March 31, 2009

John Stuart Mill - A Scribe Amongst Hacks

Taken From Freedom of Thought and Discussion (an excerpt of On Liberty):

If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many.

But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race...[It robs] those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it.

(1) If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: (2) if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of the truth, produced by its collision with error...

March 28, 2009

Innovative Audio Contest Winner

NOTE: The gentlemen at Innovative Audio have fixed the errors I write about in this post. Nice of them to do so, though it leaves me with nothing to poke fun at myself least for the moment. In all fairness, the grammar mistake in my story was my own damn fault; certainly not theirs.

No secret that I like vinyl and old record players. I was perusing Innovative Audio's website awhile back and noticed they had a contest for a 500 word short-story. The deadline was just around the corner, so I hammered out a quick memory of my father bringing home his mighty Aurex stereo when I was a kid. They dug it. $100 in my hand, a photo, and they posted the story on their site.

Here's the story.

I'm really posting this out of irony. Who gives a flying fart about somebody else winning $100 right? What truly makes this satisfying, as you will see when you click on the link, is:

a) they spelled my name incorrectly, and...

b) they posted the original draft I sent them, not the final edit where I corrected a few grammar errors.

Note the third paragraph, where the last word should be value not valuable. Too funny. Now that is worth posting. And yes, sadly, I am that short and peculiar-looking.

March 25, 2009

Bring on The Summer Reading

The idea is simple. I want two book suggestions from anyone who comments. No fantasy or sci-fi. Must be well-written, both in prose and plot structure. No subject matter that deals with sisterhoods or people one might meet in the afterlife or tigers floating on a raft in the middle of the ocean, engaging in pseudo-philosophical reflection. No chicken soup for the soul (I'm not even sure what that means). I want to hear about books that hurt when you read them, that left you a little breathless, a little unsure, a little concerned that you might not find something this good again.

It's what makes book reading so addictive. You can mow through several mediocre ones and not think about them twice. But then you hit that corker, the one that floats into your head whenever you pause during the day, prompts you to research the author or subject matter, maybe write long-winded reviews for your own self-interest. The one that keeps you indoors with the blinds drawn, you in your pajamas, forgetting to eat, realizing it's six o'clock in the evening and you have forgotten to shower (again).

For me, Three Day Road, The Road, No Great Mischief, The Grapes of Wrath come to mind.

So, sock it to me. Be fearless. Old, new, in the middle--all good.

March 22, 2009

David Suzuki, Thomas Hobbes, Going Green

Last week, during the few hours of night when I was asleep, some of Surrey’s finest members of society came by and dumped several bags of garbage on an empty lot across the street. Not the first time this happened. In fact, it was the third or fourth in about two months. Today, as I drove to Crescent Beach with my family, I saw large chunks of rolled up carpet, half-torn bags of residential garbage, fast food wrappers galore—all within twenty meters of an oversized puddle of water labeled a wildlife preserve by the municipality. Surrey-trash love living up to their namesake, but we’re not alone.

Recent studies show Ontario is perhaps the most environmentally ignorant province in all of Canada. The supposed hub of Canada, the true beacon of all things good and prosperous. My ass. Strange as it sounds, the rural towns are the bigger culprits. People with room to compost, to actually make an effort at reducing their ecological footprint, simply don’t. Why? Laziness perhaps. Political affiliation too. Remember Frank Luntz? He was the Republican spin-doctor in the U.S. who defied decades of science by falsely claiming:
“There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science [on global warming]. Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.”
This one phrase set American environmental policy back for several years, not because Luntz was speaking the truth (science definitively derails such stupidity), but because those people who wanted it to be true, most often for the sake of capitalism and a stubborn refusal to admit the need for change, found something they could latch on to. Namely, an out and out lie. Of course, I can’t blame Luntz for the fuckwits out here in Surrey, or in Ontario, or any province in between or beyond. What I can pass commentary on is human nature.

Thomas Hobbes, in his morality framework called the Social Contract Theory, outlines a “state of nature” for all humans. Were we not, as rational beings, to adhere to certain rules for the social wellbeing of all, this state of nature would be a premise for anarchy because of four factors: equality of power (no one person can dominate over others indefinitely), equality of need (we all require the same basic needs – food, shelter, water etc.), scarcity of resources (not enough basic needs to go around), and humans are at base self-centered. Hobbes wrote this in the 1600's, but the relevance, especially the last factor, is contextually sound. We are self-centered people.

Tying morality to the environment is a difficult and most-often convoluted task. For the most part, the best way to argue for a moral obligation to nature is from a utilitarian stand-point, where one should protect the environment because of the overall good it has for the maximum amount of people. I’m shrinking a heavy philosophical debate to four-lines, so there’s plenty more to be said about that. But assuming my premise is correct, what possible cogent argument could exist for a person to acknowledge but ignore the need to change the way they live?

The absolute worst argument I’ve heard to date came from a friend of mine who, amidst her passion for her religion, suggested it didn’t matter what we did to the environment, God could fix it with a snap of his fingers when “end times” came. Sometimes a sentence is so absurd, so void of intelligent thought you are left with nothing to say. No response required to show how blatantly self-serving this comment is. No one treats their finances that way. No one would dare approach human rights with such a framework. Yet when it comes to something as simple as separating your paper and cans from trash, or replacing light bulbs in your house, or starting a compost—somehow that fits in an entirely different paradigm.

I’ve been reading through David Suzuki’s Green Guide, a tidy little book that summarizes a lot of research into an accessible read for the layperson. Three-quarters of the way through and the simplicity of change is evident. His premise is going green is often cheaper, makes more sense, teaches us to connect with nature as opposed to find ways to distract ourselves from it, and often results in better overall health. But the real kicker is how it changes our mindset. In an earlier post about PETA and the meat industry, I mentioned how Western culture is inclined to consume products without considering their source, their impact, and their repercussions on the rest of the world. Judging by what I see around me today, I’d say we have a hell of a long way to go.

March 7, 2009

Your Writing Isn't That Good, Moron.

Creative Writing classes breed a certain fallacy. A semester runs around four months, with various deadlines spread out over this period. The student feels the pressure of these deadlines and starts habituating their writing process to suit the time frame of the semester. Thus, a short story becomes nothing more than an overly-tweaked first draft. My prof pointed this out over the phone with me as she lambasted my latest submission.

I'll paste the opening scene of my latest story A Monument to the Divine:

Arjan Van Leur stands amongst a grove of Silver Birch trees, thirteen yards from the blackened ruins of his father’s house. Curls of paper-thin bark lie parched at his feet—the heat of the fire great enough to singe great distances. The air smells of resin and ash, the heavy wet of water-soaked charcoal that catches in his red beard like day-old cigar smoke. Next to his boot-clad feet, a canvas pack contains: spare underwear, socks, a scarf for cooler weather, a flannel jacket. He studies the messy yard and its abandoned farm equipment, the clover infested lawn, the neglected vegetable garden—a sure sign of his father’s departure, as the once-immaculate landscape now bows to encroaching death.
A casual read and it seems okay--at least to me. But what is it actually depicting here? And why this use of language? Polished shit I like to call it. Boot clad feet? Why not boots? Thirteen yards? Are you sure? Not fourteen and three inches? Of course I didn't notice this at first. In fact, I handed it in thinking I'd just channeled Alistair MacLeod. Essentially, I wrote a first draft and spent maybe six hours editing over, but not through, serious flaws. I've been told it takes a minimum of forty drafts to really capture a story; a draft being a complete re-write of the piece. The most I've done is about eight--and not on this submission.

Jack Hodgins
likes to write the first draft, then stick it in a drawer where he never looks at it. Then he sits down and writes the entire story again. The first draft is for him, for the creative necessity of getting the story out. Once done, he can actually sit down and tell the story. It's a fairly heavy indictment on most students' processes, I think. The nature of semesters are to blame in some ways. Three stories in four months? Four months would be great to get a good solid start on one.

My friend Sam likes to harangue CanLit for its empty wordiness, its ability to spend reams of paper comparing one's inner turmoil to the mossy underside of a turtle's belly. Just tell the fucking story, if I may paraphrase him. He has a point. In my case, it's showing up in my early drafts, where I make the mistake of confusing language forms for plot. Just tell the story, Harry. For God's sake. Boot-clad feet...what the hell.

Sometimes I think I should just be a gardener.