Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Breaking the rules, not breaking the rules

I was watching one of my favorite shows recently, Fringe, on FOX Cable.

This show kind of being the new millennium's X-Files (some have speculated that Fringe Division took over after X-Files Division were closed down). The Wikipedia article on the show says, "The show has been described as a hybrid of The X-Files, Altered States, The Twilight Zone and Dark Angel." So there are plenty of warps and twists and questioning ethics and physics, for that matter.

So on this one episode, the character of the genius scientist, Dr. Walter Bishop, finds an envelope in the FBI Fringe Division's Special Agent's coat. He is waiting on her to fill out a report and it will influence whether he is sent back to the (Mental) Hostpital, so he has quite a vested interest in what it says. So, he reads it. But then, he says nothing about it to her. Most of you would be thinking, "And so? So, what? What's he going to do? SAY something about it, when it was wrong for him to have looked at it in the first place?"

Well, yes, precisely so. And that got me to thinking.

Super Special Agent Olivia Dunham

Well, it is implied that to do that, to go into someone's things and take what is there's, and misuse it (that is to look at something confidential, whether it is about you or not), if you break the rules and read it, read something that was for all intents and purposes, in someone else's "possession" (it wasn't in her hand, but in her coat), then it follows that you need to follow the rules from that point forward (related to this matter) as if you hadn't actually broken the rule and read it.

So, any information you discovered, at that point, you are supposed to say nothing about it. Right? Because, if you are going to break that initial rule, then in order to cover up your transgression, you then have to follow that rule as if you broke no rule at all. Right?

So, why is that? "What a stupid question," you think. Right?

Is it?

Well, if you let them know, they know you have crossed the line of reasonable expectation of privacy. If this is a professional, especially, a Federal job, you may in some obscure way (or not obscure at all) be breaking a law. If you are friends, which they are, you have now compromised their privacy in a different way, by knowing what was confidential, and possibly embarrassed them.

Embarrassment. That, can be a killer. The one thing my Ex if anything, could not stand was to be embarrassed. She could handle a lot in life, but to embarrass her, was anathema to her. She would rather die, I think, sometimes, rather than be held up to the light of negative scrutiny in the public forum. She loved the "limelight", but not if it wasn't in the most positive of ways possible.

If you have gone into what is confidential and private, you have broken your "trust" with them. A trust of  various levels. Trust of expectation of privacy, so that is a breech on several levels of privacy. Trust of theft not being a concern between friends, coworkers, and authoritarian and subject. Three things, three levels.

I could probably go on with this train of thought, but I don't want to bore you, or waste your time further than necessary and I think I've now made my point. Whenever you step over the bounds of accepted behavior, you take the chance of breaking something. Not infrequently, many more things than you have given consideration to.

This example from a TV show is minor in the real world, the world we live in. After all, it's between characters who are friends and coworkers in extraordinary circumstances however. Where the Special Agent knows the quirks of the Doctor, of his mental aberrations and unique vision of Life, with special circumstances that extend even beyond our known Universe, and even another known Universe.

So with Walter, she might take it more lightly than if another Special Agent had done this to her. Or if her boyfriend, Peter Bishop, son of the Doctor (depending on which Universe, or in which timeline you are referring), had been the one to break trust with her. But, I think you can see both, how finite and infinite this example is. My point in the end however is that this is really no big deal. Except perhaps, to the characters in a play.

But consider, if you did this in real life, what are the ramifications to your life with your girlfriend, wife, lover, or anyone you have a relationship with? Consider if rather than reading a confidential letter, you broke a trust of emotional fidelity or, what most would consider a far worse scenario, that of physical fidelity. Let's skip going into any detail about the ins and outs of those two minefields.

So to summarize, to break one, small, simple rule, returns not one repercussion, but rather multiple, but also on various levels, with domino like ramifications that can exacerbate yet other things. In some cases, you can bury yourself under a morass of ill feelings and life events until you end up only wishing you could reverse and go back to make the original decision all over again.

So one has to ask oneself, why not just make the right decision in the first place? Yes?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why are we educating people out of their creativity?

The more I hear about education and corporations, jobs and how people are treated now a days, the more I realize that we are really very screwed up. And we need to do something about it, because continuing on as we are, really isn't a tenable situation. TED had Sir Ken Robinson talk and he really can spark one's imagination. He gives an example that I think is especially telling.

Why you should listen to him:
Why don't we get the best out of people? Sir Ken Robinson argues that it's because we've been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers. Students with restless minds and bodies -- far from being cultivated for their energy and curiosity -- are ignored or even stigmatized, with terrible consequences. "We are educating people out of their creativity," Robinson says. It's a message with deep resonance. Robinson's TEDTalk has been distributed widely around the Web since its release in June 2006. The most popular words framing blog posts on his talk? "Everyone should watch this."

"It's really prompted by a conversation I had with a wonderful woman who maybe most people have never heard of, she's called Gillian Lynne, have you heard of her? Some have. She's a choreographer and everybody knows her work. She did "Cats," and "Phantom of the Opera." She's wonderful. I used to be on the board of the Royal Ballet, in England, as you can see. Anyway, Gillian and I had lunch one day and I said, "Gillian, how'd you get to be a dancer?" And she said it was interesting, when she was at school, she was really hopeless. And the school, in the '30s, wrote to her parents and said, "We think Gillian has a learning disorder." She couldn't concentrate, she was fidgeting. I think now they'd say she had ADHD. Wouldn't you? But this was the 1930s, and ADHD hadn't been invented at this point. It wasn't an available condition. (Laughter) People weren't aware they could have that.

"Anyway, she went to see this specialist. So, this oak-paneled room, and she was there with her mother, and she was led and sat on a chair at the end, and she sat on her hands for 20 minutes while this man talked to her mother about all the problems Gillian was having at school. And at the end of it -- because she was disturbing people, her homework was always late, and so on, little kid of eight -- in the end, the doctor went and sat next to Gillian and said, "Gillian, I've listened to all these things that your mother's told me, and I need to speak to her privately." He said, "Wait here, we'll be back, we won't be very long." and they went and left her. But as they went out the room, he turned on the radio that was sitting on his desk. And when they got out the room, he said to her mother, "Just stand and watch her." And the minute they left the room, she said, she was on her feet, moving to the music. And they watched for a few minutes and he turned to her mother and said, "Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn't sick, she's a dancer. Take her to a dance school."

"I said, "What happened?" She said, "She did. I can't tell you how wonderful it was. We walked in this room and it was full of people like me. People who couldn't sit still. People who had to move to think." Who had to move to think. They did ballet, they did tap, they did jazz, they did modern, they did contemporary. She was eventually auditioned for the Royal Ballet School, she became a soloist, she had a wonderful career at the Royal Ballet. She eventually graduated from the Royal Ballet School and founded her own company -- the Gillian Lynne Dance Company -- met Andrew Lloyd Weber. She's been responsible for some of the most successful musical theater productions in history, she's given pleasure to millions, and she's a multi-millionaire. Somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down."

Many of these mistakes we make in life are through ignorance. We didn't know any better. But times are changing. We need to be more aware. We need to notice what is not working, and consider, maybe it's not broken, it's just in the wrong environment, or it's being handled incorrectly for it to function correctly. Or, maybe the "it" is a person, and deserves our time and respect.

What Sir Ken has to say is fundamentally important to the survival of not only the United States, but the state of Humanity. But remember, at some point, ignorance becomes stupidity, because if you don't do something about it, you've chosen, by inaction.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Educating our Children

I just watched Fareed Zakaria's "Restoring the American Dream: Back to Work". An hour show he put on back on November 6th, 2011. I have been going on about how we need to teach critical and creative thought, for decades. Here is supporting information about that.

He takes as example, a South Korean family and talks about how their son Sung- Do gets up at 6AM every school day. He excercises, jumping rope as the sun comes up, then his mother makes him a "massive" breakfast, saying that a "healthy meal helps his concentration." Then he goes off to school from 8AM to 4PM, on most days. They have about 205 school days on their calendar, twenty-five more than the typical US schedule.

Over their K-12 career, South Korean children will spend two more years in the classroom that US children. After school, Sung-Do studies for hours in the school cubicles, then takes his dinner in the school cafeteria. Then he will sometimes go to a late night cram-school with a teacher and other students. All geared toward the big school exam. The average Korean family spends roughly 20% of their income on private tutoring. Once back home, Sung-Do continues his studies, well after midnight.

Of course all this work for kids means emotional pressures. That translates into suicides, which doubled in 2009, compared to 2003. This is something that has gone all the way up to their President, who has promised to relieve academic pressures and make a more engaging scholastic environment for children. Some of those cram schools can go past midnight and they have now given them a 10PM curfew. Citizens can report misbehaving cram schools to the government for a cash reward.

But there is an attitude in South Korea, that is very pro education, they have just gone over the edge in that direction. Yes, they need to back off a bit, maybe quite a bit, but in their country, they refer to their Teachers as "Nation Builders". We need that kind of a fundemental change in our view of education, both for our nation and for our children. They shouldn't be going through things now like they are, unable to pay their student college loans off, unable to find jobs, having to move back in with parents after college. That is all another kind of pressure, in an opposite direction.

From my American point of view, I do find the Korean paradigm for education all a bit harsh for children. But when you compare it to what we are currently going through in the US, it begs the quesion, what do we think we are doing? Look at how poorly our children have been doing in school, how much crime there is, though it has been going down over recent decades. One does have to consider the disparity between our education and the South Koreans, and other countries who are outranking us, such as India and Germany.
Some interesting states:
  • Almost 50% of America's dropouts come from 12% of the nation's High Schools (source: White House).
  • In New York City in 1970 starting Teachers earned $2,000 less than starting Lawyers. In 2010 starting Teachers earned $115,000 less than starting lawyers (source: McKinsey & Company, "Closing the Talent Gap").
  • Fifteen year olds who read for enjoyment: Shanghai-China, 92%; Brazil, 78%, United States, 58%.
  • Engineering degrees as portion of all degrees (by country): Japan, 20%, Germany, 16%, United States, 6% (source: OECD, 2004).
  • Median annual income by education level: Bachelor's degree, $42,783; High School diploma, $21,569; Some High School but no diploma, $10,996 (source: U.S. Census Bureau).
There must at very least be a lowest common denominator, happy medium between South Korea and our own dysfunctional school system. But more so, our own dysfunctional education attitudes need to change.

In South Korea the per capita income was less than $1700, today it's almost $24,000. Does this mean we need to have our economy literally collapse, to experience severely hard times in order for us to wake up and smell the coffee? To stop being so lazy and focus? Many people look at our kids and blame them. Other's blame the teachers, or our school system. But in considering this Korean family, one has to see how the attitude of the parents, the family, are first and foremost in this consideration, not the outside forces of Government, Schools, or Teachers.

Taking a different slant to this, Finland's students spend less time in school, but their performace is also off the charts. Children start school in Finland at seven years of age. They have less home work and less school hours than even the US. But they score first in the world in science and second in the world in math. You can read about all this in Pasi Sahlberg's book, "Finnish Lessons - what can the world learn from educational change in Finland?"

In Finland they spend less time on rote learning and more focus on creativity. They spend hardly any time preparing for standardized tests. They don't really have a standardized test system. Their focus instead is on having great teachers. Something I've been pushing for years. Build a system of great teachers, treat them appropriately, and the kids will benefit. The Fins highly respect their teachers, on par with Doctors and Lawyers. All Finnish teachers have to have Masters Degrees.

A prerequisite we should adopt immediately. Only one in ten are accepted for a teaching position. It is harder to get into the primary education program in college in Finland than it is for medical or law school. Finnish teachers also seem to stay with their profession. Unlike in America where the turnover is seven times higher. Why?

Almost half of all US teachers graduate in the bottom third of their college class. And then we put those probably very nice people, but academically poor people, in charge of our children's education. Why? Money, I would argue. We're cheap. We run our schools system on an 18th century format. We run them like factories. Kids are grouped by age rather than intellectual levels.

We could have bumped our daughter up two grades (to top of the second level even) when she entered second grade (being homeschooled in first grade) but we only advanced her one grade, concerned about social concerns when she got older. Intellectually, this helped her not be bored in class, just barely. She was also socially advanced for her age. It wasn't until High School that this advancement gave her any grief, for instance, her friends got a driver's license a year before she did. Advancing her two years would have been even harder on her. But that wasn't her issue, it was our eduationcal system's issue that she suffered for.

Rather than take on the theory that putting someone in the presence of greatness, will rub off on them, we prefer to take the lazy route and give our kids the bare minimum for education and put the burdon to learn, upon them. How is that right? How is that expected to work?

I didn't know it, but I was a bright kid in my K-12 years. However, I was repeatedly seen by many of my teachers as being not very bright. Why? Because I couldn't sit still for their boring teaching styles and capabilities. I alwyas had questions beyond the class level. I could see far faster into the lesson and so had to hold back, becoming quickly bored and the even losing my place because it took them so long to get to where I had already been for a while.

And so I suffered all through K-12. I didn't know it, I just knew I was stupid and emotionally down on myself all that time. But I wasn't stupid and so it came out in the classroom as being the class clown, or a smart ass because I was pissed off and didn't know it. Subconsciously, I think I kind of got what was going on, but on the surface, I didn't seem to have a clue. I just knew I was annoyed at something.

It came to a peak in 10th grade one day in English Comp, when the teacher, who was one of the brighter teachers in the school, couldn't go on with the lesson because every thing I said, made the class burst out with laughter. Even she was laughing. Finally she simply asked my permission to go on, saying we really needed to get through our lesson. I felt so pleased that I was being recognized for my talent, that I was ready to follow her anywhere from that moment on. And I never did that in her class again.

It wasn't until I got to college that I started getting straight A's and rose to the top of my classes. Why? Was it really my fault? My family's fault? Or that of my teachers?

I had the odd teacher here and there who saw in my, a bright kid and I excelled in their classes. There were only three in High School I would put in that group. But in the other teacher's classrooms, which were most of my teachers, I was typically in the middle to bottom level. It did get a little better in High School, but it was hit and miss. That inconsistent disparity for twelve years confused and frustrated me all through school until by time I graduated, I never wanted to go to school again. No college for me. It wasn't until after four frustrating years in the USAF, doing rote, repetitive work that I realized I might like going into an enhanced educational environment. And once I did, I loved it. But it was so different from my K-12 years.

Of  course, we are not South Korea, and we are certainly not the homogenous country of Finland. We have more diversity in our classrooms, more poverty. But this does not mean these changes are not needed. I would argue it means we need them even more, because we need smarter teachers and educators who can handle this disparity.

Bill Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who have given billions of dollars to education reform, even says the first the he would do to drastically change education in our country is to hire better teachers. One study indicated that if students had a top teacher for four years straight, the achievement gap between blacks and whites would dissappear.

But all this comes from one ideal. Parents and their families, have got to start thinking about their children and their education, as a primary importance in their lives, not, their jobs. Our focus in America to so much about "Me" and not about our kids. Even when it is about our kids, it is not really, the focus is in the wrong areas, about the wrong concerns.

There is an upside in American eduation. Fareed pointed out that he went through the Asian education system that is getting so much attention and accolades now. But, he said that when he arrived in the US for college, he wasn't prepared for America education, to simply, think. He said that, "American education, at its best, teach you how to solve problems, question authority (oh, we're really good at that one), think for yourself, and be creative. It teaches you to learn what you love and love learning. These are incredibly important values, and why America has been able to maintain an edge in creative industries, entrepreneurship and innovation."

But that does not absolve us of our failures in education. Until we start to rethink our policies and our way of thinking about our children and their education, and the impact that it all has on our entire nation, and on our children as adults, we will continue to falter and fail on front after front in the attempt to reclaim our position as a super power. It is no longer so important that America is a "Military Super Power" but we now have to be an "Intellectual Super Power".

The world has changed. We have not kept up with it and we need to. Recently, Pres. Obama said in a speech, to paraphrase, that America has gotten lazy and the world has passed us by. Republicans have knocked him for that comment. But they tried to say that he meant that American workers are lazy. What he meant was that those in charge have gotten lazy, ironically those who were knocking his comment, as well as corporations, Government.

We HAVE been cruising on our laurels for far too long. It's time to get our act together. Take another look at your children. Don't just see them, see their future, connect that to all of our future, collectively. We have to make changes. So ask yourself, as a parent, as a voter, what is that change you need to make? Now, act on it.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Extended Weekend Wise Words

Be Smart! Be Brilliant!


I hope you had a pleasant Thanksgiving Day and the rest of your weekend is also rewarding. We are now officially into the holidays season, the 25th being "Black Friday" and the biggest shopping day of the year, for Christmas gifts. So I thought a moment about holidays in general, might be a pleasant thing to consider. Perhaps, taking a moment to view them in a different light.

If I were a medical man, I should prescribe a holiday to any patient who considered his work important. - Bertrand Russell

“Marry an orphan: you'll never have to spend boring holidays with the in-laws (at most an occasional visit to the cemetery).” - George Carlin

I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land. - Jon Stewart

Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse. - Henry Van Dyke

“I also hate those holidays that fall on a Monday where you don't get mail, those fake holidays like Columbus Day. What did Christopher Columbus do, discover America? If he hadn't, somebody else would have and we'd still be here. Big deal.” - John Waters

“Working hours are never long enough. Each day is a holiday, and ordinary holidays are grudged as enforced interruptions in an absorbing vocation.” - Winston Churchill

“If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work.” - William Shakespeare

In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it 'Christmas' and went to church; the Jews called it 'Hanukka' and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say 'Merry Christmas!' or 'Happy Hanukka!' or (to the atheists) 'Look out for the wall!' - Dave Barry

That's what the holidays are for - for one person to tell the stories and another to dispute them. Isn't that the Irish way? - Lara Flynn Boyle

And my only religious quote, being about Christmas, is from the great W.C. Fields:

Christmas at my house is always at least six or seven times more pleasant than anywhere else. We start drinking early. And while everyone else is seeing only one Santa Claus, we'll be seeing six or seven.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving 2011

I do hope you are all getting Thanksgiving Day and Friday off this week, whether or not you are American, or in a country that makes this a National Holiday.

Just for fun, NatGeo's, "Thanksgiving 2011 Myths and Facts"

And now....

The precise historical origin of the holiday is disputed. Although Americans commonly believe that the first Thanksgiving happened with the Pilgrims and local indigenous tribes (Indians) in 1621 at Plymouth [Rock], Massachusetts, there is strong evidence for earlier celebrations in Canada (1578) and by Spanish explorers in Florida (1565).

In the United States the word "Pilgrims" usually refers to the English settlers of New England, who celebrated the "First Thanksgiving" with the Native Americans in 1621.

Plymouth Rock was founded by a group of separatists and Anglicans, who together later came to be known as the Pilgrim Fathers, Plymouth Colony was, along with Jamestown, Virginia, one of the earliest successful colonies to be founded by the English in North America and the first sizable permanent English settlement in the New England region. Aided by Squanto, a Native American of the Patuxet people, the colony was able to establish a treaty with Chief Massasoit which helped to ensure the colony's success. The colony played a central role in King Philip's War, one of the earliest of the Indian Wars. Ultimately, the colony was annexed by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.

Despite the colony's relatively short history, Plymouth holds a special role in American history. Rather than being entrepreneurs like many of the settlers of Jamestown, a significant proportion of the citizens of Plymouth were fleeing religious persecution and searching for a place to worship as they saw fit. The social and legal systems of the colony became closely tied to their religious beliefs, as well as English custom. Many of the people and events surrounding Plymouth Colony have become part of American folklore, including the North American tradition known as Thanksgiving and the monument known as Plymouth Rock.
- From Wikipedia


On June 20, 1676, the governing council of Charlestown, Massachusetts, held a meeting to determine how best to express thanks to God, for the good fortune that had seen their community securely established. By unamimous vote they instructed Edward Rawson, the clerk, to proclaim June 29 as a day of thanksgiving, our first. That proclamation is reproduced here in the same language and spelling as the original.

"The Holy God having by a long and Continual Series of his Afflictive dispensations in and by the present Warr with the Heathen Natives of this land, written and brought to pass bitter things against his own Covenant people in this wilderness, yet so that we evidently discern that in the midst of his judgements he hath remembered mercy, having remembered his Footstool in the day of his sore displeasure against us for our sins, with many singular Intimations of his Fatherly Compassion, and regard..."

The Council has thought meet to appoint and set apart the 29th day of this instant June, as a day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such his Goodness and Favour, many
The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth by By Jennie A. Brownscombe

By Jennie A. Brownscombe [1914]
The Pilgrim Society
Particulars of which mercy might be Instanced, but we doubt not those who are sensible of God's Afflictions, have been as diligent to espy him returning to us; and that the Lord may behold us as a People offering Praise and thereby glorifying Him; the Council doth commend it to the Respective Ministers, Elders and people of this Jurisdiction; Solemnly and seriously to keep the same Beseeching that being perswaded by the mercies of God we may all, even this whole people offer up our bodies and soulds as a living and acceptable Service unto God by Jesus Christ."

History notwithstanding, and for whatever reason you have a feeling to give thanks for your life, have a great Holiday!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Healthpoint Services, a new paradigm in HealthCare

There is a lack of health care for those people making very little money around the world. But there are a lot of people that need it. Primary in diseases and other health issues is a lack of potable drinking water.

There is a new company that is trying to fill this niche and it is growing. Slowly, but it may be on to something. Currently, they have eight pilot clinics that are making a small profit.

Healthpoint Services has been honored as laureate of The Tech Awards 2011, amongst one of 15 global innovators recognized each year for applying technology to benefit humanity and spark global change.

E Healthpoint Services is an effort to turn a profit with lower end medical procedures, and testing. Local clinics with medical tests done while you wait for costs between forty cents and six dollars. Remote consultations, local healthcare workers available to assist you where a doctor is not required, and... supplying clean water.

Clean water means less health issues. So water purification is performed on the clinic premises. Families can subscribe to clearn water for around a $1 a month, for familes that only make a $1 a day, this is a reasonable cost. This subscription allows for twenty litres of water for each family per day. It seems that much of the water in India is bad. Well water is contaminated with dangeroulsy high levels of flouride in some areas, surface waters contaminated with chemicals in others.

Part of the issue and costs for people in locations like India, especially remote locations, many of which are where this company has started up, are also part of what makes it untenable for them to receive good, or any healthcare. Medicine, advanced diagnostic tools, and remote medical consultation with a doctor while a healthcare worker is with the client and available to clients.

By all accounts this methodology and company design is workable and sustainable. They are dealing in a niche of lower income that has needed to be filled for a long time. It is hoped that they will be able to spread this across India and eventually the world. Although there are smaller funds available to expand business, they have brought in individuals who believe in the model, and have invested their own money; but also some typical investors who hope to make a profit.

Although they plany and try to keep the "client first and foremost" model, over that of profit, they realize the danger involved in allowing typical investors. Still, a balance of both types of investors could possibly sustain the model, as well as allow for expansion and reasonable growth. It's a brave attempt. This model works, but it usually falls victim to profit taking and ever increasing focus on economy to the point of the client losing out on the quality of services that once supplied, are so reasonably expected.

But also, in these new days of economic dissatisfaction, we need to try to find a way to make the old models work, just in a more appropriate and not only efficient ways; with knowledge aforethought, and a realization that hindsight is foresight. And a lot of other euphemisms like that.

It's a noble idea. I hope it works.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

KEXP after Pearl Jam Twenty

I was watching Pearl Jam Twenty by Cameron Crowe. What a great documentary. It made me sad though. To realize I was right in the middle of all that, having worked with bassist Jeff Ament at Tower Video's Mercer Street store back when he was in Green River.

All the bands that passed through those doors at Tower. Andy Wood was in the video store with a couple of band members one day. I was supervisor that day, in the office doing paperwork. One of the female employees came back all worried saying there was a guy standing on the long counter top that ran the length of the store. Now, I hesitated going out, but if an employee was worried, that was what I was there for, to run that gamut of the curious, confusing and dangerous. One day, I had to go deal with Conan (local guy) who was in the store with his sword (that was unsettling to the employees, till I talked to him, checked out his sword, held it and told him to have a nice day).

So when I go out into the store and it's just Andy standing on the counter dancing around, big smile on his face, I figured, ooookay, this is the least of the odd situations I've had to deal with. He immediately jumped down when he saw me, not wanting to get 86'd I suppose, and watched for my reaction. But I just smiled (hey, it was funny) and said, "Hey, guys, how's it going?" He smiled and said, "Great." I said, "Cool, have a nice day." And I told the employee not to worry about it, it was just a Rock singer in with the band, front men tend to be a bit rambunctious, and they were basically harmless. Besides, we all liked the bands coming in, as long as they didn't destroy anything, and they never did. Sad to think back on it now that Andy's gone.

It was interesting to see the people that passed through those doors to rent videos. Bruce Springsteen's manager when they were in town. One night, half of the Sonics were getting tapes to watch videos at one of their homes. Which was odd, to look up as I was putting tapes back out to rent and realize that at 6'2" I was the shortest guy in the room, dwarfed by not one but six giants. I walked back to the counter and mentioned it to an employee who said, "Don't you recognize them? That's half of the Sonics." Which made me feel better because I wasn't used to looking up at many people, yet alone a small crowd of them.

Then to think about all the things that were going on as exhibited in the Pearl Jam documentary, with all the footage of places that looked so familiar to me, all the bands and people, many I remember seeing from back then, partying at McCoy's after gigs with many rock bands that pass through there to blow off some steam, or buy drugs along the hall on the way to the restrooms; it's hard to consider having been so close to so much, and yet having been so involved in one's own life and to have just about missed it all. I hadn't realized that Cameron was living in Seattle back then too.

After the documentary was over, there was a short about the Seattle Music Scene and KEXP and SubPop records, showing some footage of their fine establishments and giving a brief history and status quo of each. And it ocurred to me, I should say something about KEXP.

John Richard's show, "John in the Morning", is excellent. He's not just my favorite DJ. Even the Mayor of Seattle has said, "John in the Morning" is how he starts his day and he has come down to the station to visit on the air on occasion.

Before this short film on KEXP, I'd never seen what their place looks like, what they look like and yet, I have always wondered.

KEXP is known around the world. I've heard many comments from people how it is one of the best radio stations, anywhere. Many bands who have gone on to make it, or signed with SubPop records, have said if it wasn't for KEXP, they wouldn't have been able to make it. SubPop is another entity we take for granted. We have had this music scene for decades and we just don't think much about it, other than, we love it.

As they mention in the documentary, there is much reason to stay inside through a majority of the year in the Pacific Northwest and one of the things that has done, was to spawn a fresh and powerful music culture.

Here in John Richard's words from their web site, posted back in July, sums up much of this rather clearly:

"You often hear that there is “something in the water” in Seattle that makes it such a vibrant and creative community. There is, but it’s the water falling from the sky and there is nothing in it but wetness.

"If you are a regular listener to the Morning Show and/or a regular listener in the Seattle area, then you know that this year has been one of the gloomiest on record. In fact, today I was inspired to write this post based on my excitement that the rain has turned to thundershowers! We love any kind of change in the weather.

"There is a reason why coffee, beer, smoking, drugs, and suicide are popular here. People either need vices or a way out… or both. BUT this also pushes artists to create amazing music and art as their outlet for making it to those glorious two months of summer in August and September. There used to be three months of summer, but it appears July is no longer going to cooperate. We also, for once, got to be the envy of the entire country during this most recent heat wave within the States. It was nice to be #1 for once, if only for a week."

As I said, John's my favorite DJ at KEXP, in Seattle, or anywhere else for that matter.

KEXP streams live, uncompressed (and compressed) at My daughter is backpacking around Europe and she has run into people there who know of KEXP. Seattle is very lucky to have such a fresh, interesting radio station that is respected world wide.

Since March 24, 2008, Radio Liberation has aired KEXP-produced programming Monday through Friday on Radio New York 91.5 FM. New Yorker seem to love KEXP, too.

So, if you don't listen, at least check it out. If nothing else, if you don't like the station, it's a good way to deduce if you simply aren't "cool" anymore. I'm kidding. But it is a good way to hear some very cool music and not infrequently, way before the time the bands hit it big.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Grammar and Style

Someone recently asked, what is the difference between grammar and style.

Well? Interesting question.

Grammar is (are?) the rules you need to learn so you can break them in such a way that you are considered to have your own writing style.

Michelle Baker, at Corporate Writing Pro mentioned a few books worth perusing toward this goal. I cut my writing teeth on Strunk and White's in college but here are a few others.

  •  Strunk and White’s Elements of Style
  • Geoffrey Pullum in “50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice
  • Fowler’s Modern English Usage
  • Joseph Williams’ Style: Toward Clarity and Grace

The degree to which you can twist, bend or break grammar, depends on your knowledge of it, your audience, and your skill as a scribe. 

How many brilliant authors have lived and written, died in poverty, only to be discovered by a later generation as a genius, all because they were before their time? It's quite socially subjective. 

So, I think you have to write for yourself, what is pleasing to you and consider your audience, and your goal(s). What are you shooting for in your writings? Art? Money? Notoriety? Posterity? 

I agree it certainly depends on what you are writing. Some styles are not conducive to some genres. Non-fiction styles may not work for fiction, yet they can and do. I'm not sure if we can quantify it. 

But once you have it, you have it. And though it's hard to describe, as a Supreme Court Justice once foolishly said, "once you see it, you know it." But it is true to some degree, though not in all topics, to be sure.

I think it has a lot to do with your education (academically and experientially), as well as putting Malcolm Gladwell's "10,000 hour rule" (Outliers) into practice, which raises you to the level of expert which could be ten years. So start writing, and don't quit. I also find that if I think a piece I wrote was easy, it's usually not as good as if I put a lot of labor into it. However, I have had words simply "fall out of my head onto the page" that were thought by others to be extraordinary. The pulp fiction writer, Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian, et. al.) said he felt like there was someone standing over his shouldar telling him what to write.

There is certainly enough room in the world for all kinds of things that make sense and defy explanation and almost always, an exception to the rule. But don't let that fool you.

So I still think it is important to learn different types of grammar and where they fit in. Then screwing with them until you have what is uniquely yours and works for you.

Now, go out and create singular expressions.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Weekend Wise Words

Be Smart! Be Brilliant!

Quotes-wise, I seem to be focused on writing this week. Politically speaking....

My daughter is in Athens right now and there is so much going on over there. She just left Serbia and is happy to be warm again. But she is having a blast and along with her fellow travel and performer friends, and they are pretty astute about travel at nineteen / twenty.

My friend's mother was just pepper sprayed in Seattle this week by the police. Good one guys, I'm so sure an 84 year old woman and another who is pregnant, are real dangers to the community; and if you are out there doing things like this to protect me, well, knock it off. Good one guys. Or I should say, good two. I'm sure these protesters are trying in dealing with them, but you're paid to handle it and not attack citizens, especially the elderly and with child types.

And Mike's not very happy you pepper sprayed his mom. And you don't, want to make Mike mad (kidding, Mike's a good guy, but hey, they sprayed his MOM). He wants Anthony Michael Hall to play him in his Lifetime movie; who do you think will play his Activist Mom? Before you spray someone, maybe consider, PR, PC, and a few other acronyms.

Anyway, some quotes from some of my favorite authors....

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by. - Douglas Adams

A writer should say to himself, not, How can I get more money?, but How can I reach more readers (without lowering standards)? - Brian Aldiss

Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil - but there is no way around them. - Isaac Asimov

There's no such thing as writer's block. That was invented by people in California who couldn't write.
- Terry Pratchett

I try to make the characters always contradicting themselves. - Woody Allen
Oh, I’ve stolen from the best. I mean I’ve stolen from Bergman. I’ve stolen from Groucho, I’ve stolen from Chaplin, I’ve stolen from Keaton, from Martha Graham, from Fellini. I mean I’m a shameless thief. - Woody Allen
The funniest human being in my lifetime, in any medium–whether it’s stand-up, television, theatre, prose, or movies–is S. J. Perelman. There is nobody funnier than S. J. Perelman. - Woody Allen

Never ever doubt in Magic. The purest honest thoughts come from children, ask any child if they believe in magic and they will tell you the truth. - Loren Eiseley

I have not been a success, and probably never will be. - Robert E. Howard (Author of Conan the Barbarian, and other writings. He committed suicide the night his mother was pronounced to soon be dead after her long fight against TB and being in a coma. Having written Westerns for a while by that time, he was just about to break out of the pulps and into true book publishing with A Gent from Bear Creek at the time of his death.)

The author must keep his mouth shut when his work starts to speak. - Frederich Nietzsche

It is advantageous to an author that his book should be attacked as well as praised. Fame is a shuttlecock. If it be struck at one end of the room, it will soon fall to the ground. To keep it up, it must be struck at both ends. - Samuel Johnson will not always happen that the success of a poet is proportionate to his labor. - Samuel Johnson

Any magazine-cover hack can splash paint around wildly and call it a nightmare, or a witches Sabbath or a portrait of the devil; but only a great painter can make such a thing really scare or ring true. That's because only a real artist knows the anatomy of the terrible, or the physiology of fear. - H. P. Lovecraft

I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger, except in its absolute effect - in terror. - Edgar Allan Poe

Were I called on to define, very briefly, the term Art, I should call it 'the reproduction of what the Senses perceive in Nature through the veil of the soul.' The mere imitation, however accurate, of what is in Nature, entitles no man to the sacred name of 'Artist.' - Edgar Allan Poe

Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality. - Edgar Allan Poe

In science there is a dictum: don't add an experiment to an experiment. Don't make things unnecessarily complicated. In writing fiction, the more fantastic the tale, the plainer the prose should be. Don't ask your readers to admire your words when you want them to believe your story. - Ben Bova

People on the outside think there's something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn't like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that's all there is to it. - Harlan Ellison
Thank your readers and the critics who praise you, and then ignore them. Write for the most intelligent, wittiest, wisest audience in the universe: Write to please yourself. - Harlan Ellison

I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.
- Stephen King

[Horror fiction] shows us that the control we believe we have is purely illusory, and that every moment we teeter on chaos and oblivion. ― Clive Barker