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FINE REVIEW: “The Railroad” by Neil Newton ~ Courageous Book Steeped with Gravitas

fig000:

A very intuitve review of my book “The Railroad”. Thanks Mark. You really got my message.

Originally posted on Mark Fine | Ruminations:

The RailroadThe Railroad by Neil Newton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are times it takes great courage to write, especially when the events are personal—a major human-made catastrophe. Add to it a fictional focus is on the bleaker side of the human condition, and you have a book steeped with gravitas. This certainly is the case in author, Neil Newton’s tough novel, The Railroad. Unflinchingly he takes on two biggies: First, the devastating destruction of the Twin Towers. This shattered the psyche of a nation, a city, and countless individuals, including the leading character at the epicenter of the story. 9/11 was an impersonal attack by virulent strangers, tainted with a flawed ideology that showed no concern for their victims.
But the author also faces down another scourge that is immensely more personal. The abuse of spouse and child by someone who intimately knew them, someone bound by marriage…

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Book Review: “Ice” by Jessica Wren

Book Review of “Ice” by Jessica Wren

“Ice” is a book that satisfies on many levels. The story, as a whole, is extremely evocative, creating a strong “small town” feeling like a vintage Ray Bradbury story. The small town atmosphere reminds me of the Americana iconic play “Our town”. Wren is skillful in her development of a small American town complete with portrayals of small town secretiveness and quirky, independent characters.

Just below the surface of this portrayal of rural American life is a paranormal undertone, something else that Wren handles well. The small town of Minterville, in Rural Georgia, has a secret, one that the outside world can’t know: the inhabitants of the town who are descended from the town’s founders can broadcast their thoughts through an entity called “The Minter”. All the other descendants can immediately hear the message in their heads.

It’s the gradual death of “The Minter” that alerts the town that something is deeply wrong; the messages sent through “The Minter” begin to fail, remaining undelivered. By the time we are introduced to Minterville, “The Minter” has faded to nothing. There is an evil in Minterville that has worked its way in the fiber of the town and “The Minter” reacts, shutting itself down. As “The Minter” fades and there is no longer any psychic communications between the people of the town, their uneasiness grows; something or someone in the town is out to destroy Minterville.

Once the small town and parnormal elements are established we see the third element of the story and the most compelling part of the book. No spoilers are allowed in this review, but there is horror here to satisfy the most avid horror fan. Wren paints a bizarre picture of death and torture that is as compelling as it is disturbing.

I would recommend this to anyone who likes science fiction or horror. There are elements of the book that could be developed with more emphasis, most notably the main characters. The one weakness in the story is the proliferation of characters at the expense of the strong development of a few true protagonists that readers can relate to. Beyond that, I can see that this story would make an excellent movie.

Read “Ice” by Jessica Wren on Amazon. You will be glad you did.

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The medium is the message: the abyss of modern advertising.

Today I saw the new “Windows 10” commercial for the fourth or fifth time. As is always the case with Microsoft commercials, I was very annoyed. Why be annoyed? You might ask. It’s nothing new; just Microsoft selling their latest operating system.

You’ll have to forgive me: I’m  in the IT business. So when I hear that your children will have their lives changed by the new operating system, I know it’s well constructed ad copy (crap). Yes someday a smile may allow you to log on to your machine. But no one’s life will be changed by Windows 10. You see most new operating systems include very superficial changes. The apps you’ve always used, the ones that will be part of your “changed” life, are basically the same. So you’ll be experiencing a new and better excel which is the same as it was a year ago. Children will write exciting and vastly improved school assignments using a Word that is basically the same as it was in the last three versions of Windows.

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I suppose that some of you are disturbed. The concept of “The Ad” is sacrosanct in American society. How could an uplifting, well-funded, color coordinated, professional ad from Microsoft, for God’s sake, be deceptive? Microsoft represents the world of computers to most people.  Notice that I used the word deceptive, not “lie”. That’s the really clever thing about commercials: They don’t tell you lies, they just dodge reality and imply the ability to bring about positive lifestyle changes they can’t deliver. Who can argue with a phrase like “The human way to do”? It sounds good and means nothing.

The point is that, as many ads do, this one tells you nothing about the superiority of a given product over other similar products. More to the point, they tell you nothing about anything that their product can or can’t do.

What’s the harm? you might ask; deception is an advertising tradition. Here’s what I see as the problem: the free market system allows the most superior product to succeed; that has always been the basis on which it has been defended by staunch capitalists. So what happens when you can’t tell which the best product actually is? Worse yet, what happens when you can’t really tell what a product does in the first place?

Why do we listen? Why do allow ourselves to be manipulated?

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The phrase, “The medium is the message” was introduced by Marshall McLuhan in his most widely known book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, published in 1964.[1] McLuhan said that a medium affects society based on its own characteristics and less by the actual content. Translated into characteristics of our Windows 10 ad, the television commercial (the medium) IS the message. We are not responding to information regarding the product, we are responding to the fact that our T.V. is telling us something, something that must be important.

I will admit that this is very abstract concept, one it took me a while to wrap my head around.  But it really is quite profound and bears directly on my distaste for empty meaningless advertisements. For those who are not interested in the world of scholarly discourse, I will do my best to demonstrate what is done to us by advertisements.

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Through years of being pounded by flashing, colorful images, we have been forced listen and pay attention to advertisements; we’ve been convinced that there is some substance to what passes across our T.V. screens. Even if we don’t buy “Windows 10” or buy Miller light right after seeing a Budweiser commercial, we still consider the information coming out of our screen as important. That’s true even if the information we hear is meaningless or completely dishonest. We file it away because we have been conditioned that way.

By allowing the medium to be the message we give advertisers enormous control over our decisions. We trust that we are supposed to at least consider what we are seeing and hearing. The repetitive deployment of ads helps to drum them into our minds by osmosis.

Companies like Microsoft make many of our decisions for us. Would you be interested to know that a recently as fifteen years ago there was more than one operating system. At the end of the last century Microsoft has managed to put a number of competitors out of business. This is not only in the OS arena, but computer languages and spreadsheets. So much for fair competition.

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And now Microsoft will use the message in the medium of television to convince you to buy Windows 10. You see, even though there are no other operating systems for PCs and laptops, people have become independent thinkers, just enough to avoid buying the latest operating system, due to disasters like Vista and, in my opinion, Windows 8.

If there is a “message” in the medium of this blog, it would be that questioning what you hear and see is essential to protecting yourself from a predatory business community. Ask yourself if you believe that Microsoft has your best interests at heart.

Neil Newton: Author of “The Railroad” on Amazon
http://amzn.to/1IDMjwm
http://bit.ly/1QYag3l
http://amzn.to/1KxdZD6

http://neildouglasnewton.com

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Too far apart

fig000:

This and so many other problems. And no one really seems interested in doing anything about them. Thans Cristian.

Originally posted on Cristian Mihai:

many“There are too many of us and we are all too far apart.” ― Kurt Vonnegut

I’m writing these words knowing that people from all over the world are going to read them. People of all ages, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, of different religious beliefs. Most of them, I’ll never get a chance to meet. Most of them, I don’t know how they look like, what’s the thing they want most in this world, or what is it that they’re afraid of… most of them are perfect strangers to me.

Yet, simply by writing these words with these strangers in my mind, having the certainty that my words will reach them, they become a little bit more than strangers. They become human beings, just like myself, and that is one of life’s greatest achievements.

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Awethors Facebook Event

“Awethors Awareness Day” – Aug. 15th & Aug. 16th

awethors

Awethors Awareness Day

What happens when a group of Awesome Awethors get together on Facebook? Find out on August 15th and August 16th. Pure pandemonium? Brilliant repartee?  Exciting exchanges? Surprising revelations?  Meet some of the bravest and boldest contributors to the world of writing. We’ll be talking about and promoting the books of authors other than ourselves. Find out what books we like. Find old favorites and discover new ones.

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Book Review: The Zebra Affaire by Mark Fine

The Zebra Affaire by Mark Fine

This is a book that anyone should read, especially those of us who know little about the apartheid régime that formerly had a choke hold on the people, politics, and social structure of South Africa. One of the tasks of books that describe one of the many “holocausts” we have experienced around the world is to adequately convey the horror of living under a sadistic and morally bankrupt form of government. Mark Fine delivers this to his readers and much more.

Each story of this type is a critical cautionary tale to maintain our awareness that “it could happen here”, something that requires our vigilance. Though many Americans heard quite a bit about apartheid in the news much of it was comprised of sound bytes and “digestable” morsels of fact; that is the nature of news throughout the world when it comes to stories that don’t directly affect a particular nation’s well-being.

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Through Mr. Fine’s book I was skillfully immersed in an entirely unexpected level of pure hell that shocked me. Through the experiences of Stanwell Marunda and Elsa Marais the disturbing structure of apartheid is revealed. Most basic to the story is fact that Stanwell is black and Elsa Marais is a white Afrikaner. Stanwell, who has come to find work in Johannesburg falls in love with Elsa who is a member of the dominant group in the country. The Afrikaners are the authors of apartheid and their “law” forbids relationships between blacks and whites, except those of master and servant.

We begin the story with a jarring revelation for those not familiar with apartheid. Stanwell has just experienced a potentially fatal car crash. Lying on the ground, feeling his life ebb, Stanwell is aided by Elsa and a British woman. While the outcome of the situation would be obvious to most of us, taking Stanwell to the hospital, in apartheid South Africa there is a draconian obstacle: Stanwell is black, making it impossible for him to be taken to a “whilte” hospital. The only legal alternative is for him to be brought to a substandard, brutal, “black” hospital where Stanwell is likely to die.

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And so begins a chain of events that forces Stanwell, Elsa and their friends to consistently skirt the harsh laws of apartheid to allow them to stay together. Mark Fine creates a fascinating and compelling story, written on a broad canvas of South African history that includes the conflicts between tribes, the formation of apartheid and many small details of the nation’s cultural mosaic.

In many ways, though the characters and their experience affect the reader, “The Zebra Affaire” is a historical testament to the clash of cultures that characterizes world history. Not only does he describe the major players in apartheid but he includes, through his characters, Jewish emigres, Americans and British. The point at which all these groups come together is the focus of Mr. Fine’s book and the effect is moving.

The experience of his main characters is tragic. The book’s compelling nature comes from its sense of foreboding; early in the book I had a feeling that something bad was going to happen. Fine keeps you hooked as he builds up tension with incredible skill. But this is not a thriller, the characters are victims of real pain and sorrow. As a result, the reader feels far more personal association with the characters then you would find in a standard story.

I would recommend this book to anyone, especially those fascinated by history and diaspora. There are lessons in Mark Fine’s book for anyone who does not want history to repeat itself.

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Neil Newton: Author of “The Railroad” on Amazon
http://amzn.to/1IDMjwm
http://bit.ly/1QYag3l
http://amzn.to/1KxdZD6

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Any Port in a Storm: “Someone to speak for me”

Last year the “Duck Dynasty” crew became famous for espousing what might be considered right wing Christian values including, not surprisingly, a homophobic rant. I began to hear people praising the group, some going so far as to say that they were thrilled that people of such “high level” status were acting as advocates for their strongly held beliefs.

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It was after the third similar claim about Duck Dynasty by someone I know, that I began to feel uneasy. This forced me to think about what was bothering me. The Duck Dynasty folks were an overnight sensation, their pictures all over Walmart, just like Miley Cyrus used to be. The similarity between the two is that they have been made into marketing prostitutes for big business. They drained the market dry for all that it would bear. Make no mistake: their status in the world is based on money, not ethics or faith.

Let’s go back to the beginning. Duck Dynasty is a reality show. It is most likely scripted as most reality shows are. The family is portrayed as goofy backwoodsman getting themselves into Beavis and Butthead level hijinks; there is nothing edifying about this nor is there anything substantial to learn from most of the material on the show. In other words they are not paragons in our society. The purpose of the show, from the start, was to tap into the boom market of reality television. It is doubtful, considering the silly things that happen on the show, that the family entered into the project with the idea of spreading right wing positive values. It they had, I would expect there would be more dignity in their show. Perhaps episodes about conservation, charity, or actual lessons about the role of faith in life would be a worthwhile addition. But the Dynasty crowd are, if nothing else, shrewd businessmen.

What makes people like this rallying point for a cause? Is it because they are on T.V.? But as we’ve learned anyone can get on T.V. if they have even a slightly interesting format. And why are they doing it?

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To me the answer is apparent; they are doing it only for money.

What occurred to me is that Christians have been under fire due to the strident proselytizing of a very small minority. Coming from New York I find Christian bashing offensive, despite not being Christian. In New York the lines between groups are blurred. I’m not saying, “some of my best friends are Christians” or I had “nice” relationships with some Christians. For many years my best friend was Christian, as were a number of my girlfriends. That’s New York, another blog entirely and can be read here.

So when someone says something like, “Christians are always trying to control other people”, I ask, “Which one?” This usually knocks them back a few feet when they realize that their opinions about Christians may have been formed on the basis of stories they’ve heard, not experiences they’ve had.

Hearing their own values being stated on national T.V. by the Duck Dynasty crew has become one of the few opportunities for some Christians to have their views aired after a drought in which there was little expression of their views and their faith. Yet, I would guess that if we were not in a world of reality T.V. and a world where faith is disparaged, Christians would turn away from the likes of the Duck Dynasty crew because of their motivations for airing the show and the content of the show itself.

This is not a blog about Christianity whose values are not those of greed and do not condone manipulating the truth to make money. The fact that this is not about Christianity will become apparent very soon. I’m going to shift from reality T.V. to the cult of personality. You’ll see that they function in much the same way.

Within the last few months Donald Trump has made himself a possibly viable candidate for President on the GOP ticket. Being from New York myself, I could see some of you taking my disgust with the “Dynasty” crowd as being due to the fact that I am not a country boy and that I just don’t “get it”. Not so with “The Donald”. Trump is everywhere in New York, following all of us around in small ways. His failures decades ago were big news. The building I worked in just before leaving New York was torn down and replaced by a “Trump Tower”.

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But outside of his business acumen, Trump has always been a side show. I was not surprised that he also dabbled in reality T.V., which I assume is scripted like most of the other shows. I doubt that Penn Jillette, with his financial success, was really concerned whether he was fired or not by Donald Trump.

Many people feel that Trump represents a politician several steps up from the standard presidential candidate. I will admit that his candor is refreshing but again, Trump represents a small trickle of  political  honesty after what seems like a drought  lasting most of my lifetime; it seems like most of our presidents have played the same game of appeasing people to get elected, only to renege on most of their promises once in office.

It’s that drought of compete honesty that makes me believe that, like the Christians who were grateful for an expression of their beliefs from the mouths of the Duck Dynasty crew, the political right now feels vindicated and thrilled to hear “The Donald” say things they’ve wanted to be said.

Candor is not the same as truth, or the same as presidential skill. So far Trump has spouted statistics regarding Mexican illegal aliens that come from an unknown source. And, in fact, that is, disturbingly, one of the few times he has actually discussed anything vaguely related to relevant policy questions. For the most part Donald Trump has talked about himself and people he doesn’t like. The chasm between what Donald Trump has told us and a solid political platform is wider than the Atlantic Ocean.

What Trump does when he speaks is to bob and weave, all for the purpose of making himself look good, behavior that seems to be compulsive and uncontrollable. Imagine that kind of behavior if he were to become President of the United States. What is there to stop him from an outburst against enemies, foreign and domestic? Has he shown the patience required to carefully weigh his words or even his actions as president?

Most important, can he guarantee that he won’t let his outsized personality run wild at a critical moment in American history?

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More to the point, does he have the skill and wisdom to handle foreign policy, military actions, economy building, education reform, etc? Nothing he has said has even come close to demonstrating his skill to handle even the simplest duties of a President.

I don’t hate the Duck Dynasty crew or Donald Trump. My point is this; as human beings we are vulnerable when we feel that we are “voices in the wilderness”. When someone seems to takes up our cause, or seems to, we jump at the chance to have our voices heard. Sometimes we jump too soon.

I suggest to you, all of you, that when it comes to our most important values we deserve and need more than what I would call “hucksters”. Their values are not yours.

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Neil Newton: Author of “The Railroad” on Amazon
http://amzn.to/1IDMjwm
http://bit.ly/1QYag3l
http://amzn.to/1KxdZD6

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