BOOK REVIEW: The Complete Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Complete Poetical WorksComplete Poetical Works by Edgar Allan Poe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

Gutenberg page

 

The title is self-explanatory with respect the book’s content. However, if one is just expecting all of Poe’s poems bound together, one may be pleasantly surprised by some relevant bonus material in the form of scenes from plays and a few essays on poetry.

The works included are divided into seven sections. The first is entitled “Poems of Later Life” and includes many of the author’s most famous works such as: “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee.” The book then follows an inverse chronological order with the section entitled “Poems of Manhood” coming next. Next there are scenes from a drama entitled “Politian” that emulates classic Greco-Roman plays. Then there are the poems written in Poe’s youth. There are two more sections of poetry with only a few pieces each. The first is the “doubtful poems’’ – i.e. poems that may or may not have been penned by Poe. The last chapter of poetry consists of Poe’s prose poems. Finally, there is a section consisting of three essays about poetry. This is a nice inclusion as it offers the reader insight into Poe’s thoughts on poetry. For example, Poe believed in a poetry Goldilocks zone. That is poems that were too long would not be able to maintain the emotional experience, but one’s that were too short would not be able to convey meaning.

I enjoyed this book. Not all the poems are of the caliber of “The Raven” by any means, but the book is insightful nonetheless, and there’s a mix of Poe’s trademark darkness with pieces that might strike the reader as decidedly uncharacteristic. As I said, it’s fun to have Poe’s essays on poetry next to his poems so that one can consider his verse in that light. The inverse chronological order provides an interesting way to view the evolution of a poet – Benjamin Button style. (Plus it offers one some strong momentum by starting the reader off with some of Poe’s most exceptional work.)

There’s a brief biography in the front of the book, and there are a surprising number of detailed notations for a collection of poetry. That’s all the ancillary matter. There are editions with illustrations, but the edition that I read didn’t have them (i.e. the version on offer from Gutenberg Project .) Amazon seems to have editions both with and without illustrations. (I don’t think they would offer much value-added.)

I’d recommend this for poetry readers and poets interested in Poe’s approach to the art.

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Blinders (Literal and Figurative) in the Martial Arts

IMG_2553Many years ago I was training at a dōjō that had a practitioner who was a teacher for the blind. He requested that we put together a self-defense workshop for his students.  (If you’re wondering what kind of evil jackass would attack a blind person, rest assured that—sadly–such a level of jackassitude exists in the world.) The request presented an intriguing challenge. How does one adapt techniques that are premised on being able to see what the opponent is doing? Or maybe one shouldn’t adapt existing techniques but rather start from square one?

 

In preparation for working up a lesson plan, the person that asked for the workshop briefed the black belts. We learned that very few of the blind students lived in complete darkness. Instead, they displayed a wide range of different visual impairments. He even brought a large bag of goggles that simulated various impairments so that we could train in them to better understand what would or wouldn’t work with different types of impairment.

 

There were goggles that had funnels over the eyes such that one could see two little circles clearly while the rest of the world was black. There were others that had a complete field of view, but had translucent tape over the lenses so that everything was reduced to fuzzy blobs—as if one were looking through Vaseline. There were lenses that had a crackle effect such that one could only see veins of area clearly. There were goggles with no peripheral vision, and ones with only peripheral vision. He also had some goggles that blacked out the world entirely. Completely blind individuals may not be as common as one would think, but they certainly exist. Putting on any of the goggles was disorienting at first. A couple of the black belts even got vertigo or nausea when they moved around too quickly.

 

Now imagine what it would be like if one had always had the goggles on, that it was the only worldview one had ever known. Furthermore, imagine that everyone you interacted with on a daily basis all wore the same variety of goggles. You wouldn’t see it as an affliction or a limitation. To you, your view of the world would be full and complete. You would engage in behaviors that might seem odd to an outsider with unobstructed vision (e.g. sweeping your hands around in big arcs, turning your head at unusual angles, or calling out into the “darkness”), but these behaviors wouldn’t seem odd to you because you’d know it as natural behavior for someone who experienced the world as you did.  Because everyone you dealt with would see the world in the same way, it wouldn’t occur to you to think about whether there was another way to behave.

 

The preceding paragraph serves as an analogy for culture. One’s own culture is often invisible, especially if you don’t get outside of it much. All the people around you confirm your belief that you’re seeing the world as it is and behaving in the only natural and normal way imaginable. Sure, you may notice other people’s cultures—their skewed worldviews and the anomalous behaviors that result– but that’s because they do “strange things.” Still, some individuals will maintain that their culture doesn’t display any of the “odd” ways of behaving that more “exotic” cultures do.

 

But it does. Every culture is a mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly of how a people goes about living in the world given their cultural blind spots and skews. It includes collective coping mechanism for dealing with fears of uncertainty, and those are often the ugly side of culture. They encourage ingroup / outgroup separation, as well as primitive and superstitious approaches to dealing with those events, people, and behaviors that are out of the ordinary.

 

It’s easy to display double standards when one is blind to culture. I will give an example from my own life. It’s only been since I’ve been living in India (and traveling in Asia) that I’ve become aware of how many people are upset by Westerner’s secularization of Eastern religious / spiritual symbols and imagery. That’s a mouthful; so let me explain what I mean by “secularization of Eastern symbols and imagery.” I’m talking about “OM” T-shirts / pendants, bronze Buddhas, Tibetan thanka paintings, mandalas  (on T-shirts or posters), miniature shrines, or tattoos that are purchased because they are trendy, aesthetically pleasing, or vaguely conceptually pleasing without any real understanding of the tradition from which they came or intention of honoring it.

 

Granted it’s easy to miss the above issue if you’re a tourist because: a.) Many of said Eastern traditions practice a live-and-let-live lifestyle that make their practitioners unlikely to be confrontational about such things (in contrast to  practitioners of Abrahamic traditions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.)) b.) There are merchants in every country who are willing to sell anything to anybody for a buck, and so there are vast markets for tourists that offer up these symbols and images in droves.

 

It still intrigues me that it once caught me off guard that there were Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, etc. who were dismayed by the secularization of their traditions. I’m agnostic, but I was raised in a Christian household. Therefore, I can imagine the animosity aroused by the following conversation.

 

A: [Wearing a simple crucifix [or Star of David or crescent & star] pendant on a chain.]

B: Hey, A, I didn’t know you were Christian [or Jewish or Muslim]?

A: Because I’m not.

B: But you’re wearing a crucifix [or other Abrahamic symbol] pendant?

A: Oh, yeah, that. That doesn’t mean anything. It just looks cool. It’s kind of like the Nike swoosh.

B: [Jaw slackens.]

 

Now replace the crucifix with an “OM” shirt, and an inquiry about whether “A” is Hindu. Does it feel the same? If it doesn’t, why shouldn’t it?

 

Every martial art represents a subculture embedded in the culture of the place from which it came.  [Sometimes this becomes a mélange, as when a Japanese martial art is practiced in America. In such cases the dōjō usually reflects elements of Japanese culture (e.g. ritualized and formal practice), elements of American culture (e.g. 40+ belt ranks so that students can get a new rank at least once a year so they don’t quit), and elements of the martial art’s culture (e.g. harder or softer approaches to engaging the opponent.)]

 

The way that culture plays into a country’s martial arts may not become clear until one has practiced the martial arts of different countries—particularly in their nation of origin. While my own experience is limited, I have practiced Japanese kobudō in America (and extremely briefly in Japan), Muaythai in Thailand, and Kalaripayattu in India. I’ll leave Muaythai out of the discussion for the time being because I can most easily make my point by contrasting Japanese and Indian martial arts.  The Japanese and Indian martial arts I’ve practiced each reflects the nature of its respective culture, and they couldn’t be more different.

 

IMG_4525What are the differences between the Japanese and Indian martial arts I’ve studied? I’ve been known to answer that by saying that the Japanese martial art rarely uses kicks above waist level, while in Kalaripayattu if you’re only kicking at the height of your opponent’s head you’ll be urged to get your kick up a couple of feet higher.  What does that mean? The Japanese are expert at stripping out the needless and they work by paring away excess rather than building difficulty. The impulse of the Japanese is to avoid being showy. KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) appeals to the Japanese mind. (Except for the “Stupid” part, which would be considered needlessly confrontational and gratuitously mean-spirited.) There’s a reason why Japanese martial arts don’t feature prominently in global martial arts cinema. They don’t wow with their physicality; efficiency is at the fore.

 

IMG_2246On the other hand, Indians are a vastly more flamboyant bunch, and Kalaripayattu is extremely impressive to watch and in terms of the physicality required to perform the techniques.  The Indian art isn’t about simplifying or cutting away the unnecessary. One has to get in progressively better shape as one advances to be able to perform techniques that require one leap higher, move faster, and be stronger. The Indian art isn’t about paring away excess, it’s about making such an impressive physical display that the opponent wonders whether one is just a man, or whether one might not be part bird or lion.

 

It might sound like I’m saying that the Japanese martial art is more realistic than the Indian one. Not really. Each of them is unrealistic in its own way. It’s often pointed out that the Japanese trained left-handedness out of their swordsmen, but that’s only one way in which Japanese martial arts counter individuation.  Given what we see in terms of how “southpaws” are often more successful in boxing, MMA, and street fighting, eliminating left-handedness seems like an unsound tactic at the individual level. There are undoubtedly many practitioners of traditional Japanese martial arts who can dominate most opponents who fight in an orthodox manner, but who would be thrown into complete disarray by an attacker who used chaotic heathen tactics. Consider that the only thing that kept the Japanese from being routed (and ruled) by the Mongolians was two fortuitous monsoons. The samurai were tremendously skilled as individual combatants, but the Mongolians could—literally—ride circles around them in warfare between armies. Perhaps, a more relevant question is whether Miyamoto Musashi would have defeated Sasaki Kojirō if the former had followed all the formal protocols of Japanese dueling instead of showing up late, carving his bokken from a boat oar, and generally presenting a f*@# you attitude. Who knows? But as the story is generally told, Musashi’s disrespectful and unorthodox behavior threw Sasaki off his game, and it was by no means a given that Musashi would win. Some believed Sasaki to be the more technically proficient swordsman.

 

All martial arts are models of combative activity apropos to the needs of a particular time, place, culture, and use.  And—as I used to frequently hear in academia—all models are wrong, though many are useful. (Sometimes, it’s written: “All models are lies, but many are useful.”)

 

[FYI: to the readers who say, “The martial art I practice is completely realistic.” My reply: “You must go through a lot of body-bags. Good for you? I guess?”]

BOOK CHAT: Walking by H.D. Thoreau

WalkingWalking by Henry David Thoreau

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

Thoreau paints a portrait of walking in such grandiose terms that one will cease to think of putting one foot in front of the other as one of life’s mundane tasks. He’s not talking about just any walking, however. He’s not talking about the mall walkers who briskly exercise in temples of consumerism. He’s not talking about those who walk through the park with top 40 hits blaring from their iPod ear buds.

Thoreau is talking about those individuals he calls saunterers. To saunter, as to stroll, is to walk in a leisurely and aimless fashion. Thoreau’s walking is that which:
-takes place in nature.
-leaves worldly worries behind.
-is not a trivial time commitment.
-is more an exercise of the mind and spirit than of the body.

To the mall walker, Thoreau would point out the error of a missed opportunity to get away from mankind’s chaos and enjoy nature. As he puts it, “The most alive is the wildest.” and “…all good things are wild and free.” He’s also clear in that walking for exercise misses the point by injecting hurriedness into a time that should be about slowing down.

On those with iPods, cellphones, or other contrivances that distract one from the environs, Thoreau is equally clear, “What business have I in the woods if I am thinking of something outside the woods?”

Thoreau’s essay broadens as it progresses. From a commentary on the virtues of sauntering, the essay turns to the glories of nature, the character of America, and the state of thought in his contemporary society. These may seem like unrelated concepts, but there is a string of logic that connects them.

The connection to nature and the virtue of wildness should be clear. It’s nature that is the optimal backdrop of sauntering. It’s in nature that one can be set free from the troubles of the world of man and obtain a glimpse of god. It’s in nature where creativity breeds with chaos turned down and native brilliance turned up.

Thoreau’s discussion of America is tied to the theme of walking in a couple of ways. The first is as a land made for walkers. For example, he points out that a man could pitch a tent almost anywhere in North America without great risk of becoming a meal. The same couldn’t be said of India or Africa or Siberia, where man isn’t the sole predatory creature. The second is America as a place with room to venture out into uncharted territory. Thoreau points out that we may look to the East for the lessons of our predecessors, but a person should look West for opportunities to grow in one’s own right. Of course, Thoreau’s America was different from today’s America.

The end of the essay broadens out even further. Thoreau comments upon mankind and the state of ideas and thought. He echoes Socrates when he talks about that age-old question of whether it’s better to be ignorant (to know one knows little) or deluded (to think one knows a lot, but be drowning in false knowledge.) A reader may suggest that this is a false dichotomy. Why can’t one know most everything and not have a one’s body of knowledge rife with false knowledge? I can’t say, but all of the evidence suggests that if such a state exists, it’s the domain of God or gods (if such entities exist.)

Thoreau also bemoans what he sees as the decline of thinking man. What does this have to do with walking? I think Thoreau answers in the following quote:
“So it would seem few and fewer thoughts visit each growing man from year to year, for the grove in our minds is laid waste—sold to feed unnecessary fires of ambition, or sent to mill—and there is scarcely a twig left for them to perch on.”

I think that everyone should read this thin book–really an essay and not a full-scale book. The problems Thoreau notes have only gotten worse in our modern age. Far too few take the time to walk, and to acquire the benefits of sauntering.

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CLASSIC WORKS: Bushidō by Inazo Nitobe

Bushido: The Soul of JapanBushido: The Soul of Japan by Inazo Nitobe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page 

On the whole, people are ambivalent about feudal times. On the one hand, it was a horrible time to be alive for 99.5% of the population. Chances are that if you’d lived during that time you’d be toiling ceaselessly on the land with no hope of improving your lot in life. Everything was determined by heredity, with merit having little to do with anything. This added insult to injury because that person you’d have had to suck up to was as likely to be putz as not.

On the other hand, there is widespread nostalgia for those times because one can’t help but feel that they were the golden days of virtue. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, we think that society is ever advancing, but, in reality, we advance like a wave–losing as much on the backside as we gain on the front.

Inazo Nitobe’s book gives us an accounting of the chivalric virtue practiced by the samurai, the warrior class of feudal Japan. Bushidō means the way of the warrior. Nitobe lived after Japan’s feudal era, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Nitobe was an educator, and the book has a feel of erudition. Interestingly, the author was a Quaker and received education in the West, and, therefore, is able to contrast the Japanese worldview with that of Westerners.

The book is built around discussion of the seven virtues of bushido: justice, courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, honor, and loyalty. Each of these virtues has a chapter devoted to it (Ch. 3 through 9.) But first the book introduces bushido as an ethical system, and then it explains the effect that Buddhism, Shintoism, and Confucianism played in the development of this system.

Later chapters outline the education and training of a samurai, the importance of stoicism, the institution of suicide (seppuku), the symbolism of the sword in Japanese society, the role of women, the role of bushido as an ethical system in the present-day (his present), and its proposed role in the future. It is interesting that the book begins by discussing those things that influenced the development of bushidō, and it ends with discussion of how bushidō influences the larger world.

Our views of virtue have changed, but at some level remain consistent. The seven virtues are all still considered virtuous, but we don’t regard them in the same way today. In some cases we are undoubtedly better off with today’s views, but that’s not always the case.

Consider the seventh precept, loyalty. We still value loyalty, but in today’s world the rule of loyalty has an ever-present Shakespearean addenda: “to thine own self be true.” In other words, we no longer believe in loyalty that is blind as was valued in the days of old.

Sincerity, by which Nitobe generally means honesty, is also seen in a different light today. As depicted in the Jim Carey movie, Liar Liar, there’s a widespread view that it’s better to fib and make someone feel better than it is to tell the truth and hurt that person’s feelings.

One of the most intriguing chapters is the one that deals with seppuku. This is a concept that has never been well-understood in the West, and it’s a major point of cultural disconnect. While the Japanese have tended to see suicide as a means to restore honor that was lost in failure, in the West we tend to see it as a more pathetic and cowardly affair. I’ve recently been reading Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice, and this is one of many points of diverging attitudes between “Tiger” Tanaka and James Bond.

Bushidō is definitely worth a read. It’s thought-provoking, and is one of those books to be read slowly and conscientiously.

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Tulip 7

Night falls on Bangkok

Night falls on Bangkok

I’m speed-walking down the sidewalk off Sukhumvit Road like one of those elderly mall-walkers.  Like the mall-walkers, there’s an irony to my speedy step. I’m on vacation. I have no particular place to be, and no particular time by which I need to be there. Unlike the mall-walkers, my path is perilous. I have to weave around street-food vendors deepfrying springrolls or grilling satays (and fight my stomach’s urgings), evade the grasping taunts of idle tuk-tuk drivers, and wave off T-shirt vendors selling shirts featuring elephants, thaiboxers, and Singha beer.

I don’t know why I’m moving so quickly. It feels natural. It’s the pace of the city. To walk slow would be to swim against the current. If you want the truth, I walk fast because in the back of my mind, in the deep recesses of irrationality, I feel that if I slow down the city will collapse into me, forming a black-hole. It will start with a few tuk-tuk drivers, a beggar, a prostitute, and a few street vendors converging on me. They will create a gravity, attracting more vendors, beggars, drivers, and hookers. If I don’t walk fast, I fear that I will be crushed in the center of a dense mass of humanity.

Leaning against the marble wall of a bank façade, a master of timing, an Indian man blinks, touches his forehead, and grimaces–as if my approach causes him some sort of psychic pain. I brace myself for the scam. He steps away from the wall into my path, gently extending an arm.

He says, “Sometimes, you think too much.” He’s trying to convince me that he has insight into my soul by making a statement that, while perfectly correct, contains no information content whatsoever. He’s smooth in behavior and handsome of feature. I bet he makes a mint in his chosen profession.

An instantaneous battle rages inside of me. On the one hand, I’m an introvert– or perhaps a sociopath– something like that. Whatever my affliction, interacting with strangers is draining. On the other hand, I’m curious about everything. I know the man is a scam artist. It’s not that I was never on the turnip truck, but I fell off a couple of decades ago, and while it took me several bounces to come to a stop, I eventually became quasi-worldly. While I know he’s a scam artist, I don’t know what kind. I so desperately want to know that I stop.

After a greeting, he says, “I can tell your future. There are two women in your life, I can tell you how it will work out.” His speech is clear, and well-spoken, like he was born in Mumbai, but moved to Cincinnati when he was 15. He is, in all respects, a smooth operator.

However, he’s wrong already.  As I said, I’m not exactly a people person. It takes all my mental energy to even be monogamous, as opposed to nul-agamous. The idea that I’m maintaining two relationships would be a bit laughable to anyone who could really “see into my mind.” Whenever I hear about one of these guys who has two separate families, I always think, “How many hours a day did the good Lord grant you?” Because I can’t fathom living that way and not being in an utter state of exhaustion every minute of every day. I’d be a wreck.

However, I give him points for playing the odds. I’m a middle-aged man with a gray goatee walking down the street in Bangkok. I’m probably the only one fitting that description who hasn’t fallen desperately (and pathetically) in love with an “eighteen year old” bar girl who the man secretly thinks is 16, but who, in reality, is 29.

Incredulity must show in my face, because he changes tack. “Let me show you proof of my abilities.”

He extracts a flip-style pocket-notepad from the inner pocket of a tweed sport-coat that is grossly out-of-place in steamy Bangkok, but which lends credibility. He scribbles down something on a page so that I cannot see. He then tears off the strip of paper containing his writing. He wads the paper up.

“I want you to think of the English-language name of a flower. Have you got it?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I reply.

“Now think of a number between six and nine. Have you got it? Now think of them together.”

In my mind I see, Tulip 7.

He hands me the wadded up scrap. I unravel it. It reads, “Tulip 7.”

He then opens his day-planner and asks me to put in any amount that I feel is fair and he will tell me about my future.

What he doesn’t know is that I’m the exact wrong person to pitch his act to. As a skeptic, I make Descartes look like gullible. (After all, Descartes developed a “proof for the existence of God”–granted everyone deserves a nadir of thought, and that was clearly Descartes’.) The most fundamental thing that studying Economics and Political Science taught me was that humans are completely incapable of making meaningful predictions. I’d seen this guy’s act before from a guy named Professor Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, but instead of getting a few baht on the streets, the political scientist got millions of American tax dollars for convincing the CIA that he could tell the future.

As I walk away, he says, “You have an ailment. I can tell you about it.”

I think, Good one, that’s a true test of my powers of skepticism, and I continue to walk, thinking out how the mentalist scammer did his trick… and wondering if I have cancer.

My Humble Narcissistic Opinion on Organizations

Whenever an organization is built around an idea or set of values, that idea or set of values shrinks dwarf-like into the background. What looms large is the imperative to protect and expand the organization.

The organization is an organism, but one whose only growth governor is the attractiveness of its ideas. You think those ideas are the organization’s genes, but they aren’t. They aren’t the codes by which the organization lives. They aren’t its DNA. They are its skin. But even the loveliest beauty queen can be a gloppy, cancerous mess on the inside. No, the code that your organization lives by is the same viral code by which all organizations live.

Step 1: Preserve the organization.

Step 2: Grow the organization.

Step 3: Annihilate competitors.

Step 4: Repeat steps 1 through 3 until you’ve consumed the world.

You say that I’m not a loyal Party man. Guilty. I cannot be loyal to Party without being disloyal to my own mind. If one’s views mirror those of the Party, how likely is it that one didn’t twist one’s ledger into line? Not likely, I’d say. My thoughts are not static. They evolve. I learn. I will no more subordinate my belief s to a Party then I will chain my neck to a rock.

Your Company doesn’t make widgets, it makes Company.

You say I don’t believe in God. I see God in every leaf. I see him in the new fallen snow. I see him in the confident aerial leap of a nervous squirrel. I feel the pulse of him in my hand when it holds another hand. No, what I don’t believe in is religion. They say the problems of religion are the fault of flawed individuals. I say they have it exactly backwards. There wasn’t an evil cell in Hitler’s body, but together they formed an evil seed. Yet, one man cannot make a holocaust. Ever increasing numbers had to fall in love with a skin-deep mirage of an idea, and ignore the ugliness inside.  A man can only be as evil as the world lets him, but a government? a church? Those, my friend, can consume worlds.

The Bullets that Bore no Name: or, the Burden we all Bear

Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 192-334 / CC-BY-SA

Mauthausen                     Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 192-334 / CC-BY-SA

Thanks for joining me on the veranda. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this post flows from a book review I did on Elie Wiesel’s Night, which can be seen here. But don’t wander off just yet.

I married into a family of holocaust survivors.

Being sufficiently narcissistic, I haven’t been able to avoid thinking of the profound impact this had on my life.  I am married to the most extraordinary woman in the universe [my apologies to all other women, I’m sure you’re someone else’s most extraordinary woman] by virtue of the strength of a man who wrestled his way to the top of a pile of corpses, bleeding profusely from multiple shrapnel wounds, clawing his way out of a pit, and cleaning the gashes with his urine. That man was married to a woman, tiny of body but colossal of mind, who was in the group force marched from Budapest to Mauthausen. After the war, they had a child–my mother-in-law. Yada-yada-yada. I have marital bliss.

Not being completely narcissistic, I’m reminded that every one of our lives have been shaped by strong people who lived through close calls. Each of us comes hither as a gift from men and women who passed through a hail of bullets that bore no name. Some, like my wife’s grandfather, were riddled by bullets bearing their name, and still refused to heed their deadly whisper.  Every holocaust survivor survived by a thin margin. Every battlefield veteran’s life is an execution order rescinded. Every prisoner of war was one germ away from an unmarked grave.

No pressure or anything, but that sounds like a heavy debt we  all bear.

Telling this story in greater detail is one of my bucket list tasks. It’s a project I’ve had on the back burner for far too long. There are several reasons for this. The most feeble of which is a hope to find the right timing. Sadly, there are so many such stories that I fear it will be lost amid a sea of sorrow.  Then there is my need to develop grace with language sufficient to do the story justice. In a way the two novels I have drafted, and whose mess I am now painstakingly trying to dance into shape, are practice exercises.  Wish me luck.

On the plus side, my wife’s uncle had the foresight to have her grandfather speak his story onto about 20 tapes before he died. With today’s technology, there’s no excuse for anyone’s life-altering story to go untold.  So I guess if there is a moral to my rambling post it’s this: don’t let anyone in your life with a spectacular story pass from this world without it being heard.

TODAY’S RANT: Pronunciation Police

Pronunciation is tricky.

Pronunciation is tricky.

If you’ve ever had someone tell you that any water can be put in a pot (for pronouncing drinking water pot-table rather that po-table), then you may be with me here. If you frequently exercise your perogative, rather than your prerogative, you may agree. Have you had sherbert, or only sherbet? Do both your eggs and oxen have yokes?

If you’re not with me, you –my friend– might be the person on the right in my little stick cartoon.

I’m as anal about language as the next writer, but let’s try to dial down the pretentiousness. The big question I have for pronunciation police is this: What in your experience with the English language has led you to believe it is a phonetic language?

For those who think English is phonetic because they learned it via “Phonics,” let me expose you to a poem that says it more eloquently than I ever could. (I would attribute the poem, but it is to my knowledge owed to that most prolific “Anonymous” chap.)

Hints on Pronunciation for Foreigners

I take it you already know
of tough and bough and cough and dough.
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, laugh and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps.

Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead-it’s said like bed, not bead.
For goodness sake, don’t call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat.
They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.

A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear for pear and bear.
And then there’s dose and rose and lose
Just look them up–and goose and choose.
And cork and work and card and ward.
And font and front and word and sword.
And do and go, then thwart and cart.
Come, come I’ve hardly made a start.

A dreadful language? Man alive,
I’d mastered it when I was five!

If you still don’t believe that the language can handle multiple pronunciations, check out what the experts say.

TODAY’S RANT: Nukes and Ketchup

Why was there no Manhattan Project for Ketchup?

Why was there no Manhattan Project for Ketchup?

How come we mastered the thermonuclear warhead decades before we did the ketchup bottle?

Building a nuke took:

– the greatest scientific minds Hungary ever produced (You scoff, but Hungary’s claim to fame is driving out more Nobel Laureates and top-rate scientific minds than most countries will ever hope to produce. [e.g. Teller, Szilard, Wigner, von Neumann, etc.] If they didn’t let jackwagons run their country, they’d probably rule the world by now.)
– $42 billion in current-year US dollars
– the Project Manager who built the Pentagon
– and a whopping two or three years (for the fission weapon)

Building a decent ketchup bottle shouldn’t have even required an Algonquin Round-table  It could have been achieved by two morons sitting around at a barbecue.

Moron one says, “You knows what would be delightful, if this bottle was squeezable plastic, not glass.”

Moron two says, “Dude, you are so right, and what if they turned it upside-down so that all the ketchup stayed near the hole?”

Bob’s your uncle, the ketchup bottle is perfected.

Do you know what kind of Galactic douche-bags this makes humanity look like? It makes it seem like we don’t care about our condiments.
Oh, but we do. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen a man in Boise use no less than 42 packets of ketchup on his fries. I saw a rotund woman in Phoenix use half a jug of mustard on her hot dogs. I saw a canuck slather mayo on his burger (what is up with that, Canada.) From sea to that other sea, amid the prairie dogs, through the alligator-infested swamps, across those bruised mountains, I’ve seen a divinely inspired love of sauces throughout our great nation (and that ancillary nation to the north.)

No wonder aliens haven’t visited us; they probably haven’t received word across the light-years that we’ve mastered ketchup. Or maybe it’s the fact that we haven’t built a plastic fork whose tines could stick up to a sturdy gherkin. (But that outrage is for another day. Yes, manufacturers of disposable flatware, you too will taste my wrath.)