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Posts Tagged ‘Opinion’


caveman using stone tool on rockMost readers of this blog will remember, with only the faintest nostalgia, the following watersheds along the timeline of communication and information dissemination:
・The pencil
・The pen
・Carbon copy paper
・White-out
・Mimeographs
・Postage stamps (these are not relics . . . yet, although I am grateful for them because they helped put food in my belly, clothes on my back, and a roof over my head as a child)

With this small list in mind I offer the state of Arizona kudos for not only embracing some of them still, but also for its impressive efforts to encompass the breadth of human communication forms since chisel was first put to stone.

We are some years along since Al Gore invented the internet, and the web has offered us some disadvantages and some stunning efficiencies. Consider that we can not only download fillable PDF tax return forms but can electronically file those same documents, with no shortage of important personal information on them; in Arizona we can renew our vehicle registrations online, again with all the pertinent personal data in tow; we can manage our financial concerns online; and the whopper–the federal government has mandated that if you don’t have medical insurance you must sign up via the web and get it–this naturally requires a slew of personal information to be divulged.

There are no shortage of entities which can find us when it’s time for jury duty, send us gentle reminders if we miss a payment, or send any other marketing based upon our current residence and/or age.

No secret . . . we are ‘in the system’, each of us a statistical and numerical part of a brain-melting expanse of database.

So, given the aforementioned, I remain perplexed about the process for attaining a copy of ones birth certificate in Arizona.

It begins with a line. This is not unexpected. All state offices enjoy a good line. This line feeds one solitary public servant whose job is to dutifully sit in front of a computer terminal and look us up in ‘the system’. This fact alone should make the process practically state-of-the-art. But that would mean embracing efficiency and giving tradition the cold shoulder, and government loves tradition.

For the sake of tradition, they take my drivers license (another state-issued document with lots of personal data) and use a scanner to read the bar code on the back. Said servant then pulls a paper form and stamps it with the word “COUNTED,” unsettling in itself.

I am asked to fill out the form and wait for my number to be called; I think God does something similar.

Being no stranger to the digital paradigm I don’t carry a pen with me like I used to many (many) years ago. So I ask, “Do you have a pen?” She hands me the form . . . and a pencil. How quaint.

As I entered the building I could see others filling out forms with pencils, which triggered a series of grating texts to a friend:

“2014 and we have to wait in line to manually fill out a form”
“Christ, it’s practically the Stone Age here.”
“Excuse me, could I borrow your chiseled, pointy thing so I may chip out my info on this clay tablet?”
“How much more Cro-magnon could it get?”

“Feel better now?” she asks. Of course not, and I’m fairly certain she knows this and as any good friend would she patronizes me

“I’m wondering,” I begin again, “if I should use Cuneiform or early Arabaic.”
“Surprisingly, they actually use a verbal form of language communication here”
“I think grunts and rough gestures might be more in tune with the overall ambiance”

She’s come along for the ride, I can tell by her next reply. “Maybe you could move kinda ape-like to the window . . . grunting, of course.”

“That’s pretty funny!” I respond, “I’d do it if I didn’t think they’d deny my request.”

I take my early 17th century paper form–and pencil–and drag my knuckles to a table, whereupon the pencil lead actually breaks the moment I set it to paper. Seriously.

The form asks for all the same information on my license, the same info which I know damn well is staring them in the face on that terminal monitor. In addition they require you to actually fill in your credit card info on this form. Surprisingly, they don’t ask for the social security number, probably because they already have it?

I am pleasantly surprised by how short the wait time is until my number is called (not you, God, the vital records clerk). She, too, asks for my drivers license and the credit I want to use to pony up twenty friggin dollars for the copy of the certificate–$20! Perhaps I shouldn’t expect a happy ending, but at least a smile?

I can sense my annoyance meter slowly rising as I dig out the cards. The clerk at the first window already confirmed my identity and ‘counted” me, and my C/C info is on the stupid form. Why the hell do you need to see it, or, conversely, why must we write the number on the form if we’re going to give you the physical card anyway?

F@#!

Okay. Whatever. I dole them over and she does her thing. I sign the credit slip, she staples it to yet another piece of paper and says “Take this to window 4.”

Window 4 is where the duplicate birth certificate is printed, from — wait for it — another computer terminal.

In case you’re wondering, in Arizona you can obtain a duplicate BC via mail, but they require the use of a carrier pigeon.

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American IdiotAs I type this we’re (Dad and I) cruising at approximately 29,000 feet above Oregon on our way to Los Angeles, our stopover before Phoenix. It’s a smaller aircraft, 2 seats per row. I’m obviously not aircraft savvy, but at least I possess a rudimentary knowledge of how our solar system functions—according to a recent survey I’m smarter than 1 out of four of you, and I take no great pride or pleasure in saying so, but more on that in a bit.

Simple probability tells me I am surrounded by a cadre of imbeciles.

I’ll begin my story/rant earlier this morning. Dad and I stopped in Redmond, OR to gorge on a delicious apple pancake–this at 6am local time. After placing our order we both scanned through the news headlines on our phones. Seems newspapers are becoming something of a relic, which is sad.

Anyhoo, he states, all of a sudden, that 1 in 4 Americans believes the Sun revolves around the Earth. As much as I can be at 6am, I’m stunned. But it’s early yet. I haven’t had any sustenance. The brain is consuming somewhere around 23% of my entire available energy just keeping the whole shootin’ match up and running while breakfast goodness bakes.

But the news takes root, like a stinkweed, and begins to fester.

Mom and dad would tell me “Let it go.” They’re right, I know. But I’m not fueled enough at this point to either let it go or truly cogitate upon it. This will happen, however.

Rant trigger: We begin the boarding process, and of course the airline makes the announcement that everybody better than you, those-who-shit-don’t-stink, get primary boarding privileges. Suckers! Once on board this tiny craft you become no more important than the rest of us chaff!

But it irritates me nonetheless. One ‘exceptional’ person boards before everyone else. He seemed a little ashamed, if his body language was any indication.

By this time said pancake and hot tea have had plenty of time to begin digesting and fueling greater bandwidth for irrational though.

We board the plane (fairly quickly, I might add . . . nice job, American!) and as I wait for all the pre-flight stuff to be completed the headline—which I subsequently saw in my own news reader—pops to the fore.

So I pull out the flight magazine and go to the puzzle section, trying to find a mental distraction. I don’t read it in any particular order and I alight upon number 5, on page 55; these puzzles are apparently presented by MENSA. The saving grace here is MENSA members are going to understand the true workings of our solar system, so my beef isn’t with them.

Onward…

Number five reads: “A young childhood rhyme has been put into very fancy language. Can you put it back into everyday English?”

Let’s give this a go . ..

A very young girl with a very common name . . . Okay, I have it already. I’m really not that smart, but it’s a dead giveaway. Perhaps they’re throwing a bone to the one retard who thinks the sun revolves around the Earth.

possessed a rather uncommon pet . . . wow, MENSA has really let themselves go.

with a distinctly pigmented skin covering. This pet followed her on all occasions.

Really? This qualifies as MENSA sanctioned brain exercise? Jesus, I was educated in the Arizona public school system and even I got it! (no offense meant, Arizona, but your system doesn’t exactly rank among the best).

No damn wonder 25% of Americans think the Earth is flat (well, if you think the sun revolves around the Earth, what else am I to think?)

God, or Jesus, or whatever higher power may be reading this as I type, I ask, in advance, for forgiveness for the trespass I am about to commit.

So here’s the ugly but undeniable truth: If you believe the sun revolves around the Earth you are a certified moron. True story.

Look around you (if you’re somewhere other than home). Somebody within your view thinks our solar system is Earth-centric. They wouldn’t admit it of course. But you can probably bet good money they sleep better than you do because emptier heads sleep lighter than useful ones.

I am absurdly hopeful that anyone reading this comprehends words longer than 4 letters, although moron has five letters, I’ll give you that.

If you understood moron, and you believe the Sun revolves around the Earth, then I owe you more credit than I thought. That is impressive, most impressive. But it doesn’t change the fact that you’re a moron.

If I had to guess I’d say such gullibility is due to something Ben Kenobi would appreciate and exploit—a weak mind. You know the type, those who latch onto anything a more powerful mind (or collective body) tells them. I won’t name names, but a certain city-state in the Italian part of Europe comes to mind. Another group would be those who steadfastly believe that ‘teaching to the test’ is the way to a brighter America.

Flat Earth Society, indeed.

I could go on and on and offend more folks, but likely 1 of 4 wouldn’t get it anyway.

Thank God we have the other 3 to properly put planes in the air and make our buildings safe, to create workarounds that save the twenty-five per centers from any truly worthwhile process of thought. Without this demographic the Star and Enquirer would struggle mightily.

But MENSA might have found itself a fresh pool (if shallow) of new members.

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Over 900 years ago the Crusades fizzled out . . . well, sorta. The Christians, Muslims, Jews, and whomever else was up for a fight spent a respectable chunk of history killing one another over whose beliefs were better than whose—essentially a playground brawl but with doctrinal rancor.

As I was rereading Ghosts of Vesuvius by Charles Pellegrino I came across this statement from Isaac Asimov: “…religion is incompatible with civilization.” Asimov referenced the Taliban, who, in 2001 came to our shores as if to prove, once and for all, that their beliefs (as Pellegrino points out, “extremist” and “intolerant”) are the gold standard for humanity and America must be the poster child for their modern crusade.

And yet that same idea, the mere thought and words, fly in the face of certain moral intuition. Many an act of kindness—dare I say, of civilization—was borne of these same ideals which organized religion try to espouse.

Clearly, evidence would seem to suggest the very statement “religion is incompatible with civilization” is nothing less than a solid truth. Religious prejudice is no modern phenomenon, history is crystal clear on that point. But even the least educated among us could likely point out examples where people of strong religious convictions have done much to improve civilization around them; again, history illustrates this as well. I could prattle on about hope in its mythological context, or even in the biblical construct, but I think that would belabor the point.

To me this question of incompatibility boils down, as many things do, to the individual. An individual has a choice (at least in a democracy). Not so much in a theocracy, or perhaps any other ‘-cracies’. Reduce this concept down just a little further and see that each of us are born with a moral compass. The flaws of humankind are not small, however, and such a compass is easily corrupted. To wit, James Madison wrote “If men were angels government would not be necessary.”

Though many religions claim to be superior to others, to my knowledge there is no mandate by Providence that man or humankind must accept or affirm any single sort of structured, organizational sense of religion. Sure, certain sects boldly declare that God has, in fact, deemed all prior belief systems bunk and theirs is the chosen group. i still can’t bend my mind around so many sects believing in essentially the same Power of Nature, and yet having the stones to say their belief is the only real way to save ones soul.

Religion, as a system of ritual and communication, has throughout history served as both an emissary of good and a deliverer of unspeakable evil and cruelty. But the conduit for such delivery has always been mankind. If indeed there is a God, the preponderance of historical evidence would suggest that at some point He threw his hands in the air and let us continue to fight it out like tempestuous, argumentative children.

Given religion’s innate inclination to be a force of good, can it actually be said that religion is incompatible with civilization? Perhaps it is simply the other way around.

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light through forest treesFar above the clouds we’ve seen, beyond the purview of the stratosphere and troposhpere, the cloak of the universe wraps itself around us at a temperature barely above absolute zero Kelvin.

If God is out ‘there’ in a frozen vacuum then perhaps it makes sense that evil chooses to reside alongside us, where flesh is warmed by our nearest star and spilled blood dries and stains the earth it once lived upon.

How could any incarnation of beauty and purity, of salvation and hope, possibly prevent—much less allow—innocent children to be sacrificed as prodigal lambs at the hands of something so vile and inhumane?

Why would our “God,” as Obama said yesterday, “call to him” those twenty innocent children? I believe they will find their own place in heaven, but I can no more supplant iniquity than I can explain why benevolence would decree violence upon children.

Evil, or any other explicate of a dark nature, is not only inherent to Nature itself but necessary; it provides an uneasy balance, a discord which, perhaps, acts to keep our moral compass properly tuned. But unspeakable evil is a matter which the living can only struggle to conceive of . . . unless one is the embodiment of such fathomless depravity.

The breathable atmosphere which we rely upon for our very existence is but roughly 3 miles above our heads, if that. The processes which create clouds and rain, wind and vivid sunsets, are as wondrous as the glorious space that expands forever in all directions above our little shell.

Perhaps up there, out where mankind continues to pursue answers to profound questions, is Paradise. Perhaps this existence is our close brush with Hell. If peace is ever to be achieved then it must be found within . . . not without.

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Today Ms. Denyse Bridger has been kind enough to lend me her blog and is hosting a guest post I wrote titled Can we outspend our discontent?

Thinking we need a different approach to the Christmas ‘system’? How about, at least, considering a different mind set. Trot on over to my guest post to see what I mean!

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When putting your words, thoughts, and ideas out for public consumption you hope people enjoy it, perhaps even reflect upon it a bit. With so much competing for our ever-shortening attention spans having someone read your work is an accomplishment in itself. 

Having achieved such a benchmark one must also accept that their thoughts of your work are equally as valuable as you feel your work is—good or bad, a review is important.

But good ones feel so much better .. . .

So it is that I am much pleased that my first review, by Sharon Chance at Sharon’s Garden of Books was positive. Have a look for yourself!

Thank you to Sharon and to all those who take a few moments to check out her thoughts.

Tomorrow, Hagren’s daughter, Alina, gets her Dear Santa letter published. Hope you check back for that!

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1001 First Lines book cover“Jesus, just grab me already!”

Have you ever picked up a book, started reading it, and been frustrated by how utterly inadequate the beginning is? Conversely, have you ever bought a book because the beginning absolutely affixed itself to your imagination? Anyone who reads has most likely lived both these experiences, and Scarlett Archer’s 1001 First Lines is just the recipe book to reveal your tastes.

“Recipe book?” you say to yourself. “I’m confused.” A cookbook lists ingredients, measures, cook times and temperatures—but it doesn’t actually do the work for you. It can’t tell you how the dish will taste upon your tongue. Based on experience with the ingredients you may have a fair idea of whether or not you’ll like the outcome. But what if you’re in a I’ve-never-tried-this-before mood; you can’t say for certain you’ll like it.

Likewise, Ms. Archer doesn’t do the work for you here. She gives you the tidbits, morsels, seasonings, all the stuff you need to make your own subjective decision.

Ms. Archer’s approach, initially, disappointed me; this because of the almost always dangerous practice of presupposition. I chalked up the book’s title to something metaphorical, hoping the book would be an excursion into analysis of some of the best and worst first lines published. Not so. What Archer has done, however, is given the curious reader a looking glass through which one is able to catch a glimpse of one’s deeper pockets of curiosity, to shed some light on why we are (or are not) captivated by the first words in a book.

I tried the time-tested method of reading: pick the book up and start at the beginning. I quickly found that wasn’t working. Reading 1001 First Lines is an exercise in fun, actually. A highlighter and pen became necessary complements to my journey through its pages. And here’s why . . .

At the outset I was chagrined to see that these first lines were not given the label of “bad” or “good.” But in the absence of those labels lays the beauty of her approach. I got to highlight lines I thought good, then made a note explaining why I thought it deserving. The same held true for those I felt truly bad. Therein lies the key: I don’t read the same way or with the same emotional experiences you do. Having Archer declare a given first line good or bad immediately removes from the experience all the joy or disgust we seek as readers and instead would bring it down to some manner of quantification, requiring some way to measure against a list of criterion or standards . . . and for most reading that simply can’t work. The experience is largely a function of solitude and personal willingness to suspend one’s own conceptions and hitch one’s wagon to the authors words.

For example, here’s one I feel is good:

Are you there God?

My reasons for liking it may differ from yours, but I would bet most people would say this is a good first line. Why? Who among us hasn’t, at one time or another, wondered if God was listening? The next question in a readers mind should be “Why is this character asking that strong a question?” In case you’re wondering that’s from— Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume.

Here’s another one I feel is good:

Where’s Papa going with that ax? said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

Papa clearly means to kill something . . . but what? Now you have to read on to find out.

That, in case you didn’t know, is from E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.

How about a bad one—and I’m not making this one up:

It was a dark and stormy night.

Most any teacher, instructor, professor, editor, or friend (at least a good friend) will tell you that line is so overused by amateurs it’s evolved to something well past banal and cliché and has arrived at eye-rolling awful. I (and many other kids) read this book in grade school—A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle.

A book’s cover may draw you in, catch your eye, but the meal begins when you start reading. That first line is, in many cases, a fish-or-cut-bait proposition—it snags you or it falls flat. 1001 First Lines is loaded with examples of both. Kinda fun to see these first lines, isn’t it?

Archer has classified her collection of first lines into 15 categories, from Comedy and Romance to Erotica and Biography. The more you read, the more you begin to see why certain writers are so widely read any why others seem to disappear. Want some more examples, don’t ya?

Good:

It is so appropriate to color hope yellow, like that sun we seldom saw.

Flowers In The Attic by V.C. Andrews

My note for this line: Beautiful yet haunting.

Bad:

Hello.

After Midnight by Richard Layman

My thought: It’s distractingly cardboard-ish. Surely there’s something more creative to be said.

Another good one:

Nothing ever begins.

Weaveworld by Clive Barker

Me: Cerebral, poetic, and creepy.

Not so good:

It was night again.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rathfuss

Me: Lackluster.

As with the lions share of books published now 1001 First Lines is available as an ebook. Here’s a pleasant surprise: I was told it was available digitally but I lean heavily toward “traditional” reading—you might remember it as holding an actual book in your hands and turning physical pages. “If available,” I wrote to the tour coordinator, “I would certainly prefer a hard copy for review.” And I received one. That wasn’t the surprise (although the curmudgeon in me is most grateful).

The cover is striking in its simplicity, yet as a reader its bullseye red circle immediately grabs your attention. I was told how the hard copy was produced but forgot by the time I received the book. It looks like any other professional release from a traditional publisher . . . but this was produced by Amazon’s CreateSpace. Color me surprised!

If you belong to a reading group 1001 First Lines would prove a sensational conversation piece. Part of a critique group? What better way to sharpen your skills than to bandy about some of the best and worst since Gutenberg put ink to paper? Whether reader or writer 1001 First Lines is a fascinating peek at words that grab us, and those that repel.

As readers we all know that many times the first line is long forgotten by the time you get firmly sucked into the story. 1001 First Lines is by no means an indictment of poor writing nor an apotheosis for the better examples. Nor is it a do-it-yourself manual for getting the perfect first line for your story. It’s a lot like the “serving suggestion’ image you see on food packaging—you know when you make the dish it won’t look anything like the image, but it will, ultimately, be your own.


Ready to read it? You can find 1001 First Lines at:
Amazon
Scarlett’s blog

A review copy of 1001 First Lines was kindly provided by the author, Scarlett Archer. My thanks to her and Dorothy Thompson for the opportunity to participate in the 1001 First Lines virtual tour.

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