Archive for January 2015

Booktrap Celebrates 1 Year Tomorrow   Leave a comment

Come join us. I will be providing Cupcake Counseling from 6 pm to 7 pm Alaska Standard Time — that’s 10 pm to 11 Eastern Standard and sometime in the wee hours of Monday morning in Europe.

Posted January 31, 2015 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

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Eternal Rose by Paul Militaru   Leave a comment

Check out Paul’s wonderful website where you can buy some gorgeous photographs.

Posted January 31, 2015 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

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Interesting Site Stat   Leave a comment

Today, I noted that this blog is (for today) more popular with UK readers than with US readers.  Thanks for visiting —



Media Slinky Effect   Leave a comment

My copy of my Masters thesis has been trapped on a hard drive of a long defunct computer for a long time, but a good friend recovered it for me so I could mine it for this series. After recognizing that it is the sort of geeky research you do when a committee requires you to, I have decided to use it only as a guide.


Media influence on society has been extensively researched and for me, revisiting this topic after the rise of social media, it has been overwhelming to sift through all the material. When I was writing my thesis in the 1980s, there were still only a handful of channels to choose from and most people got their news and analysis either from CNN and/or the network channels and/or the newspapers and news magazines. Today, you can literally find thousands of media outlets across the Internet to choose from and you can self-select your very own opinion bubble.

Some studies suggestt that audiences choose their media content, channel and genres because of factors that already exist in their lives – age, experience, social identity, but there are also studies that indicate that media influences those choices, supplementing the personal preferences of the audience.

A prime example would be the studies that focused on media effects on adolescent aggression. Some of those studies showed an apparently correlative relationship between violent media content and aggression in teen audiences. Other studies found independent variables such as gender, age, substance use and prior victimization were contributing factors. In other words, teens who are drug users and/or come from an abusive household and also watch violence in media are more likely to be violent, while teens without these exascerbating factors appear much less affected by violence in the media. A child psychiatrist I once worked with in the social work agency suggested that substance-using teens with violent upbringings self-select violent media more than straight-edge kids. The studies are inconclusive, but I trust his 40 years of boots-on-the-ground experience more.

Similarly, there is apparently correlation between sexual content in media and sexualization of pre-adolescents within the audience, but there is also strong counter evidence to suggest that parental attitudes toward sexualization influences whether children watch sexual content in media and, therefore, is at least a contributing factor. In other words, if parents who think it’s okay for junior high kids to have sex tend to allow their children to watch sexual content on television and their kids are more likely not only to watch sexual content in media, but also to engage in sexualized behavior at a younger age. Is this the result of media influence or parental attitude? Well, parents who object to their kids having sex in junior high tend to restrict their children’s access to sexual content in media and their children appear to be sexualized at an older age. Again, what is the correlation? Which came first?

My 1980s self, pre-kiddos, thought it was a reciprocal relationshp, that media selectivity and media effects are mutually influencing process. It can be argued that media content serves to reinforce existing beliefs, but it can also be asserted that increased exposure to certain contenet through media can lead to additional informationg-seeking  behavior.  Exposure to online pornography, for example, seems to lead to seeking more online pornography, which is perhaps an indication that this media reciprocity moves forward with time, each cycle reinforcing the previous cycle.


What I watch influences me, so I watch more of it, until I believe what I watch, so I watch even more of it and because I believe it, I reject alternative channels of media that might disabuse me of my beliefs.


Media influence reciprocity may be described as a spiral in which the role of prior beliefs and media influence moves foreward, changing and/or reinforcing beliefs, leading to more selectivity, which leads to more influence and more changing or reinforcement of beliefs. It is not a static relationship. Sometimes media has the greater influence and sometimes pre-existing beliefs do, but generally, these spirals of influence reinforce one another over time.

So, for example, let me introduce you to a liberal friend. She is an aggregate of several coworkers from my former place of employment in touchy-feely, wishy-washing social work land. I’m going to call her “Ashley” because in all the years I worked there, there was never an Ashley employed there. Ashley is a Democrat who went to a liberal liberal arts college and holds a masters degree in Social Work. She took consumer economics in high school and the History of Women in college. She believes President Obama is perhaps the greastest president since FDR and maybe the greatest one since George Washington … if George Washington had not been a racist homophobe slave-owner. She can’t name even one article of the Constitution and has never read the Federalist Papers let alone the Anti-Federalist Papers. She watches PBS, listens to NRP and is a regular reader of the Huffington Post. When you suggest she might find a greater depth of knowledge by broadening her media intake, she insists that you’re a right-wing idiot who only watches Fox News network and probably has nothing more than an 8th grade education. When you point out that you have a Masters degree and have read the Constitution, the Wealth of Nations, the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, Frederick Bastiat, Lysander Spooner and Das Capital and  and also ocassionally watch PBS and listen to NPR while also turning into Fox News and other media, she insists that it’s all because you watch Fox News that you believe such “lies” as there is “no such thing as a free lunch” and the US Constitution restrains the government from abusing the people and not the other way around.

Reinforcing spirals strengthened by self-selection of media.

Of course, we do not live in a closed system … unless we want to. I can and do tune into many media channels that do not necessarily support my presuppositions. Sometimes what I learn there influences me at least to the point of causing me to examine some beliefs. There are beliefs that warrant examination from  time to time and divergent media content can be an influence in that reevaluation, but ultimately our most closely held beliefs are unlikely to be dislodged by mere influence by media.

The question is — should they be?

Thom Stark’s View on State Sovereignty   1 comment

Last week the conversation turned toward issues of sovereignty, Indian nations and states rights. Here is Thom’s reply.

Thom StarkFirst of all, I see no point regarding Indian sovereignity on which we disagree. However, ours is, in John Adams’ phrase, “a nation of laws, not men” (although, granted, he was talking about the Constitution of Massachussetts, not the USA), so Supreme Court decisions on the subject, however imbecilic, are binding – at least, until they’re overturned. Thus, recognized Indian nations have sovereignity. I suspect it’d be nigh impossible to change that situation today – mostly because of opposition from the left, rather than the right.

But we both agree that racial discrimination, regardless of how and where it takes place, is indefensible. I merely noted that, given the history of Indian nations such as the Cherokee in the USA, the desire for revenge on the white man is understandable. That does NOT mean I approve of it. Only that I understand it as a product of human nature. Black people, Asians, even those of Irish extraction have similar, legitimate historical grievances about their treatment at the hands of the USA and its laws, but even the staunchest leftist nitwit would hardly argue that the Irish, for instance, have any present cause for complaint about their status in America. I hope – and expect – that the same will eventually be true of every other minority in this country.

Of course, my mother’s side of the family is of Irish extraction all the way back to the Potato Famine, so …

You bringing up the Articles of Confederation is interesting, given that the full title of that document is the “Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union.” There was, in fact, no provision whatsoever for succession from the original Confederation, and the Constitutional Constitution of 1787 was called to amend that document, rather than to draft an entirely new one. Some constitutional scholars maintain that the Constitution should, indeed, properly be viewed as a wholesale amendment of the Articles of Confederation (and perpetual Union), rather than as an entirely new document. It’s also worth noting that the Declaration of Independence is a manifesto, but its various other sub-declarations are more in the nature of rationale than legal principle – or else “that all men are created equal” would have entirely precluded the original Constitution from enshrining slavery based on race.

And, yes, people have been arguing whether there is any legal basis for succession ever since the Constitution’s formal ratificaiton and adoption in 1789. The problem with those who maintain that succession is a right reserved to the states is that it – along with much of the concept of states rights – is a notion entirely outmoded by actual historical precedent. The South tried and failed to make succession stick. Their failure has made the inviolability of the Union a principle of American law ever since.

It’s also interesting that you cite James Buchanan’s inaction and general fecklessness as somehow laudable. Prior to George W. Bush, he was widely considered the absolute worst U.S. president of the lot (worse even than Andrew Jackson – and that’s really saying something). His unwillingness to lead, especially his failure to use the bully pulpit of his office to advocate for the preservation of the Union by, for instance, vetoing the Missouri Compromise, greatly emboldened the secessionists. (It also constituted the straw that finally broke the back of the Whig party camel, which led directly to the formation of the Republican party and the subsequent election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency, btw.) The man was a vacillating weakling, not a hero.

Since Lincoln correctly saw the integrity of the Union as crucial to the survival of the United States as a viable entity, he quite rightly rejected the notion of the legality of secession. Fort Sumter was a Union military asset. Legally speaking, it did not belong to South Carolina. Today, as then, EVERY military base within the USA (and outside of it) is Federal property, immune from state and local law, taxation authority, and power of eminent domain. That Sumter lay within the territory claimed by South Carolina did not – and does not – alter that. The ONLY legal mechanism by which SC could have laid claim to it was via negotiation, and the Union had every right to resupply its garrison in the meantime.

By attacking a Federal reservation, South Carolina was and remains responsible for committing the act that precipitated the bloody conflict that Confederate apologists like to think of as “the War of Northern aggression.”

It was no such thing. Instead, it was as true a civil war as any in history (there have been lots and lots of those, going back at least as far as the Romans), which was the direct result of Southern aggression, not that of the North.

DSC01494The relationship between the states and the federal government is a constantly-evolving one. That evolution has steadily moved in the direction of reducing the states’ power in favor of increasing Federal authority. You can argue whether that’s a good thing or a bad one, but the trend is inevitable and unstoppable.

I personally believe it’s a Good Thing overall. Far too many states employ their power to sanction absurdly anti-consumer legislation, such as excluding Tesla from selling cars within their borders to protect existing automobile dealership franchises, and forbidding municipalities like Chattanooga from extending their gigabit fiber networks to suburbs outside of its city limits. That’s monopolist protectionism in its rawest, ugliest form – but it’s a states rights matter, so they’re allowed to continue such deeply corrupt practices. (And, if the Tea Party members of Congress get their way, the FCC will be forbidden from interfering in the cable industry’s campaign to keep that last one in place.)

Screw that idiocy. It’s the 21st century, not the 18th. It’s past time that we as a nation recognized that the notion of states rights is increasingly as outmoded as the professions of locomotive fireman or gaslighter.

Interview with Khalid Muhammad   1 comment

Today’s interview is with Khalid Muhammad, author of Agency Rules: Never An Easy Day at the Office, a political thriller set in Pakistan.


Khalid MohammedTell us something about yourself, Khalid. 

Sure, Lela. First, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to speak with me about my writing and my debut military/espionage thriller, Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office.

In terms of my background, I was born in Pakistan, raised and educated in the United States and returned to Pakistan in 1997 to pursue emerging business opportunities. I’ve spent my time in the country comparing the on-ground Pakistan with everything that I heard in the media. What a difference! There are times when I think they make up the stories that are written about my country.



I suspect they do, Khalid, for American political reasons.

As an entrepreneur, I have been able to build a successful marketing and brand management company in Karachi that services both domestic and international clients, which has helped with supporting my family while I build my writing career.  Since publishing Agency Rules in January 2014, I have written for a number of domestic publications and a few international ones, while I work on the next two books of the Agency Rules series.

Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office is my debut novel – the first in a series of 4 – 5. I chose to put focus on the story of my home country, Pakistan, because it is the most discussed country in the world because of our terrorism problem. Interestingly, while it is the most discussed, it’s also the least understood because the media doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s what I like to call “sound byte reporting”. So, I take my readers back to the 1990s, right after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan and the Mujahideen had returned to Pakistan, radicalized and with no one to fight. They turned their sights on Pakistan and reforming the country through violence and intimidation. The story follows Kamal Khan, a precision sniper in the Pakistan Army and member of Pakistan’s most feared intelligence service, the ISI. Kamal is a fantastic protagonist because he is struggling with everything that he must do to accomplish his objectives. It will be hard for the reader to not identify with him or experience the world he is living in.


I’m reading the book now and finding the character of Kamal compelling and the Pakistan you describe to be quite different from the one I hear about in the news. You live in Pakistan. I could do an interview just on that — forget about the book. And we might actually do that separate from the interview. Talk about living in Pakistan.

Pakistan is a fantastic country, but no different than any other. We have gotten a bad knock in the War on Terror, even though we are a frontline state in the war, but the country is so diverse and amazing that when people visit from abroad, they are shocked that it is so different than what they have been told in the print and electronic media.

The nation has had a very difficult and interesting road since 1947, when the country came into existence. We have long struggled with the “extremism” elements both in political parties and fringe religious groups, but the Afghan War, or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1970s, really brought it all out in the open. Prior to that, Pakistan was a progressive, liberal country. Shocking, I know!


What little I know of your history it isn’t shocking to me, but how did things deteriorate to where they are now?

What happened in 1977, and for many years after, was the rise of General Zia-ul-Haq, a ruthless, highly fundamentalist dictator that ruled throughout the Afghan war. General Zia took it upon himself to align with the ultra-conservative elements in Pakistan to create, what we call, the “Islamic” laws. These laws included the Hudood Ordinance, which virtually stripped women of all their rights in terms of criminal prosecution of rape and adultery, and the blasphemy law, which is well known to everyone around the world. Zia’s government was probably the darkest time in Pakistan’s history because of the way he ruled the country. Let me give you some examples.

There were public beatings in stadiums of those who had violated his Islamic laws, which I should point out had nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with his brand of morality. The media was silenced. There were literally newspapers published with big black rectangles covering stories that the government didn’t want the public to see. They actually monitored every newspaper in the country, which at the time wasn’t difficult because there were about 4 newspapers.

It was during his rule that two things happened that impact Pakistan to this day. First, Zia selected political nobodies and turned them into household names. Those people are still in politics in Pakistan, including current Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. These people promised to carry forward Zia’s mission for Pakistan after he died in a fiery helicopter crash with the then US ambassador to Pakistan, Arnold Raphel.

The second thing that he did that continues to eat Pakistan alive is the massive growth of jihadi and extremist madrassahs. During the Afghan war, these madrassahs were setup to funnel motivated fighters to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Mujahideen against the Soviets, but when the war was over, they didn’t have an enemy – so they turned their sights on Pakistan. These madrassahs have created and supported most of the terrorist elements in the country until today. This was also when the financial links between Saudi Arabia and these madrassahs were created.

During the Afghan war, for every dollar that the CIA pumped into Pakistan to support the Mujahideen, the Saudis pumped in $100. These funds were, and are, funneled straight to the radical elements in Pakistan to teach them the Wahabi form of Islam. Wahabism is an extremely fundamentalist form of Islam that believes that the religion cannot progress and that the most extreme form of Sharia law is the only acceptable law for a Muslim country. This is the law that is followed in Saudi Arabia, where no woman can drive, leave the house without her husband or father and has no rights under the state. This is what they wanted for Pakistan as well. I should say still want for Pakistan.

Today, and for the past 12 years, our military has been fighting against these radicals. Our fight has cost us close to 70,000 innocent lives in terrorist attacks and military operations. We are finally making headway but the current government could pull the plug anytime they want – but we can get into that if you want to talk more about Pakistan.


When did you first start writing and what was the story?

I first started my writing when I was in the 7th grade. I had a fantastic English teacher that encouraged us to write from our imaginations. I can’t remember the first story that I wrote, but I know it was crime related. At that point in time, I was living a very troubled home life and all I was reading was true crime novels that I would get from the local library.

There was a great deal of frustration and anger in my writing at that age, which has matured now into a much cleaner, sadistic writing style.

I stopped writing when I was in university because life got me busy and didn’t really touch it outside of professional papers during my career. It was after the War on Terror started and I was reading/watching what was being said about Pakistan that I started thinking about starting again.


I think most writers write to get something out of ourselves that perhaps lives more safely in a fictional environment. My neighbors would not like it if I ran around the neighborhood with a big sword smiting people. Alaskans are fine with everybody being armed, but they don’t much like gunfire outside of the gun range. I write so my psyche can do things that aren’t exactly socially acceptable. Can you relate to that idea?

Completely! I have an extremely sadistic side to my personality when it comes to injustice. My writing has given me an outlet to express my feelings, ideas and sometimes hatred without the repercussions of criminal cases. I come from a violent childhood that has done a good deal of damage to my internal structure and belief system. I think my writing lets me express that. My wife likes to say that my writing is a catharsis because many of the things I would like to do to people (and probably would since Pakistan is a lawless country) come out in my writing.


Agency Rules Never EasyWhere did you get the idea for Agency Rules?

Agency Rules is a journey for me and Pakistan. Too many people only know what they see in the media about Pakistan and that is so slanted that I don’t even recognize my country when I read the foreign press. I wanted to tell the story that people don’t know, what we have struggled with for years, the battles that we have fought ideologically, religiously and sometimes physically over the past 30 years. The Pakistan that you see in the media is not Pakistan. Agency Rules is my way of setting the record straight by introducing you to the political and military gamesmanship, the corrupt and uneducated imams and the people who are struggling under the weight of all of it just to survive.


Tell us about the story.

The story is centered around the years immediately after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the impact on Pakistan. The reader gets the story from the point of view of Kamal Khan, a highly decorated sniper in the Pakistan Army who gets recruited into the elite Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Kamal takes you behind enemy lines into a terrorist camp to show the reader how people are indoctrinated, seduced and recruited into that life. There are many facets to the story that I can’t talk about because it would give too much away, but suffice it to say, the reader gets a clear picture of everything that goes on in Pakistan and why the country has so many problems decades later.

What’s interesting about the story is that it is roughly 6 years in the making. I have read de-classified documents from US and Pakistani intelligence, dossiers on terrorists, books, watched movies and documentaries to get all my research on target with the whole series. I like to tell my readers that everything that you read in the pages of Agency Rules novels has actually happened or is happening in Pakistan. There is a level of realism to the story that I couldn’t have gotten without the sheer amount of research that I did before I started planning and writing.

Never an Easy Day at the Office is the first book of the series and the foundation of the whole story.


What are your future literary plans? Will there be a sequel or other books to follow? If so, what and when?

Like I said, this is the first book in the series. I envisioned this as a 4 or 5 book series when I first planned it out, but the response and demand for the book has been so great that I might continue it beyond 5 books.

The sequel to Never an Easy Day at the Office is due out in early January 2015. I will be publishing two books within weeks of each other to bring the story to modern day Pakistan. I’ve finished (I hope) writing the next book of the series and we will start marketing it towards the end of the month, probably after Christmas.

I do plan on writing a crime thriller novel at some point because that genre has always been of interest to me. But it all depends on when I get some time away from Agency Rules to work on it.


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Agency Rules on the Web:






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Stay Tuned for Writing Wednesday   1 comment

baa10-bluetypewriter-whitepinkflowersThis week’s interview is a special treat for me. Khalid Muhammad, author of Agency Rules – Never An Easy Day at the Office, will be joining me. Khalid lives in Pakistan, but was raised in the United States. His book gives some wonderful insight into what goes on behind the media manipulations.

You’re Kidding, Right?   3 comments


They shut down New York City for five inches of snow. They threatened people with arrest if they left their homes. Not only did they ban driving altogether, but they also banned walking.

For the record, it is -35* here in Fairbanks, Alaska . Yes, that is 35 degrees below zero, which is 67 degrees below freezing. It’s the coldest it’s been all winter (this being one of the mildest winters on record). Some of us were late getting to work because our cars don’t enjoy these temperatures, but everyone is here. Our kids went to school. Businesses are open. A lot of people will order-in for lunch today, which means the takeout guys will be working. I let the Labrador stay inside today because she’s not an Arctic breed, but the husky was curled up on her old armchair in the woodshed, happy as a husky in cold weather.

Fairbanks, unlike (say) Valdez, does not get huge amounts of snow most years, but occasionally we get two feet in a 24-hour period (Valdez has gotten two feet in a hour). When it snows here, traffic moves slower, but it moves. I work for Department of Transportation and all hands have to be on deck because we’re the ones who make the roads passable. Same when it decides to rain after winter has started. We have to get to work and we do.

DOT here in Alaska never tells people that they cannot drive. We occasionally close specific roads for specific reasons — avalanche danger, for example. We issue travel advisories suggesting extreme caution in certain conditions. State Troopers occasionally ask us to tell people not to drive. We decline and they wimp out on doing it themselves and people drive anyway. Then for a while, the Troopers will suggest that people “stay home if able”, until they get a new watch commander from the Lower 48 who has to learn the Alaskan way. He’ll request/demand, we’ll decline, his Public Information Officer will explain the nightmare of government ordering Alaskans to do (or not do) anything, and he’ll learn to suggest rather than order.

And absolutely no government agency here would ever think they had the authority to tell people they could not walk in the snow. Is there an occasional death of someone who drove their car off the road or fell in the snow and couldn’t get up? Yes … and that is the acceptable cost of freedom.

The shutting down of New York City for five inches of snow is a clear example of out-of-control government and people who do not push back when they should. It’s one thing for government to suggest you stay off the roads and even to warn that they won’t rescue you if you get yourself into trouble. That’s fair. But to order you to do it on pain of arrest … ???

You’re kidding, right?

Lela Markham Interviewed with Read Freely   Leave a comment


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