Sunday, October 11, 2009

Yelling at the Media for October 11, 2009

Item: A whip used by Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was sold at auction for $56,000 USD.

What I yelled: Great. What bad economy?

Why: Everyone is on pins and needles about the condition of the United States economy. But where strictly luxury and/or collectable items can be sold for that kind of money, I think the thing that we need to worry about least is that the economy is bad. The money is still out there; it's that fewer people have it. Those who do haven't changed their spending habits at all. They don't have to. If anything, they're even more financially capable of living the way they like. It's too bad that, for many of those people who still have way more than enough money to live on, the way they like to live is by depriving others, whether consciously or unconsciously.

By the way? That amount of money would buy three $20 meals per day for two and a half years.

Item: President Obama announces that he will end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays in the US military.

What I yelled: 'Bout time.

Why: American society as a whole is long past the idea that gays are a negative influence on it. They are an integral part of this society. The last stumbling block has been the government, unusual for a government by the people and for the people. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave. And some of those free and brave are gay. Time to grow up and accept reality. Can we move on to the vast schools of bigger fish this country has yet to fry?

Short one today. Back next week.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Yelling at the Media

I used to laugh at the family elders when they would shout at the TV or radio in response to information that infuriated them. With my maternal grandparents, it was usually during Chicago Cubs games. Except with them, having a Cubs game on seemed to be the most comfortable excuse for yelling at each other. My grandmother the die-hard Cubs fan would trash-talk my grandfather the die-hard Anyone-Playing-the-Cubs fan and Grandpa would give it right back. Before you start feeling sorry for either of them, though, it's worthwhile to note that Grandpa was a Chicago Blackhawks fan, and Grandma, well, you get the idea. That might help explain my ambivalence toward both baseball and hockey. It didn't seem like either sport was enough fun to warrant that kind of emotional investment. But I digress.

In the midst of a cascade of noise, pre-teen John would come charging into the room and ask what was wrong. They would, with no embarrassment at all, point at the screen or dial (!) and say "Oh, it's just the game," or "Oh, it's just the news." I'd usually roll my eyes and go find something else to do. One summer day, though, I asked Grandpa why he yelled at the TV when no one could hear him. He said, with half a smile, "Whatta ya mean no one? You heard me."

Okay, thirty years later, I still don't quite get that. But I get why he was yelling at the TV that day, even as the years advance on me and I yell at the TV and the radio most days. It isn't that I'm the village eccentric (not wealthy enough). It's just that sometimes I can't believe what those folks who run the news expect us to swallow as truth or logic. Even as my grandfather couldn't understand it forty years ago and he let his frustration out. I'm going to do that, too, and I'm calling it Yelling at the Media or YATM. And here it is for this week:

I heard a radio interview last week with a fellow who had written a self-help book about thinking positively. I'm all for that, but my brand of positive thinking tends to be a little more realistic. As an example of turning negative news to a positive, he cited the example that unemployment increased to 9.8%, but a positive person would turn that to mean that 90.2% of the nation was gainfully employed. Mmm, no. Details of this misapprehension can be found at this FAQ for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Our positive friend has committed a familiar error. He has decided that things are better than they are because he wants them to be, but that's just not so. We all must choose to deal with reality, lest we allow it to choose the way it deals with us. Not my quote, but apt nonetheless.

A General Motors VP was recorded last week saying that the best way to insure that GM returns to the status of being a public company (instead of government owned and supported) was to buy GM cars. Hmm. I equate that with a restaurant owner saying that the best way to tell that their food isn't poisoned is to eat it. For myself, I've pretty much decided that my loyalty to any product or brand will be determined by the quality of the public comments of the manufacturer's management. At the moment, I'm pretty much product and brand loyalty free. Sad about US business. Telling and sad.

And finally, Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis will be retiring from that firm by the end of the year. His retirement package? $53 million USD, by some accounts I've heard, despite official questions in many quarters about the Merrill Lynch acquisition. I'm so glad we've reached the days of financial responsibility in financial service companies. Nothing funny there. Nope. Nothing. Interesting note: the percentage of that amount that it would take to make me completely debt free? Less than five one-thousandths of a single percent. Need a number? That's .005%. And here are the three ethical and/or moral (your choice) questions that no one in the United States seems to want to answer: 1) Is he really entitled to all that money when so many of his countrymen are going without? 2) Is everyone who has those ridiculous amounts of money entitled to all of it? 3) Why?

Tune in this time next week for the YATM. I have no doubt there'll be more.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

What Happens When You Poke the Sea-Bear: The Moby Dick Post-mortem

That was awesome.

I really enjoyed Moby Dick, and not just for the cathartic feeling of not being on a whaling ship in the mid-19th century. I really enjoyed the climax; such pretty language being used to describe so much action. The soliloquies at the last seemed a bit much, but the modern trend toward brevity certainly didn't start with this book anyway.

The unreasonable and reckless pursuit of vengeance, the retention of bitterness and/or ill will, and the willingness to risk all in pursuit of a single event or thing: all of that is there in spades. It's a lot about greed, both spiritual and financial, isn't it? In the end, it mattered little that the crew or the ship or anyone else would be used in search of Ahab's ultimate goal. He wasn't about to turn away from his quest for vengeance. Regardless of the cost.

To be fair, though, many watershed events of human history wouldn't have been possible without the obsessions and lack of reason and enormous human costs sustained by the people who drove those events to fruition. Achieving high goals is often only possible by the rejection of much else in a life. It's how the amazing things get done.

But Ahab wasn't doing anything amazing, even if he thought he was. Melville rendered even the unbelieveable (finding a single whale through more than one ocean, for instance) into an act comparable to changing your socks. Ahab sought vengeance on the whale that took his leg, viewing his injury as a personal insult. He defrauded his partners and killed his crew and himself to get it. He gave up everything, including his perspective, which is the thing that determines what you can give up in the first place. Keep that healthy and everything else stays in line. Lose it and the rest follows.

A Question: Everybody has a story about Moby Dick, it seems. Mine is that my mother taught it. What's yours?

Thursday, September 24, 2009


There are a few issues that have accumulated over the past month due to inattention. So I figured I'd throw them into this single post.

The Moby Dick project: Yeah, I'm done. That post should be out this weekend. After I write it. The first sentence of the post? "That was awesome." More later.

Rebecca asked "This may be a silly question, but are all pc/laptop based books considered e-books?"
First, few questions are silly, and this is not one of them. As with most things computer, the lines get more blurry as you dig deeper into the subject. The working definition for an e-book I like to use is "any longer electronic document that can be read with software on a computer or with a stand-alone device." Length and file format (.pdf and .mobi, among others) seem to be the only loosely consistent definitions of what is and isn't an e-book. It seems mostly to be in the eye of the producer; if you believe your document is long enough to be an e-book and is in an appropriate format, it is, from what I can tell. Wikipedia has as good a definition as any.

Also, your issues with printing from MyScribe may be related to digital rights protection. Check out the FAQ, particularly the last few entries. If MyScribe allows you to bookmark places in the text with a short title for the bookmark as Calibre does, however, you might want to bookmark a passage with a number or keyword and have that appear in a short passage you write in another text document. Or if you like something a little more formal, you could always keep a personal wiki for your subject. Lots of exciting options there, including multiple users.

Tweetless: And finally, why aren't I Twittering? A couple of people have asked me about that, and it isn't for lack of considering it. I'm trying to reach a milestone in my novel project, an overall chapter list of what happens in the book, so that I'm not wild-goose-chasing my own tail down blind alleys in frantic pursuit of red herrings when I sit down to write. It's one of those things that only appears counter-intuitive until you need to take the next step and don't know where your foot should go. Not only will that document serve admirably as a to-do list and a task scheduler, it will give me something to tweet about (and post about) when I do jump into Twitter. Which I will. Just not yet.

Next post? The Moby Dick post-mortem: What Happens When You Poke The Sea-Bear.

Mea Culpa or What Happened to September?

Wow. Is that the date? It has been that long since I posted anything? Anything?

Any excuse for that? Don't think so. Everybody has their things which chew up their time like a puppy with a slipper, and I've been beset with those puppies. But as I look back, small slips of time presented itself when I could have posted something, anything, and I used that for other things. Sleeping. Vegetating in front of the TV. Watching the Chicago Bears first lose a game they should have won and then win a game they should have lost. After all, losing to the Packers was enough agony for at least a hundred words cast into the ether. But nothing from this Bear fan since 1978. About a Packer loss. Sheesh.

I hear some of you saying that I'm being hard on myself and you're right. I need to be harder on myself. None of this will get done unless I do it, regardless of how my day went. Furthermore, I've asked people to participate in this and then I stopped participating. And I'm truly sorry for that.

I shouldn't expect anyone to come back. I'm going to have to earn my readers back. And I will.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Moby Dick for Breakfast

No, this isn't a recipe post.

I have gone all four decades plus of my life without reading Herman Melville's Moby Dick, a situation I find myself in a position to remedy. Of particular shame is the fact that my mother used to teach that book to high school students. So, instead of the abyss that is pre-5am cable television, I consume breakfast and the classic tale of obsession at once. And not in print, either: this will be my first e-book read.

The technicals: I'm reading it on a netbook with a stand-alone (and free) application called Calibre. I'm very pleased with it and the options for print size and general appearance of the page. For the work itself, I downloaded it from Project Gutenberg (also free) and I'm quite successfully resisting the urge to turn the netbook on its side to read it. Not necessary, and, in fact, clumsy. Reading it keyboard down is quite sufficient. I've even been known to haul it into waiting areas/rooms, since it's unnecessary to be connected to the Internet to use Calibre. The only problem? If your netbook/laptop isn't booted up, you'll have to wait for that. It kind of rules out the quick "pick up and read".

Why an e-book? The wave of the future, friends. My future, especially, as you will soon see.

At the moment, though, I'm about half-way through Moby Dick and I am surprised at how friendly and accommodating the narrator is for the age of the work. There is, of course, more archaic knowledge about whales and whaling than I can almost stand, but the sentence structure is so fluid and pretty that it "feels" in my mind as if it's being "spoken" in a classic boilerplate hand. Melville, it seems, could write just about anything and it would turn out pleasant.

Some words are more pleasant than others, however. A few of my favorite quotes:
  • There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method.
  • ...There is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.
  • ...It's against my principles to drink with the man I've diddled.
  • ...Man is a money-making animal, which propensity too often interferes with his benevolence.
I'm enjoying it immensely. Can't wait for tomorrow morning.

A Question:
Have you taken any forays into e-books? Did you like the format? What was it like?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Wordshopping: Guns at Obama's Town Hall Meetings

When an Arizona man was questioned by a reporter about why he was carrying a gun outside a Town Hall meeting where the President of the United States was speaking, his response was "It's time to water the tree of liberty."

I agree. Not with the act he is justifying, no, that's ridiculous. That's what happens when you don't think about what you're doing because you're only thinking about your opinion.

But I still agree with the words he spoke taken completely out of context, wordshopped, barely recognizable remarks from Thomas Jefferson used in support of a position without regard for the intentions of the speaker or the situation in which they were spoken. The notion that the tree of liberty is in distress? Oh, yes. It's dry. Very dry. Desiccated. A veritable Hawkeye Pierce martini of a tree.

I suspect that we would even agree on the cause of the tree's need of a long, cool drink: tyranny. Despite the hazard of examining the issue further, both of us feel that certain core rights are being taken away from us. But the divide between our opinions comes when we talk about which rights are in danger.

The speaker was making a reference to President Obama's "tyrannical" gun control measures "taking away" his right to own guns. I don't know that there actually is any legislation in the works along those lines, but when you're wordshopping, relevance to reality isn't really necessary. You only need the words that produce fear and/or anger and support for your position (see "death panel"). "Tyrannical"? A little old-school, but that works. It even looks creepy, which helps. "Tyrant?" Nah, not so much, but "tyrannical"? Not bad. Dinosaurian overtones. Chomp ya right up. "You. It's what's for dinner."

So, which rights do I think are in danger from tyranny? The right to free speech, of course. Let's wordshop the situation. A group of people who are within their constitutional rights to have guns in public ("armed protestors") is standing outside a venue ("barricaded") where unarmed people ("prospective victims") go to speak their minds ("the opposition") and to get answers to questions about an entirely different issue ("avoiding the real problem"). String together the wordshopped version and who would want to go to that? Not me. I would have made the "choice" to stay away and keep my "socialist" solutions to myself and stay "safe".

Isn't that fun? You have to be careful, though, because a good wordshopping shouldn't be examined too closely. It tends to lose its ability to motivate once people actually look at the issue and the original text in depth. So we won't, otherwise we "treehuggers" wouldn't be in "complete agreement" about the tree of liberty issue.

"Liberating", isn't it?