Monday, May 31, 2010

Writing Late At Night, Questions Arise

Is writing communication,
the marking of territory,
or merely jabber to stave off loneliness
in this closed cranial cavern?

When words leap the gap we call time,
voices of people long dead speak again.
Is what they say more than
a waving hello between islands,
so we know we are sharing
experiences common to us all?

When we read, do other members
of our lonely species link through us
to each other, across a spectrum of
writers, writing, words, and voices?

Does writing bind the literate
into a greater experience of an
unknowable, isolated, yet somehow
elevated status of being?

Are each of us, those who
call themselves writers
because we write words
into sentences, stories, and songs,
seeking communion with
others like us from all times,
past, present, and future?

Write it once and it is always.
Read it once and it is yours.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cogent Points On Christianity by Christopher Hitchens

Let’s say the consensus is that our species, we, being the higher primates, homo sapiens, has been on the planet for at least 100,000 years, maybe more. Richard Dawkins thinks perhaps a quarter of a million, but I’ll take a hundred thousand.

In order to be Christian, you have to believe that, for 98,000 years our species suffered and died, most of its children dying in childbirth, most other people having a life expectancy of about 25, dying of bad teeth, famine, struggle, vicious war, suffering, misery... all of that for 98,000 years, heaven watching with complete indifference and then 2000 years ago thinks, “That’s enough of that, it’s time to intervene. The best way to do this would be to condemning someone to a human sacrifice somewhere in the less literate part of the Middle East. Let’s not appear to the Chinese, for example, where people can read and study evidence and have a civilization; let’s go to the desert and have another revelation...”

This is nonsense. It can’t be believed by a thinking person.

Why am I glad this is the case, to get to the point of the wrongness in the other sense of Christianity?

It’s because I think the teachings of Christianity are immoral.

The central one is the most immoral of all, that is the one of vicarious redemption. You can throw your sins onto somebody else, vulgarly known as scapegoating -- in fact, originating as scapegoating in the same area, the same desert.

I can pay your debt, if I love you. I can serve your term in prison, if I love you very much. I can volunteer to do that. I can’t take your sins away, because I can’t abolish your responsibility, and I shouldn’t offer to do so. Your responsibility has to stay with you. There’s no vicarious redemption.

There very probably, in fact, is no redemption at all. It’s just a part of wish thinking, and I don’t think wish thinking is good for people, either.

It even manages to pollute the central question, the word I just employed, the most important word of all, the word love, by making love compulsory, by saying you must love. You must love your neighbor as yourself, something you can’t actually do, but you’ll always fall short, so you can always be found guilty.

By saying you must love someone who you also must fear, that is to say, a supreme being, an eternal father, someone of whom you must be afraid, but you must love him, too; if you fail in this duty, you’re again a wretched sinner -- this is not mentally or morally or intellectually healthy.

And that brings me to the final objection, which is that this is a totalitarian system. If there was a god who could do all these things and demand these things of us, and who is eternal and unchanging, we would be living under a dictatorship from which there is no appeal, and one that could never change, and one that knows our thoughts and can convict us of thought crime and condemn us to eternal punishment for actions that are condemned in advance to be taking.

I could say more, but it’s an excellent thing that there’s absolutely no reason for any of it to be true.

--Christopher Hitchens, speaking off the cuff

Friday, May 28, 2010

True Violent Crime R Us

Violent crime, all the time.

Do we as a species have something wrong, or is it that violence should be accepted as natural? Maybe, like childhood, our aversion to violence is an artifact of our society. We make it worse by repressing a natural urge.

Oh, but then war becomes therapy, or at least a necessary venting, an outlet for roiling urges we can’t contain.

That would suck.

Might also be true; it rings true. There is surely an urge to kill and destroy in us. It is surely irresistible. As a species, we end up self-destructive every time we try to do anything.

We generally consider it allowable or at least constructive to sublimate our dark urges into art. It might even be the one thing keeping us from complete suicide. Species suicide is strange to contemplate but so many species have boiled off into extinction that, for all we know, it’s a common event. One almost thinks this could be a blessing if it would stop all the suffering we cause each other and the world, all the destruction.

Then we reconsider, or forget, and in forgetting neglect to take any positive steps to eliminate or even mitigate our own ferocity.

Humanity is a true crime.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What I Want Is Simple

I want such illegal, unlegal, and extra-legal crap stopped right now.

I want fascism crushed.

I want sociopaths to be isolated from society permanently.

I want corporatism crushed. I want a well-regulated, sane free market system based on rational and responsible behavior enforced by real inspections with clout behind them.

A return to the Rule of Law.

The elimination of the P.A.T.R.I.O.T.A.C.T. and RICO laws and other fascist instruments of tyranny and debasement.

I want votes to count on a one-for-one basis, meaning we must rid ourselves of the ridiculous College of Cardinals, oh, I mean the Electoral College.

I want to see the USA become a Constitutional parliamentary democracy with as many political parties as can qualify by votes participating, not this fake two party divide-and-conquer Punch & Judy Show we have now.

I want very simple, direct, concrete changes for the better, such as shrugging off Big Energy and going for tessellated, multi-grid green energy sources operated at local levels.

I want to see government of, by, and for the people, not corporations, which should NOT be considered living entities, nor be granted the rights of same in perpetuity.

I want an end to pollution, to tolerating pollution, and to ignoring pollution for profit's sake; it is not profitable to make money while destroying our habitat. Make companies responsible for doing it cleanly, or not at all. Period.

I want to see us relax our war mongering into a defensive posture in case anyone figures out how to wade armies across either pond to attack us; otherwise, end Empire now.

I want universal single payer health care for ALL US citizens, period. Free universal health care paid for by the taxes and other revenues freed up by dumping the Military-Industrial Complex, which right now spends more of our money than all else combined.

I want an end to the Cult of Secrecy and transparent government doing what government is supposed to do, promote the general welfare and provide for the common good.


Oh, and I want a sandwich, it's lunch time. Which reminds me: No more GMO or High Fructose Corn Syrup-infused crap should be allowed to be called, or sold as, food. We need to return to real food, a wide variety of local foods grown locally, and a huge variety of other foods shipped seasonally, all organic, all tasty, healthy, and sustainable.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Unburnable Books

Well, the iPad has come and it has not killed off Kindle. Far from it, and for a simple reason: Each occupies a separate niche. The Kindle features electronic paper made to read with the same ease as ink on paper. It does not carry the eyestrain of reading a lot of words on a glowing screen.

The iPad offers a screen, so it’s excellent for surfing the web, email, texting, and other computer activities. And all those apps make it amazingly fun and versatile, too. Anyone with an iPod Touch knows how addictive and even indispensable they quickly become; an iPad is an iPod Touch writ large.

A Kindle, on the other hand, is meant to snuggle in with for a long stint of reading. It’s not about those other flashier entertainments and distractions. It delivers words for reading, and it does this remarkably well. With added features, such as on board dictionary, the ability to search for words and phrases throughout the text, note taking, and archiving, it makes reading potentially more rewarding, or at least handier.

How many of us actually put a book down, get up, grab a dictionary, look up an unfamiliar word, say, “Hmph, how about that?”, put the dictionary back, return to our reading chair, pick up our book, find the page we were on, and keep reading? More likely we’ll make a mental note to look up an unfamiliar word while guessing at it from context, then forget about it, or frustrate ourselves later trying to remember how to spell it or find the exact spot it occurred. They’re never where we thought they were, either, as if they slip and slide around to evade us.

Reading on a Kindle, if you encounter one of those odd words -- and of course there are precious few among such brilliant readers as us -- you can immediately find out what it means, in the dictionary of your choice, and continue reading, all without disturbing yourself. With a few flicks of finger or thumb, the press of a couple buttons, and some lip-reading as you sound out the grotesque diphthongs involved, or worm through the etymology, you’re free to keep reading, this time knowing what is being talked about.

A Kindle allows a reader to carry up to 3600 books in a slender, light, and comfortable-to-use unit about the size of a clipboard. If you read a book a day, that’s about a decade’s worth right there. Do the math. And imagine the clutter you won’t have.

Remember when CDs began fading in favor of MP3 and other digital download formats? Kids wonder why their parents own all those silver disks or bother with trying to store and find them. That’s books now, too.

A single battery charge for Kindle, which takes under 4 hours, lasts up to two weeks. It operates on a G3 network, too, so you can download more reading material, or browse the Kindle store at Amazon, pretty much where ever you might be. You can also receive updates of your favorite periodicals, too, no matter where you roam. In many instances you can also start reading books on Kindle before they’re available in the dwindling number of brick-and-mortar stores.

Oh, and yes, some books are free downloads, and others, especially classics, come a remarkable bargains, such as the complete works of Charles Dickens, over 200 works, for under five dollars. Yes, they’re in public domain and available free at various sites online, but a token payment for formatting is not too much to pay for such convenience.

Please note, you can read or listen to books downloaded onto iPod Touch or iPhone, or other phones, these days, too. Someone I know uses low contrast at night to read on an iPhone, and reports no trouble. This is fine, but the topic here is digital readers, electronic paper, designed so that you’re not squinting into the glare of a backlit screen.

Not being familiar with all platforms, I will not debate the merits of Kindle versus Sony Reader or Nook. I will say any electronic paper book reader is probably better than being left behind as the world of books goes digital. Adjust now and save time later.

That this will affect publishers goes without saying. Suddenly writers wonder what publishers can offer that they can’t either do for themselves or do without. Copyediting can be accomplished by sufficiently determined groups of friends and supporters. Layout and format can be done on any desktop computer. Printing, binding, storing, shipping, and distribution, as well as wheedling shelf space at retail level, all becomes obviated by using electrons instead of atoms. Advertising, which, face it, publishers do only for planned Best Sellers, and then mostly grudgingly, ineffectually, and in the lamest, most decrepit ways possible, can be accomplished by viral buzz and various online social networking campaigns. Word of mouth was always the best way to sell a book anyway, and these days it’s possible for a Tweet or Face Book status update to reach millions within a few minutes.

What’s left? Royalties?

Kindle reportedly offers 70% royalty if a writer puts a book into PDF or other Kindle-friendly format and sells it directly through them. At that rate, no publisher can compete, and has nothing much to offer anyhow.

Oh, sure, you can still deal with publishers for the hard copy editions you may want to sell, but that suddenly looks like the second tier consideration, as far as making money and a splash is concerned. Agents take note; you need to calibrate your sales pitch accordingly.

It is not there yet, of course. Considerably more hard copy than electronic books sell, but it is changing fast, and it won’t be long until the headlines trumpet e-books as dominant. It will be for good reasons.

Kindle and Sony Reader are the leaders right now. Who knows what might come along to dazzle readers? Until we find out, Kindle and Sony Reader are the best bets, and they are well worth a look.

Can you OCD types carry a few thousand books every time you leave the house? Now, yes you can. Easily.

Oh, and fascists please note: These new kinds of books are unburnable.

Give an electronic reader a try soon.

What have you got to lose but the need to find more shelf space?

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