Sunday, November 9, 2014

A little scribing bubble

There is no point to tile showers other than boosting the immune system. You can’t get them completely clean. Ever. It’s maddening. It’s all the trenches and pock marks. There is no easy way to address them on a macro level. I want to mix equal parts ammonia, chlorine and gasoline together, toss it in my stall and light it up.

A brush gets into the crannies. It is tedious. You scrub one place, it looks clean, so you move on to another. You scrub that until it looks clean and now that last spot isn’t as nice as you thought. You go back and around, scrubbing and scrubbing and best you can hope for is a loved one eventually pulls your fume-filled body out by your ankles.

And that is what it is like writing a novel. In case you were wondering. Except, on occasion, someone says they liked the book. No one has ever complemented me on my shower.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Campaign Ads are not Free Speech

You don’t have to be a writer to feel political ads are an affront to all that is holy. They should be excommunicated. I’m a firm believer in sanctity of the First Amendment. I mean, hey – it’s number one. The victor. It is obviously bested the others in feats of necessity. But it is not exactly what people think it is and that is never more painfully apparent than on the days leading up to a national election.

The First Amendment to the US Constitution does a lot of things: gives us the right to assemble, petition the government, keeps Congress from favoring one religion over another. The First doesn’t create free speech, it protects it from the clawing hands of our elected officials. “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” See, right there. Freedom of speech exists and Congress is not allowed to mess with it. That’s why the details of this freedom are not spelled out in the Bill of Rights. And why political ads have infected it.

Your are born with the right to speak freely. Running ads is a different right altogether. As a society we’ve decided that truth in advertising is a valuable commodity. Free markets work better with reliable communication. If I say my tonic is going to fill in your bald spots, we the people have created verification methods to ensure we’re not all throwing our money away all the time.

At least with hair tonic. Not, it would seem, with politicians. They are permitted to stretch, bend and falsify all through their ads. It is up to the consumer to weigh value and fact-check. The cost of doing that renders a cost onto the speech. The fact that everyone agrees that political ads are untrustworthy – and therefore worthless – makes them even worse. Now all they do is reinforce preconceived notions. They encourage lies to fester and grow. Not holding political ads to the same standards we do toothpaste, cars and sneakers renders this kind of speech far from free. The price tag is the cost of our democracy.

Just in: Hyndai and Kia are finned $745 million dollars for stretching the truth about gas mileage on some of their cars. This, on the day before midterm elections.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Remedial education

Max the eight-year-old got a note home from his teacher commenting on some bad handwriting. Mine. I’m required every night to sign between one and one hundred various sheets, forms, tests results and affidavits stating that I have listened to him read aloud. I don’t mind doing this.  In fact, I kind of like it. It forces me to sit down for a moment and see what he’s doing in school. It’s not like he’s ever going to ask for my help with his homework. He’s better then me in math and his vocabulary already exceeds mine. I’m not boasting about the kid, either. Just bearing witness to my decline.

Anyway, the note home bugged me. Then I thought maybe it shouldn’t. If you're on the driving range and a pro offers you a couple of tips, you don’t tell her to mind her own freakin’ business, right? Which is why I’m going to third grade next week, to audit a class. Max’s teacher wants me to write better, I’m going to give her the chance to show me how.  

Hope I still fit in the desk and really hope its pizza day.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Cautionary Tale for Cautionary tales

Two children wander away from home and find a house made of candy. I’ll stop right there. You’re getting sick of grim and dour stories, kids fighting kids and such. You’ve been on that The Road and you want a detour. Fine. But heed my warning: We need every witch and wolf we have.  It’s how we make the real world better.

I am not insensitive to the concern that fiction just keeps getting darker and duller. I love the Hieroglyph Project out of Arizona State, for instance, and its devotion to optimistic science fiction. But when jewelers want to show you a how sparky a diamond tennis bracelet is, they put it up against a black background. Chiaroscuro. There is no light without dark. Our oldest stories – you and me – the ones we were told first – never started with triumph. Sometimes they never got there at all. They were tales of caution and I’m not sure they should ever be outgrown.

Outside of fandom there persists a myth that science fiction should be predictive; it needs to perform some parlor trick to prove its worth. This has never been the case. Mary Shelly wrote about the fears stirred by science. H.G. Wells wrote about imperialism, the amorality of progress and man’s ability, or lack thereof, to overcome his nature. Even Jules Vern, often touted as a visionary and futurist, did not sit down and simply describe rockets or submarines that might one day exist. He put them in stories that put them to use, by humans, for better or for worse.

1984 was not written because George Orwell thought the world would become a totalitarian nightmare. He wrote the book so it would not. Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison – and the more famous rendition,Soylent Green – pondered global warming, over population and decline in value of any surplus – even if the surplus is people. The author, and the auteur, wanted the world to veer off its course.

A book as wry and breezy as John Scalzi’s Red Shirts hints at dangers before us. Popular entertainment can desensitize us; make us callus. Superficiality can devalue life. Red Shirts won a Hugo Award for Best Novel because its real science fiction and real science fiction doesn’t come with a warning. It is a warning.

There is power in positive writing. Kim Stanley’s Robinson’s Mars trilogy, Allen Steele’s Coyote books and Karl Schroeder’s Virga sequence all show us where we can go and all the amazing things we can accomplish. These stories are valuable and we need them. They speak to the explorer in all of us. They tell us to plunge into the woods. Be clever and drop breadcrumbs (if carbs are the only tech you have.) If you want to stay alive, though, you might want to read a story about witches first. The tales can be a little dark, but illuminating, too.

Science fiction at its best doesn’t show us the future, it keeps us on our best possible path. Signs can really help. Like: Scorched Earth Ahead or Falling Asteroids. We may want to avoid those.

Monday, October 13, 2014

I am not Divergent

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Read this book because my teenage daughter liked it so much and, well, it's not like we're going to talk about boys and stuff. My son and I can, and do, talk superheroes all day, so I wanted to share something with the girl.  I liked it much more than I thought I might. There are moments of insight and innovation that surprised me. I can certainly understand the pull with a younger crowd, especially the fairer sex.  The book exploits common middle-American fears because Veronica understands them so well.

In the end, I am not Divergent.  I like the book like many, many others.

View all my reviews

Friday, October 3, 2014

I hate Nickelodeon

My hatred for Nickelodeon TV continues to grow, because they continue to feed it. Legend of Korra is not just the network’s best show, it is the best animated show on television and one of the best shows on TV period – no special classifications, pigeon holes or handicaps. I’m not kidding. The class and balance of this show puts it up there with Game of Thrones, House of Cards and even Breaking Bad. Seriously. And what does Nick do with such a slice of wonder – they promote it with less time than public service announcements and resign it to the Web.

Someone at Nick thinks they’re fighting the future. They feel the decline of cable and the surge in demand-responsive media. I get that. I also get the importance of timing. The convenience of watching shows online is indisputable – unless the show has a communal value. Unless you want to sit around and watch the airbenders as a family.

 Korra is one of very, very few shows on TV that my wife, teenage daughter, eight-year-old son and I will watch together. Nick wants us all to grab an iPad, don ear buds and watch it separately.

 So I hate them.

Monday, September 29, 2014

No ground for boots

For the nation’s well being, we should have a cabinet post dedicated to the efficacy of language in America. Secretary of Usage would be fine with me and I really need to be the first appointee.

First item: Boots on the ground. No one is allowed to use this phrase. Not only has it gone limp due to a trite infection, it never should have been allowed out of military briefing rooms to begin with. If a sergeant in the Army says it, fine. He or she has presumably had their boots on hostile ground. Anyone else is turning a person into footwear. When you order a bunch of 18 to 24 year-olds into Syria, you’re asking young people to stand at the wrong end of assault rifles. You are not asking them to get their Timberlands soiled.

Second item: Game changer. If you are not actually changing a game, the phrase is disallowed. For the record, politics is not a game. War is not a game. A game is fun and the consequences do not include dismemberment, death or the collapse of the world economy.

Third item: At the end of the day. The chances of this phrase being used to reference an actual end or an actual day are so minuscule that the phrase is forbidden. Yes, the English language revels in metaphor, but this one is a verbal tick. It is six words to say ‘ultimately’.

Thank you for your time. God bless America.