Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A swift kick in the ass

I can never decide which party I hate more: the Republicans for their policies, or the Democrats for acting like they're significantly different. I've said it before and will say again that I despise the major parties and despise the process by which we are so generously given the choice between picking the good cop or the bad cop.

I wonder how long before the Democrats get their panties in a wad over Ralph Nader announcing a run for presidency. Now, I'm not a starry-eyed Naderite. I cannot vouch for any purity of intention in his previous campaigns, and indeed, I'm suspicious by nature of any person who aspires to one of if not the highest office in the Western world. That said, even if I don't vote for the guy, I applaud him for the perspective he brings to the race and for rightfully calling out the parties on their little bait-and-switch game.

. . .

I had more to say than that, but lost it in transmission between brain and keyboard. Or brain, I think that's where the problem is. I know I haven't been updating as faithfully as I used to, and I apologize for the accompanying lack of content and quality. I'm trying to get back into the groove, but I pretty much have to catch an "up" day or milk an otherwise insignificant incident for (dubious) blogability factor, and those are both fleeting as of late. I guess you could say I'm trying to work through a rough spot in my personal life.

National Blog Posting Month, NaBloPoMo has apparently gone year 'round, and there's now an option to pick and choose months. I'll try to post daily in March, see if I can at least lift this writer's damper.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Reading Orwell in an election year

A few excerpts from George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language":

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.


In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a "party line." Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestoes, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases -- bestial atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder -- one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker's spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.


The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics." All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer.


I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don't know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase -- some jackboot, Achilles' heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse -- into the dustbin, where it belongs.
The full text of the essay is available here.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Multimedia Friday: With Honor

I'm a lyrics type of gal; when I listen to music, lyrics are one of the first things to jump out at me. Good lyrics will make me re-consider something I might not otherwise touch with a 10-foot pole. Music with good lyrics will sometimes send me off in directions that challenge even my most musically open-minded friends.

"That . . . doesn't sound like music," my friend said, upon hearing one such band, a hardcore punk group called Comeback Kid.

I think she had the same assessment of With Honor, also hardcore punk. I liked the albums because they made me "want to light something on fire." Loud, fast, obnoxious--and messages that meant something. Some of With Honor's songs run together in terms of musical quality, but the lyrics make them worth the listen. "These songs that we're singing are more than moving on, / They're the only ways we're making sense of a world that's small enough to shake, / But it's still strong enough to break us down." Another song, "In A Bottle," includes these verses: "When did life assume the shape of a TV screen, / A work-horse work week, and commute in between? / As we masquerde the days we waste, / Love's stuck on dusty shelves with feelings we forsake. // Before you know it, they'll be selling us blood to bleed and air to breathe, / Along with pre-packed hopes and dreams that always stay at arm's length, out of reach."

My favorite song, though, is "Like Trumpets." I include, with the knowledge that it may sound like incomprehensible shouting over a cacophony of noise to the uninitiated ear,
a link to the lyrics. Enjoy, or don't.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Re-charging my batteries

I went to a poetry reading tonight, and it did me a world of good. Why? Because it puts a human face to the daunting concept of "writer." I can read words on paper and in electronic media, thousands of words, millions of words, and they're wonderful. I enjoy poetry and finding poetry buried within prose, little gems of descriptions and breathtaking metaphors that leave me saying, I could never do that.

But to see a writer in person, telling about the inspiration behind a poem or set of poems, hearing them read the words the way they sounded in their heads when they composed them, is humanizing. One of the poets tonight wasn't one of the best readers I've heard, but his poems had some playful humor and interesting recurring themes. He even brought a visual aid for one. He seemed nervous, barely pausing between poems and explanations of poems.

The second poet, more well known, was slightly absent-minded and not quite over the recent burst of fame that has come his way. He read well and had interesting anecdotes about the inspiration for and previous reactions to the poems he read. He explained one poem, an anecdote involving a quote attributed to Dennis Hoffman, then remembered another poem he intended to read, after which he would return to the originally intended poem. In his absent-mindedness, he was as human as the nervous poet.

It was more than their minor foibles that encouraged me, though. I was listening to their subjects and wordplay. I could do that, I thought. Often, poetry involves the mundane, presented in a new way, a scene from a small town, perhaps, or an incident from a childhood game. In poetry, moreso than prose, I think, there's license to play with the words and embellish details, to let fancy unleash a series of surreal or even downright bizarre imagery.

It's all a matter of being open to those opportunities and recording them. My biggest barrier is sheer laziness. But I've been thinking lately, and in the midst of a burst of inspiration that's resulted in the beginning of stories and poems, I realized that whatever I do professionally needs to relate to words in some way or else provide me with enough fodder to scribble words on my spare time. There's this nagging little impulse that says to get back to writing more seriously and go on for more grad school, get a terminal degree, succumb to academia's talons and teach writing in some capacity. I don't know. There are other paths, but this one shrieks the loudest.

It all goes back to words, and tonight's poetry reading added more fuel to the fire of the writing impulse I can't--and don't want to--shake. There are too many unfinished documents on my computer and far, far too many documents that have yet to be started. I may not be the world's best writer, but like any other carbon-based humanoid, I have potential if I work at it.

Now playing: Hot Water Music - She Takes It So Well
via FoxyTunes

Monday, February 18, 2008

Starry, starry night

It's been a strange day for weather today, beginning with snow--big, wet fluffy flakes in the morning that gave way to sunshine and slush in the afternoon. I don't know if we're in for more precipitation, but there are plenty of clouds still around indicating that may be the case.

I don't realize I'm doing it most of the time, but I have a habit, when I come home after dark, of looking up at the sky. I'm in one of my metropolis' numerous suburbs, far enough away from both the urban core and the suburbs' ubiquitous shopping centers that I can usually see the stars and spot the big dipper. It's cool, I think, to be able to live in a city and still see the stars.

It was disorienting tonight, though. I tipped my head back, eyes to the sky, caught a glimpse of the moon--moving rapidly across the sky. The moon, moving? The potential of it seemed, in the words of Cormac McCarthy, "calamitous beyond reckoning." That, and I think I need to set aside the post-apocalyptic science fiction for a while. I blinked, re-focused. Not the moon, the clouds. The clouds were moving like swift silver shadows across the deep blue velvet of sky. With my eye anchored to the moon, it stayed still. I looked away, looked back, unfocused, and again the moon moved alarmingly fast across the sky. The stars, too, swirling like glitter. I re-focused on the moon. It stayed still.

Amazing--a bit of focus and will and you can control the cosmos.

It's a cool optical illusion.

Now playing: Strung Out - Vampires
via FoxyTunes

Friday, February 15, 2008

Multimedia Friday: Taylor Mali

I'm still in the mood for humor, so I present the following skit by Taylor Mali: "The Impotence of Proofreading." It's hysterical if you've ever had something mangled by spell check, and even more riotous if you've read any amount of student writing.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

V-Day equality

As I was watching TV the other night, I sat through god-only-knows-how-many Valentine's Day themed commercials. Diamonds, perfume, gemstones, cars, jewels, cards, rubies, and other (usually sparkly) ways for couples to express their love. At some point, I noted that the couples were always, always heterosexual (and it's usually the guy presenting the gift, but I won't go off on a tangent about the inequality of stereotypical gender roles). And then, naturally, I thought Hallmark and Zales and the like are really missing out on a good niche market.

"Ewww...," one person said to my idea.

And that's exactly why the companies don't, and that's exactly why there's enough momentum for states to outlaw gay marriage.

Whether our values shape our consumerism or our consumerism our values, introducing gay couples in V-day advertising would be a prime way to present a human side and may give more traction to their more mainstream acceptance.

For example, Hallmark could advertise their musical cards with, say, Steve presenting Gary with a song by, oh, the Village People or the Backstreet boys. For the lesbians, music by Russian pop duo t.A.T.u.

Or Zales, the jeweler, could have effeminate Josh present the buff Aaron with a diamond earring stud. (I understand these are stereotypes, but we need some cultural shorthand to show in a 30 second slot that these are not just two really, really good platonic friends.) If it aired later in the evening, they could slyly and briefly cut to Aaron's hand on Josh's ass as they embrace.

Kay, another jeweler, could have butch Cathy giving the platinum blonde Lisa a pendant. "Thank you, sweetie," Lisa says, giving her girlfriend a (chaste) hug and peck on the cheek. Finally, the commercial shows them walking off down a twilit street, fingers intertwined, with Lisa's head practically resting on Cathy's shoulder.

If we take the un-cynical view that Valentine's Day is about love, romantic love, absolute twoo wuv, then why not show love in its different forms? And if you cynically view it as a gigantic marketing ploy, second to Christmas in card sales, well, exploit, exploit, exploit, baby. And if we make any headway in dispelling prejudices, it'll be a nifty bonus.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Notes from your friendly neighborhood serial killer

"You're like a serial killer," my friend told me. "You keep souvenirs."

The souvenir in question was fairly innocuous: a reflector from a bicycle. It wasn't the first thing I had nicked today, and today certainly wasn't the first time I had collected mementos from my exploits.

Atop one bookcase in my room sit a couple of branches collected in full autumnal splendor, now faded to brittle remnants of their glory. I nicked them on a hike with another friend, along with a sprig of a branch I meant to research. The shrub it came from was unlike any other I had ever seen: the bark was green and twirled around it was a fine strip of bark that stands out from the twig, mohawk-like; at the end were delicate vibrant orange berries.

The orange berry spring sits atop the bookcase in the living room, next to another souvenir: a pine branch with a couple cones, taken from the park down my street, salvaged carefully from the otherwise goose-contaminated ground.

Finally, the orange berry twig and pine sprig were joined by my latest souvenir. No, not the bicycle reflector. I'm not even sure why I kept it and may toss it at some point. The only reason I picked it up was because I brought a bag along to pick up litter (finds there included a double cheesburger wrapper, a container from nightcrawlers, part of a cup, a piece of cushioning for packages, a piece of cardboard, an empty airplane-sized vodka bottle, an abandoned tube of chap-stick, and several remnants of plastic bags) and I first assumed it to be trash. The souvenir now atop the bookcase is another branch, a delicate sprig containing nothing but a handful of tiny fuschia berries. I tucked it in the clasp of my coat so I could have my hands free to mess with my camera and would leave it there if I weren't afraid of losing or abusing it in my day-to-day activities.

I guess I do have a record of taking things from places I've been. For a long time, I had a pinecone sitting on yet another bookshelf, which I finally gave to a friend who appreciated it. I can't go to a beach without taking any shells I can find, and if there are no shells, I usually fill my pockets with sand-smoothed stones. I'm not even safe to take to a playground; there are usually interesting rocks there, too. And I'd steal from my own grandmother; I have half a geode from the small patch of dirt outside her condo.

I thought those tendencies were indications of mild kleptomania, but I guess it's just my serial killer tendencies coming to light. Yep, I'm just your average camera-toting, tree-hugging serial killer. I even take pictures of the scenes and keep them to look over at my leisure.

You must admit, there is a certain violence to the composition of this picture, which
reveals a lot about the inner workings of the photographer's mind....

Friday, February 8, 2008

A pill for every ill, it seems

In an attempt to bring some content back to this site, I tooled around a few of my geekily-interesting sites (they'd be the links under the "get informed" heading on the right hand side) to see what was going on in the world. There's always the election, but I've been pissed about that for the last few weeks and haven't quite worked the "frothing at the mouth with rage" elements out of that post yet...

So I gravitated toward the less overtly political side--Live Science, Arts and Letters Daily, SciTech Daily. Ah, SciTech yielded this gem from National Geographic: "Early Birds, Night Owls: Blame Your Genes." A study found that yes indeed, genetics affected people's schedules. Fairly obvious, it seems, but hey, sometimes we need science to prove the obvious.

What got me was some info at the end of the article:

The research may lead to new treatments for people suffering from sleep disorders, the researchers said.

"Such treatments could potentially be used to reset a patient's 24-hour cycle to more sociable hours, so they wouldn't find themselves awake watching TV in the wee hours."

This would probably be done with drugs that target the circadian clock pathway, Brown said.

It's quite a leap to go from wired sleep patterns to "sleep disorder," I thought. So I checked the authority of all known knowledge: Wikipedia. Sleep disorders include things like teeth grinding, night terrors, sleep apnea, sleepwalking. OK, sleep walking, sure. Night terrors, it's possible. Or this: delayed sleep phase syndrome is described as "a chronic disorder of the timing of sleep, peak period of alertness, hormonal and other rhythms. People with DSPS tend to fall asleep well after midnight and also have difficulty waking up in the morning."

Yep, it's a syndrome, along with shyness, caffeinism, oppositional defiant disorder. I could name more ridiculous "syndromes," but I don't have a copy of the DSM-V at hand. A few years ago, I had time to kill between classes and spent the time in the library (social avoidance syndrome?). The reference section had any number of fascinating topics from mythology to psychology. At the time, I flipped through the psychological diagnostic manual and realized I could diagnose myself with approximately half of the disorders within its pages.

I don't mean to suggest that there are no such things as mental disorders; I know enough people with depression and a range of other problems to say otherwise. But when we're at the point where there's a pill and a treatment for any behavior that deviates however slightly from the dominant paradigm, I think we need to pause and consider the ramifications (the Boston Tea Party would have been a prime act of oppositional defiance disorder, wouldn't it? And that American Revolution. Pity it was so long ago; a pill could've quelled that impulse nicely). There are points at which such behaviors do interfere with daily living (I could probably easily land a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder, and my anxiety has gotten in my way by spells, but I can work through them with some--OK, a lot--of effort and much trembling of the hands), but I think it's dangerous to be so quick to medicate. Pills can easily become crutches if they're allowed, or worse still, maintainers of a predetermined status quo.

Besides, the world needs its night owls. Life doesn't just shut down at 10 p.m. We can't all be extroverts; someone has to listen. And if we're going to label caffeine as addiction worthy, I'd like to see Television Addiction added to the list of diagnosable disorders. And I hope they never find a pill for "oppositional defiance disorder." That just sounds like something straight out of Orwell or Huxley.
Now playing: Lars Frederiksen & The Bastards - 1%
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Can the election be over already, plz?

Look, call me Cassandra, but I can already tell you who will win the election: someone with an inside edge in Washington who knows how to pander to cameras and populist sentiment whilst working hand in hand to promote their favorite corporate lobbyist.

It's that simple, there's no need for all this hoopla--the commercials, the junk mail, the news "coverage," and the polls. Oi, those polls.

My first encounter with polling was in 2004, the first presidential election I was able to vote in. A woman was going door-to-door and just caught me on my way out. She was clearly Republican; all her questions were about Republicans. The first was "Do you support the President?" Loaded much? Yes, and you're a good Amurrkan, no, and you're disloyal. After a pause I answered, "I don't support his policies" and watched as she checked the "no" box.


This time round, two have caught me on the phone. So far. It's a long way to November, after all. The first was a Republican pollster. He explained each question; the first was which candidate I would support if the election were held tomorrow. Before I knew which party he was polling for, I asked if there was a "none of the above" option. He chuckled; I ended up selecting the "Not planning on voting" option. The other questions, to their credit, weren't that loaded: which three of a list of issues were of most importance to me, and which of a range of neutrally worded options described my stance on Iraq?

Then, a Democratic pollster called, asking first if I supported So-and-so for governor. I replied that I wasn't familiar enough with his positions to make that call yet. Then, my ever favorite question: Which party do I identify with--Democrat or Republican? Argh. I asked, "Is there a neither option?" "Independent." So why not have that as an option, you nimrods?

Even though I'm not planning on voting in either the primaries or the big one in November (more on that in another post), I will answer the pollsters when they come around. I don't know what they do with their results, but I will register my voice as a discontented one.

Nine more months of this nonsense is a long time. It makes the prospect of going off to live in an isolated cabin with no connection to the outside world mighty tempting.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Multimedia Friday: Dane Cook

I was searching for something amusing the other night, which prompted me to search for Dane Cook videos on Youtube. Ah yes, that did the job. Man's hysterical. He's a bit over the top by spells, and some may find his language coarse, but the man's a performer and he comments on a lot of things we all recognize: the old-school Kool-Aid commercials, the creepy guy at work, the DMV... He takes potshots at atheists and Catholic Mass. And I suppose it would be utterly classless for me to admit that I found this pretty funny. Well, I did.

But his brain ninja skit took the cake. Here's why women win fights, according to Dane Cook:

. . . Blogging's been a bit off lately. I've been a bit off lately. Hope to be back on course again soon. Bear with me.