Archive for January, 2009

Live Long and Prosper

Friday, January 30th, 2009

FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING

Today, a few words of farewell.

No I’m not going anywhere … but so many people, things and holidays are … let’s see … gone: Blagojevich in Illinois … gone: stock values … gone: Christmas holidays … gone … well you get the picture.

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So in this season of ringing out the old and hopefully, ringing in the new, let’s think about saying, Bye, Bye.

Farewell is among our most obvious exclamations. It arose in Middle English and comes from the imperative form of “fare” plus the adverb “well.”

Bye comes from Good-bye, which expresses good wishes at the end of a conversation. It arises from the 16th-century contraction of “God be with you.” Apparently it was customary to extend God’s blessings more fully and so God became “good.” Thusly with “good morning.”

Sayonara
comes to us from the Japanese … when you really mean it, Sayonara, Baby!!

Mr. Spock’s trademark and very Zen salutation was Live Long and Prosper.

Among my favorites is the Russian dasvidanya … which does allow for meeting again … it means, Until the next time we see each other.

So with that, I will say, Dasvidanya from Fiction Dailyland until next week … and we’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when ….

Digital TV Delay?

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

TECH THURSDAY

Two big tech issues today … unless you also include my new foray onto Facebook, which is a chapter in itself for another day … and the Jeopardy online contestant quiz I took last night, and missed the final question about Radiohead … Radiohead! In Rainbows! I know that!

No, today just a brief update about our nation’s switch to digital TV … and the struggle in Washington over whether it should be delayed.

Being the worrier that I am, I ordered and received a U.S. Government coupon sometime last summer. It was a plastic magnetic-stripped card worth $40.

Now if you haven’t heard, the government is requiring all broadcasters to air their programs with digital signals, which uses a different area of the electromagnetic spectrum somehow and frees those waves for other vital technology, say iPhones.

So for lugs like us without cable (hey, we can view House on Fox! And Lost on ABC! And Seinfeld reruns! What more do we need?), there’s a need to use a converter box to translate the digital signal to your TV. (My TV … 20 years old … is still working, though the sound is going out, I believe.)

We use our $40 coupon to purchase a digital TV converter priced at $60. Don’t tell me there’s not some relationship there.

We get the converter box home …. and see it was manufactured entirely in China. The box has words to the effect of, This product fulfills the requirements of the U.S. Government coupon program, or something like that … just above the words, Made in China.

Now folks, how is it that a country which has embargoed Cuba for 45 years because it is a so-called evil Communist nation … can partner with this oppressive government to provide digital TV boxes, in one of the largest technology shifts ever? (let’s not forget beaten and jailed Buddhist monks, Tienanmen Square.)

I digress … what I meant to get at for today’s post was the sudden struggle between our new president and the U.S. House, which has blocked his effort to postpone the digital TV switch.

While I received my coupon in plenty of time, they ran out late last year … leaving millions of people without.

Mr. Obama believes it’s unfair to pull the plug on these folks without a box … many of them elderly, poor and possibly without the education they need to understand what’s going on. Without TV access, during these winter storms, they will lose their sole source of news, information and emergency contact.

So he has proposed a delay.

The broadcasters have mounted powerful opposition … and with good reason … many of them are already supporting analog and digital signals, which is terribly expensive. Enough, they say. Let’s be done with it, before it bankrupts us.

With the shroud of economic depression hanging over the broadcast industry, as everywhere, it’s certainly understandable that providing two signal formats is a burden.

Yet it’s also important to remember the millions of folks without cable, whose broadcast TV is their only source of contact with the outside world. We’ll see how this one plays out.

A note on the Jeopardy quiz: It was fast! Fifty questions in 10 minutes!! With 15 seconds for each question … it is a blur. I missed a few … some were ridiculously difficult … one I think I answered correctly asked, Which English monarch outlived her husband by 39 years … I answered Queen Victoria … I think I was right.

By the time the quiz asked which band offered its recording In Rainbows over the Internet, I blanked. Blanked!! I have this recording!! I was among the first wave to download it!! I just couldn’t come up with the name!

I have a feeling the Jeopardy producers would tell me, Honey don’t worry. But don’t call us … we’ll call you ….

Props to PETA

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Now I’m an animal lover and generally a vegetarian … not too much of a radical, armchair version for me, please.

But I have to respect the good folks at PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Year after year, they continue antics both respectable and, well, not … to bring our attention to the true costs of wearing fur, eating meat and treating living, breathing creatures worse than lawn mowers. Now they’ve prepared a Super Bowl ad that uses attractive women and a bit of overt sexuality to promote eating vegetables.

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Whether you like their attitude or not, it’s important to give them props for keeping these issues, well, in our face. Would we listen otherwise? It would be far too easy to ignore them. Face it, people, we human beings must be uncomfortable or in pain before we will change. (Bad marriage? Bad spouse or partner? Bad roommate? We won’t change unless they threaten us with scissors, usually.)

We are far too comfortable, aren’t we? in our daily routines, we’d rather think our meat comes from the same bloodless factory as our Lance crackers and pretzels.

The ugly truth is that our meat comes at an inexcusable cost. To the planet, which requires tons more energy to give us meat than if we chose a more plant-based diet.

The Nature Conservancy has this startling observation

The international meat industry generates 18% of the overall global greenhouse-gas emissions (measured in CO2 equivalent) β€” even more than all trains, planes, automobiles and boats combined (13.5%).

Folks, that’s serious.

Not only does it trash the planet, but have you seen the faces of our cows as they’re led to slaughter? Think about how scared our dogs and cats become when we taken them on a car ride to the vet. They know when something’s happening.

So imagine the fear in the minds of our cows, pigs and chickens as they hear the screams of their pals and family, and know they’re headed the same way.

Now I must admit I eat meat once every few weeks or months … because I believe human beings actually need some flesh protein to be fully healthy … just my opinion.

Yet I try to eat meat from organic, humane sources … sure it’s more expensive, but can you put a price on humanity? Free-range chickens, humanely slaughtered cows. Not always possible, but it is, at least, a goal.

I certainly can’t join the ranks of the self-righteous ones (who are also probably very thin and attractive with perfect noses) who decry and criticize all meat eating.

But I can say, people, let’s remember our humanity here, and demand less money-grabbing from the meat industry … less injury to our furred and feathered partners in this journey.

And PETA, though I might disagree with your tactics, thank you for making us all a little bit more uncomfortable.

FOR TECH THURSDAY: The revolution will not be televised, after all

Tapping out Progress (3)

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

The economy’s gone belly up … my favorite month, January, will soon be over … and there’s no end in sight to the daily blear of obligations, threats and trials.

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Fear not! There is tap dancing!

Yes, if it’s Tuesday in Fiction Dailyland, there’s a good chance I’ll write a tap-dancing update.

After a two-week break for Dr. M.L. King Day, we returned last night. Our small class of two (myself and K., a former dance student and now elementary school teacher) gained another student . Like our teacher, this new student could be teaching the class, as she is a long-time dance student at our university. Who now plays Ultimate Frisbee. Who’s got a powerful shuffle-ball-change.

Now surrounded by dancers, whose feet move so rapidly you’d think they were breaking some kind of law. Of physics.

It was earlier this month, after the long holiday break, that I experienced a major breakthrough. Since starting tap lessons last summer, I’d always felt utterly inept, that I was incapable of tap dancing. Of course, now I understand that it’s a complicated, intricate skill, similar to learning a foreign language, that’s not picked up after an hour or two. Sure, you can flap and shuffle, but putting them together, changing feet, moving across the studio and extending the arms Broadway-style in a Maxie Ford

Steps that seemed impossible for me … too complicated, esoteric, inscrutable … suddenly became natural, familiar and part of my repertoire.

It’s a long time before I can dance like the others in my class, but how nice now to keep up during combinations, to buffalo across the studio floor … adding a flap and even a toe knock.

We have been having fun working our way through Ike and Tina Turner’s Rolling on a River … a few simple steps, but I manage to at least stay on the same foot as they do. Last night as our teacher ran through the pas-de-bourre steps, I noticed I wasn’t struggling … I was actually having fun.

Language & Life

Monday, January 26th, 2009

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Photo courtesy Medoc Mountain S.P.

It’s Monday across the world (well, most of it) and here in Fiction Dailyland we’re celebrating a hike to Medoc Mountain State Park on Saturday.

We left early morning in a slight rain and when we arrived at Medoc, it seemed a drizzle was waiting for us, but left only a few drops. The day remained overcast, but what an awesome day it was. We hiked the Bluff Trail which led us to an uncharted section of the park, likely the new acres added in the past few years by donation.

This area is used for horse trails and because it was January, and an overcast bleary day at that, we saw not a soul. Well, we saw some small souls — birds everywhere — and in this new part of the park, perhaps unused to seeing human creatures like us, they dipped down to explore us curiously.

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Yesterday, reflection and reading, including a used book I picked up in Durham recently.

The Language Experience contains essays by several writers, linguists and thinkers. While the book shows its age (it’s 1974, and whale songs are first being recorded), it shows remarkable longevity and truth.

The first section explores language as symbol … and begins by reminding us that language is like an iceberg … behind our seemingly simple utterances, formed by the larynx and ejected with our breath, are nearly unfathomable thought chains, reflecting incomprehensible complexity and intelligence.

Looking forward to reading these essays, which includes thoughts from George Orwell on developing a complete language system, Newspeak, for his seminal work, 1984.

The New York Times has an article on novelist Yu Hua, from China, whose two-volume work, Brothers, is stirring controversy at home and abroad, among writers and nationalists.

Junk Culture, c. 1855

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING

Today, a slightly different look at language, within the context of culture.

A Christmas gift from my husband of a calendar named Forgotten English has given me much more food for thought. It features a word or phrase each day from past centuries of spoken and written English along with a story. It’s a project of Jeffrey Kacirk. (Love words? Visit his site here).

Last week, I came across an entry that just made me laugh.

Turns out that on a trip to see the British Museum in 1855, our beloved American author Nathaniel Hawthorne was not amused.

It is a hopeless — and to me generally a depressing — business to go through an immense, multifarious show like this glancing at a thousand things, and conscious of some little titillation of mind from them, but really taking in nothing and getting no good from anything.

The face is the world is accumulating too many materials for knowledge. We do not recognize for rubbish what is really rubbish, and under this head might be reckoned almost everything one sees in the British Museum. And as each generation leaves its fragments and potshards behind it, such will finally be the desperate conclusion of the learned.

How apt an observation, how modern. A reflection made more than 150 years ago. About an institution we might consider august and respected, the British Museum, which opened in 1759, almost 300 years ago.

Yet Mr. Hawthorne recognized something universal about us human beings. So crow-like are we; the shining glint of a button or piece of glass will draw us in, elicit desire for possession and generate all kinds of jealousy.

That’s what makes Mr. Hawthorne, with our greatest writers, a jewel, himself — he keenly understands our complex, yet juvenile, human natures and has the power to describe them with precision.

A NOTE FOR WORD LOVERS: If you enjoy scoffing at overused, meaningless phrases, then visit the 2009 List of Banished Words from Lake Superior State University.

The university publishes the list each year in an effort purge our language of its loafers, drifters and bums who aren’t pulling their weight.

Friend and Daily Reflector columnist Kim Grizzard gave the list her own signature review, and you can read it here.

High on the list this year? Green, maverick, bailout and others. Do check it out.

Virtual White House

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

TECH THURSDAY

Today was going to feature a run-down of last year’s most exciting technology developments, and even a word or two about Steve Jobs’s health and Apple stock value.

But why look back when we can look forward?

So today, Tech Thursday looks at our new United States of Wireless.

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Our new president used instant messaging, email and texting to stay in touch and it’s rumored that he refused to part with his Blackberry. The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder reports that Mr. Obama’s new Crack … er … Blackberry will be highly encrypted and used only for private and personal messages. There will be no IM-ing, however.

Much is also being made about the new ethics commitment, which includes a commitment to greater transparency. That begins with a new White House Web site and a White House blog.

Not since I discovered His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Web site have I felt so privileged to have a computer.

Meanwhile, upon entering their new offices in the highest office of the most advanced, wealthiest country in the history of mankind, Obama staffers found their computers running six-year old versions of Microsoft, without updates, with no possibility for updates, no email addresses, dead phone lines and no voice mail. They’re calling it the Tech Dark Ages.

Nice to know that we’re all in the same boat sometimes.

Snow Creme

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

At the end of a snowy, cold day yesterday came the real dessert: Snow Creme.

A glistening bright fresh day arrived yesterday when I looked on the deck and saw a thin sheet of crystals. Small flakes fell and became quite dense as morning went on. At one point, they fell in waves, carried on winds and it seemed for a few hours we were in an exotic place like Siberia, straight out of Dostoyevsky.

We took the dogs for a long walk in the woods at the height of the storm, with little Dewey, our miniature beagle, jumping through the snow like a bunny; she sank in to her belly but leapt along with great joy. After some time, Geppeto, our other beagle, became overwhelmed by the cold and lagged sadly and it was time to hurry home.

In the afternoon, I completed some writing for a Web page, focusing at last after the remarkable morning — inauguration glamour and momentousness; snow and brilliance.

After dinner, I brought a big bowl of the freshest snow into the house … scooped it into smaller bowls and Greg and I began our snow creme experiment. We added sugar (or Splenda) and half-and-half, then began to stir … the snow turned into a miraculous gelato.

My mother made snow creme for us growing up out in the country, but I remember it failed somehow to live up to what I imagined it would be.

Last night, standing in the kitchen, stirring up a bowl, we fed more snow in, added more cream, more sugar, until we had it. I reevaluated with an adult’s eye: What was unimpressive for a child was magic for this adult.

How marvelous for simple ingredients to become such a substance! A gift from heaven! Snow creme!

Snow Day!

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

Well, I planned a very dignified post today … in keeping with our national day of ceremonies … then the snow came early this morning and now everything outside is covered in a perfect morning blanket … so throwing caution to the wind, Fiction Daily takes a snow day!

Outside my front yard has become a bird festival, with juncos foraging beneath a thin snow layer for the sunflower seeds I tossed earlier; occasionally they’ll butt heads with cardinals eying the same seeds. Meanwhile, robins have come out of hiding to watch from the trees, hoping I imagine for some berries, bugs or nuts to appear.

The bluebirds are out there, too. Though they’re quite secretive in the winter, I hear them burbling to eat other, the plaintiff lonely call from parent to young one, probably last summer’s chicks.

Meanwhile, in Washington, crowds gather and news stations fall over themselves to cover this day. With a new fresh blanket of snow it seems anything is possible.

As promised, His Holiness the Dalai Lama with fittingly hopeful words from India:

New Delhi, 17 January 2009 (The Hindu): Emphasizing the need to inculcate the spirit of tolerance and compassion from childhood, Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama on Saturday suggested such lessons would not only create a better world but also a human being at peace with oneself. Delivering the Madhavrao Scindia Memorial lecture on β€œNon-violence β€” A strategic tool,” the Dalai Lama said it was important to promote secular values. He said all Indians should take the lead in practicing and spreading the concept of non-violence and ahimsa.

Writers and Human Rights

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Today so much to write about, but it’s first fitting to give tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday is celebrated as a national holiday today (His real birthday is Jan. 15).

Fortune gave us this great leader and if there is a place for national pride these days, it is in the teachings and culture that created such a man. We can look back to Thomas Paine, and even before him, to understand the seeds of equality, and from Thom Paine straight to Henry David Thoreau, who refused to pay taxes that supported slavery and war against Mexico. For this he was jailed.

His essay, today known as On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, gives us a sense of solidarity with others throughout history who feel that any collusion with inhumanity is intolerable … that any time our actions support injustice, we are just as guilty as the direct perpetrators. (Albert Camus dealt with our collective guilt in his monumental, but readable, work La Chute, or The Fall.)

Mohandas Gandhi showed us a revolution by Civil Disobedience, as did Dr. King. It still jars to remember how people once were treated in this country based on their skin color; yet Dr. King’s message is even broader than our own tortuous Civil Rights odyssey.

Dr. King says that if we judge a person by skin color, what’s to prevent us from judging … constraining, censuring and imprisoning … based on other factors, as well? What’s to keep us from sequestering others based on their religion? The fact that their ideas are different from ours? What’s to keep us from sterilizing and killing them?

While Dr. King is surely a powerful individual within the context of this nation’s Civil Rights struggle, it’s critical to understand Dr. King in a larger context of the entire stretch of human history. That he stands among the prophets of all time … with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela … and with the holy leaders of the past millennia.

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Illustration by Gustav Dore

Today it’s also important to note the birthday of the American writer Edgar Allen Poe, creator of the short story, the detective story and author of such great passion. Born in Richmond, buried in Baltimore, his 40 years gave us milestones in New World letters … Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Mask of the Red Death; and poetry Annabel Lee, Eldorado.

TOMORROW: His Holiness the Dalai Lama delivers the Madhavrao Scindia Memorial Lecture on Non-violence.