ahead, folks!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Meditations after viewing "Atlas Shrugged" for the second time

I went to see "Atlas Shrugged, Part One" for the second time last night, this time with my wife, who saw it for the first time. And I realized several important things.

The first is about the role of preconceptions and expectations in shaping one's enjoyment of a book or film.

There's a world of difference between the perceptions of a typical audience member, and what someone schooled in film production and technique will "see" and appreciate. And I believe that explains -- if only in part -- the huge divergence between the opinions of typical filmgoers to "Atlas Shrugged, Part One" and those of many critics and reviewers.

The typical audience member is looking simply for a good, absorbing story, told effectively enough to hold his interest. The experienced film reviewer or critic, though, will focus far more on the "how" of the film: on cinematic technique, including the nuances of the writing, dialogue, direction, camera-work, etc. At least, technical aspects will enter into his awareness and consideration far more, and have a much greater impact on his enjoyment, than they will for the ordinary movie fan.

This is analogous to how I, as a writer and editor, might read and enjoy novels, as opposed to how most readers do. When I read popular fiction, I wince frequently at "head-hopping" points of view, at adverbial "tags" in dialogue, at unimaginative descriptions and superficial characterizations. However, I also realize that most readers haven't much of a sense of these or other writing issues. They read for the story. The story either holds them or it doesn't. If it does, they forgive or overlook all sorts of technical shortcomings -- if they are even aware of them as such. This explains why some novels are hugely popular, even though they come up short as "literature."

It puts things into perspective to recognize, however, that method is never an end in itself. The point of narrative-driven arts, such as novels and films, is to tell a story: The story is what the audience wants. And the point of technique and method is only to serve the storytelling. They consist of an array of tools and methods used by the artists to tell the tale more effectively -- that's all.

Yes, you may fail to tell a great story effectively because of your technical deficiencies as an artist. On the other hand, however, you may be a master of technique and still be a lousy storyteller, because you may have a lousy story to tell. David Lean, for example, was a consummate director whose body of work includes many film classics. But even bringing all his artistry to bear on "A Passage to India" could not salvage it from being an interminably boring trifle.

Again, for the artist, the point of fiction-writing or movie-making is not to demonstrate one's mastery of The Rules of his profession, then to dazzle his audience with his technical prowess. In fact, it is poor artistry to show off one's technique to the extent that it calls attention to itself -- thus distracting the audience from being "lost in the story." If I'm watching a film and constantly thinking such things as, "Wow! Look at that tracking shot!" -- that is flawed storytelling. Again, the point should be to tell a good story effectively. If you have done that, your work stands up as competent art.

So last evening, I went into "Atlas Shrugged" trying to shed my preconceptions and expectations and view it as pure storytelling. And I found that I liked it much better the second time around, because I was more able to look at it as a work independent of the novel upon which it was based. I thought it was effective storytelling that held up well on its own merits.

Was I still aware of cinematic shortcomings? Of course. On technical grounds, I could have suggested a number of changes that I think would have enhanced the storytelling. But, in answer to the basic question: Was the film, standing completely in isolation from the novel, an absorbing, entertaining, effective presentation of the story of "Atlas Shrugged"? -- my answer is an unequivocal "yes."

My wife is a better test case, since she has never read the novel, and the only way she could have perceived the film is as a stand-alone piece of storytelling. She also liked it, very much. She followed the plot completely, found it entertaining, thought the acting was good, felt that its look and special effects were impressive, and found the message to be disquieting and persuasive. "It was better than I thought it would be," she said to me as we left the theater. She plans to recommend it to her friends.

My wife is, I believe, far more representative of most film-goers than either I or film critics are. Those of us who know something about film-making, and who know and love the novel, are aware of many technical issues that could have been improved upon to make the film even more effective. We also know the novel intimately and are aware of the many divergences between the film and its source material, including psychological subtleties and missing subplots. We view all of these as lost opportunities. We forget that most viewers are not burdened with the baggage of that knowledge.

Anyway, in my first viewing, I couldn't distance myself from that wider context and step into the shoes of somebody seeing the film without any of my preconceptions and expectations. I was able to do that much more this time. As a result, my verdict has changed for the better. I think "Atlas Shrugged, Part One" stands on its own as good, effective, entertaining storytelling -- and thought-provoking storytelling, too. I move it up a notch on a scale of 1-10, giving it an 8.

The second viewing confirmed one other thing for me: Critics who have been lambasting the film are clearly reacting more against its Narrative -- its heroic worldview and individualist values -- than to any cinematic shortcomings. The film holds up far better technically than many films that win their approval -- including films that are not only technically poor, but utterly depraved. It is a good film of a great novel, and absolutely undeserving of the vile pounding it has received from the corrupt cultural Establishment.

If you want some examples of what I mean, consider the fact that for "Atlas" the combined score of critics on the "Rotten Tomatoes" website is just 9 percent positive -- while their combined score for the laughably pretentious, psychologically preposterous, ponderously paced, incoherently plotted, and otherwise completely stupid "Eyes Wide Shut" was 77 percent positive. ("Eyes Wide Shut" managed to achieve what I had previously thought to be impossible: It made sex excruciatingly boring.) Consider just one prominent critic, Roger Ebert, and his respective takes on both films. Read what he wrote about "Eyes Wide Shut"; compare that with what he wrote about "Atlas"; then tell me whether he is responding to technique of narration, or to clashing Narratives.

I could say the same for the wretchedly degenerate "Blue Velvet," a David Lynch exercise in sadism, foul-mouthed depravity, and psychological lunacy that transported 91 percent of the critics into rhetorical orgasms. Some sample comments, all approving: "One of the most subversive films of the 1980s, delving into the corrupt underside of the then-idealized faux innocence of the 1950s with an almost alarming ferocity." "A beautiful film about sickness, a funny film about degeneracy." And perhaps most revealing: "An unsettling film that depicts the moral rot underlying the American Dream through arresting cinematic images that are at once realistic and surreal."

Consider these comments. Then consider what "Atlas Shrugged" is all about. Ask yourself whether these creatures are merely focused on upholding The High Standards of Cinema -- or whether they are, in fact, postmodern propagandists who see their mission as subverting uniquely American values.

The "Atlas Shrugged" controversy is about much, much more than film criticism, my friends. Make no mistake: This film is positioned dead-center on the front lines of a raging cultural war: a war to the death between the American Narrative that has led to our nation's greatness, and the Nihilistic Narrative of those who wish to obliterate it all.

You can show what side you're on, this week. Go see "Atlas Shrugged, Part One" while it's still in the theaters. If you've already seen it, see it again. It's a film that grows on you with repeated viewings. And it bears a Narrative that urgently needs to be championed and spread through our ailing culture.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Latest leftist outrage: "Superman" renounces his American citizenship

Whenever I claim that leftists in the U.S. fundamentally hate America and what it stands for, I am accused of exaggeration (and worse). The defenders and enablers of the left protest that they are simply "multicultural" and trying to recognize and celebrate the values of "other" cultures and nations as being just as valid as our own.

Let's leave aside the absurd claim that "other" cultures and nations are as good as America. Are U.S. leftists just "multicultural" relativists? Or do they actually hate their native land, its values, and its institutions?

Consider how hard the Culturati struggled to defend our current president for sitting in the pews of Jeremiah Wright's church for years, in mute approval, while the "reverend" denounced America in the most ugly terms. Then consider the same Culturati's vicious gang assault on the "Atlas Shrugged" movie, their collateral smears of Ayn Rand and her ideas -- and their undisguised repudiation of the American individualist values that film champions. It will be even harder for them to disguise their true motives when (not "if") they defend the latest outrage against a symbolic American icon.

I'm referring to the fact that the Politically Correct heirs to the DC Comics "Superman" franchise have decided to transform the caped champion of "truth, justice, and the American way" into an unAmerican citizen of the planet.

Believe it or not, "Superman" is now renouncing his American citizenship.

Here is the captioned dialogue from the forthcoming comic book:
SUPERMAN: ". . .I intend to speak before the United Nations tomorrow and inform them that I am renouncing my U.S. citizenship."


SUPERMAN: "I'm tired of having my actions construed as instruments of U.S. policy. 'Truth, justice, and the AMERICAN way' -- it's just not ENOUGH anymore."
No, we can't have American kids growing up to believe in, well, America anymore. America, and what it uniquely represents, just isn't "enough." Instead, our children must be taught to think of themselves as citizens of the world, holding their primary allegiance to the United Nations -- not to the United States.

Name me one other place on the planet where contempt for one's own nation is celebrated as the hallmark of moral virtue and intellectual sophistication.

This is not the first time that comic-book writers have, symbolically, renounced their allegiance to America. A while back, they obliterated "Captain America," temporarily morphing him into the unAmerican "Nomad" before returning him to his old identity (only after the writers scored their anti-U.S.-government political points).

And lest you dismiss this as much ado about nothing, understand that comic-book heroes are pure, idealized embodiments of a society's dominant values. Their stories are overt manifestations of our reigning cultural Narratives, which I've discussed previously.

Simply put, many of those now writing comic books for kids hate the American individualist Narrative. Alienated from that Narrative and the values it incorporates, they've spent years trying subtly (and sometimes, not so subtly) to undercut the characters and themes that represent it -- characters and themes that have inspired generations of children past.

Now, egged on and enabled by the cultural/intellectual/artistic elite of our Ruling Class -- and meeting little intellectual opposition -- they are openly celebrating their antipathy for the one nation on earth that has allowed them to enrich themselves, and gleefully vandalizing its icons.

[UPDATE: That this is not the work of a single warped individual, but represents the worldview of the whole rotten cultural establishment, can be found here, in this contemptible Wired piece by Scott Thill:
The Man of Steel throws down in outer space against a continually misguided Lex Luthor, who’s finally rewarded for his boundless ambition by becoming a petulant god. Supes also throws a pizza party with Lois Lane for his Kryptonian pals, who crowd his couch while chowing grub and chewing scenery. He talks cosmology and philosophy with an interstellar deity beset by guilt over civilizations he was perhaps too selfish to save, and goes head-to-head with a one-time pro athlete who’s become a superheroic show-off.

It’s just another day in the life of Earth’s most recognizable comics immortal, in a landmark issue penned by all-stars from film, television and comics. Previewed in the gallery above, Action Comics No. 900 features stories penned by Doctor Who’s Paul Cornell, Lost’s Damon Lindelof, Superman: The Movie director Richard Donner, The Dark Knight screenwriter David S. Goyer and DC Comics’ chief creative officer, Geoff Johns. . . .

In an age rife with immigration paranoia, it’s refreshing to see an alien refugee tell the United States that it’s as important to him as any other country on Earth — which in turn is as important to Superman as any other planet in the multiverse.

The genius of Superman is that he belongs to everyone, for the dual purposes of peace and protection. He’s above ephemeral geopolitics and nationalist concerns, a universal agent unlike any other found in pop culture.

The finest moment in Action Comics No. 900 comes when Goyer makes that exquisitely clear to everyone.]
Let me dare to resurrect the one word that best describes what this represents -- certainly in motive, if not in law:


If you're a parent, I suggest that you begin to monitor your child's reading and viewing habits, in order to keep such anti-American garbage out of your home.

Meanwhile, all of us should protest publicly these nihilistic assaults on American icons and values. Because a lot more is at stake here than the fate of a childrens' comic-book hero.

UPDATE #2: More sickening is this motive: cashing in on international anti-Americanism.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Good news: John Aglialoro Bounces Back

This is more like it! After initially venting his frustration and disappointment in the media, John Aglialoro has bounced back and vowed to make "Atlas Shrugged" Parts 2 and 3.
In fact, said John Aglialoro, the co-producer and financier, it's the monolithic view from critics that say the movie stinks that is motivating him to make Parts 2 and 3, he told The Hollywood Reporter.

And he defended his film Wednesday by accusing professional film reviewers of political bias. How else, he asks, to explain their distaste for a film that is liked by the audience? At, 7,400 people gave it an average 85% score. . . .

"They're lemmings," he said. "What's their fear of Ayn Rand? They hate this woman. They hate individualism.

"I'm going to get a picture of Ebert and Travers and the rest of them so I can wake up in the morning and they'll be right there. They're revitalizing me with their outrageousness". . . .

He said he's sticking to his plan to release Part 2 on April 15, 2012, and Part 3 on April 15, 2013, though gathering the same talent and crew might be a problem.

"The critics killed it so badly that agents may tell their clients they shouldn't be associated with this thing," he said. "I've got to give it to the critics. They won this battle, but they will not win the war. The message has been told in Part 1, and it will be told in Parts 2 and 3."
Now, that's the spirit!

"Marching for Frogs"

In the April 27 issue of The American Spectator, I report on the latest environmentalist scare campaign.

But will this one have "legs"?

"Atlas Shrugged" movie update

John Aglialoro, producer of the "Atlas Shrugged" film, is quoted in the Los Angeles Times today as expressing bitter disappointment over the critical and commercial reception of the movie:
"Critics, you won," said John Aglialoro, the businessman who spent 18 years and more than $20 million of his own money to make, distribute and market "Atlas Shrugged: Part 1," which covers the first third of Rand's dystopian novel. "I’m having deep second thoughts on why I should do Part 2."

"Atlas Shrugged" was the top-grossing limited release in its opening weekend, generating $1.7 million on 299 screens and earning a respectable $5,640 per screen. But the box office dropped off 47% in the film's second week in release even as "Atlas Shrugged" expanded to 425 screens, and the movie seemed to hold little appeal for audiences beyond the core group of Rand fans to whom it was marketed.

Aglialoro attributed the box office drop-off to "Atlas Shrugged's" poor reviews.
Personally, I regarded the film as quite good, though not great -- certainly not deserving the excoriating reviews it received. Some sites and writers simply would not let up; they pounded the film repeatedly, looking for excuses to pile on at every opportunity.

But this disproportionate bashing is revealing. Ask yourself how many other "mediocre" or even "bad" films have ever generated this level of untempered wrath, raging vituperation, incessant insults, and unrestrained gloating over their artistic or commercial shortcomings. Does this not suggest that something much deeper is going on?

If the film's critics (professional and amateur) truly believed that it was merely mediocre, then what explains their unrelenting, over-the-top spewing of venom? Similarly, if Rand and her ideas were simply silly, wouldn't her intellectual opponents just dismiss her lightly, without such ado? To the contrary, however: A Google search for reviews and commentary about Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged over the past several weeks shows that, for the commentariat, this was not just another opportunity to review another film, or to comment on a novelist and thinker; this was all-out warfare.

But why?

This earlier post suggests my own interpretation of the Culturati's otherwise baffling fixation on damning, mocking, and repudiating Ayn Rand, her ideas, her books, and this film. For Rand was not just any other philosopher or artist, nor is she treated as such. Ayn Rand was a Romantic visionary who spent her life crafting, articulating, and objectifying in fiction a new Narrative to guide our lives: a Narrative counter to those that have held humanity in their grip for thousands of years. If you grasp the all-consuming significance that Narratives play in our lives, then you will understand that everything is at stake when Narratives clash.

The Randian Narrative -- "of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute" -- challenges the Narratives that have dominated thousands of years of human history. For those wedded to the latter, her vision represents a grave threat to everything they are, everything they have, and everything they seek. This threat goes beyond politics or economic theories; it encompasses their most personal values, aspirations, ideals, lifestyles, vested interests, relationships -- the works.

It boils down to this: If Ayn Rand is essentially right, then most of what society has been committed to for centuries is utterly wrong. And that is why they could not permit themselves to give the "Atlas Shrugged" film a fair shake. It had to be driven off the screens of American theaters.

It is a shame that the movie is not even better than it is, because its flaws allow Rand's haters to hide their true motives beneath the mask of high-minded aesthetic criticism. Had it been a great film on purely cinematic grounds, then those motives would have been laid bare even more starkly.

But they are clear enough.

In any case, John Aglialoro should not long lament this vicious response to his work. Like Rand herself, he was challenging much more than Hollywood. His achievement in the face of overwhelming challenges and rampant hostility is extraordinary. He should take pride in the fact that he is introducing millions to Rand's name, ideas, and masterwork, many for the first time. He has aroused the curiosity of countless individuals who now will read the novel upon which his film is based. And the consequences will be far-reaching.

I am well-enough acquainted with John to know that this was one of his major objectives. Well, then: mission accomplished. I hope that once he has had time to gain further perspective, he will realize the full extent of what he has achieved. At that point, I hope he will consider producing the second and third installments of this grand story. Because I am confident that many others, inspired by his vision and valor, will step up to help him.

As for me, I plan to go see the film once again tonight -- and I will bring along some friends, too.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Nook Color Becomes a Full-On Android Tablet

Folks, I love free-market competition. And with this great move, Barnes & Noble -- which has been circling the drain -- may very well bounce back and become a serious competitor to Amazon for the ereader market:

Barnes & Noble has touted its Nook Color as “the reader’s tablet” since the product’s inception. But after the company announced the launch of an Android OS update and extended features on the device this week, we’re not sure what to call it anymore.

E-reader? Tablet? E-tablet?

Version 1.2 of the Nook Color’s firmware launched Monday morning, bringing Android OS 2.2 (Froyo) to existing users of the e-reader tablet. The software includes expansions to web surfing on the device, including Adobe Flash and Air support, as well as the ability to receive e-mail.

The company also announced the launch of the Nook App store. Customers are now able to download and use apps on their Nook Color devices, while still being able to purchase books from the Barnes & Noble reading catalog. . . .

Read it all.

I love this because, as a writer, it offers me another vast and growing marketplace for peddling my future ebooks. The Nook Color keeps B&N in the ereader ball game with Amazon's Kindle. The financial pressure now moves to Apple, whose iPad is priced much higher. If Apple is compelled to slash iPad prices to compete with the Nook, that will even further expand the marketplace for ebooks, and accelerate the demand for them.

Archive of my articles at Breitbart's "Big Government"

I've published a number of pieces at Breitbart's "Big Government" site over the past year. For anyone interested, here is the page where all my articles are archived.

Monday, April 25, 2011

"'Atlas Shrugged' Changed My Life"

I wrote this piece about my first encounter with Atlas Shrugged as an editorial commentary some years ago, in The New Individualist. Now it has been reposted online.

Some of you might find this bit of autobiography amusing.

Reform the Ph.D. diploma mill

Higher education has been undergoing its own "bubble," with billions in cash (often governmental cash) inflating the number of graduates -- and their expectations of doing well in the job market. But economic reality is sobering for many who spend years getting advanced degrees, only to find that they can't get jobs in their fields when they graduate.

From Nature:
The system of PhD education in the United States and many other countries is broken and unsustainable, and needs to be reconceived. In many fields, it creates only a cruel fantasy of future employment that promotes the self-interest of faculty members at the expense of students. The reality is that there are very few jobs for people who might have spent up to 12 years on their degrees. . . .

"Higher education in the United States has long been the envy of the world, but that is changing. The technologies that have transformed financial markets and the publishing, news and entertainment industries are now disrupting the education system. In the coming years, growing global competition for the multibillion-dollar education market will increase the pressure on US universities, just when public and private funding is decreasing."
I take special note of the sentence, "The technologies that have transformed financial markets and the publishing, news and entertainment industries are now disrupting the education system." Yes, indeed. Campuses may eventually become analogous to "big box" chain bookstores: relics of an earlier day, before a good education could be delivered electronically.

And more here, where this passage stood out: "Finally, it may be time to encourage some young people to forgo graduate education and enter the workforce. Some companies actually prefer to hire recent college graduates—or even undergraduates—because they believe that PhD students are not well-prepared for real-world jobs."


Sunday, April 24, 2011

"Are You Dense?"

Joe Konrath, the Pied Piper of self-publishing, asks this question of those authors who still defend traditional ("legacy") publishing houses and dismiss self-publishing. And he answers it here, in a passionate and persuasive defense of the self-publishing revolution.

If you are a writer, and you wonder what is all the recent fuss concerning self-publishing ebooks, rather than seeking a traditional agent and publisher, then Joe is the guy you should read -- and this blog post is a great place to begin. After you do, check previous posts on his blog; they're eye-openers.

For similar reasons, two other must-read blogs for authors are Robin Sullivan's "Write to Publish," and Dean Wesley Smith's. They'll introduce you to an amazing and exciting new world for authors.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Great profile of thriller writer Brad Thor

Just read this fine profile piece from Townhall Magazine -- now reprinted here in The Blaze -- of a friend, a great guy, and a hell of a good writer, #1 NYT thriller author Brad Thor.

If you haven't read Brad's thrillers, dive on in and find out what you've been missing. To start his "Scot Harvath" series at the beginning, the one to pick up first is The Lions of Lucerne.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Let's Make Earth Day a Religious Holiday

Since April 2001, I have annually reprinted this back-handed salute to "Earth Day." Enjoy.

Let's Make Earth Day a Religious Holiday

On April 22, millions will dutifully engage in the now-familiar rituals and incantations of America’s fastest-growing religion.

In public places, they will gather to listen to sermons . . . about the sins of human selfishness, about redemption through self-abasement, about the duty to exercise stewardship of the earth.

In schools, they will indoctrinate their children in the gospel according to John . . . John Muir, that is.

In their homes, they will engage in symbolic acts of self-denial . . . by digging through germ-laden garbage for recyclables, by denying themselves the pleasures of eating meat, and by setting their thermostats below the sinful level of human comfort.

The cause for this mass religious outpouring is, of course, Earth Day. In just a few decades, it has become an unofficial holy day, displacing in the hearts of our countrymen (and in the memories of those who publish calendars) such reactionary occasions as Jefferson’s birthday.

This once bothered me. As a journalist, I’ve investigated environmental scares, from ozone depletion to global warming to pesticides on food. All proved to be unconscionable bunkum.

But fear is easier to peddle than facts. Today, carcinogenic corporations are the stock heavies in Julia Roberts films and children’s cartoons.

The rise of environmentalism isn’t surprising. A culture taught to venerate Eden as its Ideal couldn’t sustain sympathy for such icons of capitalism and technology as Manhattan or Microsoft.

So I’ve bowed to the inevitable triumph of faith over reason. Since environmentalism has become our national religion anyway, I now urge Congress to declare Earth Day an official religious holiday.

This is no frivolous proposal. Consider the common characteristics of religions, and ask yourself if environmentalism qualifies:

Religions typically claim that human nature is selfish and sinful. So does environmentalism. John Muir, co-founder of the Sierra Club, denounced men as “selfish, conceited creatures.” George Perkins Marsh, another founding father of environmentalism, described men as “brute destroyers” who “destroy the balance which nature has established.” To some environmentalists, people are – at best – a trivial part of a vast “ecosystem,” no more important than lizards, trees, or rocks

Religions traditionally criticize human reason, and extol faith. So does environmentalism. In his book Earth in the Balance, former Vice President Al Gore excoriates our “rational, detached, scientific intellect” as “too often arrogant, unfeeling, uncaring.” His book’s closing paragraph is a pious call to faith.

Religions require people to sacrifice their happiness to something larger. So does environmentalism. Do you have personal plans for your future? Scrap them now: “We must make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle of civilization,” Al Gore writes. He would demand “wrenching” changes “that will affect almost every aspect of our lives together on this planet.”

This malignant view of man and his works has won millions of converts. A 1997 survey published in American Demographics found that fully a fourth of all Americans “see nature as sacred, want to stop corporate polluters, are suspicious of big business, are interested in voluntary simplicity, and are willing to pay to clean up the environment and stop global warming.”

That’s amazing growth for a new faith in just three decades. At this rate, environmentalism will supplant all rival religions in a few more years.

So why fight it? Environmentalism is already a fixture of federal, state, and local laws, enforced by an army of bureaucrats. Declaring Earth Day to be an official religious holiday will simply acknowledge the obvious.

As for those few who cringe at this prospect -– take heart. Once environmentalism becomes officially recognized as a religion, at least we’ll have some First Amendment protections.

We may even be able to insist –- on grounds of separation of church and state -– that the government stop shoving environmentalism down our throats, through smothering regulations, public school indoctrination, and insufferable sermons from politicians such as Al Gore.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"Big 6" Publishers Cheating Authors Out of Royalties

There's no gentle way to put this: A number of "Big 6" publishers are cheating authors out of their royalties, big time. And a blogger has caught them in this fraud. Read the sorry details here, and in this follow-up post.

This is dynamite stuff -- and all the more reason for writers to self-publish.

Why All the Fuss About "Atlas Shrugged"?

Here's a web page that answers that question. It also links to a number of my own writings about Atlas Shrugged -- including essays on the ideas and literary merits of the novel, an internal timeline of the story events, and a list of its characters.

Not just for Rand geeks, this page is also for those simply curious to discover why there's so much enduring controversy about this unusual story and its author.

UPDATE: 423 theaters now, and climbing rapidly. Check for a theater near you.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

And now the Legacy Publishers are sweating bullets

This speaks for itself. And it should explain why I'll be self-publishing Hunter: A Thriller, rather than going through the New York publishing house "query-go-round." 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Indie Era

Many readers of my Facebook page know that, in recent weeks, I've been beating the drum about two topics: self-publishing, and the new "Atlas Shrugged" movie. Here, I'd like to draw some connections between the two topics that may not be readily apparent.

Both are "indie" enterprises. Both are succeeding in the face of entrenched establishments. Both are possible today -- for the first time in history -- because of the confluence of two factors: affordable technology and free markets. 

And this is having revolutionary consequences in our economy and culture.

"Do-it-yourself" publishing and film-production technology has become so affordable that individuals and small groups can now create works of a quality equal to that produced by giant corporations. And it has also allowed them to market their wares on an almost equal footing, too. One of the greatest marketing equalizers, for indie authors and filmmakers alike, has been the Internet. The chief advantages that big corporations traditionally have offered to authors and to filmmakers is a giant pool of capital to market their creations to the public. But individual artists, simply by going "viral" with free, targeted online publicity (blogs, websites, social networking, YouTube, links, etc.), are able to neutralize many of the marketing advantages traditionally held by major publishers and Hollywood studios. In fact, they are able to target niche audiences that big corporations frequently overlook.

Moreover, corporations are bureaucracies, with all the lumbering inefficiencies, group-think, timidity, and inertia you find in any large institutions. They take forever to make decisions, and those decisions are usually made by committee and consensus. In other words, they are safe, don't-rock-the-boat decisions that avoid "outside the box" thinking and innovation. By contrast, individuals can respond quickly, decisively, and creatively to seize emerging opportunities, without having to go through channels, ask permissions, fill out paperwork, or pound the table to convince alleged superiors of The Obvious.

An apt military analogy to the competitive marketplace would be "asymmetrical warfare," where small, irregular, guerrilla forces use speed, stealth, and nimble tactics to outmaneuver their much larger, better equipped adversaries.

The world of publishing is being rocked by such tactics. The rise of upstart as an online book retailer has put formerly gigantic, thriving brick-and-mortar bookstore chains on the ropes. And now that Amazon has entered the publishing business with ebooks, it is beginning to threaten the giant publishing houses, too, competing with them for authors, even as it is eliminating their sales outlets (bookstores). In doing so, Amazon and other online publishers are providing platforms where individual authors can now inexpensively and successfully self-publish and market their own works, without the acceptance or support of traditional gatekeepers: agents, the publishing houses, and bookstores.

We're seeing the same thing with the rise of "indie films," such as "Atlas Shrugged." That movie was self-financed, then self-promoted via free publicity online, going "viral" through sympathetic talk-show hosts, columnists, and clever niche marketing to Tea Party groups and other sympathetic demographic segments. This eliminated the need to buy prohibitively expensive traditional media advertising. It then was released by hiring a small, independent distributor to cobble together a network of individual theaters across the country.

In both cases -- self-publishing and indie film production -- the same two factors are making success possible: free market competition and affordable technology. And in both cases, perhaps the greatest benefit for the artists in going it alone is creative independence. Today's author does not have to hew to the latest editorial fashions and fads of the Big 6 publishers, who look to yesterday's bestsellers to make decisions about what to publish tomorrow. Likewise, the "Atlas Shrugged" filmmakers did not have to water down Ayn Rand's controversial ideas to accommodate the Politically Correct sensitivities of leftist Hollywood screenwriters, actors and actresses, studio bosses, and financiers.

Thanks to markets and technology, we are entering the Indie Era: a time where individuals, operating independently, can challenge behemoth institutions and succeed, both financially and creatively. It is a time of unprecedented opportunities for anyone who has what it takes.

And what it takes, more than anything else, is a spirit of entrepreneurial self-responsibility. That is the spirit which built America. It is the spirit that can save it.

My April 15, 2011 "Tea Party" Address

My talk before the "TEA PARTY ON THE BAY," April 15, Grasonville, MD, sponsored by the Queen Anne's County of Americans for Prosperity.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

For too long, you and I have watched helplessly as a clique of politicians, intellectuals, activists, and bureaucrats from both parties have tried to obliterate our Constitution, our capitalist system, and our personal liberty.

This “bipartisan Ruling Class”—as scholar Angelo Codevilla describes it—sees itself as a moral, cultural, and intellectual elite. Oozing arrogance, viewing the rest of us as coarse, unsophisticated rubes who cling bitterly to guns and bibles, this class seeks to impose its own supposedly superior values and visions upon the rest of us, by force of law.

As we know too well, the ultimate goal of this Ruling Class is power. They exist—not to produce, not to invent, not to create—but to manipulate and master others. Ronald Reagan summed up their governing outlook this way: “If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”

By contrast, the rest of us Americans seek power over circumstances—not over each other. We acquire our personal sense of identity and self-esteem through productive work—not through imposing our values and visions on our neighbors. We accept a “live and let live” philosophy.

This is the spirit embodied in our “Declaration of Independence.” That document was more than a declaration of political independence from our European rulers; it was a declaration of the moral independence of every human being. It was a declaration of each individual’s moral right to his own life, his own liberty, his own pursuit of happiness.

This is the vision enshrined in our Constitution. That document grants to public officials only specific, enumerated, and narrowly limited powers. As James Madison and the Framers made clear, their goal was to bridle the power of government, in order to protect our moral right to go about our lives without interference. So the Constitution imposes upon officials a host of constraints: separations of powers, checks and balances, the Bill of Rights. By constraining government, we enjoy the fruits of freedom.

And this explains why, since the early twentieth-century Progressive Era, Ruling Class power-seekers have targeted the Constitution for annihilation.

These grandees aim to impose their wisdom and good taste upon us by force of law—telling us what to eat, what vehicles we should travel in, what fuels should power them, where our thermostats should be set, how we should use our land, what our children should be taught, what we may buy, sell, to whom, and at what prices, what earnings we may keep, what causes we must support, what medical coverage we must have—and on, and on.

It goes on without limit, because the Ruling Class accepts no limits, legal or moral, on its power to “do good” to us. Like missionaries visiting primitive tribes, they view us as savages, whom they must cage and civilize.

We see their boundless arrogance in Nancy Pelosi, who—when asked where in the Constitution was Congress granted the power to order us to buy health insurance—replied: “Are you serious?”

We see it in Barney Frank, the only human on the planet who is able to strut while sitting down.

We see it in Barack Obama, who tells his fellow Ruling Class members that “We are the ones we have been waiting for,” with his nose held so high in the air that any passing rainstorm would waterboard him.

Ruling Class programs have plundered trillions from makers, then handed it to takers—supposedly to eradicate poverty, to end unemployment, to prevent disastrous business cycles, to put everyone in his own home. But what do we see? Record levels of people on food stamps; soaring unemployment; a recession longer and deeper than any since the 1930s; a debacle in the housing market. Yet, in response, the Ruling Class demands more power to enact more of the same.

But their excesses have provoked a great awakening. Millions like you now champion the cause of free markets and individual liberty.

Our job began last November 2nd. Now, we have a cultural legacy to reclaim—a legacy often described as American individualism.

From our nation’s earliest days, when our pioneer ancestors blazed trails through forbidding frontiers, we Americans have never viewed ourselves as victims of circumstances. Fiercely self-assertive, proudly independent, we, more than any other people on earth, view ourselves as masters of our fates, as captains of our souls.

The spirit of American individualism inspired the Founders to pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the cause of personal liberty.

Now is our moment. So, in the words of Washington, let us continue in the months and years ahead to raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair.

Thank you.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Narratives That Guide Our Lives

Most people of my philosophic persuasion believe that the power that moves individuals and cultures is, at root, philosophy. Specifically, that power lies in the "basic premises" which we accept about the world and ourselves: our beliefs about the nature of existence; about how we know things; about what constitutes good and bad; about how we should live together.

This view of the power of philosophic premises is true. However, those of my philosophic persuasion also make an additional assumption: that to change one's own life, or to "change the world," the most important and effective thing is to adopt and advocate the "right" systematic, abstract philosophy. In practice, this means: addressing thinkers and intellectuals, teaching students formal philosophy, planting "our" kind of professors in university chairs, and otherwise engaging in specifically abstract, philosophical pursuits. The tacit assumption here is that the basic philosophic premises that govern our lives are decisively communicated and absorbed in individuals and cultures by means of formal philosophical education.

That premise is mistaken.

We do not suddenly acquaint ourselves with our core worldviews in college courses, after we are already in our teens or twenties. By that time, our basic premises are usually already well-established and, in many cases, set in psychological cement.

So when, and in what form, do we really encounter and accept our foundational beliefs about ourselves and the world around us?

We do so early in life, and in the form of stories -- or what I call Narratives.

The myths that we learn in childhood, at Mother's knee, in church, in schools, in films and novels, represent primitive, fundamental interpretive stories about our world: how it works, what it means, what is right or wrong, who are the Good Guys and the Bad Guys.

These Narratives are pre-philosophical; in fact, they are acquired in their germinal forms while we are still far too young to subject them to critical analysis. They thus actually tend to determine which abstract philosophies, ideologies, economic theories, and political policies we later find appealing. These latter "feel right" to us largely because they mesh with the myths, fairy tales, parables, and stories we already absorbed during childhood.

Moreover, the more deep-rooted the myth--either personally and/or culturally--the more desperately we cling to it. We cling to it even when it may sometimes be utterly false, and lead us over a cliff. We cling to it because to challenge or criticize it means to unravel a lifetime of investments in values, choices, relationships, careers, emotions, and money. And who wants to do that?

So, like sleepwalkers, most people continue to be directed by Narratives they have never consciously identified, let alone soberly considered. Here are just a few familiar ones:

"Untouched nature is paradise; human choices and actions only upset the natural balance." That's what the Garden of Eden myth declares. Its eventual philosophical fruit? Environmentalism.

"We should take from the rich and give to the poor." That's what the tale of Robin Hood (at least, contemporary versions of it) tells us. Its eventual political fruit? Communism, socialism, and their many "progressive" variants.

"David is morally superior to Goliath." That's what the Old Testament dramatized. Its eventual global fruit? Decades of disastrous U.S. foreign policy, blindly aimed at toppling powerful regimes in favor of the "little guy" in the streets of foreign nations--even if that little guy is a jihadist wearing a suicide vest, and is eager to slaughter us.

So how, exactly, do each of us arrive at our basic Narratives?

When we're infants, we perceive the world around us strictly perceptually, and we react to "good" and "bad" in terms of raw emotions. We either like the way something makes us feel, or we don't; we're comforted, or we're uncomfortable and fearful. As our ability to integrate our perceptions of things improves, we initially do so in the form of primitive concepts.

The next stage of interpretation, though, is at the level of story-telling and myth. We do not graduate from perceptions into concepts, then go directly into philosophy. Long before we ever arrive at the ability to tie all those concepts together into anything like a systematic, abstract philosophy (for those of us who even get to that stage of thinking), we interpret the world through the stories we are told. Those may be bible stories, Aesop's fables, messages in cartoons and picture books, tales told by our parents, good-guys-vs.-bad-guys TV shows.

These provide us with our foundational interpretive template for understanding the world around us. What binds every culture or subculture together are the value-laden messages conveyed by these tales. That's because Narratives work for a culture just as they do for an individual. Looking at the glory that was Greece, for example, it is instructive to note that Homer, that society's seminal poet and storyteller, preceded by hundreds of years Aristotle, who represented the apex of formal Greek philosophical thought. The former was the true father of Greek culture, while the latter lived during its waning days. If abstract, systematic philosophy were the true fountainhead of a culture--or its salvation--then the sequence of their appearances should have been reversed.

And this should tell us where the true "power of ideas" lies: not in concepts and philosophies per se, but in concepts and philosophies as embodied, enshrined, dramatized, and propagated by compelling Narratives. In other words, the narrative medium is just as necessary and potent as the philosophic message.

This explains the enduring power of religion. Religions communicate largely on the narrative level, utilizing the power of myth, parable, and storytelling. Ask yourself: How many people are attracted to a given religion because of the incisive, intellectually satisfying arguments of its clever theologians? By contrast, how many followers instead find themselves gripped, touched, inspired, and persuaded by the stories and parables that the religion offers?

Therefore, let me offer a word of advice to people who share my own secular philosophic outlook, Objectivism.

It's futile to complain about the intractable hold of "mysticism" on people's lives. Trying to argue people out of their reigning Narrative is almost always impossible, because we all need a reigning Narrative. Instead, you have to replace a person's (or culture's) reigning Narratives(s) with something better--something more persuasive, compelling, and inspiring.

You don't have to believe me; Ayn Rand reached the same conclusion. Why did she write fiction? Read closely her Romantic Manifesto, particularly her essay, "The Psycho-Epistemology of Art." In writing about the power of "art," she is really talking about the vital role and indispensable power of Narratives in our lives.

That is certainly the conclusion I have drawn. Rather than try hopelessly to deprive people of their existing Narratives, mystical or otherwise, I believe the only practical course is to create a rich, compelling, emotionally satisfying counter-Narrative. That is a task Rand began with her own fiction. But it is a task that should be continued by other artists--at least by those artists who wish not only to objectify their own values (which should be their primary focus), but who also would like to help create a better world.

So, a personal note of explanation: If you find less current-events commentary here lately, in part it's because I've found it to be increasingly pointless to argue philosophy, economics, and politics with most people. Why? Because we are talking past each other. You may prove a point with unassailable facts and irrefutable logic. However, the other person replies, "Yes, but . . ." Those words usually signal that you've reached the ultimate barrier to further reasoning and communication: You've challenged his Narrative. And in my experience, that is ground he'll rarely, if ever, concede.

The invisible forces directing the flow and outcomes of such debates, then, are rarely those issues under explicit discussion. Rather, they are the unidentified, unspoken, implicit Narratives that we carry with us, and which are constantly reinforced in the plots of popular novels, films, TV shows, and Sunday sermons. That is the enormous subtext of most arguments, and it poses a virtually insurmountable challenge. After all, it is very, very difficult to joust successfully and intellectually with someone when you are simultaneously fighting Adam, David, and Robin Hood.

That said, I'll return now to the personal pleasure of crafting my own counter-Narratives.


Since writing this piece, I've explored the subject of "Narratives" further. See my discussions here (about the "clash of Narratives" in the 2012 election), here (about Jonathan Gottschall's seminal book on this topic, The Storytelling Animal), and here (explaining the career of Barack Obama as a manipulator of narratives).

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The cover for my forthcoming thriller

I just received the final artwork for my forthcoming novel, HUNTER: A Thriller, and I thought I'd share it. 

Currently, we're looking at publication in late May or early June. The novel will be available both in print (trade paperback) and ebook editions (Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, iPad, etc.). I'll post more information here and on my Facebook page, in coming weeks.

Meanwhile, I'd love to read your comments.


An ex-CIA officer turns vigilante to punish protectors of criminals--unaware that he's being hunted by his lover...or that she's the daughter of his arch-enemy.