1.29.2013

Interesting Recent Articles...

Here are a pair of recent articles that I've found pretty interesting. They confirm a few things that I've certainly noticed in reading to my daughter, and I'm heartened to think that all of the great time we spend reading together is paying off in a number of ways. At night, we've gotten to the point where we just tell each other a story. Lyla absolutely adores telling a story from scratch, and using sound effects (scratching, knocking, etc.) to add a dimension to the tale.

Take a look at these when you have the time:

1.15.2013

An Ethical Dilemma

There is a nice little community running/walking trail close by our house. I like to knock out a few laps on it from time to time. It's filled with kids on bikes, folks walking their dogs, a maniacal rollerblader that would be awesome in the post-apocalyptic Jacksonville, and tons of frisbee golfers. I was running that trail today and I wondered, whose fault would it be if I hung out my clotheslines on both sides and somebody got whacked?

Think about it. If I put 'em out from the start, and I keep 'em up, there would be ample opportunity for folks to step out of their path. Those clotheslines have every right to hang horizontally from my shoulders, right? Or is it selfish and irresponsible to put out the laundry on a public trail?

This is one potential outcome, of course:


I'll welcome any insights on this one!


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1.14.2013

Demand A Plan

Alex Irvine's "Watching the Cow"



I just received my Jan./Feb. copy of Fantasy & Science Fiction and have been delighted by its consistency and quality. My favorite tale is Alex Irvine's "Watching the Cow," a convincing tale of familial love, VR technology, and the bizarre possibilities of our hyper-networked, hive-mind mentality. That cover art is as keen as the story, and you can read an interesting piece on the commissioning of the story here. It's one of those marginally rarer instances in which a story is contracted based on a visual, rather than the other way around...

1.10.2013

HOF Shutout


It's hard to recognize that young man when you look at the images of Mark McGwire from his last decade of playing. He grew to such proportions that it was cartoonish (and The Simpsons did a great job of lampooning him in a few of their episodes).

Did Mark and Sammy Sosa save baseball in '98, when they were swatting dingers at a daily pace? Maybe. Probably, for mainstream America. I love baseball dearly, and I'll stop to watch a little league game at Ed Austin Park if I'm there with the girls. I attend spring training every year in the Grapefruit League, and I probably watch seventy to eighty games a year on television. 

So what I'm saying is that I was going to come back to baseball regardless of that amazing summer. But I think there are many who would not have returned if that homer race hadn't happened. I mean, it was one of the most compelling things I've ever seen in sports, and it was spread out over almost two months. Sosa and McGwire were so good about the race, and congratulating each other (they both seem like genuinely nice people, by the way), that it was a true feel-good story.

I was in graduate school and working at The Keg in Lake Oswego when those two were duking it out, and simply crushing balls 430 feet. Every night, we'd gather in the bar and watch the highlights on ESPN. It was thrilling.

Now, to know what we know about how those physiques were manufactured, it's pretty sad. Call me naive, but I had no idea about the world of steroids fifteen years ago. I didn't know how they worked, or what people who used them looked like. I just figured these modern athletes were putting the best of exercise physiology and nutrition to work for themselves, and it was yielding legitimate results.

Now, we know better, and we're all a little chastened for it.

Yesterday, the Baseball Writers Association of America denied what is arguably the most accomplished ballot of first-time ballplayers entry into the Hall of Fame because of their various links to performance-enhancing drugs. 

I applaud them.

Last night, I heard Rob Dibble and Amy Van Dyken rip the writers for doing this. One of there arguments were that the MLB had never banned or tested for steroids. But still, with the exception of medical purposes, those drugs are not legal in America. That's a poor argument.

The argument that everyone was doing it doesn't hold water either. If even one play didn't use them to get an advantage, then it's a moot point. 

I also heard them take the writers to task for writing glowing columns about that homerun race back in '98. That's another poor argument. I guarantee that if any of these writers knew the truth of what they were witnessing, and if any could prove these players were taking PEDs, that they would have absolutely written about them. It would have been a scandal.

But the players hid their use. That's a lie. That's not okay that these cartoonish characters put up cartoonish statistics that made a mockery of baseball's most hallowed records. No professional sport is more enamored of it's stats than is pro baseball, and these guys took a dump in the outfield and wiped their asses with the record book.

Sammy Sosa hit 211 homers in the first nine years of his career. In the next four years, he hit more than sixty four times in a row. 

Anyone remember Roger Maris's 61 dingers? Remember the death threats Roger got when he was approaching the Babe's single-season record? 

61.

That number used to have a special place in the world of sports, but Bonds and Sosa and McGwire made it look puny. It's not puny. It's the single-season record, in my book.

I like defensive baseball, and I loved how baseball was played in the 1980s. Give me a 5-4 game over an 11-6 game any day of the week. My favorite player of all time is Cal Ripken, Jr., but I also loved guys like Molitor, Yount, Puckett, Brett, and Mattingly. I loved Ken Griffey, Jr. and Frank Thomas.

And I think the writers messed up by not voting for Dale Murphy and Craig Biggio. Other than that, I fully endorse their rationale. I respect Rob Dibble very much, but I wholly disagree with his views here. It's not hypocritical to keep these players out of the Hall of Fame.

It was hypocritical of them to cheat to ensure their gaudy numbers. You can't say you love baseball and then turn around and dishonor the sport...

1.09.2013

It's Time for Meaningful Changes in American Gun Control

It's taken me a little bit of time to reconcile my thoughts in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre that took place over the holidays.

Even writing that sentence gives me pause. The innocent phrase "elementary school" and the brutal word "massacre" don't naturally coexist, and yet there is no other way to describe what happened in Connecticut.

On Christmas Eve, my daughter and I walked along the edge of the surf on the Atlantic Ocean. It was cold and windy, and we had the place to ourselves.

Well, almost to ourselves.

My daughter found them first. They were thin, polished rocks. The first said "Poppa." The next was for "Nana." And then there was one that was black with the names of twenty-six innocents, murdered by a mentally ill man and the guns that he had stolen from his mother.

Someone had taken a moment to remember others before throwing those stones out into the ocean, which returned them for my daughter to find. It was a stark reminder of what happened, and what it means to truly lose someone.

The fact remains that those families will never be the same because a mentally ill man had access to guns.

The children that survived, when the enormity of the disaster they lived through finally settles on their shoulders, some time far out in the future, will always carry the scars. They are young, but not so young that they won't remember that day, or the happier times they spent on the playground with the victims. They won't forget their principal. They won't forget the buses that now take them to a different school.

I think it's time for our country to begin discussing some serious, long-term plans to reduce the overall number of guns in America and also to restrict the levels of access that those with criminal backgrounds or issues with mental illness have to those weapons. 

I heard Colin Goddard say this morning on CNN that 40% of gun transactions in this country happen at gun shows. Many of these are cash transactions, and closing the gun-show loophole is the first debate we should be having.

Why is Colin so fired up about the access that the mentally ill have to guns? He was shot four times in the Virginia Tech slaughter of 2007.

Kind of funny how getting shot by crazy people makes folks angry, isn't it? Perhaps some of those in the gun lobby would have a different view if they were attacked while simply sitting in a school somewhere...

The gun lobby has deep pockets. Thankfully, other survivors are stepping to the forefront to try to match them in resources and political willpower. As the duo writes in this opinion piece:
  • Forget the boogeyman of big, bad government coming to dispossess you of your firearms. As a Western woman and a Persian Gulf War combat veteran who have exercised our Second Amendment rights, we don't want to take away your guns any more than we want to give up the two guns we have locked in a safe at home. What we do want is what the majority of NRA members and other Americans want: responsible changes in our laws to require responsible gun ownership and reduce gun violence.
Simpletons won't be able to look past that opening sentence. But the rest of America wants meaningful restrictions that will stem the tides of death and destruction that guns have caused in America. 

Can research and restrictions work? Consider this piece, on why we haven't begun to allow that to happen. Here's a little data from the conclusion:
  • Given the chance, could researchers achieve similar progress with firearm violence? It will not be possible to find out unless Congress rescinds its moratorium on firearm injury prevention research. Since Congress took this action in 1997, at least 427,000 people have died of gunshot wounds in the United States, including more than 165,000 who were victims of homicide. To put these numbers in context, during the same time period, 4,586 Americans lost their lives in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Talks are beginning in earnest to enact some form of reasonable gun control legislation, but buffoonery also reigns in the national media spotlight. You see the leader of the NRA talk about putting armed guards in every elementary school. I was jogging in the hotel fitness center last night here in Orlando when I first heard of a local school board member's plan to arm teachers and principals in the local districts. 

Really? That's your suggestion? Guns in schools? Guns for teachers?

How about this. How about we limit the number of new handguns permitted for sale every year in the United States? You want to go hunt deer with your .357? What, you don't? Oh, I see! That hand cannon is there to "protect" your castle!

Nope. Not any more. If you want to buy a plain old hunting rifle, and you use it to hunt food lawfully, then you can have a gun.

Otherwise, you need to apply for a concealed weapon permit to own a handgun of any sort. Ownership of such a weapon without the proper permit should become a felony. Turn it in or get the permit or become a felon. I know thousands of upstanding, law-abiding folks will have no problem taking the training and going through the process to make their handguns legal under this scenario.

It should be more difficult to get a concealed weapon permit also. Applicants should have to undergo a rigorous round of psychological testing. The waiting period should be much longer.

Close the loopholes on gun shows, allow only legitimate hunters the chance to own rifles, make all handgun owners go through the training and permitting process to carry a concealed weapon, and ramp up the psychological testing for potential gun owners of all sorts. Similarly, make the laws for those carrying a gun, and who shouldn't be, much tougher. Felons in possession of a firearm need to go back to jail for a long, long time.

And get rid of the Internet sales, for heaven's sake! Here's how Cho got his guns:
  • Seung-Hui Cho was a faceless e-mail address when he ordered a .22-caliber Walther P-22 pistol for $267 from Wisconsin gun dealer Eric Thompson via the Internet on Feb. 2. The Virginia Tech senior drew no special attention when he picked the weapon up a week later from JND Pawnbrokers, near the spacious Blacksburg campus in southwest Virginia.
    Cho was hardly more memorable a month later when he traveled in person to Roanoke Firearms about 35 miles away and made a $571 credit-card purchase of a 9 mm Glock 19 pistol and 50 rounds of ammunition. “A clean-cut college kid,” said John Markell, the store's owner, quoting the after-the-fact description from the clerk who handled the March 13 transaction.

    Twice, the Korean-born Cho presented the necessary identification — his Virginia driver's license, checkbook and immigration card — to complete the federal background check required for handgun purchasers. Twice, computers took only moments to display the needed authorization: PROCEED. (Jost, CQ Researcher)
The gun-control scenarios I described above will never happen, but changes have to be made nevertheless.

We have no guns in our home. Growing up, I lived in two towns (John Day and Pendleton) in which hunting and shooting were seriously ingrained in the fabric of those cultures. In John Day, we actually had the opening day of deer-hunting season off from school.

My friends liked to hunt and shoot, but I'm thankful to my parents for never encouraging these activities in our family. I read about mishaps with weapons all the time out here in Florida--kids finding their parents' weapons and killing themselves accidentally.

The old saw that "guns don't kill people, people kill people" is a false premise, because clearly we haven't been able to "fix" these dithering idiots that own guns. They still manage to be unable to take care of their families. And just because they are irresponsible and none too bright shouldn't mean a child without a cognitive memory yet should have to die for his parents' idiocy.

No, we've failed at fixing gun owners. Now it's time to restrict their access to their precious guns.

We have many problems to deal with in this country at present, but gun control remains at the top of the list. Here's hoping that 2013 is a year of meaningful change in taking steps to reduce the overwhelming number of senseless killings that take place in our country every day by people who shouldn't have guns, but who do anyway...     

1.03.2013

A New Year...

I have modest goals for my writing productivity in 2013. 

  • I want to write more fiction than I did in 2012. I haven't spent any time at it in months, and that is a bit of a void in my life.
  • I want to publish more scholarship. I have a pair of essays on submission, and one has been shortlisted with a strong publication. Here's hoping there will be more of that in 2013.
  • I want to write at least six short stories. I did very little of that in 2012, and I miss it.
My general goals are much more important, and more easily attained.
  • I want to spend more time with my wife and daughter. 
  • I want to slow down and enjoy my days.
  • I want to run more, and eat better.
  • I want to be nicer. I want to show a generosity of spirit to those I come in contact with.
  • I want to un-tether. Less time online (yeah, right...).
  • I want to see my family in Oregon.
  • I want to read more fiction (yeah, right...).
  • I want to try some new foods.
These are things I want. I hope you have goals as well, and that you're moving toward them a little more each day...

Uncovering Original Ideas

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope....