Sunday, July 31, 2011

Patriotism: Dead or Alive?

This has always been an interesting subject for me. Mostly, it’s interesting because everyone’s view on it is a little (or a lot) different. Patriotism today definitely differs from patriotism in the ‘50s or ‘60s, or any other generation, for that matter. But how, and why?

Today, it seems that folks are either nationalists or anarchists; there is no in-between. You are either a blind patriot or totally against everything government/country related. The media has tricked us into thinking every single soldier is a hero, no matter what, and has steered us away from police and fire men and women being heroes. Last time I checked, you don’t call the Navy if someone is breaking into your house.

There are enough copy and pasted “thank a soldier” posts on Facebook to make a guy retch. Yes, I’m glad we have men and women who are brave and fight for us, I guess, but heroes? Some are, to be sure, but other soldiers are just mediocre or even terrible people. That’s blind faith there, folks, and it isn’t healthy.

The other side of the coin are the people who’ll hate whomever is running the country, regardless of what that person says or does. Mostly, I think it’s all just a waste of time, anyhow. Sitting around bashing the president with other people who have temper problems isn’t going to do a thing to change his mind on any issue; in fact, it’s probably best if you just get involved with your family, your local community, or something else you can actually change. Or, go buy an island and enforce your own laws and codes; I’m sure it’ll work well for you.

The military draft is dead and gone. Soldiers, like police, sign up and are trained for their positions. If they had no choice and were just picked out randomly and then sent into war, my opinion would be totally different. Cops also work hard to keep us safe, and from real threats like gang members or pedophiles, not oil money or religious views. I hope the trend one day turns to thanking local police and fire again, because they put their lives on the line for us, as well.

This blog entry is not a soldier bash, but rather an honest inquiry as to where patriotism stands today. People are hugely influenced by the media, which scares the hell out of me. They are getting their educations from their couches, watching a picture box or reading opinionated media web sites. Not good.

What does patriotism mean to you? What enters your mind when you think of “our country”? Is it the land we live on? Is it the laws and history? Is it our freedom to be and do what we want? What exactly is it you’d like to defend? Is it actually under attack?

Real life isn’t like watching your favorite team on television; you cannot just keep cheering the country on, no matter what. While you may still be a fan of your favorite team whether they win or lose or what they do, serious questions must be asked of your country before you decided to blindly get on board and back it. That isn’t a patriot, that’s someone who needs their head checked.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Amy Winehouse Dead at 27: Sad, not Tragic

Okay folks, I’m probably going to catch some web flack for this but since I run a blog in which I speak my mind, I intend to do so. I have heard people say that Winehouse’s death was a tragedy, that she was too young, and that it’s too soon to make rehab jokes. I say those same people should look up the word tragedy, that “too young” is relative, and that it’s never too soon to poke fun at public figures. Never.

The attacks on the U.S. in September of 2001 (9/11) were tragedies. A little girl ending up face down in a pool because Mom turned her head for a minute when she answered the phone is a tragedy. A police officer losing his life in a gun battle with bank robbers is a tragedy. A drugged-out musician dying because of an overdose is completely foreseeable and so therefore it’s just a waste of talent and life. Maybe a tragic waste, but that doesn’t make it a tragedy.

Don’t get me wrong, here, it’s super sad that *anyone* should die so young, no matter what the circumstances. But I feel that “tragedy” is too steep a word for the incident we are talking about here. I’m not a fan of death any more than the next guy but it is, after all, a fact of life.

Rock stars have, throughout the ages, been known to wreck their bodies with heavy drug and alcohol abuse. Just because we happen to “love” their work or appreciate that it contributed to a major change in the music industry does not make their deaths any more tragic than anyone else’s. In fact, maybe if they had gone on to live long lives they would sell out and folks would begin to loathe them and their styles. Ask a headbanger from the 1980s what he or she feels about Metallica after 1992. I can almost guarantee their answer will begin with an eye roll and a sigh.

Some things, in my opinion, are meant to get in, hit hard, and then fade out. Take Janis Joplin, for instance: what if she had lived on into her sixties and still produced music? Do you think it would even remotely resemble her hard-hitting, soulful tunes of the Woodstock era? My bet is no, and I would probably be right. People change. However, if their flame dies out shortly after they alter the world, then they live on forever in our hearts and minds as that world changer, not as an aged sell-out whose drug abuse has fried their brains to the point of Gary Buseyism. Wait, did I say that? Sorry, Gary.

My point is, that although it *is* indeed tragic in a sense for any life to be snuffed out so young, calling it a tragedy just doesn’t jive well with me. Not when it is so predictable. “The Day the Music Died” took place on February 3rd, 1959, when a plane crash took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. That was more of a tragedy than the demise of Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Bradley Nowell (Sublime), Lane Staley (Alice in Chains) or Jim Morrison (The Doors) because although planes do crash, the accident was unexpected and sudden. The demise of someone, rock star or not, with major dope or booze problems isn’t very difficult to predict.

All I’m asking you, the general public, to do is reevaluate your definition of tragic for a minute. See it from my point of view, or at least try. Why is the death of a high school kid who gets into drugs and overdoses any less “tragic” than when a rock or pop star does the same? The two differences I can see is that the star obviously has some talent, and we know their name. If that is what separates a back-page news blurb from a major tragedy, I want no part of either. If you ask me, a life being snuffed out before it has realized its potential is far more tragic than one which has been allowed to shine. Just sayin’.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Casey Anthony: Acquittal Does Not Mean Innocence

Okay, folks, I know everyone is upset that Casey Anthony avoided conviction, but if you understand how the decision was made by the jury, maybe you won’t get so many gray hairs over the deal. Here’s how it works:

For capital crimes, there has to be *zero* doubt in any juror’s mind that the accused is guilty. That means none. No doubt whatsoever. You simply cannot send someone to their death because your gut tells you they are guilty, no matter what the evidence suggests. That is vigilantism and this isn’t the Wild West. We have rules now days.

I was in law school for a while, and I decided to get out and not pursue that career because of the way the system is. I’m not saying it’s wrong, or corrupt, or doesn’t work, I’m saying that it isn’t perfect and that a lot of injustices go on every single day, rules or no rules. I wanted no part of that game, because that is exactly what it is: a game. Only when you are playing with other peoples’ lives and futures, it isn’t so fun. I’ll stick to chess, thanks.

Think of the Casey Anthony trial as kind of watching a magician; the audience knows, without a doubt, that the guy on stage is pulling a trick off. I mean, they know it. However, if nobody can prove exactly how the trick is pulled off, then it’s still magic. Likewise, although most of the free world is convinced that Casey Anthony is guilty of the crime she was accused of, nobody effectively proved it beyond any doubt. Heck, even if most or all of the jurors thought she did it, the law is very clear that if there is the slightest doubt in your mind, you cannot convict. Hence, Casey Anthony walks free. At least, until she gets lynched by one of the aforementioned vigilantes.

So before you get upset at the jurors and wonder just what the hell they were thinking, please realize that the rules they were playing by do not give a lot of wiggle room and that without a one-hundred-percent, not-a-doubt-in-my-mind mentality, acquittal is the only viable option.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

You just never know...

On Tuesday I went up to the mountains (Crestline, CA area) to attend my friend’s birthday party. He told me that there may be a writer showing up. Okay, I’m interested, but I quickly forgot about it and grabbed a few more cold ones while mingling with the party-goers. Said writer eventually texted my friend and said he wouldn’t be able to make it due to a busted vehicle that was still in the shop. Bummer. More cold ones.

About an hour after he received that message, said writer was making his way up the steps. My friend turned to me, excited, and said, “That’s him. He got a ride!” Okay, intrigued again. Quickly I had another cold one in my hands, ready to meet the guy.

Well, we shortly got to talking. The initial conversation, which he kicked off, went:

Him: Dirty rumor floating around that you’re a writer.
Me: Even dirtier one says you make a few bucks at it.

Yea, that’s how we roll here in CA. I must admit that the conversation that followed didn’t go nearly as smoothly as I would have wanted, because another party-goer was speaking to him about Bigfoot, UFOs and politics every time I wanted to get a word in. But hey, that is okay. I got to meet a really good author and yak it up with him a bit. Oh, who was the author? Good question. The man’s name is Matthew Scott Hansen, and he wrote the book that Jim Carrey’s movie “Man on the Moon” was based on, among other things. Here’s his site:

I got the opportunity to ask him about his life, and even if he’d throw a little advice to a budding author, which he kindly did. He’s a super cool cat who has written everything from comedy to thrillers to screenplays. As I mentioned, I wish I could have had more time with him that night, but I’m never one to look a gift horse in the mouth. He told me that as far as he’s concerned, I have what it takes to be a writer. “Get something published, dude,” he said. You can bet I reached for another cold one after that, friends and neighbors. You can just bet it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Avoiding the Complete Psycho

Yea, we’ve all encountered at least one or two in our lives, but how do we avoid them? Sure, you know a few of the things to watch out for and try really hard not to mingle with them, but it happens anyhow. I thought I’d be a pal and compile a short list of things complete psychos do, so you can keep your eyes peeled.

Watch for hypocritical things on a regular basis. A complete psycho will say they believe in something to appease the people they are with, and then turn around and say the exact opposite to another group of friends. Since you can never really trust where that person stands in life, they are best avoided. Maybe down the road when the psycho is more comfortable and assertive with their real beliefs, you can give them another shot. Until then, peace out.

Be on the lookout for grandiose stories that absolutely, positively cannot be true. Well, they *could* be true, if the complete psycho would pick just one. But no, they will have done it all, and then some. No, you didn’t hang out with Cypress Hill back in the day and get high with them all the time. No, you never had a Chevelle that ran the quarter mile in nine seconds flat. You also were never in commercials as a child. You will never own the construction company your uncle works for. There is no hundred-thousand dollar check waiting for you somewhere. Just stop it. We totally know you are psycho.

Avoid the well-spoken, well-read person whose personal hygiene is a mess. While these people may be good conversationalists and technically smarter than you, it is unsafe to engage them in any way, shape, or form. Sooner or later they will begin talking about religion or politics and you will have been utterly sucked into their stinky, yet impressive-sounding, web of weird. These people never know when to quit and – well, let me put it this way: Have you ever seen “The Cable Guy?” ‘Nuff said.

Steer clear of overly emotional people. These folks are not right in the head, and may even be severely imbalanced. Folks that are way to happy, are angered easily, or cry at the drop of a hat are to be completely scratched off your possible Facebook friends list. These are the folks who will either take you to jail with them or call you at three in the morning, asking advice about significant others that do not exist or whether it’s a good time in life for them to get pregnant. Crinkle paper near the receiver, tell them your connection is bad and go back to sleep. It’s just best that way for all parties involved.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A good fiction writer reads – believe that.

I have been in the writing community, both fiction and non, for years now. I have loved to write both stories and poetry since I can remember – literally as far back as I can recall. I have always had a knack for the English language, and it has always come naturally and easily to me. Now, that does not mean that I’m an expert or any better than anyone else; it simply means that I love how our words work and am fascinated and awed by their power.

Of course, life sometimes just *happens*, and I stopped writing for many years. By the time I picked it up again in 2008, I was rusty and my mechanics really needed work. The ideas were there, and my passion was there, but the skills were definitely a tad dull. Luckily, I had joined a wonderful writing forum, Accentuate Writers (, and I have been honing my skills and improving there ever since. I have also been reading. Quite a bit.

I am of the belief that you can buy all the grammar and style books that you can afford, work through them religiously and still not improve much in your story writing. Why? Because stories aren’t about mechanics – not really. They are about the characters, the plot, and the emotion, and you won’t find that stuff in any grammar book ever written.

Also, just because you pack your brain with a bunch of rules does not mean your writing will flow any better than it did before. It simply means that you know a lot of rules that you may or may not know how to apply to your writing. Reading through a book entitled, “How To Weld” does not make you a welder. Experience, which includes a truck load of mistakes and small victories, is the only way we will ever become what we want. In this case, fiction writers. We must read a lot and we must write a lot.

And while I encourage reading the classics, I do not encourage studying them for tips and tricks. Shakespeare and Dostoevsky are awesome, but if you try handing a publisher a story that reads as if it were written in the 1500s, things aren’t going to get very far for you. Read current stories as well. There are some really, really well-written novels and short stories out there today that can be very beneficial reads. Stephen King himself says to read anything you can get your hands on. What good would a movie producer who doesn’t go to the movies be? Not much, that’s what.

Set aside a little time each day to read fiction. Read outside your favorite genres. Read unknown authors and read best-sellers. Learning the rules of any game only teaches you how to play, not how to play well. Read the works of those who have mastered the game already so that you can see the kind of stuff that gets published. Or, keep churning out mistake-ridden crap stories that Mom and close friends say are great but an editor will chuck in the trash. It’s totally up to you.