Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Poem: 73 Seconds

[Wrote this in 1996, 10 years after the Challenger Accident.  It's one of those "Where were you when..." moments that captures and defines a generation.  I'm glad we haven't had one since 9/11. It's annoying, I work with people now who weren't even thought of when we lost Challenger.  It makes me feel old.]

73 Seconds

73 seconds seems so little
to shackle a country to its soil.
So little for a fraction
of a machine to freeze,
to thaw, to expand, to explode.
Barely a minute goes by, 
The Lightship by Atilla Hejja
dreams made real while feeling 
3 G's escaping Nature's 
forces.  The Challenger was caught,
for those few moments, by the
cold January morning, by the
cameras of the media, my the 
minds of every dreamer. 

This dreamer remembers,
being called away from a 4th grade class,
led to a tornado shelter, to a TV, 
to the replays, tragic replays.
No catharsis from the endless
chorus of reporters
only questions of why? 

How to explain the end of a dream, to
schools filled with students, to 
witness a death not just of 7,
but of a minute part of each of us.
How to come home, staring at the news,
hour after hour, counting the seconds,
and feel the nation stop       and take a breath
to find what it had lost. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ben & Jerry's, Bob Dylan, Bill Cosby

My opinion on celebrities being involved in politics (or anything else) is that their work on the field, or on stage, or on screen, or in the recording studio, is absolutely independent of the celebrity in question. I absolutely love folk music, and Bob Dylan, and groups like Coldplay and The Decemberists, but they're all liberals and some have actively campaigned for the Democrat party. I don't care... I will listen to them anyway, even sing (in Peter Paul and Mary's case) anti-war songs and songs about peace and brotherhood and all that, because the work of art is separate from the often current political arena. (There are a couple of exceptions, those that gush politics. I loved John Mayer's first mainstream album, but then his album quality went downhill and his third was almost exclusively anti-Bush, so....)

But that doesn't apply just to singers. I've had people tell me they won't eat Ben & Jerry's ice cream because they believe in Gay rights. Good... more for me to eat. If the product they make is superior in quality (not to mention delicious), they could fornicate with goats and I wouldn't care.

Case in point... Consider Bill Cosby. Let's assume that everything that all these women have said are true about him, and he has an uncontrollable desire to sexually assault drugged dates. And obviously he hasn't handled it well, and he should retire and get out of the limelight. Now, go back and watch episodes of the Cosby Show, or his stand up routines. Hilarious! Insightful! Masterful work! To me, his art is separate from him as a person. And years from now, after he dies and everything is forgiven (which usually happens), the issues he faces now will be an asterisk (although a damning one) on his life, but people will still gush about how he has changed their lives.

Because in the end, I don't care about the politics, about who is married to whom and who voted for Obama and who didn't.  I really don't even care about the actions that people did in the past (although it doesn't speak well for the people involved, and it does hurt their effect on people.)  Imagine all the young people who, in the 1960's and 70's, aspired to be a running back just like O.J. Simpson.  How many running backs, some of whom are now probably hold records at colleges and maybe in Halls of Fame someplace, looked up to Simpson as a role model and emulated his style of play on the field? The fact that O.J. (probably) killed his ex-wife and is now in jail for robbery doesn't detract from the positive effect his football career had on other people.  We watch the Naked Gun movie with Leslie Neilsen and laugh, even though Simpson is the comedy sidekick.

It's what effects me that I care about.  It's the times when we sat in the living room of our Oklahoma City house and watched Bill Cosby Himself on HBO and laughed so hard that we couldn't eat the dinners on the television trays.  It's about the time when, alone at Georgia College, the music of Peter Paul and Mary spoke to me, even though they were liberal activists (and I going to meetings of the College Republicans), and in past years Peter Yarrow was convicted of making sexual advanced toward a then 14 year old girl (he didn't know it at the time and was later pardoned by Carter).  It's about the amazing taste of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, especially the caramel core flavor with the rich caramel cream right through the center.... so good!!

I understand the idea behind not buying something because you don't believe in the same things as the maker, to underscore some point by affecting them financially.  I guess to me it's more about my happiness (short term or otherwise) than some statement I might make by not buying something. I enjoy the ice cream, I have cravings for Chick-fil-a's Milkshakes (usually on a Sunday), I find music that I like, even though their political beliefs are different... it doesn't matter to me.  Would we have the Mona Lisa torn down and destroyed because of Leonardo da Vinci's supposed erotic relationships with his male students?  Do we decry the works of Lewis Carroll because his known attraction to little girls? Of course, these examples are in the past.  Something tells me that, years from now, when Bill Cosby is years deceased, and the accusations have long been silenced with money, someone will find his comedic works languishing on Youtube, and they will laugh, and he will be treasured once again.  Is it right? I don't know.  But I do know that his performances are worth keeping, outside of whatever he himself has done.  Let us praise the work, even while the artist is punished.  Let us see the beauty in a song or a painting, even if we don't agree with those that made it.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Book Review: Safehold by David Weber

It is truly an astonishing sensation to be delivered into the playground of someone's mind.  To watch as the person takes the dough, shapes a world, creates everything in that world, molds it into existence.  In essence, he is emulating God.  I know I've used that idea many times, and it is no more true than reading David Weber's Safehold Series.  The first book is titled Off Armageddon Reef.  I actually purchased the audiobook a few years ago and just sat it on my shelf, never really getting around to it.  It languished there, moving from shelf to shelf just to get it out of the way of other books I collected and haven't read yet.  And then last year, when I needed something to keep me awake as I drove to Dallas, Texas to an interview, to begin a new chapter in my life, I brought along the 25 CD set and immersed myself in the scenery of the interstate, and the scenery of Safehold.

Briefly, Safehold is the last remaining planet that is home to the Human Race. Destroyed by an alien race called the Gbaba, who could detect any technological power sources coming from any planet mankind should try and hide in, the Terran Federation decided that the only way to survive was to create a world where technology would be non-existent.  In other words, mankind would be put back into medieval times.  In order to keep things this way for the centuries needed to make sure the alien race would leave Terran space, the creators of this world made a religion (with themselves as Gods and Archangels) that specifically forbid innovation.  It is to this world that Merlin Athrawes awakes from a 900 year old hibernation.  He becomes, basically, Martin Luther, and challenges the Church of God Awaiting, albeit more subtly. 

As I said, Safehold is David Weber's playground.  He has written many more novels that take place in other worlds, in other universes, with other authors, but this one he's written alone, and I get the feeling that this world is his to become a Clockmaker God.  In other words, he created Safehold, with the rules and religion and people and circumstances, and then he lets it run.  The action comes as he sees it, as would happen naturally.  The conversations and innovations come slowly, over time, and he's done a magnificent job so far.  There are currently 7 books, with book 8 coming out September 8th, 2015. I can't wait for book 8 to arrive, so I can continue the journey through Safehold.

So now that I've gushed about the series, which is great for Sci-fi, Fantasy, Historical, and Military book lovers alike, here are the problems with the series.  First off, the series is *his* playground, so there's no editing of lengthy and sometimes boring conversations about weapon builds, historical and religious descriptions of the character's ancestors, etc... but while reading the books, you must realize that this is *his* world, and that to change it to suit his readers would go against what I feel is almost a work done as a writing exercise.  I think that Weber creates some of his other books to make money, to exercise his craft, to share his worlds with others, but for Safehold, it is Weber's world to tinker with, and we are simply along for the ride.  The main evidence I see of this is in the book structures.  There are no typical climaxes and then resolutions of each book, simply a continuation of the world from one book to the next, as if you could combine the whole saga into one long tome.   Most authors have these worlds, ones where you can exist inside the world if you want, but it's the author's work, and he or she will do whatever it is they want to do.  For Anne McCaffrey, Pern was that realm, although she had others.  Tolkien always had Middle Earth, and that was his sole realm-creation.  Even for fantasy writers, where they might have more than one series, I think there's always one that they feel most at home.  I know I could easily live inside Pern, or Middle Earth, and now Safehold.

The second major problem is that, having seen the inside of the books, I couldn't read them anyway. I say this because David Weber has a very annoying habit in this book of replacing vowels with "y's". For instance, the antagonist of the book is "Zhaspahr Clyntahn" and his second in command, "Wyllym Rayno." The names, only having looked at them in the book, would kill me.  I can't stand reading Fantasy novels where, by the time I've read the jacket and seen all the weird names, my eyes have glossed over and I can't stand to finish reading even that. Thus is it most fortunate that I have "read" all 7 books as Audio Books.  It is good to consult the maps in the books (they are online as well) from time to time, but I've taken to "reading" them on the way to work, or on long trips, or just sitting in my apartment with no television on.  In fact, I've gotten along quite well without cable TV because of my Audio Books.  I can be entertained without paying $100's to the cable company.  So, if I were to go into detail about the characters, I would write them as I have heard them pronounced. "Jaspar Clyntan" (the problem here is that without the Y, you read Clinton, and think of the past president.) and "William Rano"

One other note, if you decide to "read" the books as Audio, which I wholeheartedly recommend.  The narrators change, which, when book 3 came along and the person was different, I had myself a minor conniption. All of them, save one, does a fair job.  The British narrator for book 5 did a fair job, although he muffed the pronunciations somewhat ("Charis," instead of "Karis," as every other speaker had done).  But I could overlook that.  It's book 6 that drove me nuts.  The narrator did a wonderful job with female roles, and children roles, but when he started yelling "FIRE" during the battle scenes, it was funny.  The guy simply couldn't do battle scenes, and it made a war hilarious.  But if you can overlook that one, the rest are magnificently done, and kept me awake all during my travels.

There comes a time in your life when you need Fantasy worlds.  I don't know where I would be today if it hadn't been for J.R.R. Tolkien.  I have lived hours of my life in Pern, and I could go on living there, if I had to.  I would say the same for Safehold, and the times in my life when I could listen to the conversations between Emperor Caleb, Empress Charlean, and Merlin, plus a whole host of other really "good" good guys, were worth every minute.  I rather much like my fantasy stories where the good guys are good and the bad guys are stupid.  And being a Christian, much of the conversations with Archbishop Michael and the others, are as good sermons as you're ever likely to hear on a planet called Earth.  I guess I shall now be Awaiting book 8, and doing so with baited breath.    

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Great Plastic Bag Caper

My dad is now rolling over in his grave....

I know what my dad would have done... He would have collected up all the plastic bags he could find, and he would have delivered them to the doorstep of the Councilperson involved in this little endeavor. I went to Walmart last night to get groceries. When I went to the self-checkout, no one was using it because there were no bags. I thought that was odd, as the people there weren't trying to refill them. So I went to a regular line, which was much busier than usual, and waited there. When I got to the cashier, she asks me if I want her to put the groceries in plastic bags... I said, "Of Course I do." I told her that I would have done this all by myself at self-checkout if they had had bags. She then explains to me that they are now charging 5 cents per plastic bag, so they took all the bags out of self-checkout. I sighed, having been familiar with the practice in far off Los Angeles or San Francisco. But here, in Dallas? So I paid the 20 cents for the 4 bags she used and left, grumbling and complaining about the Democrats in Dallas. And truthfully, Dallas, Texas is a Blue city, with the Republicans having left and gone to the suburbs around it. Just like every other major city in the US.

I posted about it on my Facebook Page, and got this reply from one of my progressive-leaning friends: Politics aside, the world is a better place without cheap plastic bags clogging storm drains and swirling down alleys in the wind. These kind of bags are terrible as bags. Except for Target's bags, they are all so thin that they break when you put more than 2 things in them. Good riddance to them. Suck it up and get yourselves some sturdy reusable bags. No matter how you vote don't we all want clean streets and waterways? 

To which, my reply was: Definitely! I reuse my plastic bags as much as I can for lunches at work, and given the choice between plastic and cloth bags...etc... I wouldn't hesitate to use the latter. However, I don't have the money to go spending it on tote bags (although the ones Lifeway usually has are cheap enough if you can find them on sale), and I resent the way they've just decided to take nickels away from me. I can't afford much more than basic food, gas, utilities, but I am making it. Any excess expense, especially because the government wants to use the environmental issue to gain power and money, is something I can't afford right now. And since I can go to Kroger near my work and save that money, that's what I'll do.

I hate pollution, since I walk all over the place and see it in the woods, on the trails...etc... and everyone can do their part to keep their part of the world clean, individually. It's when the issue is used for political purposes that turns me against the whole thing. Take light bulbs, for instance. I'm all for the newer bulbs, cause I'm lazy, and I don't want to change the dumb things. But the regulations against the incandescent bulbs were done just to extend government control, and I don't like that. I'll use the newer bulbs when I can, but if I can't afford the things... I'll sit in the dark. I'm used to it.

I've talked about my stance on Environmental issues at great length in the past. So this post is more about this particular issue.  I've walked on trails in Dallas, and so I've seen first-hand the areas that the Councilman is referring to when he proposes to clean up the city with the proposed money collected.  I for one have seen how money collected in the name of "transportation" or "education" never really gets to those places at all.  It gets put into the General Fund, and then it all gets worked out with the budget and spending bills coming from the state.  This never has worked properly. But let's say for the moment that the money is collected properly. I would hope that it would be used to pick up all the other things I see walking down the trails of Dallas.

The thing is that I've not seen so many bags in my walks as discarded plastic water bottles, aluminum beer and soft drink cans, and glass beer bottles. What if we, instead of charging a tax for them, offered money back for their recycling. I know some companies used to do that. That would make sense, and it would train people in a positive way instead of punishing them by making them carry all their groceries loose into their apartment buildings. It should be about the training of people to behave in a certain way, to care more about the environment as a whole. The idea about cans and bottles (which I think is a greater problem than the bags) would have the positive effect of rewarding those who do the right thing. When training a dog, do you reward them for sitting on command, or do you punish them for not sitting when you tell them to? You could do both, I suppose, but the latter will come back to bite you, most literally. It would cause fear and dislike, which is what the government's fee on plastic bags is doing. It's also going to drive customers away from the grocery stores inside the city limits of Dallas and lower the amount of taxes (on those items which are taxed, which makes no sense. In Georgia, everything is taxed. Here, groceries are not taxed unless they're deemed not good for you (or the lobbyists can persuade (as in the corn chip industry) the lawmakers that it shouldn't apply to them)). So the city loses out either way. It makes no sense to pass a law that will only end up hurting the revenue streams they were depending upon to clean up the pollution they were seeing.

And of course there's the argument of how multi-use bags will effect the health of the citizens.  If people continuously use canvas or cloth bags, especially to carry something like boneless raw chicken breasts or leaky milk bottles, those germs will collect onto the bags.  Then, the next time, when apples or some such are put in there, you gently get a case of salmonella or food poisoning.  Sounds like fun, don't it?

Don't think that the people won't change their spending habits because of a little plastic bag tax (which is what it is). They will, and it will hurt enormously the places inside the city limits.  But, as I'm also determined not to pay said tax, but I don't want to wind up driving farther to get groceries, I'm going to do something else.  In Georgia, I went to Ingles to get groceries and any time they had their huge Egg Boxes available, I took one to use for the Friends of the Library booksales.  So instead of bringing in all the groceries in the bags they were in, I put all the bags inside the boxes (which admittedly, wouldn't be the best thing to do if the groceries were loose, because, as in the paragraph above, they are egg boxes.) and carried them into the house.  So I will bring one or two of the many paper boxes I have here (I haven't thrown them away yet from the move to Dallas) and I'll just put the groceries in them.  They have handles, and are sturdy, so they can keep their bags and their 5 cent charges, and I'll be able to carry the groceries in easier.  Killing two birds with one stone, as the saying goes.  The plastic Christmas Trees they won't have to cut down will thank me for it.