Can we just stop making stuff up?

The title of a recent article at The New Republic reads:

The Period Is Pissed
When did our plainest punctuation mark become so aggressive?

The author then goes on to assume that adding a period at the end of your texts indicates you’re angry.

This is one of the plainest cases of someone just making shit up. Ok, so he cites a professor of linguistics and the editor of something called the Awl (presumably short for “The Awful,” judging by the editor’s comments.) But this guy is definitely smoking something.

Look, a period at the end of sentences is not indicating aggressiveness. It is proper grammar. Nothing more, nothing less. Yes, some people don’t do that and use line breaks because it’s more efficient to type that way on mobile phones. Not technically proper, but it’s a convenience to use such a wonderful device. I have no problem with that. But if you start assuming that using periods in a message indicates “anger,” well, then you’re going to have a lot of problems in your life. You’re probably going to end up hating a lot of people or feeling really bad about yourself. And then your life is going to get worse.

Do yourself a favor. Don’t assume. It makes an ass out of you and me.

EDIT: I am now very angry at my high school for making me think grammar is spelled with an “e”.

Essays from Chuck

It’s two years old, but someone just shared with this me this morning. It’s 36 essays by Chuck Palahniuk on writing. I haven’t actually read any yet, but knowing Chuck, this is an absolute goldmine of information and advice. I will make sure to dig in myself.

http://litreactor.com/essays/36-writing-essays-by-chuck-palahniuk

More thoughts on “#DisneyStarWars”: How “Passing On” A Story Doesn’t Quite Make Sense

“Hey hey, guys, let’s use the Force!” “Shut up, Mickey. And Goofy, put your pants on.”

Okay, so after getting the snark out of my system, as well as somewhat tempering the terror that I feel about a bunch of Disney execs now running the most beloved continuity in the history of mankind, there’s a line in the New York Times piece about this deal that bothers me:

“It’s now time for me to pass ‘Star Wars’ to on to a new generation of filmmakers,” Mr. Lucas said in a statement.

With all due respect, Mr. Lucas, no, you don’t.

I understand that we pass on stories between generations all the time. In the earliest era of human history, all stories were passed down orally. Different speakers, undoubtably, would change or alter these stories. But that was then, and I’m not talking about that. This is the 21st century, and to me, the very idea of an author “passing on” a story doesn’t really work.

When you write a story–really write one, and by that I mean create the characters, the backstory, the setting, the conflict, to generate all those players and then put them into action, arrayed against another–it is yours. It comes deep from the depths of your mind, and even, perhaps, your soul. Excellent writers do that; the story they create is not just a story, it’s a piece of them.

Imagine reading a story by a person with no opinions, no feelings, no real life experiences beyond the humdrum, and no real impetus to embue said story with those qualities. An automaton, if you will. (Or a droid, if you prefer.) It would be very wooden. Technically proficient, but utterly cold and dreadfully boring. It would have no spark, no life.

It would be dead.

Lucas, when he created Star Wars, didn’t do that. He took his childhood wonder and fully immersed his story within that, with the amazing scenery and boundless breadth of the Star Wars galaxy. He took his personal sense of heroics and swashbuckling bravery, the interest in mysticism, basically what was there and made it into one of–if not the–greatest franchises in the history of humanity.

I could not make the same story Lucas did. Neither could Spielberg. Or Michael Crichton. Or Faulkner. Or anyone else. Stories are personal. That’s why there are so many fanfic authors out there. Because when you write a story, you’re pouring a little bit of yourself out and presenting it to the world. (Don’t worry, though, you’re a never-emptying teacup, even when your throat is dry.)

I understand what Lucas is saying, in terms of pure commerce, but let’s be real here. He could never truly pass on Star Wars. Look at the Expanded Universe. Look where it has gone astray in recent years. That’s not George Lucas writing there. It doesn’t feel like Star Wars because it doesn’t have him in it. To be fair, this is understandable and to a degree acceptable in modern, large-scale, sprawling continuities with multiple authors and a large Expanded Universe. A media company is going to hire on writers to actually create the extra content, and generally selects authors who are similar to–or at least, can write appropriately close enough to–the original. (Unless they deliberately want to take a different tack, which is a technique that can, on occasion, work. But that’s dangerous ground to tread, in my opinion.) At the end of the day, however, it is still the baby of the original writer. None of the other Expanded Universe authors, even if they create new characters and new settings within that universe, really own it. They’re just playing in Mr. Lucas’ sandbox with his permission.

I’m not terribly afraid that Disney will totally destroy Star Wars. (I mean, it’s kinda been destroyed already, if you ask me and a bunch of other fans.) I just think that Mr. Lucas can’t do what he’s saying. He will never be separable from his creation. He can never pass it on.

Whatever Disney does, it will be “Disney Star Wars,” not Star Wars. We must all search our feelings. We all know this to be true.

Free Ebook

Amazon.com: Do the Work (9781936719013): Steven Pressfield: Books.

This is more of a bookmark for myself than anything else, and even though I have it in Instapaper and I starred the InstaPundit entry that featured it in my Google Reader, I figure, hey, if I’m going to remind myself to get a free ebook, I should probably go whole hog.

From what I understand, Do The Work is a book on just getting stuff done, and it has rave reviews. The best part, though, is that its being released for free on Amazon Kindle–or any one of its numerous apps for various platforms–up until May 20th, 2011. Since its normal price is $7.79, I think that’s a sweet deal. I myself could very well use a book on just this topic.

An interesting thing to note is why its free (emphasis mine):

Read “Do the Work” for Free, Courtesy of GE
Want to read Do the Work for free? Thanks to a generous sponsorship by General Electric, the Kindle ebook edition of Do the Work is available for free through May 20, 2011. No Kindle? Download a free Kindle app for PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, or Android today.

GE, huh? Just sponsoring authors to give books away, huh? I guess that’s why they got off on taxes. Now, I don’t support big corporations being able to get out of paying taxes while the rest of us can’t, but it does do damage to the image that corporations are greedy leviathans that do no good. I mean, they’re giving you free books for crying out loud. What can be better than that?

I should note, as an aside, I have gotten some work done this week, and intend to do more. I have also been busy with several other things this week, namely birthday parties. Those are always fun.

On the dangers of “Art”

Art is a funny thing. Many people chase after it, unhappy with their works because it is not truly “art,” and they are not yet “artists.” But what is art? Quite frankly, I find a lot of art to be crap. And now its starting to get dangerous.

In the literary and dramatic world, I’m sure a lot of people–or at least a lot of literary critics–would label novels like Ethan Frome and plays such as “Waiting for Godot” to be art. But what are they? Godot is nothing–I mean, literally, nothing. Some snobbish twits talk about how its about existentialism and how nothing matters and how life is meaningless. What it is is a couple of guys sitting around doing nothing and waiting for nothing. There’s no big philosophical discovery there, which you could only extract if you’re a believer in extracting blood from a boulder. And Ethan Frome–well, I’m sorry to use indecorous, unparliamentary language here, but its the only way to explain it properly–is one of the most boring piece of shit novels ever written, and I go further to add it is certainly the most boring piece of shit novel I’ve ever read. There is absolutely nothing of value in it.*

This is why I hate literary fiction so much, because in the pursuit of “art” and literary excellence, they kill any story that could possibly be written.

But at least that meant that “art” was only boring. I’ll take boring over this new tripe that’s coming in any day.

First off, we have a museum that has dedicated an exhibit to graffiti. Now, I wouldn’t be, prima facie, opposed to such an exhibit. Graffiti exists, its out there, you can study it if you want to. The problem with this exhibit is that it completely ignores the vandalism, property violation, and coercion inherent in graffiti, and just treats it as harmless “art”:

But the core of Art in the Streets is a timeline of graffiti history that snakes around the discontinuous walls of the Geffen Contemporary. In a show devoid of explanatory wall essays, the timeline provides the best insight into how Deitch and his guest curators Roger Gastman and Aaron Rose conceive of graffiti and its social and civil context. In sum: vacuously. The timeline picks out such allegedly memorable moments in graffiti history as the emergence of bubble lettering on the New York subways (1972), the contributions of subway vandals Blade and the Crazy Five in 1974, who did “more damage than any other crew in the 1970s” (way to go!), the first defacement of freeway signs in Los Angeles (1988), and the start of the sticker phenomenon (1989) that allows greater speed and thus wider geographical coverage. All of these developments are presented with utter seriousness and, more importantly, without the slightest hint that they are crimes, that they appropriate and damage property without permission, and that they destroy urban vitality.

Over the last three decades an uncontested body of knowledge has evolved regarding the poisonous effect of graffiti on neighborhood cohesion and safety. You cannot responsibly present a show on graffiti without engaging with this body of knowledge, if only to reject it. Even Banksy mentioned the Broken Windows theory of public disorder in his book Wall and Piece (he predictably mocked the theory). And his publisher, Random House, at least wanly tried to distance itself from crime, with the ineffectual disclaimer: “This book contains the creative/artistic element of graffiti art and is not meant to encourage or induce graffiti where it is illegal or inappropriate.”

But Art in the Streets has no response to the argument that graffiti is a scourge on cities, because it simply chooses to ignore any idea that contravenes its simplistic celebration of property defacement. I found only three highly oblique acknowledgments in the show of graffiti’s illegal and destructive nature. The timeline notes that in 1972 the Philadelphia transit system began the country’s first anti-graffiti initiative. The timeline also ruefully acknowledges that in 1989, the New York transit system declared victory over graffiti (though, in an effort to keep hope alive, the timeline adds that the system failed to “stop writers such as Ghost”). That these transportation agencies would even try to eradicate graffiti comes as a complete surprise, since nothing in the show has hinted that graffiti is anything other than a productive pastime and delightful urban amenity.

Yuck.
You call this "art?" (David McNew/Getty Images)

This is ridiculous. Are we going to start classifying dirty phrases written on bathroom stall doors as poetry? Really, now. Let’s completely forget the fact that a graffiti “artist” is nothing more than a vandal that forcibly imposes his or her “artistic vision” onto another person’s property, whether that property belongs to an individual, a family, or a company (just because a company owns a property doesn’t make the graffiti permissible, either, else you’ll open a huge can of worms that essentially makes anybody you don’t like lose all of their rights, which can just as easily turned back upon you.) It’s like if I chose to write a novel upon your roll of toilet paper. Now, I could certainly write a novel upon a roll of toilet paper no problem, but that’s your toilet paper, which you’ve bought with your hard-earned money, and, well, you’d kinda like to use it now, wouldn’t you? But I’m afraid you can’t, now, because it’s “art.” (Or I may end up letting you use it, with the, ahem, indescribable activities destroying my writing and calling that art. Which is still some kind of insanity, but doesn’t justify taking your toilet paper without your permission.)

And this is before we get to the very subjective opinion I hold that graffiti is ugly. I have seen only two or three instances of graffiti in my life that were anything other than “grody,” and those are questionable, as they were likely commissioned by the city on abandoned buildings that stood out right next to a big boulevard. (I don’t have concrete proof, mind you, but that was the most likely outcome.) Those obese, gaudy letters, shaking and quaking all over their anointed real estate, bursting at the seems to get your attention, more like being puked up there by a very sick individual. This part is, of course, entirely my opinion, but I don’t see graffiti as being anything other than that word I used: “grody.”

But at the very least, graffiti harms property, not individuals. Some forms of art do.

Take the instance of a young man stabbing himself to death at open mic night.

An Oregon teenager shocked a crowd at a coffee shop last week when he stabbed himself to death on stage after singing at an open mic night.

Kipp Rusty Walker, 19, took the stage at Strictly Organic Coffee in the town of Bend, Or. on Thursday to perform a song he called “Sorry for the Mess.”

When he finished playing, he pulled out a knife with a double-edged 6 inch blade and stabbed himself multiple times in the chest in front of a confused crowd of roughly 15 people.

“It was really unclear at first what was even happening. Because, you know, it is an open mic and it’s a performance,” the shop’s co-owner Rhonda Ealy told local television station KTVZ. “People at first thought it was some sort of theatre.”

Some sort of theatre.

DEAR GOD YOU MUST BE KIDDING ME.

And yet, this is where we are now, to where “art” or “theatre” is now a form of “death.” Now, I can’t say whether or not the boy in question killed himself in order to make a work of “art,” but the idea of death or killing being art is not unprecedented. I read a comic once, where the artist took over a spaceship that is effectively an art museum, and for her latest artwork decided to blow it up and everyone else inside. I laughed at that, thought it was funny, thought no one would do that in real life, hence it was funny…not so funny now.

If this is what art is being turned into, I want no part of it. Rather, I would like to just tell cool stories and make a lot of money. That seems the more reasonable, the more sane, the more ethical way of doing things.

*Unless you want to use it as toilet paper.

Fringe: The Seen, and the Unseen

If you any taste in good television, you no doubt are a fan of Fringe. Ignore for a moment that its a product of J.J. Abrams, a man who wrote the most dizzyingly confusing plot for a previous show, and made a 21st century reboot of a savored franchise that made me want to claw my eyes out. Instead, relish in the humanity of the characters, the fact that it’s driven by them rather than some outside happenings, and is based entirely on good, substantial writing. Also, relish in the fact that you can watch it on Hulu for free, which is what I do because I don’t have a TV. (Thus, I always get it a day later than the broadcast, but that’s something I can live with.)

In a nutshell, Fringe is the story of a super-secret division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, aka “da Feds,” who are investigating the crossover between their universe and a parallel one. This includes many grisly crimes of a “scientific nature,” ranging from Frankensteins, teleportation, genetic warfare, and just about anything that involves messing with people’s minds (including a program that, once it infects your computer, makes anyone looking at the monitor have a seizure and then melts their brain.) It’s like X-Files, in a sense, only it’s more understandable, and in my opinion, better written, with the plot being firmly driven by the characters. I could expound at length on how good the writing of Fringe is, but today, my main goal is to analyze the latest episode, “The Firefly,” and how it relates to an old dead Frenchman by the name of Frederic Bastiat.

The most awesome Frenchman who ever lived.
Pimp-daddy.

“Who?” you’re probably saying. “Look, I’m pretty sure I know what Fringe is, but who the heck is this guy?”

Frederic Bastiat was a French economist who lived from 1801-1850, during the end of the Napoleanic Wars, the Bourbon Restoration, the July Monarchy, and the Second Republic. (If only the States went through so much political upheaval.) He was later elected to the assembly during the Second Republic, but it is not his political career that makes him famous; rather, it is his economic writings. Although The Law (La Loi) is perhaps his most famous, the one more relevant here is his essay What Is Seen and What is Not Seen.

The basic crux of Bastiat’s argument is that while we can see what is right in front of us, there are myriad more factors that come into play, but we cannot see them immediately. We only see them much farther down the road, after the action itself, and they are generally negative. No one can really predict them, although Bastiat does allow that one can possibly foresee them:

In the economic sphere an act, a habit, an institution, a law produces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them.

There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.

Yet this difference is tremendous; for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa. Whence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good that will be followed by a great evil to come, while the good economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil.

Walter Bishop being ridiculous. Or in other words, himself.
I see the truth!

These are the first three paragraphs of Bastiat’s essay, getting straight to the point, instead of trying to make a lead in and then burying said point in mounds and mounds of meaningless words, as many modern columnists and writers do. (I profess to having no immunity to this disease.)

To give an example of what Bastiat is speaking of, let’s look to minimum wage laws. Many–not just economists–call for higher minimum wages, in order to better the poor. “Look at these people now!” they say. “They are so much wealthier than before! They can afford health care, food, and shelter! And they spend more, so they will better our economy!” Perhaps. This is easily the seen. But what these well-meaning but ultimately mistaken individuals fail to notice–or in some cases, just ignore–is the unseen: that, with higher labor costs, companies will hire fewer people, and thus, there will be more unemployed. So indeed, one has actually hurt the cause of the poor by putting more of them on the unemployment line. (And that certainly doesn’t better our economy.)

It’s not an easy thing for people to swallow. People like to be in control, they like to know that they understand what’s happening, and that when they set out to do something, their desired result will be the real result. It’s perfectly understandable, and its not something to really be ashamed of. (Although, in my case, cursing that my car will not go around a turn at full speed in GRID probably is something to be ashamed of.) The only bad part is that people refuse to learn from their mistakes, and thus we end up with the incalculably huge, puzzling, and nigh-intractable problems our society faces today.

Fortunately, our heroes on Fringe have the humility to learn. Well, sort of.

Note, I’m not going to worry about spoiling it, since the episode has already aired and you can easily watch it on Hulu, as I linked to it above. I’m also going to assume you know a little bit about the story behind Fringe; if you don’t, read up on Wikipedia and watch the latest five episodes (or rent a season on iTunes) in order to catch up. So here is basically what happened: when Walter returned with his son Peter, they fell in a frozen lake, but the Observer, Mr. September–who I’m assured is not F.A. “Baldy” Harper, despite my initial impressions–saved them from drowning. Unfortunately, as the Observer tells Bishop in the present, he could not have foreseen the consequences of saving a human life. Transcript excerpt taken from Fringepedia, the Fringe wiki:

OBSERVER: There are things that I know. But there are things that I do not. Various possible futures are happening simultaneously. I can tell you all of them, but I cannot tell you which one of them will come to pass. Because every action causes ripples, consequences both obvious and… unforeseen. For instance… after I pulled you and Peter from the icy lake, later that summer, Peter caught a firefly. I could not have known he would do that or that because he did a young girl three miles away would not. And so later that night, she would continue looking, trying to find another one. I could not have known that when she did not come home, her father would go out looking for her, driving in the rain, so that when the traffic light turned red, his truck skidded through the intersection at harvard yard, killing a pedestrian.

Wow. You could not have received a better form of Bastiat’s axiom for the modern audience if Bastiat himself came back to life, went to Hollywood, and wrote a screenplay about it. The seen…and the unseen, even to such a being as the Observer, whom we know is both not human and is far more powerful than one, as well as possessing some unique thought patterns; certainly, one LA Times blogger finds the Observer’s plans to be “inscrutable.” But then, realizing that LA is bankrupt appears to be “inscrutable” to the local mayor, so maybe it’s just something in the water.

Now one can’t really say that this makes Fringe a libertarian TV show. In fact, Fringe is fairly apolitical, other than the general “hey, authoritarianism and secrecy is like, bad, guys” that all shows have. And that’s okay. But I found the similarities between what the Observer was saying last Friday and what Bastiat was talking about a century and a half ago to be quite striking. (Was Frederic Bastiat visited by an Observer? I suppose we cannot rule it out.) But if you do feel a need for a concrete, libertarian connection, then you need look no further than the title of the episode. I’ll give you three guesses which libertarian show it reminds you of.