Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Detonation Known

The elements of a functional social compact include effective communication, complex thinking, self-directed learning, collaboration, and community participation. While each one is necessary in order for the society to thrive, I think effective communication is the most important. We need to understand one another.

Effective communicators are able to convey messages in a variety of formats.  They take responsibility for the clarity, purpose, and the meaning of the messages they send.  They also seek to interpret messages they receive objectively and accurately.

They use a “public voice” when communicating within their social group, which means they attend to vocabulary, syntax, grammar, and spelling. 

I find it odd and tragic that, at some time, there arose a need among English speakers to accurately define the act of something exploding with suddenness and violence. They came up with the word detonate.

How very thoughtful of the human race! One does not have to parse together vague phrases to describe what do to with explosive devices. One can be very clear.

“I am going to detonate this bomb!”

I wish we did not know what that means, but, unfortunately, detonate has been effectively communicated.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Undeserving Reprieves

That his repentance of misconduct, which thus brought about its own punishment, was sincere, need not be doubted. But that he was for ever inconsolable, that he fled from society, or contracted an habitual gloom of temper, or died of a broken heart, must not be depended on—for he did neither.
Jane Austen ~ Sense and Sensibility

There are few elements of a good story as satisfying as a reprieve. Whether it’s  deliverance from the guillotine or a marriage, a stay of execution for a condemned person is always a happy occasion—except when it isn’t.

I always thought the reprieve that Jane Austen gave to the scoundrel Willoughby too generous. He should have borne society’s censure, not for trifling with Marianne’s affections, but for seducing, impregnating, and then abandoning a young girl.

But Miss Austen allowed him to live and “frequently enjoy himself. His wife was not always out of humour, nor his home always uncomfortable; and in his breed of horses and dogs, and in sporting of every kind, he found no inconsiderable degree of domestic felicity.”

She was not so kind to Lucy Steele and Robert Ferrars.  They were scheming, manipulative, and selfish, and although it looks like they get everything they want, Jane Austen makes it clear they pay a price.

 “They settled in town, received very liberal assistance from Mrs. Ferrars, were on the best terms imaginable with the Dashwoods; and setting aside the jealousies and ill-will continually subsisting between Fanny and Lucy, in which their husbands of course took a part, as well as the frequent domestic disputes between Robert and Lucy themselves, nothing could exceed the harmony in which they all lived together.”

This little exercise has shown me that there are reprieves, reprieves, reprieves, and “reprieves.” Once in a while, a REPREIVE blows into town like an avenging angel (not that I notice.) No, for me, a simple reprieve is the best, and when it is well-executed, it is deeply satisfying.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Mobius Trip

“Nothing could be more disgusting than the one impression; nothing more delightful than the other. It all depended on the point of view.”
C. S. Lewis ~ Out of the Silent Planet

“Well, if that wasn’t a mucky waste of an evening, I don’t know what is,” said Wilfred. “Of all the tin-plated twaddle! What in the world does it mean to ‘transfigure the adoration of the contemplation’?”

“I think he was trying to be inspirational,” said Elbert. “Even if the meaning was obscure, the song itself had a nice melody.”

“Hmph!” Wilfred replied. He cast a warning glance at Trevor. “If you ever start singin’ that way, I’ll bonk you in the head.”

“And I’ll bonk you in the backside,” said Skandar.

Rhino laughed.
“And I’ll bonk you in the…well, never mind where I’ll bonk you,” he said. “You’ll just know you’ve been bonked.”

“All right! All right!” Trevor raised his hands in mock surrender. “I couldn’t sing like that if I tried; I don’t know half the words he used.  At any rate, the ladies were impressed.”

“Ugh!” said Wilfred. “He should be banned from court.”

“Now, Wilfred, don’t be so hard on the fellow,” said Rhino. “Remember what Master Altman says: Much of what passes for Complex is merely Complicated in disguise. If you think of his song as complex, it’s ridiculous; but if you think of it as complicated, it’s rather impressive.”

“Rhino is right,” said Skandar. “Think of the hours he must have spent to cram all those big words into one little song. It must have kept him up at night.”

“When you think about it, the singer is really to be admired,” said Elbert. “Without him, we never would have heard ‘the twilight of my life relegates my consciousness to the requiem of being.’ It is rather interesting.”

“Well, I’ll accept your point,” said Wilfred. “But I could have done without the reference to the pig.”

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Perpetual Motion

Among the forces which sweep and play through the universe, untutored man is but a wisp in the wind.  Our civilization is still in a middle stage, scarcely beast, in that it is no longer guided by instinct; scarcely human, in that it is not yet wholly guided by reason.  On the tiger no responsibility rests.
– Theodore Dreiser   Sister Carrie

Morgana disappeared into the shed and emerged a minute later bearing a large chest.  She handed the chest to Skandar and motioned for him to follow her.  Mystified, Skandar followed Morgana in silence until they reached a rise overlooking the town.  Morgana then unlocked the chest with another key and withdrew its contents.  It was a curiously fashioned object.

“Did you make this?” asked Skandar, touching it reverently.

“No, it was given to me by a traveling merchant on the condition that I must never allow it to be put to use.  It’s a perpetual motion machine. You are the only person I have ever shown it to.”

“Why wouldn’t this merchant want anyone to use it?” asked Skandar.  “Perpetual motion!  Think of the possibilities!”

“That is what I thought at first, too,” said Morgana, “but the inventor–Franz was his name–did not trust the human race with such knowledge.  He had witnessed first hand the terrible result of invention without ethics.

“For a long as he could remember, Franz was always fascinated by the way the world works and as soon as he could, he studied mathematics and engineering.  He came from a family of wealthy landowners so he could indulge in all sorts of experiments and investigations.  As he grew older, Franz grew more and more isolated from his friends; none of his companions were interested in Franz’s ideas or his inventions.

“When Franz was fifteen, a family moved into the community whose eldest son, Michio, was just as interested in mathematics as Franz was.  The two of them immediately became friends and planned great things together.  Bridges, ships, buildings–nothing escaped their interest.  It was Michio who first suggested a perpetual motion machine.  He and Franz spent hours drawing sketches, casting molds, and testing models for their greatest invention.

“But as the perverseness of humanity would have it, one of Michio’s relatives from another city became embroiled in a dispute with a leading member of the local community.  It grew beyond an exchange of insults into a bloody war between the two cities.  Michio and his family were banished from Franz’s city with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.  The city of where Michio and his family had fled was besieged by weapons of war; it was eventually reduced to rubble.

“Franz was devastated.  One of the weapons was a catapult, the invention of Archimedes the mathematician, whom Franz and Michio had admired.  When the war was over, Franz went to the ruined city searching for news of Michio or his family but without success.  When he returned home, he burned all of his drawings, notes, and models, including a miniature catapult that he and Michio had made.  The only thing he kept was the work they had done on their perpetual motion machine.  He finished the machine in honor of his friend and as a reminder of the human condition.  He vowed to never again make anything that could be used for evil.

“So he ended his days traveling the world, making and selling toys for children.  He invented the most amazing things, Skandar–games, puzzles, building blocks–but no more machines.  He was already quite old when I met him.  He told me he was dying and wanted his perpetual motion machine to be safe so he entrusted it to me.  But I also think he gave me his precious invention because I was a girl and no one would listen to me, even if I wanted to use it.”

Friday, May 19, 2017

Notorious Characters

 Notorious characters populate the literary world. They are the essential evildoers, the vicious villains, and the compulsory cads that generate conflict and drive the plot. The bad guys of both genders give the other characters something to do, namely avoid their evilness.

The interesting thing about notorious characters is that they are all notorious for the same things. They are cruel, wicked, unfeeling, pathological liars who crave power and world domination, and, oh, yes, they are usually late for dinner. (I made up that last one.)

The point is they all share common traits of notoriety. But what if they each had a unique quirk for which they were notorious among their minions, slaves, and intimate circle of friends?
For example, what if Darth Vadar was notorious for having bad breath? Suppose it was a well-kept secret that he tortured his enemies by breathing on them. That’s one way to strike fear in everyone’s heart.

“Luke, turn to the dark side, or I will Huhh….Huhh…”

Imagine Lord Voldemort as a notorious nose-picker. That could explain why his nails were so long; with such a flat nose, he would probably need a set of heavy-duty claws. I can just see him at Malfoy’s mansion working on his nose while the Lestranges give their weekly terror report. (Ev’ry body’s doin’ it, doin’ it, pickin’ their nose and chewin’ it, chewin’ it. They think it’s funny, but it’s snot.)

A final example is Sauron. We all know him as Black Master of the land of Mordor, the Eye of the Dark Tower, the Enemy of the Free Peoples, and the Lord of Barad-dรปr. But what if he were also notorious for being late to everything.

The cover story is that his ring was lost for thousands of years before Gollum happened upon it. But what if Sauron just missed it due to his lack of punctuality? Gandalf said the One Ring was trying to get back to its master, sending out signals. I’m over here, over here. Look in the river, you idiot! The ring probably got tired of waiting and ordered a pizza.

Like Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, “It’s always something.” It’s the same with notorious characters. They are either terrorizing the world with their evil, or they are annoying it with their incessant humming.