Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Emperor Has No Clothes

I’ve always loved reading. I don’t know why; I’m just boring that way, I guess. Even as a kid I read a lot, sometimes even preferring to read (if it was a really good book) rather than play outside with my friends.

I have no idea how many books I’ve read over the course of my life. 2,000 maybe? I’m guessing, obviously, but that’s probably somewhere in the neighborhood.

While that doesn’t make me an authority on literature by any means, I do think it allows me to make the claim that - when it comes to books - I have accumulated a fairly decent body of comparison by which to judge good from bad.

And when it comes to bad, there are two novels that have made the Top 10 of my all time “hackers” that I wanted to warn you about. Why these two? Because they have somehow gained the status as being “classics”, and are both also considered to be part of a group known as the “Best 100 Novels of All Time”, which I think is a travesty and an insult.

I was recently reading William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. The key word here being “was”.

What an unbelievable piece of junk. If you’ve never had to read The Sound and the Fury, consider yourself lucky. I’ll share a brief insight into what reading it is like with the below example, which, while not taken from the book (I made it up), certainly could have been:

I walked to the edge of the cliff Sweet corn and looked faraway at the don’t go there don’t go there I must you can’t and mama turned to look at me “Got to get yo feet out’d mud boy” before she faded into a door that was black and then it wasn’t black and then I made the noise again
are you going to the dance
well you should ‘cause you dance nice
says you
says me
but the lights came back and I went away the watch the watch why isn’t it ticking she smells like grass because you broke the hands off of it and cut your finger smells like grass and bled like grass on the new white tablecloth.

Now let me ask you: Was that enjoyable to read? Does it make any sense? Would you read 350 pages of that clap-trap without someone holding a gun to your head? Would you believe that I actually read 140 pages of it before coming to my senses?

Now, I don’t profess to be the sharpest tack on the bulletin board, but I had to go to Wikipedia and read the synopsis just so I could discover what the story I had been reading was actually about. It blew my mind. It also didn’t resemble anything that I read in the book.

Faulkner was credited with writing this novel using the “stream of consciousness technique”. Ooooooo, that’s so Avant-garde! I’m sorry, but I’m not impressed. I’ll give William credit for trying something new, but at best it was a bad idea and at worst it was just plain annoying and stupid.

The “stream of consciousness technique” reminds me of that period of years back in the 90’s when every commercial and TV show suddenly was filmed with “shaky-cam”. Do you remember that? The camera is bouncing up and down, zooming in and out - even going in and out of focus – as if the cameraman was either drunk or a 12 year old child.

Have you realized that the Avant-garde “shaky-cam” era has passed? Do you know why? Because it was a BAD IDEA. Just like The Sound and the Fury. Don’t waste your time.

The second book of jaw-dropping dumbness that I want to point out is The Catcher in the Rye. This book starts nowhere, ends nowhere, and doesn’t do anything of any importance in between.

If you enjoy reading about a teenage boy with nothing to be upset about that is dead set and determined to be upset about everything anyway, then you might enjoy this waste of paper and the innocent trees who gave their lives to see it in print.

My guess is that The Catcher in the Rye probably got its undeserved attention & acclaim because it deals with teen angst punctuated with a continuous barrage of foul language, both of which would have been considered “shocking”, “ground-breaking”, and – dare I say (yes! dare! dare!) – “Avant-garde” at the time of its publication.

It's notable to me that J.D. Salinger only published this one book. My guess is that his daddy used up the only favor his friend at the publishing company owed him.

I know that some of you may cry foul that I would pan both of these books, but reading should be a pleasure, not a chore. It should not require in-depth “study” to figure out what is going on or what it means. I didn’t have to ponder the concepts & themes that Dickens relayed in David Copperfield; they were transferred inherently. I didn’t even notice.

And before someone says that I just don’t understand or appreciate “classic” literature, let me set the record straight: I do. Very much so. Just not these two. I’m sorry, but with The Sound and the Fury and The Catcher in the Rye, the emperor has no clothes, and I’m not going to say otherwise, no matter how many other people insist that he’s dressed in grand fashion.

As an antidote to the above, here’s a few “classics” I’ve read this past year that are worth reading:

Silas Marner by George Elliot – I can understand why high schoolers would not like this book - the sentences are much more complex than what we see today and the vocabulary that Elliot uses shows how much our language has degraded over the years – but she penned a great story.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins – A nice little mystery delivered in a clever manner. The passages of the story told by the self-righteous church lady are, by themselves, worth the price of the book.

The Last of the Mohicans by James Fennimore Cooper – Requires a little bit of concentration, but a wonderful story that leaves you feeling as if you lost a good friend.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Price of Existence

It sounds like a noble concept: “universal healthcare”. Everyone gets the medical attention they need. What could be wrong with that?

A few statements to start:

First, in the U.S., we aren’t talking about universal health care, we’re talking about universal health insurance. There is a huge difference, make no mistake.

For years, this country did have universal health care; doctors and hospitals were available to anyone if they were needed, and you paid them for services rendered when and if you used them. It wasn’t until the early 70’s and the Nixon administration that health insurance really took off.

Now we speak of “health care” and “health insurance” as if they are synonymous. They are not.

Second, there are (at least) two main reasons why our current healthcare system is broken and cannot be “fixed” in it’s present state:

1) It is a “for profit” system. Insurance companies make money by collecting premiums. They do not make money by paying claims. If claims start cutting into profits, they will either raise premiums or deny claims or both. They do not care about you; they care about getting your money. Period.

2) People expect to get something for their money. Nobody wants to waste money. People pay thousands and thousands of dollars into their “healthcare plans” every year. Is it any wonder why they take themselves or their children in to the emergency room for every sniffle, cough, ache or pain? They’ve paid for it; they want to use it, even if they don’t really need to. Having insurance encourages people to use it as much as they can, and as the claims go up, so do the premiums.

Knowing that, it’s interesting (but no surprise) that our “fix” for healthcare is to make it bigger; to expand it so that everyone has to be a part of it whether they want to or not. The following article is a couple of weeks old; I just haven’t gotten around to addressing it. You can read it in it’s entirety, but the title really says all you need to know:

Senate bill fines people refusing health coverage

“Mandatory insurance” is not a new concept. It’s mandatory that we have insurance to drive a car. It’s mandatory to have insurance if we have a mortgage on our home. But this is different, because in all other cases, the insurance is mandatory only because we chose to do something that we didn’t have to do (drive a car or borrow money for a home, for instance).

This insurance would be mandatory on everyone simply because we exist.

Think about that for a moment. Think hard.

If we can be forced by law to be a part of a system against our will, can we also be forced to do whatever that system tells us we must do?

Logic says that if the uninsured are being forced to participate in mandatory insurance because they are a “burden” on the rest, then everyone will be forced to do what we are told by this healthcare system for the same reason. And, like the system itself, you won’t have choice in the matter.

Vaccines, drugs, exams, blood; whatever we are told to do, we could be forced to do, whether we wanted to or not.

We need to understand that once we give up control of our lives, they no longer belong to us.

Monday, July 13, 2009

He Said / She Said - The Car

He Said - by Blaine Staat

Catherine has this thing about me working on the car. I don’t get it. She’ll walk into the garage and see me working - tools and parts spread out all over the place in logically oriented random piles - and she’ll cringe, do an about face, and walk back inside.

Hey! What’s the big deal? I used to fix nuclear power plants in the Navy, how hard can this be? I’m in my garage – a state of Zen – the cans of paint on the shelves and my Scotts Speedy Green 3000 rotary fertilizer spreader with foam handgrips hanging on the wall having a robust Feng Shui effect on my mind. I am man, the hunter. I am becoming one with my car.

And sometimes becoming one with my car means that I have to completely disassemble the entire dashboard. Hmm. That’s an interesting looking metal . . . thing. I wonder where it came from?

See, my car is 37 years old. It needs me. I have to love it and become intimately familiar with . . . uh, oh. I’m gonna need the most dreaded “special tool” to take this piece off. I told Catherine I needed that. But nooo, we needed to buy groceries. No matter. I can get that thing off with my ViseGrips no sweat.

Anyway, like I was saying, I don’t see why she gets all upset when I do this. I’m good at it. In fact, I could have saved - ouch! that hurt - those GM engineers a lot of money, because I’m constantly finding things that they put in that don’t need to be there.

I kid you not. Every time I finish a job, I always wind up with a few parts left over. Springs, screws, weird shaped metal things. Obviously they aren’t too important or I would’ve installed them somewhere when I put everything back together. I’ve got a whole box of that stuff.

Alright, alright, I’ll be right there!

Okay, I gotta go. Catherine wants me to put the washing machine back together. I guess the laundry needs to be done “right this very exact second”. I told her I’d get around to it. She can be so impatient.

She Said - by Catherine Staat

Okay…let’s back up a bit here (hitting the reverse button). There I was going about my day checking things off my “To Do” list. Things are running pretty smoothly – everything is in order and being done in an orderly fashion. Life is good until…(insert the sound of a car putting on its brakes)!

It was as if walking through the door, from the laundry room into our garage, became some type of portal into another world. We go from peace, tranquility and order to what looked as if the whole car was picked up, turned upside down and shaken for its lunch money!

Parts, pieces, gizmos and gadgets littered on the garage floor and half of my husband’s body is being gobbled by the hood of the car! Not a pretty picture let me tell you (the parts and pieces part of it that is)! It was down right scary. May I also add that there tools of every shape and size imaginable along with not just one but two – TWO - car repair manuals. Oh yeah…

Blaine is a very organized person. He is what you would call a B.O.; that is, “Born Organized”. He has a place for everything. When we go on trips he has this natural talent of getting everything into the car and still have room for us to sit comfortably. The man has an uncanny ability to make things fit and find spaces you would never have thought of. He had plenty of practice when our four children were under the age of 10 – back then when we had a small Geo Prism to fit us all in.

So when I walk into the twilight zone…err…I mean, the garage, it tends to be a bit disarming at first knowing my husband as I do. Another thing that goes through my head is all those parts and pieces and is he going to be able to put them all back as Blaine is thumbing through his car repair manual trying to figure out what is what and where does it go exactly! One more thought…how much is this going to cost us?

So after walking through the door, my brakes go on and I do a quick turnaround right back to my nicely organized little world and pretend I didn’t see a thing!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Color Me Panicked

If you've already read "Plus or Minus 95%" and "Hype Disection 101", the drivel included in the below news story won't come as a surprise:

WHO warns swine flu 'unstoppable'
"The UN's top health official has opened a forum in Mexico on combating swine flu by saying that the spread of the virus worldwide is now unstoppable.

[Margaret Chan] stressed that the overwhelming majority of patients experienced mild symptoms and made a full recovery within a week, often in the absence of any form of medical treatment.

The exceptions, she said, were pregnant women and people with underlying health problems, who were at higher risk from complications from the virus and should be monitored if they fell ill." (emphasis mine)

I know I'm stupid for even asking (and no doubt a bonafide "conspiracy theory" whack-job for questioning what the WHO has fed me), but:

1) Should the terms "mild symptoms" and "unstoppable" really be associated with each other?

2) Aren't people with "underlying health problems" prone to be at higher risk from just about anything?

3) Wouldn't we all be better served if the word "pandemic" was reserved for really nasty things like smallpox, bubonic plague, and ebola, rather than something that is no more (and apparently much less) dangerous than any other flu?

I don't know. Maybe I'm the problem. Maybe I just need to drink the Kool-aid like everybody else. You know; war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength, 2 +2 = 5 . . .

It does have a certain appeal, doesn't it?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Quick! Throw the Life Anvil!

There are many pieces of useless information gained through the years that have become firmly stuck in my mind. Keeping them company are an equal number of ridiculous images & scenes that I’ve conjured up for some reason or another and have never been able to let go.

One of these images is of a man who falls out of a boat and begins yelling for help as he struggles to stay afloat. His friends, seeing his peril, attempt to save him, but instead of throwing him a life preserver, they instead throw him a blacksmith’s anvil painted bright orange – the “life anvil”.

I know, it’s silly. Don’t ask me why that image would be stuck in my head; some things can’t be explained.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of it, however, when I saw the following news story: Feds could seize Calif. parks if closed by budget

Isn’t that nice. California’s in a world of hurt financially right now; you’d think that the Federal government might try to offer some sort of assistance, or at the very least, follow the old credo “first, do no harm”.


It certainly sheds new light on these words:
"You never want a serious crisis to go to waste" - Rahm Emanuel
"Never waste a good crisis" - Hillary Clinton

Not to be outdone, our benevolent banks – fresh off of being saved by the American taxpayer – are now showing their gratitude to the hands that pulled them back into the boat: Bank Fees Rise as Lenders Try to Offset Losses

Did we really expect anything different? And you know what the worst thing is? There’s nothing we can do about it.

Don’t think so? Go ahead. Try to live your life – the life you are accustomed to living – without a bank. My guess is you can’t. Neither can I.

I have a new image in my head now: I’m standing on a boat looking at a man struggling in the water. He’s wearing a suit that cost more than my car. His hand is stretched out to me; he’s begging me for help.

I look down in the boat and see something. It’s painted bright orange, and it’s really heavy.

I fear it's going to be very difficult to get that picture out of my mind.