Tag Archives: essays

A Few Words about a Supreme

The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on 13 February came unexpectedly. Far be it for me to speak ill of the departed but, having said that, I fully expect there to be many critical opinions voiced regarding his philosophy and tenure, and I suppose that mine will be counted among them.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Justice Scalia was a “bad man”. I just think that despite his purported brilliance, he was a Constitutional Neanderthal. After all, this is a guy who reveled in his view of the Constitution as a “dead” rather than a “living” document, a severely myopic view that supported the assumed perfection of the 18th Century society and minds that created our core document. Scalia refused to face the simple reality that time brings change and, with it, the need to adapt to evolving mores, priorities, and advances in knowledge. The Founding Fathers may have been brilliant and perceptive within the context of their era and, in some respects, beyond it, but we are now well over two hundred years farther along, and American society, not to mention the world in general, has grown more complex, sophisticated, and dangerous. Justice Scalia wished to preserve the nascent state of America despite overwhelming evidence that we simply are not the country that we were at our founding..

Scalia’s domineering personality, sarcastic wit on the bench, and reactionary philosophy combined over the three decades of his service on the Supreme Court to wreak havoc on established and evolving law. Bush v. Gore, Citizens United, a blow against voting rights for minorities…in his votes in these and other cases he as well as his conservative brethren vomited their contempt in large, discrete chunks for any semblance of social equality and fairness. Out of step with his time, he helped to fuel the fires of intolerance and made a travesty of those values and privileges that most Americans, and certainly most minorities, accept as the core of what makes America America.

I believe that the long historical view of Scalia will be that he had a markedly negative but fortunately transient, dramatic impact on the legal and social environment of the country, and that ultimately his efforts failed. He will be seen as a man out of his time attempting to use his position to reinstate an imagined era he felt was better than the one in which he lived. It will be broadly recognized that, paradoxically, his strict constructionist views actually favored far less freedom rather than more. As it is with other conservatives, Scalia was a man who believed that freedom was paramount as long as it didn’t conflict with his own biases. In an era in which the conservatives who supported him rail against activist judges, Scalia was one of the worst.

And so, I will not miss Justice Scalia, but I understand why Republicans, even before rigor mortis set in, trumpeted their desire to stonewall any – any — replacement nomination that will be made by President Obama. All of which leads me to believe that we truly need a Democrat as our next President, because another angry, reactionary, sarcastic, ultra-conservative driven by a right wing political agenda (don’t forget Bush v. Gore) is the last person this country needs on the Supreme Court. It’s critical to recognize that the country is speeding headlong towards a minority majority population, and radically conservative political views are ultimately doomed, no matter what happens in the short term. The fear, however, is that a lot of bad stuff can happen in the short term. History tells us that, at some point, events simply cross a line, and people rise up, unwilling to take it anymore. If Republicans don’t allow that uprising to take place at the ballot box, they may forever regret their unswerving support for the Second Amendment. Their behavior in the wake of Justice Scalia’s death suggests, however, that they don’t yet understand what they are risking. I’d like to think they’ll come to their senses, but based upon the recent behavior and pronouncements of those seeking the Republican presidential nomination, my hopes aren’t high.

Where Are The Sales?

I just received the annual report from WordPress with the 2015 statistics for seductivepeach.com. Over the course of the past year, the blog was viewed in 71 countries around the world, a fact that both surprises and delights me. So, as 2015 ends and 2016 begins (I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve), I want to thank everyone for their support and interest in my ramblings and rantings.

Having expressed my thanks, I still want to ask a question to which I probably won’t get an answer. With so many readers in so many countries, how come I sold so few of my two books in 2015?

Zendoscopy is the sometimes hilarious, sometimes wrenching story of Sherman, a somewhat square peg of a kid coming of age in the round hole of his 1950s and ‘60s Southern California world. The book has received excellent reviews (check them out on Amazon.com), and I’ve done book signings and taken ads during the year. Yet, still, very few sales. If you haven’t read (bought!) the book, please consider doing so as we enter 2016. And if you like it, please write a review on Amazon.com or any other online site that accepts reviews. And tell your friends about it, too!

Spacebraid and Other Tales of a Dystopian Universe , my other book, was published back in 2004. It, too received favorable reviews but has sold many copies. It’s a collection of science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories written over a period of years when, in my former (I’m retired) career as a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist, I needed to kill time in the hospital waiting for women in labor to deliver their babies. It’s a fun read if you’re into those genres, and I hope you’ll consider getting a copy in the year to come.

Both books are available in hardcover and e-book formats, so take your choice. You’ll find the hardcover (trade paperback) versions of each on any of many online sites, and the e-book on Amazon.com. I recommend buying from Amazon.com and posting reviews there. Of course, if you live in Southern California and buy the hardcopy version, I’d be glad to autograph it for you.

Finally, the not-quite-a-sequel to Zendoscopy should be ready sometime in 2016. Several of the characters from Zendoscopy appear in the new book, but the story is totally new. If you’d like to find out more about Effie Mae, Larry, Saltzman, and Consuela, you’ll certainly want to pick up the new book when it arrives. I’ll be announcing its title a little later in 2016, so keep watching the blog or check me out on Facebook.

In the meantime, have a safe, happy, and healthy new year, and let’s all hope that in 2016 we’ll begin to see a more peaceful and tolerant world. And that goes for the behavior in Congress, as well!

Curmudgeonly Holiday Cheer

If you’re like me, you always feel a little ambivalent as the holiday season gets into full swing. And not without good reason, I would humbly suggest. And in the interest of perhaps making some of you understand that you’re not alone, I hereby offer a list of some of the things that annoy the hell out of me every year:

  • Christmas wreaths on car noses. Highly stupid.
  • Reindeer antlers affixed to the sides of cars. Almost as stupid as the wreaths.
  • Endless, and I do mean endless, e-mails from retailers, often including multiple missives from the same vendor in a single day. Eddie Bauer and Amazon.com, go f*** yourselves.
  • Holiday music on the radio, everywhere on the radio. Rum pum pum pum.
  • People who are actually offended when wished “happy holidays”, and who see such well-intentioned good will as an act of war on Christmas. Conversely, those who automatically wish me a merry Christmas or happy Hanukkah, presuming to know my religious leanings (and generally getting them wrong). For the record, I’m a Festivus kind of guy.
  • Which reminds me, what war on Christmas? Everywhere I turn, I’m bombarded by Christmas. The only war on Christmas I see every day at this time of year is the one being waged at its spirit by avaricious businesses.
  • “Black Friday” sales that start weeks before Black Friday and, as I write this, are still going on, albeit now being called by other names, such as “pre- Christmas” sales. What does buying a new mattress have to do with Christmas?
  • The same automobile commercials repeated over and over again, usually within bare minutes of one another.
  • Inconsiderate, reckless driving by people too harried, distracted, inebriated, and/or just plain irritated to be paying attention to the road, other drivers, and pedestrians.
  • Those Salvation Army bell ringers who feel it incumbent upon them to voice cheery good wishes in hope of attracting my attention and a contribution. You want a contribution, don’t confront me like a street beggar.

And now, for the things that don’t annoy me during the holidays:

  • People who refuse to patronize stores that stay open on days when employees should be free to spend time with their families.
  • Car manufacturers that don’t bombard the airwaves and cable with repeated ads with annoying music and, all too often, jolly Santas driving their vehicles.
  • People who do wish me to have “happy holidays”.
  • People who remain attentive and courteous behind the wheel, despite the awful provocations of those who don’t.
  • Salvation Army bell ringers who keep their mouths shut as I walk into the local Ralph’s.
  • Anyone, and I mean anyone, who wishes me a Festive Festivus.

Happy holidays, everyone!!!

Preaching to the Converted

Regular readers of this blog are pretty well onto my politics and so are probably expecting me to get into regular rants against what has become of the Republican mindset and, specifically, the ignorant and bigoted blather coming from the nomination seekers as they each try to outdo one another in their rush to the lunatic right. Well, I hate to disappoint, but I’m not going to do it, at least right now. Why? Because those who’ve read the 89 prior blog entries on seductivepeach.com are pretty much the converted. People who might perhaps gain some perspective from the liberal (educated?) view of things aren’t my readers, and my simply blowing off steam to those who already agree with me seems a waste of my time at the keyboard. Oh, I’m sure that despite this I’ll have more to say as we go through the primary season, but I’m going to try not to be the creator of a weekly harangue, even if venting my frustrations is somewhat therapeutic for me. So ‘nuff said for now.

It’s the holiday season once again, and Decembers seem to come and go at a furious pace as I get older. As always at this time of year, it’s time for the wife and me to catch up on all the recent movies we’ve missed, to visit with some friends, to eat (and eat and eat), and to wonder over why, in the words of the famous philosopher, Rodney King, we can’t all get along.

As I’ve often said in my postings, I’m not religious. I was raised in a secular environment (although my mother was a wishful agnostic who did send me to Sunday school for awhile – it didn’t “take”) and classify myself as a secular humanist. Perhaps because of this, religious intolerance and racism simply failed to resonate at any level with me. And so, instead of talking about the horror that just transpired in San Bernardino – incomprehensible in and of itself – I’d like to take the rest of this week’s entry to address what’s happened since the mass terror attack.

And what has happened? On one hand, there has been much caution urged by saner voices, pleas not to generalize feelings about the two terrorists responsible for the massacre to the Muslim community as a whole, the majority of whose members are as appalled as the rest of us and who, in addition, are coping with feelings of guilt and shame over what they see as a perversion of their beliefs. On the other hand, however, are a motley crew of gun supporters, Republican politicians who offered nothing but an exhortation for us all to pray (and in some cases, most notably that of Donald Trump, have suggested barring any further immigration by Muslims), and radical right religious bigots who, predictably, are venomous in their expressions of hatred toward all Muslims.

Those who express their hostility toward Islam – primarily right wing Christians – seem conveniently to forget that Christians’ behavior over time has often been as lacking in virtue as what we are seeing now. Just to name one example, the Inquisition wasn’t exactly a shining moment in the history of Catholicism. And are white supremacist Christians any more admirable than Islamic fundamentalist terrorists? Those filled with anti-Islamic hate tend to forget that most mass shootings and assassinations in the U.S. have been committed by white male Christians. I’m no Bible scholar, but it does seem that some have forgotten the injunction about not casting the first stone.

I’m not religious, and some would say that I therefore am not qualified to give those who are among the faithful any advice. Still, I would ask those of all faiths (and of none), to look deeply and honestly within themselves, to look at history, and to consider that those who committed the recent San Bernardino shootings constitute a lunatic fringe and not the larger body of Muslims in the U.S. who actually deserve tolerance and support in what has become a very painful time for them.

So, I’ll end by wishing happy holidays to all, and my hope for progress toward peace in the new year.

Some Thoughts on Returning from Cuba

It’s been several weeks since I’ve blogged. Most of that time my wife and I were on a People-to-People cultural exchange visit in Cuba, a place not many Americans have been privileged to visit over the past fifty-plus years. Perhaps like most Americans, my view of Cuba was pretty black and white: a communist country under the iron thumb of Fidel Castro until more recently, when his somewhat more enlightened brother, Raul, took over the reins. And, like most Americans, I was wrong.

Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 as the result of the Cuban Revolution tthat ousted Fulgencio Batista, a corrupt dictator supported by the U.S. At that time, Castro was a young man, politically inexperienced and highly averse to dealing with a country that had thrown its support to Batista. Enter the Soviet Union. If Castro wasn’t a committed communist, the deep need for economic support offered by the Soviet Union clearly made an association a marriage of convenience as well as a contrast to the prior U.S. supported corruption, aided and abetted by the extensive Mafia presence in the country.

Moving ahead (and well past the Cuban missile crisis) to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Castro’s Cuba suddenly faced economic disaster. With no support from the defunct Soviets, the country entered disastrous economic times. The U.S. failed to make a case for assistance acceptable to Castro, and so the economic hard times have largely persisted to present day. Well, except for some two billion dollars that annually enters the otherwise failed economy from Cuban Americans who in addition bring in a variety of consumer goods, from other countries (including England, Spain, and Israel) who provide tourists, and from a gray and black market that just about every Cuban knows how to access to advantage.

Fidel has done some good things over the years. The population is well educated and has guaranteed health care for all (U.S., take note). Of course, by educating the public, and through information that is only now beginning to penetrate into the population via the internet, the country is beginning to emerge from its dark years of relative isolation. Fidel’s advancing age and poor health have resulted in ascension to power of his more liberal-minded brother, Raul, and Cuban society is now beginning to open up. People feel free to express their opinions, to associate with an increasing number of American visitors, and to sit at hotspots in public parks with their cell phones, surfing the net.

We wanted to visit Cuba before Starbucks contaminated the country with an outlet on every corner, and our visit enabled us to do just that. We found the people to be open and friendly, the scenery to be wonderful, and our visits to all sites free of the watchful authorities we thought we might see. Cuba is not black and white; it’s a many shaded place that’s negotiating its place into the global economy. We look forward to seeing those changes, even knowing that some of what makes Cuba unique is likely to vanish. Progress, and the people, are demanding it, and it’s time for the U.S. to recognize the need to engage with this hemispheric neighbor only 90 miles from Key West.

My First Best Friend

My first best friend was Doug. Well, okay, he might not have been my first best friend, but he’s the first one I can remember. And I might not have been his best friend, but it doesn’t really matter. Here’s the story, and why I think about it now.

In the early 1950s, when I was 7 years old, we moved from New York to California, settling in the northwest San Fernando Valley. We arrived just in time for the school year and my entry into the second grade. Almost immediately, I met Doug, a kid open to friendship with the newcomer. Doug was the shortest kid in the class but athletic and smart. I liked him immediately and I became one of his several close friends, who readily accepted me into their little clique.

Despite Doug’s wiry athleticism, he could be painfully slow of execution. At lunchtime, he would carefully remove his dental retainer, set it aside, and then eat his lunch painfully slowly and carefully. Long after the rest of us had inhaled our PB&Js, Doug would be chewing his sandwich, grapes, chips – whatever, so meticulously as to make the rest of us crazy, but we’d forgive him for using up so much of our lunch period because he was the kind of kid that you instinctively liked and, more importantly, was the kind of kid you wanted to like you.

I always wanted to be invited over to Doug’s house, mostly because he had an elaborate tree house in his backyard, the most outstanding characteristic of which was the “pee-pipe”, which was just what it sounds like it was, although I think it was later used as a hiding place for rolled up nudie magazines, issues of sanitation not withstanding. I only was invited into the tree house a couple of times, and I knew that his other friends spent considerably more time in it. This was my first indication that, although Doug and I were friends, I was not necessarily his best friend. It stung a bit, but I hung in.

When we were 12, we both became ham radio operators and were able to talk with one another using Morse code over the radio. This was far more exciting than using the telephone and, besides, aside from my father being a doctor and needing ready access to the phone, in those days we had a party line which I couldn’t monopolize.

By the time we got to junior high school, our social group had expanded, but Doug and I were the only ones in the group who had decided we would be engineers. This dedication to the physical sciences held through high school. Despite our common interests, the day we graduated to go off to college was the last time I saw Doug, and I have no idea whether he actually did become an engineer. I didn’t. I became pre-med after a time and ultimately went to medical school.

It’s been over fifty years since losing touch with Doug. I’ve always hoped he’d turn up at one of our high school reunions, but he never has, and no one seems to know what’s become of him. I’ve searched the internet and all the common social media sites with no success – it’s as if he’s vanished from the face of the earth.

As I get older, I’ve come to realize that there’s no particular value in living in one’s past, but remembering it and periodically reaching out to touch it helps to create perspective on the journey we’re all taking. Life, as we all know, is short, and having some sense of the composite whole of our brief existence is very comforting. It’s why, although I was miserable in high school (another story for another time), I always attend my class reunions. It’s wonderful to see old acquaintances and share the stories of our lives. This is especially so now for those of us who are leading edge baby boomers who came of age in the 1960s. We are the triumphant survivors of the ancient curse of living in interesting times.

So, Doug, if you’re still out there, and on the miniscule chance that you’ll stumble across this article, please, please reach back to me. I’d love to hear from you.

Your (not necessarily best) friend,

JW

Little Pieces

Up to now, I’ve pretty much dealt with both writing, publishing, and marketing one’s books. What I haven’t addressed is the subject of articles and essays, and the task of getting them into print. My own experience has been spotty, with some high points over the years mixed in with lots of rejections. Maybe my own history will prove useful if you’re trying to get some shorter pieces into print.

Back in the 1980’s, when I first started submitting articles to publications, I had some pretty grandiose notions about where I could be showcased. This resulted in a series of rejection letters from some of our finest publications of the day: New York Magazine, The New Yorker, Omni, Playboy, California…all on their lovely stationery. Usually these form missives began with “Dear Author” and went on there to note that either my material wasn’t “quite” right for their august pages or, occasionally, the dubious and likely faux politesse of, “We get many submissions and, unfortunately, cannot publish them all…”

I used to save all these letters, feeling I might someday paper my bathroom wall with them. Recently, however, I gave up on the idea and threw them out.

After receiving a certain number of these rejections, I began to see things in more realistic terms and, looking to a couple of my hobbies – amateur (“ham”) radio and model airplanes – wrote several articles for hobby-niche publications which, in fact got printed. I also wrote for a medical “throw-away” publication called Medical Economics, got a number of letters to the editor into a local newspaper and the L.A. Times. My latest success is that I will have an essay published this summer in a medically-oriented literary journal, The Pharos. Over the years, I’ve accumulated a fair number of these sorts of published pieces – enough to keep me encouraged in my writing while working on my two books.

So, what are the lessons to be taken from this? I think they’re few in number but highly valuable.

First, unless you’re a well known writer or have some high level contacts, you will likely end up on the slush pile of major magazine editors if you’re submitting to them cold. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it, but you need to be realistic. I’ve still never gotten a story into Playboy, even though I’m egotistical enough to think that the few pieces I’ve sent to them over the years are at least as good as some of the fiction they’ve printed over the same period of time. Send targeted pieces to smaller, niche publications, many of which will likely be happy to publish your work.

Second, and there’s nothing original about this suggestion, write what you know even if it’s not really what you want to do. There’s nothing wrong with writing an article about servicing left handed veeblefetzers if that’s what’ll get you into print in the American Journal of Applied Fetzerology. You won’t make much money at it but you’ll be a published writer, and that’s at least part of your goal fulfilled.

Third, write letters to the editor of newspapers and magazines. You might or might not get printed but, if you do, people will see your name, and that’s important.

Fourth, no matter what you submit and where you submit it, expect a fair share of rejections. It’s going to happen, and if it’s going to upset you, you should probably be doing something else.

Fifth, no matter what, continue writing. The worst thing is to stop. The more you write, the better at it you are likely to become. And don’t be afraid of feedback and criticism. It will sharpen your focus, increase your insight into what you’re doing, and tell you much about the perceptions of your audience. If you’re going to succeed, you have to keep at it and develop a thick skin.