Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Sandy Tolan on His Book, The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East

In this interview, Sandy Tolan talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com, about his book, The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East.

“The idea of reaching out to someone else who’s not like you and seeing what’s possible, I think, is a powerful message for our time.” ~Sandy Tolan

Sandy was a big fan of the Green Bay Packers, and his childhood fantasy was to be an announcer for that team. As he grew up, however, he became interested in covering issues and telling stories in the voice of the people telling them. He then became a freelance journalist, traveling to such places as Latin America and the Middle East, and has been to the latter region twenty times in the past two decades or so. Sandy is particularly interested in the way indigenous people are connected to their land, as well as the way outside forces have competing claims for such land, giving the example of the Navajo people being forced off their land because a profitable seam of coal lay beneath it. He is also particularly interested in how the lives of those who should have benefited from the natural resources in their lands actually being impoverished, and along the way learned a lot about power and the abuses thereof.

Sandy is also a professor, teaching journalism in the University of Southern California, and for him, the draw of doing so is teaching the next generation the tools of storytelling, so they can share the stories that they come across in the best way possible. He notes that he comes from the school of journalism that is all about “narrative non-fiction,” which is essentially telling a real-life story while sticking to the rigors of good journalism, such as accuracy and fairness. Sandy believes that, if one cannot tell a story well, one’s work will blend with the background, so to speak. He also mentions that humans, as social animals, have always loved to tell stories, which connect us with fellow humans as well as create empathy and understanding.

Where the present situation between Israel and the Palestinians is concerned, Sandy remarks that the basis of the conflict is that of control over land, rather than over religion. The conflict is a relatively modern one, and it has its roots in the 1890s, when the political Zionist movement was formed, and whose leader main leader and movement’s founder, Theodor Hertzl, campaigned for a Jewish homeland, as Jews weren’t particularly welcome in Europe. He considered several different places, such as Uganda, Argentina, the Sinai Peninsula and Alaska, but the popular choice became that of Palestine, which was then under British rule. Impetus for Jewish settlement in Palestine was given by the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which stated that Jews have a right to their own homeland, in Palestine. Jewish emigration to Palestine then increased over time, particularly after Hitler’s oppressing the Jews, and tensions began to rise, as the Palestinians didn’t, after all, want to be expelled from the land that they had lived in for generations. When the state of Israel was created in 1948, the Palestinians, expectedly, resisted living as a minority in a Jewish state. This was what sparked off the First Arab-Israeli war, which ended with 750,000 Palestinians being driven out of their homes and towns; and it was this which well and truly began the high state of tensions that exist to this day.

The Oslo Peace Accords were declared in 1993, as an attempt to ease tensions, and in this agreement, the Palestinians compromised and agreed to stay in only part of the lands and homes they had been declaring as theirs for them to return to in the past few decades, despite the Israelis destroying some 400 villages specifically so that such return wouldn’t be possible. Despite that, Israel continued, over the subsequent decades, to colonize the lands that were supposed to be for the Palestinians, according to this agreement, which resulted in the Palestinians essentially being subjected to occupation in their own territory, with Sandy giving the example of Palestinian school children needing to pass through multiple checkpoints just to get to and from school from their homes.

The Lemon Tree stems from Sandy’s attempt, in 1998, to find a way to present the situation from the point of view of different people, who identify with their own sides and situations, to provide an alternative point of view, in the United States, of the establishment of Israel as a heroic event. His search for such a story led him, after several interviews, to that of a single house which had two owners, with the original house being built by a Palestinian who became a mayor of the village that it was in. The Palestinians were expelled from their house when Israel had been established, when the son of the house’s owner, Bashir al-Khairi, was only six years old. A Jewish family from Bulgaria settled into the house when one of the family’s daughters, Dalia Ashkenazi, was still a baby; by that time, the lemon tree that had been planted in the house’s garden was already bearing fruit.

It was shortly after the 1967 war when Bashir and two of his cousins were able to cross into Israeli territory, drawn by their desire to know when they could return to their own homes, to see what had become of these. Meanwhile, Dalia had wondered what had become of the previous owners of the house her family had moved into, and when Bashir arrived, and when Dalia greeted him, she recognized who he was and that he could provide some of the answers to her questions. Bashir asked to enter and see his father’s house, and Dalia let him in, which started a friendship which was somewhat rocky at times, with the most obvious one being the fifteen years that Bashir had been incarcerated for supposedly being involved in a supermarket bombing that killed three people, but which lasted for decades.

It was after Bashir had gotten out, and after their reconnecting and reestablishing their friendship, Dalia began wondering what to do with a house which, by legal right, was hers alone, after her parents had died, but which she considered to be owned by both hers and Bashir’s family, and after speaking it over with Bashir, Dalia turned the house into a daycare facility for Arab children living in Israel. Sandy notes that this is significant, given the present situation, and also remarks that, so long as there are no major structural changes in how those in authority deal with the situation, it is only a rare and small indicator of what can be done.

Purchase from Amazon: 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Wendy Teasdill on Integrating Philosophy in Yoga Teaching and Practice

In this interview, Wendy Teasdill talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com, about her book, Integrating Philosophy in Yoga Teaching and Practice: A Practical Guide.

“At the end of the day, I think we find our own path.” ~Wendy Teasdill

Wendy began her involvement with yoga to help her deal with her hepatitis, which required her to undertake a lifelong regimen of rest and proper diet. As she was an active person, she got into yoga through pranayama, which are specific breathing exercises intended to enable one to tap into, and accumulate, cosmic energy. 

Wendy then investigated Iyengar yoga, which is yoga developed, practiced and taught by a man named B. K. S. Iyengar, who had gotten into yoga to improve his own health. Iyengar yoga involves precise approaches to the asanas, long holds and a lot of discipline which reflected Iyengar’s own being a hard taskmaster. Wendy did get a lot of training and a firm foundation in yoga discipline and training, but when she got pregnant, Iyengar yoga didn’t entirely work for her, so she developed her own, personal style. This was because Iyengar yoga, like most yoga that were first brought to the West, were “very masculine,” as these were designed for male bodies, and not all of Iyengar yoga applied to female bodies, particularly pregnant female bodies. Wendy notes that people should follow Iyengar’s example, but to not necessarily all of the methods taught and develop their own, personal style.

Where yoga during pregnancy is concerned, Wendy notes that the more challenging poses shouldn’t be practiced. As an example, Wendy mentioned how the downward dog pose caused her to throw up, and why, and instead focused on doing the cat position instead. Wendy also mentioned that, due to the influx of progesterone in the pregnant female body, some challenging yoga poses might be easier to do, as the pregnant female’s body is more flexible. Wendy does not recommend that one do such challenging positions, as once the progesterone is gone, one could end up with overstretched and damaged ligaments and tendons, which could result in pelvic problems and vertebrae going “out of whack.”

Wendy has always liked writing throughout her life, so writing books seemed natural to her. She has written all her life, and writing books were as much for herself as these were for others. Where Integrating Philosophy in Yoga Teaching and Practice is concerned, Wendy hopes that all yoga practitioners can get something from it. The book itself contains the answers to the questions that she had when she started out in yoga, trying to make sense of the rationale and the philosophies behind it. Where the philosophies are concerned, Wendy focuses more on the philosophies defined in yoga itself, rather than Cartesian dualities which, she notes, are integrated into the structure of the English language. She points out that the mind-body connection is a recent concept in Western philosophy, whereas this could be thought of as being a part of one of yoga’s main philosophies, which is that “All Is One.” (The other main philosophy is the separation of the divine from the worldly.)

Wendy points out that the word “yoga” means, “to unite,” and that the poses that are associated with yoga weren’t originally part of the practice. These physical exercises became part of yoga practice later on, to the point of their becoming a dominant aspect of the practice, and are intended to help unify one’s mind, body and spirit. Wendy also notes that there are several different styles of, and so many approaches to, yoga, which are intended to suit different natures, and that creation, maintenance and destruction are the modes of nature, with each person having personality traits in each of these modes.

Where contemporary issues are concerned, Wendy believes that people can get insights and answers to questions, sometimes to the point where the questions disappear, and doing so requires practice. She points out that the questions asked are strongly influenced by one’s background, social conditioning, one’s friends and the media around, and that yoga takes one to a place where things are not conditional, enabling a different take, insight and approach. Yoga, Wendy remarks, enables one to find points of rapport rather than separation, and the information in the book enables one to get a stepping stone to understanding. Wendy then gives an example of how focusing on the pelvis can help one progress in one’s understanding.

“It’s an endless journey,” Wendy remarks where life is concerned. “We each have to make it for ourselves.”

Purchase from Amazon: 

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Paul Schulte on the Race for 5G Supremacy: Why China Is Surging, Where Millennials Struggle, & How America Can Prevail

In this interview, Paul Schulte talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com, about his book which he co-authored with Austin Groves, The Race for 5G Supremacy: Why China Is Surging, Where Millennials Struggle, & How America Can Prevail.

“If you’re gonna compete, compete!” ~Paul Schulte

Paul is presently a Senior Fellow at a Chinese university and the Singapore University of Social Sciences, and used to be a Senior Fellow at Hong Kong University and at Tufts University in Boston. He has also been teaching MBA students for the past twenty years or so, and has been involved as a researcher and a research analyst with such companies as Credit Suisse, ING, Nomura and the China Construction Bank.

The idea behind The Race for 5G Supremacy is: what would it take for the United States to create an “Apollo Program” so it could catch up with China in 5G implementation? Paul’s digging into the program, along with co-author Austin Groves, brought up sociological challenges that need to be addressed for such a program to be successfully implemented. According to Paul, millennials have high levels of anxiety and depression, and a proportionately large number of them are dropping out of employment with Fortune 100 companies, which are the ones who are in the best position to launch 5G technology.

The Apollo Program came out of the United States’ national drive to win the so-called “space race,” placing a man on the moon before any other nation - particularly the then-Soviet Union - did. This involved not only technologically related companies but also the public funds necessary to develop the aspects of the program for which there were not yet any technologies or solutions available. The three main aspects of the Apollo program which are still presently influencing the world today are:

  1. The development and present deployment of intercontinental ballistic missiles
  2. Technological innovation, with companies born out of the program, such as Intel
  3. A massive PR drive which showed the world that “America can,” which caught the imagination of the world and developed American soft power throughout the world

China didn’t have a legacy technological infrastructure that relied in copper, which meant that they could start from scratch, rather than deal with established interests which would want to keep the old technology viable. This meant that their movement into digitizing the physical world, using such technologies as the Internet of Things (IoT) and creating technologies to handle and process the enormous amount of information necessary to analyze peoples’ movements as well as how to operate cars, buildings, traffic and to create smart cities.

One example of an existing Chinese technology is the Super App, which is one, single application which a user can use to do such things as paying fines, borrowing money, dealing with the government, getting a wedding certificate, buying insurance, reserving at a restaurant - the things that people in other nations can do only by physically going to such places. Paul notes that none of the present Western tech companies created such systems. “You ever heard of Google Pay, or Amazon Pay?” Paul asks. “No, because there isn’t.”

Paul notes that China is years ahead of all other nations in such technologies as quantum space technology, digital currency, autonomous car research, smart cities, among others. By comparison, the American Federal Reserve is only now starting to venture into digital currency (which China has been doing for six years), Facebook is now only starting to venture into digital blockchain currency (which Alibaba has been doing for fifteen years), and China’s been working on smart cities for at least four years. Tesla is the only Western company conducting research on autonomous cars, compared to several Chinese ones. China has also rolled out 5G in several cities, placing them a few years ahead of the United States.

Paul notes that technological companies are the ones who are in the best position to benefit from rolling out such technologies as 4G and 5G. “If you create the rail, companies will go on the railroad,” he analogizes. Because China has the first-mover advantage with 5G, Paul opines that the United States is presently blocking China’s implementation of 5G in other countries to buy time for the United States to catch up.

5G allows for far speedier data transfer - ten to twenty times faster - than what is available with 4G systems, using equipment that is physically far smaller than what is presently being used in 4G systems. Paul notes, however, that the average consumer might not be willing to pay extra so he or she can download an entire movie within a few seconds, so the ones who would greatly benefit from this would be such organizations as logistics companies and cities, and would be used for such things as managing traffic, as 5G enables processing of a large amount of data, such as that gathered where all kinds of human movement are concerned. Companies and organizations that would be able to make the most of 5G will be port companies, taxi companies and urban planning organizations, just to name a few. Paul also notes that China has put up 50,000 5G stations across that nation, covering 80% of China, creating connectivity with even some of the most rural areas.

One of the sociological aspects involved creating a technological “Apollo Program” is the belief that China has stolen all the technology it presently uses, rather than recognizing that they have innovated a sizeable amount of their presently working technologies. This belief creates the mindset that the United States is a victim and that China must be punished, which also creates an antagonistic atmosphere that hinders innovation. He also points out that pushing the idea that government is all bad will get the United States “nowhere,” because the government has to be involved, in the same way the United States government was involved in the Apollo Program.

Paul notes that several events have made their mark on the mindset of millennials (which is the cohort of the population born from 1980 onwards), some of which are:

  • Oxycontin (Oxycodone) being launched in the United States, which started off the present opioid crisis, one of the results of which was parents being addicted while their children were growing up (1996)
  • The Asian financial crisis (1998)
  • The Columbine massacre, which was the first of the many school shootings which still continue to this day (1999)
  • The September 11 attacks launched by al-Qaeda, which brought down World Trade Center Towers 1 and 2, as well as damaged the Pentagon (2001)
  • The Iraq war (2003)
  • Hurricane Katrina, which brought an awareness of the potential destruction that could be caused by climate change (2005)
  • The global financial crisis of 2007, which was when people started to lose faith in the financial system
  • The largest percentage of population in the United States, to date, which is presently incarcerated

These events, and others, have “traumatized” the millennial generation, creating in them the mindset that institutions cannot be trusted and in governments that deny climate change - and it doesn’t help that millennials likely know someone who is addicted to opioids or who has been incarcerated. This mindset is the reason that millennials don’t like to work for Fortune 500 companies, particularly since they are likely to leave the company the moment they see something that isn’t right.

Paul notes that there are several workshops in the book, several of which are two-page workshops, which can be used to enable communication between millennials and their corporate bosses, pointing out that corporate America needs to redo the way they handle millennials. He also points out that the MBA program methodology, as well as the present HR function in companies is 50 years old and “anachronistic,” that the general teaching pedagogy needs to be aligned with millennials’ needs and that the issues around drug addiction needs to be addressed, to name a few things. One example of a workshop in the book is how to interview millennials, and that pay scales need to be re-evaluated, particularly since millennials have a better grasp of technology than any boss that they might have in the company.

Paul remarks that, if someone who is presently working in a company thinks that the way a company is doing things is “stupid,” that person should get around five other people, leave the company and set up their own company, using their better system, and “make a lot of money,” as companies aren’t going to change on their own. Paul remarks that this is a reality, adding that he has worked with banks who have paid lip service to changing their systems for decades and which have, de facto, not changed.

Purchase from Amazon: 

The Race for 5G Supremacy: Why China Is Surging, Where Millennials Struggle, & How America Can Prevail by Austin Groves & Paul Schulte

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Sharkie Zartman on Winning at Aging & Staying Fit, Free, and Loving Your Retirement

In this interview, Sharkie Zartman talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com, about her book, Win at Aging: How to Stay Fit, Free, and Love Your Retirement!

“We have been given the gift of time.” ~Sharkie Zartman

Sharkie is a former member of the USA volleyball national team who has, since then, become a member of the Hall of Fame in three different organizations and has coached different teams to two state and one national title. “This is exactly what I wanted to do,” Sharkie remarks of her athletic experience, adding that knowing how to train and take care of one’s body is important. She adds that she didn’t think that much about nutrition when she was starting out, and notes that this was at a time when the research on the power of food was yet in its infancy. Sharkie has, since then, studied up on nutrition and now has a good grounding on which foods can help one get to one’s physical goals.

Writing books are an extension of her teaching, Sharkie notes, adding that she started out because she needed textbooks for her courses and couldn’t find the right ones which would fit what she taught. Sharkie decided to focus on ageing because she realized the “poor attitude” present society has towards ageing. “Ageing is inevitable, but we can control how we age and the rate at which we do so,” she remarks, adding that her work involves changing people’s perceptions about ageing, particularly now that the senior population is increasing. Writing books on ageing also is a way for her to help seniors live their senior years productively and more positively, as she notes that seniors feel that they can’t do what they want to do, and use the excuse that they’re too old to not do that. Sharkie, however, points out that there are people today, in their 70s and 80s, do the same things that people in their 20s and 30s do. “We can control our choices and attitudes, and that’s huge,” she remarks. “And I want to remind people of that.”

“Exercise isn’t optional, as we get older,” Sharkie remarks, noting that our bodies and brains need to be active and mobile, adding that activity increases the amount of oxygen the brain receives. “Ageing is an individualized process,” she notes, adding that, if one wants to live to the fullest in one’s senior years, then one has to step up and be active and empowered.

Where Win at Ageing is concerned, Sharkie looked at athletes as well as such aspects as nutrition, and analyzed the mindset these athletes had. She thus came up with the acronym RAP, which are important attributes for anyone trying to reach their goals. These attributes are:

Resiliency - not getting upset and down and complaining, stepping up and doing what needs to be done

Accountability - being responsible for one’s own choices, particularly when some of the symptoms that come up when one ages could be due to the decisions one made in the past

Passion/purpose - that which makes one want to live life, as well as looking at what’s positive in life

“Our quality of life is our responsibility,” Sharkie remarks, where wellness is concerned, “because doctors can’t be with us all day.” Where the mind-body connection is concerned, “this is huge.” Sharkie, for her part, focuses on the mental, physical, emotional, social and spiritual aspects of ageing to enable her clients and students to lead active senior lives, using the story of a person who got into an experimental cancer drug study as an example of how powerful the mind-body connection actually is. This connection, Sharkie notes, might not give people “everything,” but it does give people the opportunity to live the best lives they can.

Sharkie admits that the spiritual aspect is probably the most important part of how to live a fulfilled life. This is also the most difficult aspect to teach, as a lot of people believe that they need to be religious to be spiritual, and she best links this up as spirituality being part of the human experience. She recommends some sort of yoga or meditation to get in touch with one’s inner self, and staying away from watching the news, as the latter “is depressing.”

One of the things people can do immediately, to lead active senior lives, is to make oneself a priority, Sharkie notes: “Hey, whose life is it anyway?” Sharkie also adds that one should realize that one is in charge of one’s life, and that one can pick one’s own team, which includes those people whom one would want to be around - a good social network, in short. “Psychic vampires,” who are people who drain one’s energy, should be kept away from as much as possible. Maintaining communications with people, the social contact, is thus very important, particularly during these times of the Covid pandemic.

“You can have a full and vibrant life regardless of age,” Sharkie remarks, adding that, while it will take work and persistence on one’s part, it’s worth it.

Purchase from Amazon: 

Win at Aging: How to Stay Fit, Free, and Love Your Retirement! by Sharkie Zartman

Friday, October 16, 2020

National Geographic Editor-in-Chief Susan Goldberg on Breaking the News: What's Real, What's Not, and Why the Difference Matters

In this interview, Susan Goldberg talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com, about the National Geographic Children's book, Breaking The News: What’s Real, What’s Not, and Why the Difference Matters.

“We tell stories every day that can help make the world a better place.” ~Susan Goldberg

When she wrote an essay on journalism in the 8th grade, all Susan wanted to be was a great reporter. She is very thankful for all the opportunities she had in the past forty years, remarking that she came on “the scene of societal change,” as she received opportunities that women before her didn’t get.

“Journalists are the eyes and the ears of the public,” Susan says about what journalists are, writing out stories on subjects and places that the general public has no access to. “I think it’s one of the most important functions of our democracy,” she adds, as this enables people to become informed consumers. Where stories are concerned, Susan notes that the best reporters have “a million and one ideas,” and that reporters work with editors to prioritize what stories are more important.

Where her experiences as a female journalist are concerned, Susan notes that journalism was very much a man’s world when she started in the 1980s. “I didn’t see very many female editors,” she notes about the journalistic environment at that time. She remarks that journalism is still very much male dominated and that, despite “great strides” being made in the end of the 20th century, the momentum for female advancement in journalism has stalled out at the moment. Where leadership is concerned, she hopes that her style is collaborative, and she works to give “a hand up” to the next generation of journalists, coaching them and speaking with them on how to advance in their profession. She also adds that it is a journalist’s role to “shine a light in dark places” to bring forth that which otherwise would remain hidden, and that this is one of the things that makes her proud to be a journalist.

The term “fake news,” Susan points out, is a term used by the present and 45th President of the United States for news items that he doesn’t agree with. What is presently included under the blanket term of “fake news,” Susan notes, was called, in previous years, consisted of such things as hoaxes, conspiracy theories and propaganda - stories that appear factual, but which can be outright lies. She remarks that, in the past, news came from a limited number of channels, so people knew where the stories came from. 

At present, people are bombarded with information 24/7, thanks to social media and the Internet, and the sources are legion. Thanks to social media, information can be quickly spread, “almost like a game of ‘Telephone,’” though the story spread might not be a real one. Susan notes that people nowadays need to pause and make sure that they pass along real stories, rather than fake ones.

People “need to be curious and be skeptical consumers,” Susan remarks, adding the journalistic truism: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out,” adding that this truism underscores the need for people to be sure where information is coming from and if that information is real. She also notes that a third of young people admit that they have passed on stories that turned out not to be true, noting that bad information not only misleads but can also do harm. Susan also notes that half of the information that young people receive nowadays comes from social media and the Internet, which makes their being smart and skeptical consumers vital, where discerning the difference between real and false information is concerned.

Author Robin Terry Brown had been writing books for kids for over twenty years. She is likewise a journalist who had assembled a panel of journalists from various news organizations, as well as journalism professors, to talk about the history of news and journalism, the kind of stories that people read, and how to evaluate whether a story is real or false (which includes such things as how to tell if pictures are doctored).

Susan notes that some of the stories printed by National Geographic can take years to finish, and that, while these stories can be as long as books, the process of investigating and writing a story in that magazine is different from the process of writing a book. What is important, Susan emphasizes, is the discipline necessary to present truthful and accurate information which has been ethically gathered.

“I don’t think any one of us want to believe things that aren’t true,” Susan remarks, adding that it is hard for one to behave if one doesn’t know the basic facts. Lies, she also adds, can spread far more quickly than truth and the facts can, particularly in the Internet age. She also notes that it is just as easy to figure out what is real and what is not, as checking on stories is likewise just as quick on the Internet. One good way of checking on whether big and outrageous stories are real or not is to check if other people are covering said story, she explains, as a lot of people, particularly in the established media outlets, will be covering the same story.

Breaking The News is a fun and easy read, Susan remarks, be the reader an adolescent or an adult. The journalist’s code of ethics is included in the book, and this includes making sure that one is meeting with an expert on the field, and being transparent with one’s mistakes whenever these occur. There are several examples of falsified information in the book, and one of the best ways to determine if the information is false is if a headline that one reads makes one emotional, so that one doesn’t go into the story itself to see if the story is real or not. The book includes a “Truth Toolkit,” and one of these tools, Susan shares, is for determining if the story feels like it belongs “on a supermarket tabloid,” (all caps, lots of exclamation points, includes aliens, etc.), while another aims to determine if the story is full of typos (spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, sloppy and messy, bad punctuation), as no legitimate news site puts out news in that condition. Yet another is if the website that the news comes from is a website of a legitimate news organization.

Susan admits that the book makes her proud to be a journalist, as it explains what journalists can do and the impact of what good journalism can do. It is a very excellent material for those who are studying journalism and for those who dream of becoming one in the future.

Purchase from Amazon: 

Breaking The News: What’s Real, What’s Not, and Why the Difference Matters by author Robin Terry Brown (with Mary Newton Bruder & Jamie Terranova) and published by National Geographic Children's Books with Editor-in-Chief Susan Goldberg

Friday, October 9, 2020

Kwame Mbalia and How Tristan Strong Destroys the World in Book 2 of the Tristan Strong Novel Series

In this interview, Kwame Mbalia talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com, about his book, Tristan Strong Destroys the World (A Tristan Strong Novel, Book 2).

“The very first gatekeeper of one’s work that one would meet will be oneself.” ~Kwame Mbalia

Kwame had always written stories as a child, as these were the best way he would express himself. He joined an online writer’s group some years back, and the group members then encouraged him to become an author.

Kwame, who is from Wisconsin, was named after the first president of Ghana, and his name also means “born on Saturday,” which was the day he was born in. He was steeped in west African mythology as a child, as he heard stories about these, and as a writer he wanted to create stories which were based on this mythology, to pass on to others. The Tristan Strong stories are, for him, about storytelling and how these get carried on for others to listen to.

Where the mythological characters are concerned, Kwame notes that the traditional tales leave gaps where authors like himself can create other stories, to expand on these, so that a larger representation of the characters can be given. “These stories have been around for a long, long time,” he remarks, adding that he includes them in his books to pay homage to the traditions around them.

Kwame remarks that each of his books is centered around a theme, with the theme of the first book, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, being that of grief, both for the lead character and the world he finds himself in. 

The themes he writes about in Tristan Strong Destroys the World are trauma and diaspora, and these are interrelated with what the characters and real-world people deal with. Kwame remarks that readers can get an idea of how one person, at least, handles concerns such as grief.

Where the consistency of his books is concerned, Kwame remarks that there is a large team of editors which makes sure his stories remain consistent over time and, in addition, Kwame also re-reads what he wrote to ensure consistency. He notes that food is one of his favorite things to write about, noting that: “Food is a wonderful way of world-building,” as it shows different aspects about the culture that prepared it. He also enjoys writing dialogue, particularly humor, as this shows the degree of friendship and camaraderie amongst the characters.

Where Tristan Strong is concerned, Kwame notes that the character “grew organically,” and that he thought a lot about how a teenager Tristan’s age would deal with issues like grief and trauma. In the second book, Kwame explores what happens after the hero defeats villains, and Tristan’s dealing with this is what makes him grow. Where Gum Baby is concerned, even Kwame himself wonders how Gum Baby has become the character she presently is, noting that: “She’s taken on a life of her own.” That said, Gum Baby acts as a foil to the introspective, thoughtful Tristan, as she’s confident, loud and boisterous. That said, Kwame does create a framework of the story, so he knows where the story is going, and the characters grow within the framework he establishes. The new characters that Tristan Strong Destroys the World introduces, Kwame notes, are interesting ones which add to the growing story, particularly Tristan’s relationship with Junior.

Kwame remarks that would-be authors will encounter gatekeepers - people who can reject and prevent one’s work from seeing the light - along the way, but the very first gatekeeper one would meet will be oneself.

Purchase from Amazon: 

Tristan Strong Destroys the World (A Tristan Strong Novel, Book 2) by Kwame Mbalia

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Brian Deer: The Doctor Who Fooled the World: Science, Deception and the War on Vaccines

In this interview, Brian Deer talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com, about his book, The Doctor Who Fooled the World: Science, Deception and the War on Vaccines.

“The science needs to be separated from the politics.” ~Brian Deer

Brian has investigated three vaccines to date: a diphtheria test which caused controversy in the 1970s and 1980s, which took a year; AIDSVax, which was a failed AIDS vaccine; and the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, with the latter being the basis for the anti-vaxxer controversy which is presently sweeping the world. He also investigated oral contraceptive fraud in Australia in the 1980s and also investigated other drugs. The Doctor Who Fooled the World is a different kind of investigation, as the focus of this book is on an individual who essentially kicked off the anti-vaxxer movement, rather than a drug itself.

Brian never did think that he would eventually get the time to become an investigative reporter. “It’s extremely hard work,” he notes, “especially if you’re working in a field like science,” adding that he needs to understand, as much as possible, what is being talked about. Investigative reporting, he points out, is different from standard science journalism, which is essentially advertising for new scientific ideas, machines and concepts. Investigative journalism is presently facing challenges, as the money that would have gone into it from advertising is now being funneled to online platforms such as Google. Brian adds that it took him four months of research before he wrote out a story, and additional challenges come in the form of cultivating contacts and obtaining documents to support his story. This is because investigative journalism entails making public something which someone doesn’t want made public, and as that person could very well wind up suing an investigative journalist, it behooves the latter to have all of his documentation supporting his claims, to support his case. Brian notes that he has already been sued twice by the personality in the middle of The Doctor Who Fooled the World and is hearing rumors of a third suit against him by that same person. Brian also adds that research for his book took two years, as all of what he wrote had to be evidenced, which meant that he had to create an index of thousands of .pdf files for fact checking.

Brian remarks that he’s not an advocate for vaccination, and that his purpose is to question the knowledge available. While he isn’t a medical professional, he notes that the basics of vaccination is essentially that a weakened version of an infectious agent is injected into the body, so that the body’s immune system can overcome that infectious agent - such as a virus - when the full-strength thing hits. He notes that vaccinations have been successful against such diseases as diphtheria and polio, which used to be prevalent and worrying for parents in the past, but which are not presently large concerns for parents today.

Where Andrew Wakefield is concerned, Brian remarks that he was a research academic at a London medical school who, in 1998, published a paper in The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, on a five-page, 4,000-word study, conducted on twelve children, which indicated that, in two-thirds of those cases, their child had been developing normally but then began exhibiting autism within two weeks of receiving an MMR vaccination shot. Wakefield then claimed to find a link between taking the vaccine and autism, and then had the government suspend the vaccine. Brian noted that, even in medical studies, twelve children is a small sample, but that there was a possibility that the doctors at the hospital had come upon something that others had missed.

Brian originally didn’t want to get involved in “another vaccine investigation,” given all the various fields and disciplines that were involved, but he got involved again when, in 2003, he was assigned to look into the matter, as outbreaks of diseases which hadn’t been seen in years were taking place. (By then, Wakefield was exporting the parents’ fear of their children taking vaccines to the United States, according to him.) After talking with the parents involved, however, Brian said he discovered that the children involved in the study weren’t the kind of statistically random participants that scientific studies should be based on. This meant for him that the parents were far more likely to complain about the effects of a vaccination than the average, randomly determined parent. Brian then came upon other aspects of the study and Wakefield’s subsequent actions which led to Wakefield being essentially tried by the British medical board for over 200 days.

Brian points to outbreaks of measles which took place in 2019 as being due to the lack of vaccination. He also remarks that he was in an area where children died from measles because they hadn’t been vaccinated. Brain also points out that autism isn’t caused by taking a vaccine, and notes that an “adult” debate - one free of personal bias - still needs to be conducted on the pros and cons of vaccination, with both sides need to be taken into account, particularly with fast-tracked vaccines like those being developed for the Covid-19 virus.

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The Doctor Who Fooled the World: Science, Deception and the War on Vaccines by Brian Deer