Born in the U.S.A.

Communication is a wonderful thing. But sometimes it can leave you speechless. I’m doing a little rewriting these days of the sequel to Einstein’s Trunk, and I’ve inserted a scene where the Bruce Springsteen song ‘Born in the U.S.A. is mentioned. In doing so it prompted a memory and I did a little research.
Now, for those of you who don’t know that song, it was released in 1984, and even today is still well thought of and rated number 275 on Rolling Stone’s list of top rock-n-roll hits. The song is about a working class guy who gets “in a hometown jam and has to go serve in Vietnam”. He has no idea what the war is about, loses a friend there and comes to see the war as senseless and the promise of America as unfulfilled.
In other words, the song was not particularly positive about America’s direction at the time – though the title could make you think it was. But here’s the communication angle: In 1984, conservative columnist George Will saw Springsteen in concert, complained the music was too loud, obviously couldn’t hear the lyrics, but loved the title and sound of Springsteen’s hit song – Born in the USA – and decided that Springsteen must be a real, true-blue, supporter of conservative values. Will  mentioned this to his friend, Michael Deaver, Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff. Deaver later mentioned it to Reagan’s speech writers, and the next thing you know Reagan is talking about Springsteen in his campaign stump speech. Reagan said, “America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside our hearts, it rests in the message of hope in the songs of a man so many young Americans admire: New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen.”
In fact, Born in the USA told a completely opposite story. But thanks to the office of the president, the ‘branding’ stuck despite the obvious contradiction provided by the lyrics. As a side note, Lee Iacocca, who obviously never listened to the lyrics either, offered Springsteen $millions to use the song to promote Chrysler, but Bruce turned him down.
But I digress: I received an email a few weeks ago enlightening me on the origin of the name “Yohaba Melekson” – the heroine of Einstein’s Trunk. It turns out that Melek means king in Hebrew and Melekson means ‘son of the king’. Also, the name ‘Yohaba’ has connections to the Hebrew name for God. And it turns out that Rulon’s name also has a religious connotation. I originally chose the name ‘Rulon’ because it was an old Idaho pioneer name that stirred up notions of someone who was straight-laced but perhaps a bit of a hick – remember, Rulon likes to be underestimated! Well, it turns out that Rulon as a first name is a native American name that means ‘Spiritual’. So both Rulon and Yohaba have a name with a spiritual side to them – albeit unintentional.
My next post will either be on Mitt Romney’s chances of being president or a review of mystery writer Michael Connolly’s book – The Fifth Witness. Let me know if you have a preference.   
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Rulon’s views on the rhetoric in political campaigns

Rulon Hurt thrives in the deadly world of spy vs. spy where you never know who to trust, and where no one is exactly what they seem. In other words, his world is great preparation for trying to decide who to vote for in the next U.S. presidential election.
Many people are cynical about politicians, but Rulon isn’t one of them. When he was younger, his father insisted that he read Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy, and even now he will read chapters of it from time to time when his faith in the U.S. political process needs rekindling. That Pulitzer prize winning book is a reminder to him that while politicians are, after all, politicians, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some good people in politics trying to do the best they can. The problem is that politicians can’t do any good unless they get elected and to get elected they need two things: enough money to run a campaign and enough votes to win. Most of the time that means having to promise things to two contradictory constituencies, and there lies the built-in dilemma that creates most of the cynicism about political life.  
So how does Rulon decide who to vote for? Well, first and foremost, as a window into their souls, he takes note of their oratorical tactics. When Rulon Hurt majored in Communications at Boise State University, he became interested in the communication theories developed by a man named Kenneth Burke. In 1939, Burke did an analysis of Hitler’s Mein Kampf called “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s Battle.” In it, he exposed the specific rhetorical tactics Hitler’s used to bedazzle his listeners into accepting him as their leader. When Rulon sees a politician today using those same tactics to manipulate his audience, his antenna automatically goes up. 
Hitler believed strongly in the principle of repetition to brainwash people into accepting his obviously flawed doctrines. He and his specially trained speakers flooded Munich in the early ‘30s repeating the same message over and over and giving no heed to logical counter-arguments or contradictions. Rulon sees a lot of that going on today –obviously false statements told over and over again until people start to accept them. For example: ‘Obama caused the deficit’ or, conversely, ‘the Republicans caused the deficit’ (note: I think most people after a little reflection realize that the deficit was a team effort by Dems and Repubs – both sides only hate deficits when the other party is in power)

Rulon also carefully listens to how candidates mix religion into their message. If the candidate uses specific religious doctrines as a way to attract voters (I believe in God the same way you do, therefore I’m a good guy and you should vote for me), this raises a big red flag. Also, Rulon likes to note how a politician will characterize his opponent – does he demonize the opposition. One of Hitler’s most effective strategies was to demonize the Jews, Jewish businessmen, and Jewish bankers – blaming them as the root of all of Germany’s problems, including unemployment, inflation, poverty, prostitution, divorce, birth defects, and so on. When Rulon sees candidates doing this to the opposition, he gets very nervous. In fact, he sees a lot of that going on at the moment.

In my next posting, I will discuss, hopefully without giving the plot away, World of Hurt – the sequel to Einstein’s Trunk.  
Best regards,
Jim
Zurich
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Is Rulon Hurt a Republican or a Democrat?

Is Rulon Hurt a Republican or a Democrat – inquiring minds want to know! Early in Einstein’s Trunk, Rulon and Yohaba have their first political discussion while sitting in Yohaba’s apartment. Since then I have spent many hours eavesdropping on their political conversations and so feel singularly capable of summarizing their viewpoints. Naturally, Yohaba thinks Switzerland has most of the right answers – full employment through a nationwide apprenticeship program, stay out of wars, eliminate corruption, and return most of the tax money back to its citizens in the form of long-term infrastructure development and an adequate safety net for the aged, infirm, and unemployed.  Having lived in Switzerland for almost a third of his life, Rulon tends to agree with her.
But make no mistake, Rulon is a red-blooded, gun toting American through and through. He believes that the American eagle has a right wing and a left wing but the head is in the middle. And that is the reason why he is neither a Republican nor a Democrat! Rulon would love to see a third American party spring up. He thinks both parties have failed America. Both say one thing publicly to get votes from the masses and another thing privately behind closed doors to get money from corporations and the wealthy to finance their campaigns.

To Rulon’s way of thinking, the most important issue in America right now is fixing the campaign finance laws and to somehow overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision allowing corporations to give unlimited money to SuperPACs because “corporations are people.” Rulon believes if you fix the campaign finance laws then politicians will be free to fix the country’s problems without worrying about offending their corporate donors.

Even though Rulon is a tough guy, he’s a bit of a history buff and, as his father has said, ‘he can see through a brick wall, given enough time.” In other words, he is no fool. He’s sees the corporations in America as not having allegiance to anything except “returning value to the stockholder”, who, by the way, could be from any country in the world. If corporations can make more profits by moving jobs to China, they’ll do it in a heartbeat – then lobby for overseas tax breaks! Rulon believes that if corporations are left unchecked on the path they are headed, America will eventually return to what it was like in the 1800s when the robber barons ruled the land, child labor was in full swing, and factory workers were paid barely living wages. After all, if the world is an open market and capital is free to move anywhere in the world, why should American workers be paid more than Chinese?
Rulon is particularly impressed with Germany which also faced complaints/threats from corporations that they had to move their manufacturing jobs overseas if they were to survive. But the German unions wouldn’t let that happen and instead of being allowed to abandon German workers to chase cheap and easy profits overseas, the German corporations were forced to think of innovative ways to manufacture in Germany while paying the relatively high German salaries. And since they had no choice, they figured it out! In America, on the other hand, corporations were allowed to move American jobs overseas with impunity, keep the profits, and pay less taxes. Everyone won except the American worker. Both parties abetted or fiddled while that was happening, and that is why Rulon has no use for either party.
Next posting will be on the book Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian and what it taught me about writing novels.
Jim Haberkorn
Zurich
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The Super Rich make good villains

One of the things the TV series Prison Break did very well was to gradually expand the scope of the plot as the series went on. In the beginning it was a relatively simple case of a man being framed for murder. But over time it became a huge Matrix-like CONSPIRACY where even the U.S. president was a puppet whose strings were pulled by a secret shadow government run by the super rich. And to think: Prison Break came out before the 2008 financial meltdown!  

Towards the end of the second season of PB, a new villain emerges, an old, well-dressed man who doesn’t communicate verbally with his minions except via short notes on little pieces of paper. What a great device for a villain! – he behaves according to the rules of an unseen world – a world of Big Brother electronic eavesdropping which he probably helped to create.

My theory is that thrillers – both books and movies – in a Darwinian way, are a reflection of society’s current attitudes towards categories of people. I say Darwinian because a book that chose, let’s say, the Royal Canadian Mounties, as the diabolical bad guys, no matter how well written, would most likely so confuse people that no self-respecting agent would represent it – and therefore never get published. So Islamic terrorists, crooked politicians, mad scientists, Nazis, eco-terrorists, super criminals, secret government agencies, and drug-kingpins – they’ve all had their day in the sun in post WW2 thrillers and have all been  richly accepted as villains. And probably in their heyday all reflected a deap-seated societal fear.

Today, I’m seeing Islamic terrorists dwindle as the thriller villains dejour and the invisible super-rich rise to take their place – and I wonder if that is saying something significant about American society. When the culture chooses as its villain a shadowy, amorphous enemy with tentacles everywhere manipulating world events, does that imply that society feels pummeled by forces it can’t see, fight, or comprehend – and that the citizens see themselves as confused and manipulated. Hmmm…sobering if true.

My next posting will be on ‘bad language’ and why you won’t find any in  Einstein’s Trunk.

Jim
Zurich  

Jim
Zurich, June 8, 2011

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