Archive for January, 2012

It’s been an odd week, reading-wise. I can’t find within myself the will to stick to any story I haven’t already been through once before. As a general rule I don’t like surprises–more often than not they are unsettling and disorienting. So: no surprise parties, no drop-in visitors and above all else no twists in fiction. If I read a book that has a twist I’ll usually read unspoiled for about a third of the book, then I’ll jump to the end, find out the lay of the land when all is said and done and then I’ll flip back to where I left off toward the front of the book to read on. It’s a very odd method, but I know from past conversations I’m not the only one who does it. And it does save the grief of becoming too attached to a character only to have that person dead or turned villain by the end of things. But right now in the doldrums of the dead of winter I can’t bring myself to be even that adventurous. So I’ve been breezing through old Maeve Binchy novels in the same way I drive past the house where I grew up whenever we go back to Fort Wayne.

I did find a recommendation for books that are like Downton Abbey in Entertainment Weekly and it put me on to The House At Tyneford . Funnily enough, this book must have been repackaged to capitalise on Downton Fever because when it was first released it was called The Novel In The Viola. That leads me to wonder if we will see a spate of re-releases and renamed books set in old houses. Already the Downton Trend seems to be just ducky for the resurgence of Vita Sackville-West. Which is great if you haven’t spent most of your life completely annoyed by her. If I had to list the top 5 Literary People Who Drive Me Batty I’d leave three spots open for rotation, reserving two chairs in perpetuity for Ezra Pound and Vita Sackville-West. Yes, that is how much she bugs me. But apparently if you like Downton Abbey you’ll love her books. Her publishers say so! It’s funny, but I’ve always suspected that Tolkein disliked her too, given the fact that the Hobbit Villains in the Shire are the “Sackville-Bagginses”. That makes me chuckle.
Oh right. We’re talking about Downton Books and Upstairs-Downstairsy types of books. I should start my own recommendations, given the fact that some of the books I’ve seen elsewhere have only the barest resemblance to Downtown. From what I can tell, to put a book on the “It’s Like Downton” list you need at least one of these:

1. English Manor House
2. A main character in a below-stairs position
3. Intricate plotting about the goings on of the aristocracy.
4. Set in Edwardian times

Because honestly, some of the stuff on these lists is reaching way overboard. Based on the above criteria I soon expect to see things like Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Rebecca, Wodehouse’s Jeeves novels and The Wind In The Willows. (Extra points for The Wind In The Willows since it actually made a cameo in the first episode of Season 2 of Downton Abbey.)

Anyway, I am so far having fun with The House At Tyneford. Here’s hoping there aren’t that many surprises.


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Wednesday was for protesting SOPA and PIPA, both of which are bad solutions.   

Bad solutions to a good idea.  


Because as unpopular as it is to say so, the Internet has more than a little of the Old West taint to it. That lawlessness that seems charming to some, romantic to others…but deadly dangerous to those who live in the thick of it all.  

When people argue about free speech and the Internet, that somehow seeps into the consciousness of the nation, leaving more than a few people with the idea that Everything On The Internet Is Free.   By the end of the day Wednesday there were more than a few weary souls expressing their adamant belief that while SOPA/PIPA is a terrible idea, the piracy situation on the Web is even worse.    And those people are right.   

I write words for a living and so far there have been only a few instances of my words being used to create content for someone else, and only one instance to my knowledge where that person was profiting from it.   A few years ago someone started a “Nashville Journal” website designed to look like a print newspaper.  The “articles” were actually blog posts by various local bloggers taken directly off their blogs in entirety.  The ads surrounding these articles generated revenue for the owner of the website…none of which was to be paid to those who actually WROTE the content.   When I asked the site creator to no longer feature my work he said that I should be thankful for the publicity and go away.   That’s the usual battlecry of wordthieves on the web.  “Just thank me that I’ve bothered to even read your piddly little blog.”   We’re too little to matter.  

On the other end of the spectrum you have the large entertainment conglomerates who spend millions of dollars producing films, TV shows and music.   Their product is routinely downloaded, uploaded, torrented and shared across the web in a giant bazaar of outright thievery.   And here is where I think it might get a little bit more complicated, and where I think perhaps these corporations are encouraging thievery and piracy to their own detriment.  

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I think stealing is very very wrong.   But I also think that by exploiting the various channels of electronic media, premium content owners have greatly misunderstood the marketplace and are pricing themselves into a problem.   By overcharging for premium content and wrapping digital use restrictions around that content, these publishers and producers have been robbing consumers for nearly a decade.   People who used to pay $15 once for a hardback book are now being told that if they want to read it on their Kindle it’ll be $15 and if their husband wants to read it on his Nook it’ll be another $15 and if they want to have a copy in iBooks2 that’ll be another $18.  Same book, same household.    Then you have the problem of people who missed the first episode of Alcatraz, which aired for no direct cost to the consumer on Monday, January 16th.   Sure, they can still watch it.  For $3.99 on Amazon UnBox.  

This business of recharging consumers for something they already own has created quite a few pirates out of a great many honest people.  


Now lest you think I’m saying that it’s okay to steal and that the rich guys have it coming–I most definitely am NOT saying that.   But I am saying that as the web grows more popular the content producers may want to think about ways to maximize their market share that don’t bleed the consumer dry.  (HuluPlus is a great model.  For about $10 a month you can watch TV shows you missed the first time around, complete with commercials.  This is how my husband and I caught up on ‘Grimm’ and ‘Up All Night’.  Now we watch the first-run stuff.  We wouldn’t have been so eager if we’d had to pay $5 an episode.)    

I also think that the punishment is unequal, and if there were a better way to police the web…like ACTUAL police…the thievery problem would get better across the board.   Large movie studios have big fines and punishments for content thieves, but smaller content producers like my friend who runs a knitting website have no law enforcement recourse when her copyrighted knitting patterns are reproduced.   

One of the key problems with SOPA/PIPA was that it gave corporations too much authority–they could instantly shut down any site SUSPECTED of stealing from them and keep that site offline during the trial.   Guilty until proven innocent.   Smaller producers wouldn’t have any recourse at all.  They’d still have to call a lawyer at their own expense, investigate at their own expense, etc.   

Fair Internet Piracy laws should retain the “innocent until proven guilty” standard and an enforcement system that works equally well for content providers of all sizes.   The web is a new frontier and it’s time to start policing it as such.


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SOPA Opera

Today is the big Go Dark Against SOPA/PIPA day, and every corner of the internet is up in arms about this huge, corporate-sponsored mess. Me included.

Internet Piracy is a bad thing and I’m against it. But I’m also against corporations demanding that the Federal government write new laws for them to conduct their business. Don’t let the “Internet Piracy” thing fool you. Because while they are saying that these new laws would be just great to stop people from ripping off movies, what they are really doing is remaking the Internet from the ground up. If you don’t think for one minute that corporations will use SOPA/PIPA to turn the Web into a giant shopping mall then you don’t see the pattern in front of you. If these bills pass it gives corporations the right to shut down any web site that might possibly be using copyrighted material without permission. So Facebook with all the jokey pictures of Twilight–gone. Blogs that use pictures of book covers in writing book reviews–gone. In fact, anybody who reviews anything might be in danger of being shut down by SLAPP==Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. How’d you like to lose your entire blog–all your copyrighted material, all your personal branding, all your web presence–just because you angered a company with a lot of attorneys on retainer?

I have no problem with companies going after thieves who use the internet to steal. (More on that tomorrow, I hope.) But I do think that like everyone else these corporations should have to hire attorneys, sue in the court system and obtain a judgment. I don’t think it’s fair that they should be able to look at a site’s bandwidth traffic and say “we think they MIGHT be stealing from us, Comcast, so turn off their account.” Those corporations will tell you that this new law is necessary because they can’t get favourable judgments in China. Surely, however, I am not alone in noticing that these large companies have no qualms about taking three hundred miles for every inch of leeway they’re given.

* The full text of the SOPA bill is here.

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I feel kind of goofy going here after the deep discussions of yesterday and the talk of God and Church and whatnot.

But the rain is coming down and the pain is rising. I wasn’t going to write at all today but then there was a tornado warning which meant I had to take the kids (they’re dogs but they’re my kids) to the office (it’s a basement, but it’s my office.). And since I was down here I figured I’d write something.

The first thing I had to do was comment over at Tiny Cat Pants. Because if there is ever a discussion about the hotness of Abraham Lincoln*, my input is required. Then I took some pictures of the storm literally blowing over. The sky starts out a deep slate gray and then, seconds later, moves to a blue-streaked whiteish pearl.

Much to the dogs’ chagrin, we are still down here because I’m insisting on finishing a blog post, regardless of how vacuous a post it is. We aren’t talking about much of significance today because I already said my piece on Facebook earlier.

For those of you who don’t read Facebook or who want me to say something more than “and then I went here…”, the point I made was that

Fear is not a motivator for my vote. I do not owe my vote to a political party. No, the important thing to me is not “to beat Obama” and therefore toss my vote behind whichever candidate has the most likely chance of doing so. For too long Americans have been hornswaggled into voting this way. I believe firmly that’s part of why fewer and fewer vote each time out. A person’s vote is their voice. Every one has the right to say with her voice that “this is what I want leadership to look like. These ideas most closely resemble my ideas and that is why I chose this man or woman.” You’ll not get me to band together, squirming and bullied into acquiescing to the “most appealing” candidate of the larger party. In this particular case, Mitt Romney is far too close to Obama policy-wise anyway. So “beating Obama” with Romney is like trading Liver and Onions for Haggis. It’s all gross.

Anyway….it’s the kind of day during which one wants to build a fire in the fire place. But I used my last Duraflame** a week ago and don’t have the wherewithal to bring in an armload of felled wood. We do have one of those switches in the floor that turns on a gas line in our fireplace and I could light that but my spouse doesn’t like the idea of maybe there being a clog in the line and everything blowing up. Also, that’s less “sitting around a fire reading” and more “pretending we’re sitting around a fire but it’s really just a big ol’ gas burner.”

And I know it’s natural gas, not propane. But I went for the funny instead of the accurate.

*If you’re new here you probably don’t know that I have a lifelong crush on our deceased 16th president. I even married a man who liked like him. On purpose. That is I married him on purpose. His resemblance to Lincoln is quite coincidental on his part. Except for that time he grew a beard.

**without conking any noggins, Jess. 🙂

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I’ve seen a lot of my friends post links to the YouTube video of the guy bustin rhymes about how he Loves Jesus but hates Religion.

My very first thought on seeing the video’s title the first time was “that’s like loving money but hating work.” I mean, come on! “Jesus” is the cool and cozy and lovable, likeable rebel for reform. Loving Jesus isn’t (for many people) a huge stretch. If you entertain thoughts of Christianity, Jesus is generally the big draw.

But Religion? When people hear “religion” nowadays they muddle it up in their head with thoughts of the Inquisition, The Crusades, bombs in the U.K. They confuse Religion with Dogma and Legalism and politicized moral issues. I daresay that these are things that by turns embarrass, shame, anger, frustrate and confuse most people–Christian or not.

Religion in its most basic form, however, is to Jesus exactly what work is to money. Religion is how you Get Jesus. It is the set of processes one goes through to become more Christlike.

Religion is
–Bible study
–Fellowship with believers
–Acts of Devotion

If you want to grow closer to what God has asked of you in exchange for Grace, these are the steps you take.

Now I know that one of the reasons this video is so popular is because there is a growing discontent with the function of Sundaychurch in America. People no longer find the traditional churches satisfactory because of sociological, political or cultural difference with what Sundaychurch has become. Dogmatic wrangling overshadows the benefits and more and more people are choosing to go without.

Is this a good thing? I’m really not quite sure. I know without a doubt that one can find all five necessary facets for the practice of Religion outside of a church setting. I know many who do, seeking fellowship in small accountability groups and performing Acts of Devotion in the larger community.

But my concern is that there is an insidiousness to saying we Love Jesus but Hate Religion. By throwing the wheat out with the chaff we may just starve our souls.
I wrote this post on the iPhone and didn’t have a handy way to get to the video and the other links I think are great to look at alongside it.

The Original Video
Kevin DeYoung’s excellent rebuttal
Kevin DeYoung’s follow-up exchange with the guy in the video after DeYoung’s rebuttal went wide.

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When people find out that I do not have a job and can spend many hours a day writing they’re usually envious. It sounds like a dream; I suppose that’s one of the reasons I’m more candid about my health than is probably advisable. I like for people to realise that before they start envying me they realise that my “dream” setup has more than a few nightmare side-effects.

Over the years I’ve gotten to know a lot of writers via the internet, workshops and other venues where we normally introspective folk like to go to avoid sitting down and getting something written. In those years I’ve met many people who envision Being A Writer as really more of being A Person Who Can Work From Home and Has No Stress At All. After all, who wouldn’t adore being able to while away in the Land of Make Believe at her own pace and then sit back and watch checks roll in? It sounds absolutely luscious.

But I’ll come clean about something, and this is a thing you probably don’t want to hear.

Work is essential. Tasks and routine are the calisthenics that keep your life in shape. Process is the Pilates that tones your mental muscle and unwelcome meetings and duties are the free weights that train your self-discipline. If you are like the many people right now who are done out of a paying job, do yourself a favour and create a job-like environment for yourself. Set aside an area of your home to treat as an office if you are homebound as I am. If you are mobile, consider setting up shop at the local branch of your public library.

Real writing is a job just like any other, with tasks and routine and process and unwelcome duties. So don’t get stuck on a fairy tale version of the world where Becoming A Writer is like winning a ticket to some sort of leisurely life.

And here’s the other secret: Your job makes you a better writer, so if you are a writer who writes full-time you BEST find something else to enrich you or your books will start to suck. Don’t believe me? Pick up the latest Patricia Cornwell. Go read Olivia Goldsmith’s third through last books.

I’ve read a lot of books by a lot of writers and it usually goes like this. The first book is rough around the edges but okay. The second or third book really gets things humming and takes off, making the writer a Full Time Writer. Books four and sometimes five are still pretty good, but somewhere around book six they stop writing relatable stuff. If they’re a chick-lit type of writer (like Olivia Goldsmith) they’ll write a book set in the world of publishing, because that’s all they know now. Then they veer off into a papery unrelatableness.

If you are truly a writer you do this work because you are compelled to and you love it the way some people love their children, their pets, their classic cars. You do it no matter what else is going on in your life. If you are just looking for an excuse to hide from the world there are easier, more lucrative paths to take and I suggest you look into one of those.

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I was just reading an article by an atheist. He said, among other things, that he believes all religions are equally ridiculous. Then he further went on to say that he didn’t care what (if any) religion we practice “as long as you are kind.”

The atheist in question: Ricky Gervais.
The article in question: A lengthy two-page defense of his Golden Globes jokes from last year wherein he parsed the funny out of each and every one. After turning each “Oh no he di-int!” into a snore he then went on to recast himself as a martyr for the cause of truth in humour. And then he made a couple really prejudiced remarks about obesity.

…As long as you are kind.

Huh. I guess what I think “kindness” is and what Gervais believes it to be are not necessarily the same thing. I don’t think it’s kind to mock fat people. (“It’s not big bones. It’s big bones covered in meat and gravy.”) I don’t think it’s kind to taunt someone about their past stumbles with drugs and alcohol or about their sexuality.

My policy over the years has been to ignore Ricky Gervais. He was funny for five minutes in The Office but then went on to play that jerk repeatedly. There are only so many times I can squirm while watching someone act inappropriately, and since that’s the foundation of what Gervais calls humour I figured that I’d do better to not give him the attention he so desperately craves.

So why now? Why am I picking on Ricky at this juncture? Well, because there’s been a whole lot of attention paid to the harm caused by bullying lately. Most of my friends have shared their tales of being bullied–sad things that range from being mocked for appearance to actually being set on fire. Celebrities are doing public service announcements to buoy the spirits of kids on the brink of self-harm because of what bullies have done to him.

Ricky Gervais is a bully. You can call it what you want and dress it up in free speech and honesty in humour. Nevertheless it’s bullying pure and simple. I have bullies in my life and if there’s one thing they excel at, it’s being able to sense a person’s weakness. If the bully is stupid they just mock. If they’re clever they are funny about their mocking. And then people write it off saying “Oh, that’s just Bobby’s sense of humour! You have to take it with a grain of salt.”

I’m done with pretending that it’s okay to be cruel as long as you bring cleverness to your cruelty.

So why did I bring up Gervais’ atheism? I should clear that up, even though the entry isn’t about that. Atheism is a valid choice (whether or not I say it is, really.) But in this case you have a person who is staunchly atheist because they believe the religions of the world to be the primary source of hate–something Gervais has said often in interviews. Then you have this same person making a nice fat living off hating albeit hating funny-style. So I’d like to point out once again that this bolsters my belief that the fault lies not within religion itself but within mankind. I also needed for my own sanity to point out the sheer irony of this man demanding kindness from everyone else.

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