This has been a difficult post to write. I’m sure no one notices or cares but it’s around mid-March and I am only now getting around to doing my monthly albatross from February. In truth, I spend so much time these days commenting on issues as they stream through my life that it’s hard to sit back and reflect. And when I do, it’s not often pretty.
I had wanted to write a post about President Obama’s official speech on the NSA — his response speech, as people called it. But it was such a tepid speech, so utterly lacking in vision, and so consumed by the desire to continue programs that even he, I’m sure, finds distasteful that it’s like chewing tin foil with a mouthful of fillings. Anything not to be that President, the guy who let in another 9/11, or worse than 9/11. The burden of history is heavy.
Then I saw this great piece in Business Insider about the Bay of Tonkin incident. Remember that? It was the excuse that Johnson used to get us involved in South East Asia. After evading a torpedo attack, the USS Maddox reportedly engaged three North Vietnamese boats in the Gulf of Tonkin on both Aug. 2 and 4, 1964, according to the Pentagon Papers, released by epic whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Although without U.S. casualties, the events prompted Congress to pass a resolution allowing President Lyndon Johnson to intervene in Southeast Asia. Talk of Tonkin's status as a "false flag" for U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War has permeated public discourse almost since the time of the attacks, especially after the government admitted that the second incident may have involved “false radar” images. But after resisting comment for decades, the NSA finally declassified documents in 2005, admitting the incident on Aug. 4 never happened at all.
A photo of three Vietnamese boats taken from the USS Maddox (on Aug. 2)
Those involved didn't necessarily intend to cover-up the incident to propagate a war. But the evidence does suggest "an active effort to make SIGINT fit the claim of what happened during the evening of 4 August in the Gulf of Tonkin," according to NSA historian Robert J. Hanyok. On the back of the war in Iraq, foisted upon the American public based upon false information about WMDs fed to us by the IC, it’s no wonder that this piqued my interest.
And then we hear General Keith Alexander and confessed liar DNS Clapper telling us that we should trust the NSA, that they’re looking out for us, and that we shouldn’t worry.
But, then, I thought, Vietnam? Who cares anymore? Who even remembers?
So, instead, I thought I’d tackle a subject that’s been much on my mind lately, the changing nature of journalism and the perilous place it finds itself in.
First, we all know how difficult it is to make a living these days from the word. With the tsunami of content out there, content that so many are willing to produce and give away for free . . . or, rather, for publicity, for exposure, for a chance to build a fan base, for something . . . anything other than greenbacks.
I pity the freelance writer today. And the freelance journalist is equally plagued. I say freelance because there are so few staff jobs left anymore. Print journalism is all but dead. Yes, we’re seeing a resurgent interest in long-form journalism, and some magazines like The New Yorker march on. But, for all intents and purposes, it’s a dinosaur unwilling to lie down. Radio is moribund. TV is, well, parsimonious these days when it comes to news coverage, especially foreign coverage, and they were never very good at the long form, with the exception of Bill Moyer and The News Hour. So what remains of print lingers in a handful of major markets, and may still find some way of surviving under the long shadow of the likes of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.
What remains is online. And online was meant to be the panacea, a vehicle for the totally customized newspaper, the news as I need it, the news I didn’t know I even wanted but somehow my news provider knew. This was the vision Martin Nisenholtz brought to The New York Times so many years ago when he ran their digital offering. And what other solutions — from RSS to Reddit — were meant to be, and still aren’t.
If Bezos does have some success, chances are it will be online. For, unless we figure out how to make money online delivering the news, the act of gathering and disseminating the news as we know it will go the way of the dodo.
Certainly, this is why I’m so happy seeing eBay founder Pierre Omidyar starting his new media organization, First Look, and its flagship project, "The Intercept". Part of this, of course, is because he tapped Glenn Greenwald to run it. Coming off of his successful Snowden coup, former Guardian journalist Greenwald (an attorney to boot) is just the kind of smart, out-of-the-box thinker we're going to need to crack this nut.
But if the economics of news-gathering and news-disseminating were the only threats to the 4th estate, I would be somewhat more optimistic. After all, news is news, whether you beat it on a drum through the steamy jungle air, or you use satellites and smartphones. Economic systems will find a balance and someone will figure out a way to make money delivering the news once again.
But it’s not just the economics of it. News organizations, and the news people who make up their ranks are in danger from two other far more menacing forces: our foolishness in thinking that the wisdom of crowds, the hive mind of the blogosphere will somehow deliver us good news coverage; and the general devaluing of reporters and the 4th estate as a whole, as seen by not just 3rd world repressive regimes, but by our own “enlightened” Western democracies.
Hoping to nurture a new Woodward in the world of the blogosphere is like hoping that an infinite number of monkeys will eventually type out Hamlet. The blogosphere, as entertaining and often informative as it may be, is not a nebulous nursery of journalistic stars. You need something more than the loose confederation of disparate minds that constitute the hive to build the systems required to sustain and educate an investigative journalist, for example, or a good crime reporter, or a . . . well, you get the idea. The wisdom of crowds will not spend long nights in some dingy hotel room keeping watch on a street gang to finish a newspaper piece on the crumbling of one neighborhood in Philadelphia. And as much as I’d like to believe that someone from that neighborhood might pen some blog entry that could be even more revealing — as un-PC as it may be to say or think — chances are that no one in that neighborhood is likely write anything that I could readily understand or care to read anyway.
"The wisdom of crowds will not spend long nights in some dingy hotel room keeping watch on a street gang to finish a newspaper piece on the crumbling of one neighborhood in Philadelphia."
Individuals make good reporters — not crowds. Tough, tenacious, irritating, did I say tenacious busybodies make good reporters. And even tougher, more irritating, less tenacious than imperiously unforgiving bastards make good editors. Not crowds, or the wisdom of the hive mind. Sorry to rain on your Web 2.0 parade. And all of those individuals need an organization (not a community or city or digital tribe) that is economically sustainable in which to survive and flourish. They need mentorship and guidance and a good kick in the pants at times — all of which are not easily delivered virtually, via smartphone text or email message, via Skype even, and yet are naturally transmitted in a centralized physical location like a newsroom or a bull pen. Being an apprentice only works if there is real contact between the mentor and the protégé and, ultimately, the news business still operates best when it is most medieval in this aspect. They don’t call them “cub” reporters for nothing.
To survive, such an institution must make money. You can only run in the red for so long before someone gets cranky. Someone has to finance the dental work the children of those pesky writers and editors selfishly require. Someone has to finance their food bills and mortgages and liquor tabs. But the long tail ain’t doing it; at least, not yet. Nor do most reporters I know fancy being one of legions of exclusively freelance journalists responding to some online exchange, like a reverse HARO, forced to pre-script articles for which they may or may not be compensated in the hopes that they might generate enough Google juice or Reddit link karma to warrant something other than virtual cyber points from some libertarian agora run amok. I sure hope Bezos or Greenwald figure it out before my friends and I run out of food.
Today, not only is journalism and the news business facing economic disintermediation as market forces seismically shift; not only is it being replaced, allegedly, by a blogospheric wisdom born of the crowd, ill-equipped to nurture the kind of journalists we require to keep the cobwebs from our minds and corruption from our politics; not only does it face these two adversaries on two fronts, but it also faces a third, borne out of the fact that the industry and what it means to be a journalist is so much in play and under threat. In part because of this economic uncertainty, and the wobbly nature of our journalistic institutions, we are facing a general devaluing of reporters and the 4th estate as a whole, and we are seeing it not simply in the traditional bullying of journalists by 3rd world dictators and their thugplicants, but by our own allegedly enlightened Western democracies.
Being a journalist is a dangerous job. You’re poking your nose precisely in places that somebody would rather you didn’t. But Syria and Egypt and Turkey are examples of anti-journalism with impunity. In Syria, journalists suspected of being sympathetic to the anti-Assad alliance have been intentionally targeted by government forces, and killed. In Egypt, under the guise of fighting terrorism, journalists from Al Jazeera (suspected of being sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood) have been arrested and held in jail without trial for months now. Last year, Turkey, Iran, and China accounted for more than half of all journalists imprisoned around the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In its annual census, CPJ identified 211 journalists jailed for their work, the second worst year on record after 2012, when 232 journalists were behind bars.
But what we might expect to find in Turkey or Egypt, in Iran and China, we certainly don’t expect to see in Britain or in the good old USA.
Unfortunately, the Snowden revelations over the last few months about NSA domestic warrantless mass surveillance; the arrest and detention of David Miranda (Glen Greenwald’s lover) under the Terrorism Act of 2000, and destruction of hard drives at The Guardian; and concomitant erosions of the 4th estate by U.S. Justice Department-endorsed hacking of The New York Times computer systems to determine journalist sources, all under the guise of protecting national security — this is the scariest and most sublime challenge journalism faces. For if the institutions which the 4th estate is meant to protect turn, like some cannibalistic parent, to devour its own, journalism, or what it’s come to mean in the 20th and early 21st centuries, will be no more.
The treatment of whistleblowers, whom “2008 Obama” claimed needed greater protections, has actually gotten worse under his Administration. Snowden is only the latest. What about Kiriakou, Gun, Binney and Drake? And while such whistleblowers are hounded and castigated, or do jail time, those who lie to our representatives in Congress while under oath (i.e. DNS Clapper), or who have been found guilty of committing acts of torture on behalf of their country are exonerated, forgiven. This not only undercuts the value of whistleblowers, but it serves to erode our faith in the rule of law. Those who reveal the injustices perpetrated against us by our own governments are vilified worst of all, for they are the ones telling us that the Emperor has no clothes. They’re the ones reminding us that government works for us, and not the other way around. They’re the ones who were singled out by our Founding Fathers as the keepers of the flame of liberty, the people’s watchdog, the 4th estate — as vital to the security of this nation as the balancing forces of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.
And that’s why I lament. Not only do I worry that the way our government treats dissenters and bloggers and reporters has thrown an icy pall over the journalisitic community, stifling government scrutiny and criticism — which serve to keep our democratic plumbing clear — but by undermining the sanctity of journalistic sources, by intimidating and arresting reporters and their families or physically destroying their data, like the thugs of Syria, Egypt, Russia, China and Iran, the U.S. and Great Britain will serve to trivialize the lives and work of journalists everywhere, and more will die as a result, acceptable fodder in a world where the word is given away for free, and the institutions that once protected the 4th estate now work to destroy it.
Looks like I did end up talking about the NSA and the Bay of Tonkin incident after all. For it was the whistleblower Ellsberg and a free press that brought the truth of this to light — like a slumbering Cambodian landmine — so many years after the conflict was over.
Imagine, for a moment, the kind of world we’ll be living in if we forsake our free press? Who will guard us from our own government’s mischief, from yet another Tonkin SIGINT NSA mislabeling, or WMD IC miscalculation? Who will protect us from the malfeasance of plutocrats, the corruption of politicians, from the greed of the 1%? We owe it to this country to fight for and protect the 4th estate. Our Founding Fathers were right to honor it. For without a free press, without reporters and whistleblowers, dissenters and questioners, like the invisible worm in the rose, tyranny will surely burrow its way into the very heart of our democracy.
Meantime, my latest release, THE WALL STREET MURDER CLUB, continues to sell well. Check it out @ Amazon.
Click here for your copy of the Top-Ten Amazon Best-Selling thriller:
The Wall Street Murder Club
I finished my forthcoming novel 404 last year (before the Ed Snowden/NSA story broke), and I hope to be able to tell you some good news about a pub date sometime soon. Please stay tuned for more info.
Here’s what the experts are saying:
"Team up with FBI code-breaker Jonatan Carlsen as he tries to stop a mysterious hacker, recently discovered penetrating government defense systems. Now, the cyber villain has set his sights on Carlsen and his family. As a former Special Agent, I found this novel not only plausible, but riveting and truly alarming. If you care about our nation's cyber-security, you MUST read this book."
Former Special Agent Ron Jaco, FBI
"After reading 404, you'll never look at your tablet or notebook computer quite the same ever again!"
Todd "Turbo" Watson
Social Media Communications, Influence, and Outreach Director for IBM’s $20 Billion software business
"Strap yourself in . . . you’re in for a Mach 2 ride with Jonatan Carlsen! As someone who has worked national security issues for decades, this story is all too scary and all too real! You’ll love it!"
Colonel Jim (Chip) Marchio, US Air Force, Ret.
"An exciting, fast-paced, well-spun yarn of a patriot betrayed by his wife, his friends, his senses and, ultimately, even himself. In a world where nothing is as it seems, 404 will leave you gasping for breath and seeing the world in a whole new light. A new Matrix."
Brett W. Gow, Associate Partner
IBM Global Business Services
Analytics & Optimization Integrated Center of Competence
If you want to read the first book in this series of thrillers—since 404 has yet to come out—check out The Wave. [NOTE: The protagonist's name has been changed from John Decker (in The Wave) to Jonatan Carlsen (in the sequel, 404), as an homage to my Danish heritage. I've made a few other changes in 404, mostly to characters' names, but Carlsen/Decker is fundamentally the same guy. At some point, when I have the time, I will re-release The Wave with the corrected protagonist's name and some additional changes; i.e. I need to cut some sections, and simplify others, once again based on reader responses . . . so thank you! Look for this sometime next year.]
Here's an excerpt from the Kirkus review.
"Sandom’s strength lies in the verve of his story, with writing that has both muscle, in its pacing and violence, and a measure of brains as it goes about knitting Islamic calligraphy into the action, as well as making skirmishes into cryptography, vulcan stimulation and the higher physics of radiation and isotope decay without force-feeding the dense material to the reader . . . After a rather stately start, punctuated by little flurries of menace and barbarism from the stock bad guys, and a critical massing of feints and distractions, the story races from improbable to crazywild, all in good fun, with Sandom always one step ahead."
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When Cryptanalyst John Decker of the FBI is assigned to the Joint Terrorist Task Force in New York, he has no idea he is about to be thrust into a deadly plot of eco-terrorism masterminded by El Aqrab, a diabolical killer recently arrested in Tel Aviv whose calling card is to wrap his victims up with incendiary devices designed to produce flames in the shape of Koranic verses. Some call it aesthetic destruction.
Following the theft of 8 kilos of Highly Enriched Uranium, an ultimatum is issued to the West: Release El Aqrab or a nuclear bomb will be detonated. But, at the last moment, El Aqrab escapes . . . and the authorities never get the bomb.
While Homeland Security is convinced it's headed for New York, only Agent Decker—assisted by brilliant and beautiful oceanographer Emily Swenson—believes the bomb’s true destination is La Palma, in the Canary Island chain.
Now, Decker and Swenson have less than six hours to prove their theory, defuse the bomb, and prevent a mega-tsunami from annihilating the Eastern Seaboard.
The Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma is currently in a dormant stage, but will almost certainly erupt again. The western half of the volcano has an approximate volume of 500 cubic kilometres, and an estimated mass of 1,500,000,000,000 (that's 1.5 Trillion!) metric tons. If it were to catastrophically slide into the ocean, it would generate a wave with an initial height of about 1,000 metres at the island (3,300 ft or 300+ stories high, if it were a building; i.e. 3 Empire State Buildings tall), and a likely height of around 50 metres (164 ft, or around 16 stories high) at the Caribbean and the Eastern North American seaboard when it runs ashore eight or more hours later. For context, if you are a piano lover, the arriving wave will be about the height of the Steinway building in NYC.
The 16-story Steinway Building in New York City is the same height as the mega-tsunami wave will be when it hits the East Coast of the US.
Tens of millions of lives will be lost as the cities and towns of Boston, New York, Baltimore, Washington DC, Miami, Havana, and countless others along the Atlantic coast in North, Central and South America, plus Africa and Europe, are destroyed, wiped out in seconds.
As Emily Swenson says about the inevitability of the fall of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma, "I’m afraid you don’t understand, Agent Decker. It's not about likelihood. It's a certainty. The only variable is time."
At some point in the future, the island will come apart and a mega-tsunami will stream across the Atlantic at the speed of a jet plane, obliterating the entire Easter Seaboard of the United States, killing more than forty million people, thirteen percent of the U.S. population. And hundreds of millions will be injured, one out of every three Americans. It will cause trillions of dollars in damage. The entire U.S. economy will be disrupted for years, if not permanently crippled.
This is not speculation. This is a fact.
The last Cumbre Vieja eruption occurred in 1971. The next? Who knows. Click below to see what it might look like.
For an excerpt from The Wave, click here.
To purchase your copy of The Wave, click here.
Click here to check out my Pinterest board. [WARNING: Some of the images on this board may be disturbing to younger readers.]
If you're looking for something uplifting to read on your Kindle, Nook, iPad, smartphone or laptop, check out this short story, After the Great Muskie Hunt, dedicated to my father, Zane, who always found time to take me fishing, and whose memory it honors. Please take a moment to download and read it. It's only around 15 manuscript pages, and it's only 99¢ at Amazon.
We live the lives of locusts, gone in a summer's day. I miss you, Dad!
"After the Great Muskie Hunt"
When his father loses his job, a young painter from New York offers to take him fishing for muskie—a barracuda-like freshwater fish—at Big Eagle Lake, in Ontario, Canada.
"Haunting and beautiful."
[Click here to check out my Pinterest board for After the Great Muskie Hunt.]
KISS ME, I'M DEAD
BEFORE THERE WAS 9/11 . . . THERE WAS 6/15
On June 15, 1904, over one thousand German immigrants on a Lutheran Church outing died when the General Slocum steamship caught fire and sank in the East River. It was the greatest disaster and loss of life in New York City history . . . until 9/11.
But was it a tragic accident or willful murder?
When her Jewish boyfriend Dustin is accused of the crime, an amateur teen detective, Mallory Meer, risks everything to solve the mystery behind the tragedy. Was Dustin guilty? Or, was someone else responsible for the fire that killed over a thousand men, women and children—including Mallory's own baby sister?
Only Mallory can understand what this crime truly means because she's not only one of the victims . . . she's one of the dead.
In this extraordinary, award-winning paranormal romance and Gothic horror tale, Mallory uses all the powers of this world and the next in order to save her beloved and punish those responsible for the tragedy. Set against a backdrop that includes adolescent sexuality, corruption and pervasive anti-Semitism, Sandom presents the details of the disaster without flinching, and explores both the pain and self-serving motivations of all concerned.
At once a ghost story, a courtroom drama, an examination of immigrant life, and a tale of love, redemption and revenge, Kiss Me, I'm Dead is a tightly wound novel that will keep haunting you long after you've closed the book.
Mallory Meer is like any other teenage girl. She likes to have fun. She thinks her sister is ridiculous. Her parents drive her crazy. She's got a terrible crush on Dustin and follows him everywhere.
Mallory even has a summer job—figuring out the truth about the fire on the General Slocum steamship, the disaster that killed her sister. Mallory is determined to get to the bottom of it, to find out who's guilty, and to finally bring them to justice.
Sometimes Mallory gets angry, very angry, and strange things happen when Mallory gets angry.
Yes, Mallory is like any other teenage girl . . . except Mallory is dead.
Twilight meets Grimm
Carrie meets Sherlock Holmes
Ranked one of the Top Ten Children's Books of the year by the Washington Post, Kiss me, I'm Dead was named a Notable Book for Teens by the Association of Jewish Libraries Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, a Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) Teen's Top Ten, and nominated for a Cybils literary award.
The Washington Post said, "(J.G. Sandom) writes with a precision and delicacy unusual for YA fiction," and called the book, "A subtle gem." In its starred review, School Library Journal said, "Kiss Me, I’m Dead tells a remarkable story in a remarkable way." Horn Book Magazine called the work, "A decidedly unconventional ghost story . . . (and) a tightly wound novel." Kirkus Reviews termed it, "A remarkable account." Romantic Times said, "Kiss Me, I’m Dead is a book you shouldn't pass up." Midwest Book Review termed it, "a wonderfully different kind of ghost story." And Bookslut.com said, "Kiss Me, I’m Dead scores on several levels, most notably as a drama that blows apart all preconceived notions of how history can be retold."
Originally released in hardcover by Penguin/Dutton, KISS ME, I’M DEAD was recently released in softcover and Kindle formats by Cornucopia Press, and—as noted above—immediately rose to #1 on Amazon's Best Sellers in Teen & Young Adult Horror eBooks list, and to #4 on the Teen and YA Paranormal list.
Click here to purchase your copy of Kiss me, I'm Dead!
Click here to check out my Pinterest board for Kiss me, I'm Dead.
CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE BODY SNATCHER
The beggar children of London are vanishing. They're disappearing . . . right off the streets.
Some say it's got something to do with the business of body snatching, grave robbers digging up corpses and selling them to doctors for medical research.
Some say it's far worse.
Now, racing against time, only Victor—a poor immigrant boy recently ship-wrecked and sold into the bondage of beggary—can uncover the identity of the ghoulish murderer at the heart of London’s furtive trade in human trafficking.
They killed his best friend.
They kidnapped the girl that he loves.
Now, there's only one thing worse than their finding him . . . and that's him finding them first.
Oliver Twist meets Breaking Bad
Previously named a Junior Library Guild selection, Publishers Weekly called Confessions of a Teenage Body Snatcher, “A haunting tour of London's underclass during the 1830s . . . Teens will likely be both captivated by Victor's harrowing story as well as his ability to prevail in the face of harsh injustices." VOYA said, "Teen readers will thoroughly enjoy the hair-raising suspense in this historical thriller." Kirkus Reviews called Confessions of a Teenage Body Snatcher perfect for, “audiences that relish historical fiction." KLIATT said, "Like M.T. Anderson's The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, this look at sinister events in history makes the era come alive and lingers in the memory." And School Library Journal said, “Part historical fiction and part adventure story, the novel brings excitement to Victorian England . . . Readers will be on the edge of their seats.”
Click here to purchase your copy of Confessions of a Teenage Body Snatcher.
Click here for the Pinterest board.
And if that isn't enough, BOTH titles are also available in Two Teen Terrors—A Cornucopia Press Collection FOR JUST $4.99!
Click here to purchase your copy of Two Teen Terrors!
STILL LOOKING FOR THAT PERFECT TITLE?
Meanwhile, The God Machine continues to reach new theo-thriller fanatics. . . especially as an eBook.
Caroline Thompson (author of Edward Scissorhands) said, "Move over, Dan Brown . . . All hail J.G. Sandom . . . (The God Machine) is a thrilling and breathless, rapturously-written and mind-blowing read. It’ll keep you up all night, turning pages as fast as your little fingers can manage." BookPage said, "Sandom has a knack for combining legendary gospels, ancient secrets, star-crossed lovers and Masonic puzzles to create a simmering stew of conspiracy, intrigue and danger that keeps the plot pot boiling until the very end." And the Historical Novels Review said, "History galore, violence, and intrigue fill the pages of this tightly plotted, twisting and turning adventure story . . . Those who love numbers, physics, and a truly unpredictable, suspenseful mystery will relish the facts and ponderings replete in this well-written, mysterious spin-off of The Da Vinci Code. The God Machine is a very impressive historical thriller!"
The Church insisted it didn't exist.
They said it was just a Masonic legend.
A two thousand year old secret.
The coded journal of Benjamin Franklin. A hidden map. A legendary gospel. These are the first pieces to an ancient puzzle so powerful it could destroy the very foundation of Christianity.Once before, Joseph Koster unearthed one of the Church's most deeply buried secrets . . . and it almost cost him his life. But some treasures are too hard to resist. And as Koster puts the pieces of Franklin's puzzle together, he discovers something even more startling . . . and infinitely more deadly.Now, along with beautiful Indian high-tech mogul Savita Sajan, Koster must race to decode Franklin's journal before it falls into the hands of those who would do anything, kill anyone to suppress it. But in a world of secret societies, ancient conspiracies and Masonic puzzles, locating the prize is one thing . . . staying alive, another.For as Koster and Sajan are about the learn, the same key that unlocks the doorway to Heaven . . . could open the portals of Hell.
For an excerpt from The God Machine, click here.
To purchase your copy of The God Machine, click here.
Click here to check out my Pinterest board for The God Machine.
The novel has just come out in Spanish from LA FACTORÍA DE IDEAS.
Next spring, look for it in Turkish too! Thank you, my Facebook friends in Turkey!