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This week, I won't be posting another comparison of east versus west. Though I have at least two more such articles to write, it shall have to wait. In light of last week's shooting, there are more important things to discuss.

How to recognize an extremist ... and what you can do

I was motivated to write the rather dark and insane verses in Gospels of Rage by social ignorance and our culture that perpetuates it. Of the several symptoms I can identify, none could demonstrate it better than the media reaction to the Batman movie slayings that happened last week. One commentator on KGO radio last night said, "I won't even mention the evil, we're just going to talk about the victims."

And it is tragic that such a thing should happen. We share in the grief, as we share it every time another very disturbed individual does something similar. Once, it could be relegated to another place, another time, but it is not "over there" anymore, and it is not "in a less civilized time" anymore either. It is in Colorado, and in New Mexico, and in New York, and in Norway, and in Oman, and on the Japanese subway, and in the cartel-besieged streets of Mexico, and everywhere else you can name. It is our problem, and it is up to us to help fix it, or we may expect more of the same.

So I say unto the commentator, unto my neighbors, my friends, and everyone else who gives a damn about people getting killed somewhere for no good reason, it's time we started talking about the evil. The evil is the problem, not the victims, so that is what we should focus on.

But how do we start? For too long, the media has shunned the idea of humanizing criminals, extremists, junkies, the poor, the insane, heretics, politicians, pundits, terrorists, minorities, foreigners or anyone else who is more conveniently a symbol, rather than a person. But the "evil-doers" here are people, and we should stop thinking about them like they aren't. Beyond any political agenda, beyond even justice, each one of them has a family, a life that led them to where they are now, and a future that we must reckon with. There was a time in each of their lives, sometimes hundreds of times, when someone wasn't paying attention. They ignored that a problem was forming, and instead reported nothing, said nothing, offered no help or advice, made no move to involve themselves in someone else's troubles, and even shirked their responsibilities to handle their children, the people in their care, or someone else's welfare. We have all been in this place before or shall be someday, and someone usually does the right thing, but there are far too many instances of abuse and stubborn neglect like we saw at Penn State to expect people not to react violently.


When you see something like this, you are looking at something that can motivate someone to do some crazy shit.

It maybe difficult to identify a killer as a person, but they are not fundamentally different from any of us. They are not impossible to understand, not impossible to stop, to circumvent, or to help. That is the first problem, seeing and showing human beings as being human. They are not symbols, their acts are, and what those acts symbolize is our reluctance to deal with them until they bring these atrocities to our attention with violence.

It is our fear to show them our compassion that allows these things to happen. The reality is that we are strong enough to fix these and many other ills, but we are taught to fear our strength, not just to hesitate to involve ourselves in another's problems, but to refuse to do so under any circumstances. Often, we are shown only how to hate our enemies, hate other people, hate the people who lose it and kill a lot of people. Yet it is we who can change this, but we must not be so foolish as to think of others as unlike us, and to have the courage to simply offer a hand when it is within our power to do so.

Stop being weak. And stop letting others be weak around you.

Hymn of the Fellow Sinner

I know you
want as I do,
thirst as I do,
grieve as I do.
These precious things we share
as strangers, for we all must hope.
Our hearts and larders may be bare
and this is how we cope.

But do you
fear as I do,
regret as I do,
hate as I do?
Do you think poorly of this life,
and bicker over fortune’s price?
Do you contend with strife
and storm for a glimpse of paradise?

I beg you
rue as I do,
cower as I do,
repent as I do.
Your pride is a false companion,
the messenger of our destruction.
Take my hand, I am your champion.
I’ll not deny you perdition.

For if you have tried and lost,
as I have,
then you understand the cost.

-Forest F. White

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Clearly I remember the first time I heard a joke about people of Polish descent. Being of a rural community in California, I knew no one from Poland or whose family was from Poland. We were all of Scotch-Irish, German, Italian, Mexican, and Chinese ancestry, and most of our families had moved there on or around World War 2. It seemed odd, even to my more ignorant classmates, that this joke would be funny because we had no experience with the prejudice of other places. We were naive, but that is a luxury some people can enjoy in the west.

Pride and Prejudice

History is something we don't have an abundance of in this country; I say that because in Asia and Europe, in Central and South America, and most likely Africa (but I have never been there), there is evidence of ancient civilizations. Here, we consider a building of 300 years to be old, even though in terms of world history, 300 years is relatively short. However, in the east, the presence of historic events - slavery, the Irish potato famine, prohibition, and various wars - is clearly visible. The prejudices of the people in various places are sometimes long-lasting, and it was a wave of eastern European immigrants - Poles, Slavs, Latvians, Romanians and so on - that spawned the prejudicial joke that puzzled me in my youth. History, not difference, generates the different attitudes that dominate personal, social, and political trends. Now, I cannot say the difference is any more accepted in the west than the east, because such a generalization is patently untrue. However, I do know what people experience, so I shall focus on that.

It so happens that California was one of the few states ever pass a constitution that clearly outlined prejudicial policy towards Chinese immigrants (it was later replaced). In the west, people have a lot of pride in being international and post-modern, but when it comes to actual policies of discrimination, the west has a very poor record. While the economic powerhouses of Los Angeles, the Silicon Valley, Seattle, and Portland do accept a lot of foreign labor, you can still find racial ghettos for those who are not as accepted; even though no one puts them there, generations may live in a migrant farm community or outlying city area. Narratives by Sherman Alexi, Paul Beatty, and John Steinbeck clearly show the social divisions that exist in the west based on the perceptions of race. It also seems to me that although racial phenotypes seem to be commonly accepted, people in the west get upset when someone doesn't speak English. Sitting in the terminal at SFO airport, everyone around me was speaking English, even though their accents clearly advertised that they were from many different places.

It was oddly refreshing, then, to arrive in JFK airport to hear people in every profession speaking in a variety of languages. The pilot and a flight attendant chatted in (I think) Russian as I left the plane. A pair of businessman ahead of me animatedly argued in Arabic. And as I waited for the A train, a large group of girls were complaining about some family issues in Spanish. Whatever prejudices exist, people in the east seemed much more comfortable speaking in their native tongues than they did in the west. And not to ignore the facts, there are still communities in New York City cut along the social divisions established by racial attitudes. In the east, however, it seems to be something the people do not apologize for, whereas in the west, many immigrants try to hide where they are from and do not speak in their native tongue. Also, it is completely acceptable in the west to employ an immigrant for sub-standard wages to your house or yard work – you can find it in every affluent community or agricultural business. I’ve noticed that in the east, this isn’t the case.

At this moment in history, social and political constructions also accompany those of diverse sexual orientation. Pride in California is serious business, and socially, the west is perhaps the most progressive, though New York City is a boon in this regard as well. But even outside of California, everywhere I go in the west, gay people seem comfortable expressing their affections and doing the things most couples do as a matter of course. In the west, most everyone is accustomed to this and have stopped reacting to it. However, the west's political policies do not fit this, as the battle over gay rights still rages. In the east, politically they are more progressive, but socially things are less savory. One gay couple I know in the east wont walk down the street holding hands outside of New York City for fear of being harassed, and I can't properly say why. Perhaps it is the deep rigorous religious tradition, for accused witches were put to death in the early colonies, or the proximity of more conservative southerners, with whom I am told most everyone in the northeast shares some family tie. In any event, gay pride is socially more prevalent in the west even if it has more legal supported in the east. It seems to me, therefore, that politics in the east is more forward looking, anticipating social movements and accepting that changes will happen, while in the west, a more conservative political attitude prevails, even if social changes are already well underway. From each, we should take the best of each, but these differences are not spontaneous and likely stem from attitudes and ideas that have more longevity than even the people who maintain them.

-Forest F. White

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Many who have spent a portion of their adult lives in the northeast notice social differences when they end up working in the west. But there is a more fundamental difference, and it has to do with the earth, the wind, and how continents and oceans affect our lives.

The weather

As Stephen Fry pointed out during his road-trip across the United States, the rain on the east coast is dramatically unlike the rain in England, even though it rains in England very often. Rain on the west coast is similarly soft unless a big tropical storm is sweeping up from the equator. In the west, snow is something that predominantly exists at high altitudes, to which we travel for recreation and from which our fresh water is collected as the snow melts each year. It is foggy on the coast and dry inland, and the reasons for this have to do with the direction the earth rotates and how the sun shines upon it. You see, prevailing wind currents follow a general pattern, with slow warm winds traveling east and towards the poles near the equator, and swifter cool winds traveling west and back towards the equator the closer to the poles you get. Illustrated, generally wind currents on follow this pattern:

Now, this means the wind on the west coast mostly comes off the ocean, which is cool, and from the southerly climes, which is warm. In general, this means mild temperatures and air that isn't polluted as oceans have very few factories, power plants, and geothermal vents to "enrich" them. This also means the air is clear, so the sun shines very bright, leading to an abundance of solar power opportunities, but also less ground water and almost no snow year-round at lower altitudes.

Perhaps one of the reasons north-easterners have a reputation for being all business is a response to their climate. They are in the path of winds that are also eastward, but to the west lies a large continent from which these winds have gathered moisture and pollutants. It is highly influenced by the seasonal solar conditions, so it is hot and humid in the summer, and cold and snowy in the winter. During interim seasons, there is a respite, but with occasional thunderstorms (like the one last week) that can drop over a foot of water in a matter of days. In the east, during inclement weather, it is not comfortable to sit still - people may greet you on the street, but most everyone has somewhere they need to be and don't want to linger in the bitter cold or stifling heat. The advantage to this is an abundance of fresh-water springs, lakes, and massive rivers that fill with the rainfall and snow, and evaporate slowly because of the high humidity. Fresh water in the east is a fantastic boon, and during the warm season, plant life is as thick and green as it is in the tropics. The sun quality is somewhat diminished, however, so solar energy solutions are less efficient and the northeastern winters can be accurately described as dark.

To the unacquainted observer, it may seem that the east is less pleasant than the west, and there is some truth to that, but this is a condition that is largely due to human living and life. I never understood the charm of christmas decorations, with their gay colors and lights, until I saw them on a house covered and surrounded by snow that had been so for months. Outside of the northwestern rain forests, there is almost nothing on the west coast that rivals the forests of the east. That King and Lovecraft write of them as dense, even sinister, miles upon miles of trees is because they can obscure entire towns in their midst. However, nothing can rival the sun in the west (which is shared by western europe and pacific islands as well) as it is mild and bright all the time. The hills spend half the year golden-brown with dry grass and shrubs, and wildfires are a constant threat. Yet I still love the light here, and the fresh scent of the air from the Pacific.

- Forest F. White

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As a westerner - that is one from the west of this country - I imagined the east to be many things. Naturally, it was far stranger than that, and in some ways exactly the same. Now that I am back in the west, I can see the differences very clearly. So, without much introduction at all, here is my analysis of east coast versus west coast.

The attitude

When I was on the east coast, I learned that they are very driven and independent. It is so common that when people ask you what you do, they don't really mean what you do for money, but what you are passionate about. When someone on the east coast gets off work, they start training, practicing, doing whatever it is they really care about, in a serious way. Whether this is bar-tending for extra money, running a triathlon, writing a novel, learning a new language, taking care of their kids, training their dogs, following their favorite sport's team, building a sculpture, or whatever, work does not end when work ends, they just switch to work they choose to do. There are very few people back east whose ambitions include chilling, relaxing, or having a good time. They still have parties, for sure, but on most days, there is business to attend to.

In the west, people are far more comfortable. It might be the weather, which is always pleasant, the abundance of cheap fresh food, the inexpensive (compared to the east coast) schooling, or all of these, but people on the west coast are very relaxed, even ponderous, by comparison. They do have passions and interests, but it might just be a weekend thing. When a west coast person gets home from work, it's time to do something for fun and leisure. It might be a bicycle, a television program, their favorite movie, their dogs, the people they like to hang out with, or their memoir, but it is almost never laborious. There are very few people out west whose ambitions include becoming a world famous actor, going eight under par on the golf course, making more artwork to sell, or discovering new species of fish. There are many people who are happily slackers, bums, stoners, or barflies in the west.

People on both coasts do, in a broader sense, what they love, but the attitude is very different. A hike in the west is a leisure activity. In the east, it is a timed event or an obstacle to be rid of. Oddly, in the west it is very comfortable to walk around, but most people prefer the luxury of driving, while in the east it can be difficult to walk - the weather can be anything from sweltering to snow - yet most people walk instead of driving. To me, it is a big difference in attitude. I've always had more of an east coast attitude, but I honestly missed the attitudes of the west when I was east. It is more comfortable for me, as I grew up on the west coast, to be the driven and independent one among many easy-going types.

- Forest F. White

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Having now past the launch of my published book, my next task is two-fold. I am to market the book and myself to a broader audience and gather critical feedback from them. The first task is fairly straightforward - introduce your treasured creative efforts to people in an appealing way. I find that most people like to meet people who have finished creative projects and can usually spare a little time to admire the fruits of your efforts. However, critical review and response is, by its nature, something people are reluctant to dispense. It is far safer in creative circles to be either unassuming or silent, and other times people are afraid of 'sounding stupid' even though nearly every opinion is an extension of truth.

It might not seem so, but criticism is a cultural taboo. Praise is always welcome but digging into someone else's work, especially when they often have no way to change it, seems unfair, and fans of their work won't appreciate your analysis unless you are clever. I found this out the hard way, as my first few reviews on Amazon of books I had read were consistently and repeatedly marked as unhelpful and some of them were even trolled by the ungrateful.

I encourage everyone not to be daunted by this, however. Being a critic is an intellectual legacy we all share. Often, whether or not you are considered a good critic has to do with your delivery and when it is done well, criticism is very helpful. The most successful critics I know, either in how they help me refine my work or in their coverage in respected journals, are consistent in a few general ways. Incidentally, when you read criticism of your work, it's good to look for these to identify someone who has a true stake in your chosen art-form:

  1. They convey experience and informed perspective. This might seem textbook, but a good critic can connect different similar things together for comparison, and distinguish differences. This does sometimes mean some unflattering comparisons, but a critic's perspective is revealed by their sources of comparison. This also informs you of the caliber they ascribe to your work.
  2. They don't skimp on specifics. Even if a critic is only talk about their enjoyment or dislike of a piece of work, they can point to specific points that evoked a reaction, or did not. Surely, every piece is not as important as the whole, but reductive glosses and generalizations are not very critical.
  3. They state very clearly what something is. Often, art resists clear definition. This can stem from its subjects, its style, its context, its delivery, or a myriad of more subtle factors. A good critic can identify the essence of a piece and at least one clear purpose for its existence. This takes some practice and usually a good vocabulary, but knowing what you are talking about and informing others is a fundamental function of the critic. A review is unhelpful if it doesn't at least make some statement about what is being reviewed.

In conclusion, do not resist the urge to be critical, but when you speak or write critically, consider the important things critics can provide. If you have friends who have finished their own creative projects, try to review their work as this helps them in the long run, even if your opinion of the work is not high.

- Forest F. White

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I had a book signing and poetry reading last weekend at the Newark Public Library! It was a fantastic event, due in no small part to the participation many veteran poets of the tri-state area, Combat Paper, and the curator of special collections at the library (Jared Ash) who brought out the Combat Paper pieces they had collected over the years. It was, in a word, beautiful.

Sometime later, I'll add some videos to my youtube channel, assuming we can edit them - the crowd was, at times, pretty loud.

Following this, my wedding, my wife's graduation and thesis in manhattan, and moving to manhattan, I've returned to the west coast for a while. I intend on tracking down the Combat Paper people here, and maybe figuring out a reading or signing here. But it has been a long strange trip. I have had scarcely enough time to write just to keep up.

- F. F. White

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I was interviewed by reporters twice last month, and one of them appeared in the Cedar Grove/Verona Times. Besides that, I really like this reporter's style, as he followed up with the library representative and recorded a remarkable level of detail about the work and event in his article.

Verona poet gives a voice to retired servicemen

-F. F. White

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On June 9th, I've setup a poetry reading and benefit for Combat Paper New Jersey, featuring the voices of some local veterans.

I'll be signing and selling books for the organization. I hope everyone can join us.

-F. F. White

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Here is a short, low-quality video of me reading at the Montclair Public Library. I'm not happy with the performance, or the lighting, but this is the first video of me I know of.

-F. F. White

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I've spent the last week arranging for my family to move to New York. In that time, I've also managed a short reading and met with some extra-ordinary talents. However, that means less time to chat, or put something on youtube, or really to do anything. It's very interesting, but it is also a lot of work.

- F. F. White

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The United States Census Bureau tracks many things. Some of them would seem bizarre if not for their capacity to instruct us on what happens in our great society. Here are a few numbers I was able to find on their website:

  • 2008, more than 2.3 million incarcerated
  • 2007, more than 1.4 million military
  • 2005, 32637 suicides
  • 2009, 13756 homicides
  • 2000, 2.1 million cases of domestic violence

This tells us is that a relatively small section of people experience these unsavory things in the span of a year. It does not tell us the cumulative numbers, so that we might know how many we have accumulated in 10 years, or in 50, or in a human lifetime. It also does not track anything that is not processed through official channels. There are no mercenaries or defense contractors in the military numbers. The homicides not proven in court become accidental deaths.

I conclude from this that we are blessed with a lower rate, per capita, of societal ills than in other eras. However, the undocumented items and our increased life-spans suggest that those exposed to these things in their lives might be as many as in other times. It is still a minority, but also that which we strive to change.

F. F. White

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Along a train track in a wooded hilly region of New Jersey, the Combat Paper veteran's art project meets on Sundays in the New Jersey Print Center. I didn't know what to expect when I went there, but I brought my uniforms, which would eventually be ground into pulp for paper.

The people working there today (David, Walt, Walter, Jan, Sarah, and Eli - I think anyway) were very comfortable, even though it seems none of us share a common military experience, in time, place, branch, or deployment. I also got to trade one of my books for one of the custom combat paper chapbooks.

The project has an overwhelming theme of reconstruction, changing old into new. They are making some headway in other places, as they have an exhibition next Saturday.

All in all, this is the most comfortable experience I've had with a group of strangers on the east coast so far.

- F. F. White

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Good morning,

It started out as such a great idea.  When project gutenberg began, the dreams of a free, or at least low cost, digital format for books were flying high.  Whether PDF or true-text, a book was to be a file that anyone could obtain, download, keep, and copy to their heart's content.  No longer would readers be tied down to the object of a book, citations would always be accurate, and we wouldn't even need an internet connection to browse our own virtual libraries of any volume we might need.

However, this was not to be, as the primary interest of book seller -- profit -- was not being generated as quickly as the the costs associated with offering e-books.  So it came to pass that a new generation of virtual books appeared, each tied to a user account and limited to the devices offered by retailers, yours for only a few hundred dollars and a regular subscription fee.

While I admire the market acumen of those who conceived of and implement the Kindle and Nook, I have discovered one further step to limiting the usefulness of e-books that I consider too far.  The Nook Study, a new service to provide textbooks to students, has made that additional step to controlling the digital format by limiting the number of times a piece of text maybe copied from it, how often and at what volume it maybe printed, and when it can be accessed, as books rented or purchased via Nook Study can only be accessed when you are connected to the internet.  Those of us who play games or use any DRM-controlled software services are familiar with the limitations publishers and retailers impose on their customers to use their software.  That this phenomenon has spilled over into a medium wherein you can, for the same price, get a physical copy to own is, frankly, ridiculous.  However it is marketed, it less appropriate for the e-book than it is for software.

So, it is with a heavy heart that I abandon the dream of e-books.  Unless you get a file that you can use, just as you would with a real book and copy machine, it's just not worth it.

-F. F. White
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I am happy to report that I have a few apperances coming up, if any of you are interested:

 

OPEN MIC! – 4/17, 6:45-8:30 pm, Montclair Library Auditorium

Combat Paper Benefit – 6/09, 2:00-5:00 pm, Newark Public Library Auditorium, 4th floor

 

Cheers,

 

-F. F. White

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Today's broadcast, Ultimate Evil, is about the root of evil, or the essence of evil. The broadcast is now available immediately for download or steaming directly on my website:

I mention two authors in the broadcast who have overwhelming influence in how we perceive ourselves - Dante and Shakespeare. There shall be ample opportunity to discuss Shakespeare in other contexts, so I'd like to comment on Dante this time.

According to Dante's Inferno, In the Ninth Circle of Hell is reserved for the treacherous and traitorous. This is perhaps the first place, outside of the Quran, where Satan is depicted as defiant and an enemy of God, which is the ultimate betrayal. Next to Satan, with their feet encased in ice, for Satan's wings continously flap a frigid wind from the void at the center of the earth, are two other ultimate betrayers - Judas and Brutus. In Dante's world-view, these characters epitomise the evil of betrayal, turning on great and virtuous men in their life-times for a pittance of power or flawed principles. If written today in America, our values might place less effective betrayers like Benedict Arnold or Richard Nixon there. However, that betrayel should occupy the ultimate evil space, I think, is appropriate. Every great human endeavor depends on the complicity of others. Even notoriously reclusive or solitary individuals must be afforded time and space to do their great work. A betrayer, someone who interferes with someone else's work after promising to assist them, can therefore always undermine progress. Other evils seem less intelligent and vindictive than the conscious denial of loyalty required for betrayal. So in this, I think Dante was correct. The ninth circle of hell, which is a reflection of our most damning judgment, is reserved for the treacherous and disloyal.

Incidentally, that means that the dog, among the most loyal of God's creatures, is also one of the most virtuous.

- F. F. White

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In case you didn't know, this is where you should be Friday night. 

https://www.facebook.com/events/170082176437901/
Friday, March 23 at 7:00pm at SOLO(s) PROJECT HOUSE

There shall be live exotic animals at 8pm. 

I have seen some of the pieces already hung because I am working with the artist - you cannot image the splendor!!! OO

-F. F. White
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Yep, it is finally here - F.F. White's Gospels of Rage.





It's available on Amazon and B&N, and some other places I don't know about yet.



Thanks for reading my posts through the years, and may your '10s be better than your '00s



-F.F. White

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Today, I embark on a cross-country journey, along the US 80, the second-largest highway in the US.

With any luck, I'll avoid any tornados in the Ohio Valley. If I get really lucky, I'll see one that doesn't hit me and take a photo. However tiring, it shall be an adventure.

F. F. White

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I have an aged powershot that I need to test. Here is a shot from my desk this morning.

-F. F. White

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Today's broadcast, The Ease of Evil, is accompanied by a specific moral question. So listen to the show, and answer the following question:

  • How can human interests be anything other than different measures of evil?

I look forward to your answers. The broadcast is now available immediately for download or steaming directly on my website:

- F. F. White

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