Friday, July 17, 2009

Clash of the vanishing titans

Everywhere I look all I see is news of newspapers folding and how the Internet has infringed on the newspapers' turf. I remember the same thing a few decades back (yes, I am that old) when the upstart telephone companies were complaining they couldn't make any headway because AT&T had a monopoly. The government's answer was to institute the anti-trust laws and down came Ma Bell. Of course, the small companies made out like the bandits they were because they got to use the equipment and lines that Ma Bell had so thoughtfully installed over nearly 100 years of being in business and Ma Bell gave birth to a lot of Baby Bells.

Now we have the reverse with the upstart Internet pushing the entrenched newspapers out of their own business by providing fast and often erroneous access to news that the newspapers cannot even come close to beating. The newspapers are hemorrhaging money and every day another paper goes into bankruptcy and gives up the ghost as advertisers flee the sinking ship for shiny, flashy and inexpensive ads on the Internet, and they're interactive, too. What could be better? Save money and get world wide access. It's a dream come true -- for the advertisers who are getting world wide bang for their buck -- and a nightmare for newspapers . . . and people. There is nowhere you can get away from the all pervasive carny barking that follows you into your home and won't let go.

Advertisers invade email and news stories, literally popping up everywhere. Even with pop-up blocking programs, some of them still get through when you click on a link or do a search. Looks like the world that Philip K. Dick envisioned is here and it's like kudzu or a super bug high on antibiotics; it will get you where you live. At least with newspapers, you could turn the page and the advertisement wouldn't follow you.

So what's the answer to the slow death of the newspaper industry as they sink under their own weight like dinosaurs into the tar pits?

Ooh! where there's dinosaurs and tar pits there must be oil. All right, a topic for another day.

When you continue to do something in the same way expecting a different result it's called insanity, and the newspapers have not changed with the times. Some newspapers have gone viral, and that's in their best interests, but in order to justify the killing of more forests to print a newspaper on actual paper, newspapers need to do something different, offer what the Mayfly life span of the Internet cannot offer -- depth.

There is no way that newspapers can continue to provide up to the minute news and they were on shaky ground as soon as television took over with late breaking news and break-in broadcasts with on-the-scene reporting. Why wait for the morning or evening news when it's already in your home and you don't have to move from the easy chair or couch to watch it while phoning all your friends to tell them to turn on their TV sets and get a load of this?

What newspapers can provide is factual reporting with actual fact checking, something not possible in the fast, fast cyberspeed world of the Internet, and the story behind the news. Paul Harvey's been doing it forever and people still listen to his shows -- because they want to hear the rest of the story. Paul Harvey doesn't rely on sound bytes and he's always done very well. People want to know what's behind the headlines, what's inside the story, the nuance and history and facts that don't make it into sound bytes or speed written stories that go viral like a story passed from person to person while playing telephone. Not the viral rumor mill that often passes for news on the Internet, but real news, the real nitty gritting, down-to-earth, sitting like a fly on the wall news. If you can't match the speed, beat them with the details.

Ma Bell changed her game and her face under pressure and the newspapers have been feeling the pressure for a long time. Push has come to shove and, if newspapers aren't careful, their golden parachutes will collapse while they're still too high to survive the fall.

A democracy, that fast disappearing freedom that is eroding before our very eyes, relies on solid and informative news services. As go the newspapers and honest reporting, so goes democracy. Can we really afford to lose either of them?

That is all. Disperse.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Grammar: They all begin with THE

Since I'm swamped with work and last minute book release stuff, so this will be a short grammar goof column.

First of all, thank you to ByronStar for the title of this column.

The English language has some interesting spellings that trip up those learning English as a second, third or fifth language because the way it sounds is not always the way it's written. For example: THEIR, PIERCE, NEIGHBOR, etc. The common factor is the combination of IE and EI.

The rule I learned was I before E, except after C. Well, in the case of NEIGHBOR, there is no C and yet it's spelled EI and not IE. There are words in the English language that are peculiar in spelling, but that you will just have to memorize. It's that simple. That brings us to today's requested grammar goof, how to tell when to use THEIR, THEY'RE and THERE. It would seem to be logical and quite easy to figure out, but these three words, also called homonyms because they sound the same and are spelled differently and have different meanings. Still, these three words are often mixed up.

To begin with, they all begin with THE. That at least helps with spelling THEIR, since the clue makes it obvious whether I goes before E or vice versa. It's the latter.

THEIR is a possessive pronoun and therefore used to denote ownership.

It is THEIR turn, not yours.
Get out of THEIR way.

THEY'RE is a pronoun and a verb connected by an apostrophe to denote a contraction of two words: THEY ARE. Remember what I said about losing contraction privileges if you cannot use the contracted form of pronoun and verb properly; you must spell out both words: THEY ARE.

Why should I let them have THEIR turn when THEY'RE not sharing?
THEY'RE in my way. I'm not in THEIR way.

THERE is a designation of place.

It's over THERE.
I want to go THERE.

THERE can also be a verb, adverb or noun according to Merriam-Webster's dictionary. Unless you're typing very fast and aren't paying attention to what you're doing, there is really no reason to mix up these three words, and that is where most grammar goofs come from, not taking enough time to think what goes on the page.

THERE is no reason to mistake THEIR intentions when THEY'RE not taking the time to do it right. I was always taught that it is a waste of time -- mine and yours -- not to do things right the first time.

Grammar doesn't have to be difficult or take a lot of time if you slow down to cruising speed when writing anything. The more often you do it right, the less often you'll make simple grammar goofs.

Until next week, when I hope to have more time to get into a subject that worries many writers (commas), here's hoping your grammar goofs are few. All it takes is a little time to do it right.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tarot: The cups runneth over

I think this is the first time in a long time I have had so much fun and learned so much, and pulled so many cups. I pulled three more cards, that I won't be detailing today, but if I was playing poker, I'd have won the pot, Aces up.

The three cards for today are the Ace of Cups, Eight of Cups and the Ace of Pentacles. Cups represent the element of water and Pentacles the element of earth. Put them together and you get muddy, but in the world of tarot everything comes up wine and money.

Ace of Cups

As with all Aces, the Ace of Cups is about new beginnings. The Aces are the first card in each of the four suits, akin to the new moon, full of possibilities and bright horizons. The Ace of Cups is no exception with the focus on a new relationship, the start of an adventure and overflowing emotions as with any new undertaking. The element of water is all about emotions, and there are emotions to spare in today's cards.

Above the cup the moon goes through its monthly cycle, reflecting as much of the sun as the Earth will allow. Perspective determines what is seen of the moon's dance with the sun just as emotions change depending on perspective.

The Ace of Cups is the Holy Grail with the power to heal or it can be nothing more than an illusion, its reality determined by the intent of the seeker. Surrounded and supported by water, the Ace of Cups holds within it creativity, contentment and abundance. It is the pitcher of Baucis and Philemon that Zeus touched so that it never ran dry. The Ace of Cups is a guide, its efficacy diluted or strengthened by intent and perspective. The all seeing eye above the cup can inspire fear, but don't run and don't discount or avoid intense feelings. Like any first flush of feeling, the intensity mellows out if you go with the flow, though it may be uncomfortable at first. The road ahead on this journey will likely be rocky from time to time, but perseverance will be rewarded.

8 of Cups

The Eight of Cups shows a man about to embark on a journey, obviously a theme in today's cards. Behind him are three empty cups and five cups still upright. It looks like the remains of a party, probably a bon voyage party, or it could signify our bold fellow has tasted all the cups and has not been satisfied. He wants/needs something more. He is willing to abandon success to follow a larger dream, meet and conquer the next challenge, to build on his achievements to reach even higher and farther.

There is a void inside him, a space that needs to be filled. He cannot rest on his laurels; he must keep going, keep growing and changing, or he will stagnate. He has gathered material wealth, but his victory is hollow so he turns away to seek that which will fill him, complete him. In the distance, there are mountains to climb and this was but a resting place. The seeker can either journey forward or stay and finish the contents of the five remaining cups.

Some people will say he is abandoning everything for some nebulous dream, that he is leaving a mess for someone else to clean up. Instead, the seeker is being true the voice of his soul as he turns away from shallow comfort and moves forward toward the dawn and into a new day where the full moon is being chased by the rising sun and anything is possible. He no longer wishes to be blind like the mole behind him. His eyes are open and he is ready to move forward, to embrace change and stride forward no longer content to rest beneath the reflected light of the moon, but to walk across the vistas revealed beneath the clear, bright light of day. The night is past and a new day begins. The seeker has a mission and does not wish to waste time looking behind.

Ace of Pentacles

The Ace of Pentacles embodies the element of earth, the symbol of physical existence where a world of possibilities waits. Once again, the moon is in a paling dawn sky, heralding a new day, a blank slate. The moon is full. The Earth no longer stands between the sun and the moon, but it is a short-lived time for soon the Earth will obscure the sun and the moon will reflect less of the light. The moon faces the sun without obstacles for only three days, so time is important. Begin or wait for another month. The Universal clock is ticking as the world stands poised between day and night.

The pentagram's five sides represent the five senses and the sun in the center is the bright light of the spirit at the heart of everything. The spirit binds the senses and gives them form and purpose. They are intertwined, a resource to be used well and not squandered. Avoid the temptation to under value any of the senses or the heart and soul that bind them, to under value yourself or your abilities because you consider them mundane. Each sense has value and when combined offer the ability to give everything texture, form, depth, weight and reality.

The Ace of Pentacles is all about reward and prosperity in the physical realm, an investment in tangible wealth and property. Whether that property is a house or indeed anything that can be touched and held, anything that has substantial solidity, use it wisely. Be cunning like the weasel, alert to the opportunities around you, relying on all the senses as a guide. Whatever will be revealed in the brilliant light of a new day -- new career opportunity, a raise or promotion, land, a new home or a new story or book -- embrace it. You've earned it.

Taken together, the cards point toward new horizons and new challenges with reward at the end of the journey. Don't cast aside any opportunity, no matter how prosaic or unimportant it seems at first glance, or risk having to wait for opportunity to come around again. Don't squander your talents or your opportunities because each small step takes you one step closer to your goal. Stay alert and focused on your goals. The rewards will be worth it and they are within your grasp if you have sense enough to appreciate them.

Until next week, good writing.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Don't cry for the ants

Have you read the one about the little boy who asks the farmer to sell him a runty puppy that can't run or walk well? At the end, the little boy rolls up his pant legs to show the farmer the brace on his leg and tells him why the runt is just right for him.

Looking back up at the farmer, he said, "You see sir, I don't run too well myself and he will need someone who understands."

With tears in his eyes, the farmer reached down and picked up the little pup. Holding it carefully, he handed it to the little boy.

"How much?" asked the little boy.

"No charge," said the farmer. "There's no charge for love."

It's not the little boy, but the farmer that makes me misty-eyed every time I read it.

Beanie sent me that story this morning and I wrote back that it's not nice to make me cry this early in the morning. She wrote back and called me a cry baby. I admitted that in spite of what most people think about me, I do have emotions and am not always cold and logical and she calls me a cry baby. Well, she's a brat! Even the Idiot agrees with that, and so does Miss Priss. Show a little emotion and someone is bound to take it the wrong way, turning a misty-eyed moment into full on snotty, gulping, bawling. As if! That's the last time I'll show my soft underbelly to Beanie, the heartless brat.

I have ants. That means I have to paint more clove essential oil on the doorstep and all the other places they're obviously coming in. All the rain washed away the hundreds of ant hills dotting the parking lot outside. Every unsealed crack in the blacktop bloomed with dusty mounds like donuts with ants swarming all over them. I am not sure if it is one huge nest with a single queen or a hundred different nests, but they disappeared after the rains and have since taken up residence behind a wall in the bathroom. I also found that vacuuming them up doesn't work for long if you don't empty the dirt cup. They take up residence inside and consider it home. Where's an anteater when you need one?

Oh, well, time for a shower to wash away the salty evidence of my three tears and then off to get more clove oil to eradicate the ants after I vacuum up the ants and empty the dust cup outdoors. It's good to be green.

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Terror in the darkness

I'm having a hard time waking up this morning. It's no wonder since I had two nights of broken sleep on high alert. It started Saturday night as I sat in bed writing in my journal.

Something walked through the piles of last year's leaves outside my bedroom window. With the light on, I couldn't see anything, but I could heard the shuffling feet moving closer and closer. I called out. The shuffling stopped. The dark silhouette of the broken privacy fence about a foot from the backside of the house was all I could see. The tree that struggles up through the debris was a leafy silhouette and there was no breeze. I kept one eye on the tree for any movement. All was quiet. I went back to writing.

Just as I settled in to write and hit the zone, the shuffling started again. I decided to ignore it after a glance at the tree showed no signs of movement. The shuffling moved closer, a sort of hitch-drag-step that conjured memories of Frankenstein's monster. My writing hand faltered as I searched the tree for any movement. Nothing. The shuffling got louder. Hitch-drag-step. Hitch-drag-step. It moved closer. Hitch-drag-step. Hitch-drag-step. The tree was motionless. But, no, there was a little movement. Hitch-drag-step, hitch-drag-step, hitch-drag-step.

The tree was caught in a hurricane wind but no breeze came through the window. I stopped breathing. Hitch-drag-step-hitch-drag-step-hitch-drag-step. It was just outside the window. Hitch-drag-stop. The tree was motionless again. I peered through the shadow-clotted darkness and a face thrust forward out of the gloom.

Wild eyes, white-ringed and a prominent nose coalesced out of the darkness and stared through the window and then vanished. It took a moment for my heart to start beating again as the face made sense. Bump-thump-shuffle-scratch against the fence.

The white-ringed eyes belonged to a large raccoon that had scaled the privacy fence and sat in the break on the crossbar.

I laughed and went back to writing, still a bit on edge from the adrenaline raging through my blood. As the rush slowed to a trickle and I could breathe slowly and calmly again, I finished writing in my journal and then settled down for a little literary narcotic to help me sleep. It took a while.

The same performance was repeated last night at about the same time, but this time a new wrinkle was added as the wild cat that seems to live next door came bounding through the gap in the fence and pounced on the raccoon shuffling and snuffling in the leafy debris between the fence and my cottage. There was a muffled crash and then two heavy bodies rolled among the dead leaves, a wild howl split the quiet, and then all was silent. I turned out the light and watched the leafy branched shadows on the closed blinds with one open eye while I courted sleep. None came when the hitch-drag-step began again. I know it's just the raccoon again and he has claimed that narrow strip of leaf strewn space as his territory, but those sounds still conjure the heavy-footed, relentless approach of Frankenstein's monster.

I finally understand what made Mom quake in her seat and cling to her mother's coat sleeve when she saw Boris Karloff on the screen for the first time. It's not the make-up or the growling that scared her, it's the sound, the hitch-drag-step, that she couldn't shut out in the darkness of the theater when she squeezed her eyes shut against the horrific vision. She could close her eyes, but her mind was busy conjuring danger that was born in prehistoric times as feral humans huddled around a flickering fire that failed to push back the terrors of the night far enough to keep the sounds at bay.

Economic Meltdown II

It's early and I was barely awake when I started through my email this morning, but I am definitely awake now. Here's the reason why.

"Then I read this headline in the Financial Times: 'Strange but true -- the credit specs are back." According to the column that followed by John Dizard, "[T]hanks to the Geithner Treasury's policy of reform, rather than dissolution, CDS trading has regained a vampiric strength that the real economy still lacks.'"

And you thought the payoffs were over.

That is all. Disperse.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Unquiet and insistent history

This has been a strange weekend, but that happens sometimes. I watched all of the Friday the 13th, the series, I received (Netflix skipped over the last disc) and One Night with the King with Luke Goss and Tiffany Dupont (excellent movie) and had to download the theme song, which I've been singing since last night. This morning I woke up at the usually early plumber's crack of dawn, checked email and then dove into Secrets of the Dead: Amazon Warrior Women and was instantly intrigued. I even quit multi-tasking. It's a great archaeological find and one that everyone with an interest in history, science and archaeology should see.

I just don't get the myopic misanthropes that have populated the sciences for generations (can't say centuries because this seems to be peculiarly modern in nature). Historians and scientists look at the past from a lofty pinnacle without ever once considering that what they call mythology and fiction are nothing less than the truth. Didn't Heinrich Schliemann burst that bubble when he used Homer's Iliad to find Troy? Evidently, the scientific and historic communities don't read their memos.

What arrogance to think that man has reached the zenith of human development and achievement with their technological marvels without considering what was written millennia ago -- a lot of millennia ago. The Sumerians knew more about the makeup of our solar system over 7000 years ago than NASA and its predecessors have discovered in the past fifty years. Although no one has been able to identify who Homer actually was or whether he was a construct, his stories have been handed down intact for thousands of years and everything he wrote appears to be true. And now the stories about the Amazons (Homer wrote about an Amazon warrior in the Iliad) are proving to be true and there is DNA evidence to show that their descendants continue to live a nomadic life. Guess Herodotus told more than fairy tales and confabulated facts after all. What's next? Is it possible Plato got it right when he wrote about Atlantis and the scientists tagged the wrong place in choose Thera for Atlantis by scaling everything down? Arrogance, plain and simple!

Historians and scientists discount anything that seems like a fairy tale and call it mythology when it may well be historical fact handed down, the names changes to fit the dialects and countries where the stories were carried. There are griots, living genealogies, throughout Africa who carry the names and wars and places of generations of history in oral tradition, and they're not just names, but the deeds and lives that connect to modern people. Alex Haley found that out for himself when he went looking for the origins of Kunta Kinte's tales of bolongs, family and a gold hunt that made it possible for his mother to wear a cow on her head. We may well find that the stories we call mythology are not prehistoric men creating tales out of the world around them to tell around the campfire in the night, but based in fact.

Modern men may have reached a zenith, but not the zenith. Civilizations and risen and succumbed to the weight of their own arrogance and decadence over and over throughout the history of this planet and just because we cannot find proof of their existence, doesn't mean they didn't exist. It could well be we are looking in the wrong place or these people lived such green lives that their remains are shrouded in the very makeup of this world.

One thing that intrigues me most about the PBS special is that no one mentioned the Siberian Ice Maiden. Her clothing and grave goods point to a women of wealth and position. She had a high peaked hat and was buried with six horses. Her clothing and her soft leather boots are very similar to those worn by the Amazons found in kurgans throughout the steppes in Eurasia. The fierce warrior women written about by Homer and Herodotus and ascribed to myth by historians did exist and the DNA and their own bodies and grave goods prove they were much taller than the norm 2500 years ago. What else might we find if we open our eyes and take off the academic blinders to embrace mythology and legends as truth?

There are several cults of warrior women throughout history, women who defied tradition and took up arms and fought against and side by side with men. They are not myth nor are they some feminine longing for control over one's life and the freedom to be more than chattel and property. They were real and now they are fact.

As for me, I am off on another bug hunt. I feel stories deep down bubbling toward the surface. They are a bare glimmer, but it won't be long before they step fully armed and realized into the light not like Athena from Zeus who had swallowed her pregnant Titan mother in order to prevent her birth because it was prophesied that any child born of Metis, Athena's Titan mother, would be greater than her father Zeus.