Monday, May 27, 2013

Tragedy Versus Disaster

I want to be clear that I feel for the folks in Oklahoma and everywhere Nature has devastated communities and uprooted or displaced too many. My condolences to those who are mourning loved ones and whose lives are forever changed. This post is not aimed at them. Rather it's aimed at media. This is about the words the media use.

What's the difference between a tragedy and a disaster? A tragedy is something that has typically been confined to entertainments. According to dictionary.com it's defined as "great person destined through a flaw of character or conflict with some overpowering forceas fate or society, to downfall or destruction" and "[a protagonist] of importance and outstanding personal qualities, falls to disaster through the combination of a personal failing and circumstances with which he cannot deal". 


Jules Winnfield is a human tornado in the world of
Pulp Fiction. You know what's next, don't you?
A tornado is definitely an "overpowering force" and certainly a "circumstance with which [one] cannot deal". Especially when it's a mile and a third wide and stays on the ground for seventeen miles and forty minutes. Every tornado is terrifying but this one is one of the biggest I can recall hearing about. So when I first saw the headlines the day after the events in Moore, Oklahoma, I was bothered but not overly so. "Oklahoma Tragedy". But as the days go by I started really thinking about it.

Was Moore 'destined... to downfall or destruction'? Did the city's 'personal failings' combined with circumstances bring about this disaster?

I've heard the tornado itself described as "angry" and "furious". Can anyone tell me what a happy tornado looks like? Or a sad one? At best, a tornado is indifferent. Its winds can be ferocious, to be sure, or extreme or intense. I think winds in excess of 200 mph are certainly intense. And a tornado doesn't care what's in its path. That's something we learned back in grade school. It does what it does and that's all. 

So the line between entertainment and news is blurred when reporters and networks use terms from drama to describe a natural disaster. And that's a term that isn't being used at the top of any of the reports I've seen or heard. You don't like the word 'disaster' because it's not dramatic enough? Well, first let's eliminate the drama from news reporting, let's stop showing 'dramatic' new footage and let's hear the story. The facts. Let's stop amping up the feels for everyone. It's time. Come on.

Reporters, networks, open a thesaurus and find an alternate word for natural disaster if you like. Cataclysm is a great word. Very evocative. Calamity is good, too. I understand using 'tragedy' to shorthand the human cost of the natural disaster but the use of such shorthands has changed the way readers and viewers take in what you're saying. You have a responsibility to the public to be emotionally removed from the events. You are reporting.

Remember what that means?

I know there are dozens of dictionaries you can consult and I used a popular one. This is one that the public, who you are responsible to, would most likely go to because it's got the simplest address. At the least you should consult that one before deciding to give human qualities to Nature. 

Finally, I'm up early enough in the mornings that I can listen to some of the BBC World Service. If you get the chance, listen to them read the headlines and compare the same headlines to any American news organization. They are (generally) less sensationalistic and often just straight reporting. I listen because they're telling me news, not selling fear or titillation or trying to manipulate my emotions. The added benefit is that I learn things about the rest of the world.

We should all try that.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Fact Checking

Okay, this bugged me. Watching last week's episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, one of the guests (S.E. Cupp) said that mass shootings were down over the last thirty years. She called it an 'inconvenient truth' and aimed the comment at Michael Moore. It was a rather off-handed comment and Maher went to New Rules right after it.

But it stuck out. It seemed so incongruous with the news over the last year that I picked up the computer and did some checking. All I did was Google 'mass shootings' and the first site that came up was the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City. There's a great deal of information and their disclaimer seems honest. So I dug down into those figures and came up with a list of stuff that I think I should share here.

It's worth going through the information for yourself to draw your own conclusions. The way I see it, mass shootings were less deadly when the assault weapons ban was in place.

Numbers can be massaged to show anything, we all know that. My take here is that mass shootings are NOT down in the ten years on either side of the assault weapons ban. Ms. Cupp's assertion to the contrary, since the end of the ban, mass shootings appear to be up.

Here are the numbers I pulled out of the website. I urge you to do your own research.


Mass shootings since 1984…


1984 – 2 shootings – 28 dead
1989 – 2 shootings – 15 dead
1990 – 1 shooting – 10 dead
1991 – 1 shooting – 24 dead
1993 – 2 shootings – 15 dead
1994 – 1 shooting – 6 dead
1997 – 1 shooting – 5 dead
1998 – 3 shootings – 14 dead
1999 – 3 shootings – 30 dead
2000 – 1 shooting – 7 dead
2004 – 1 shooting – 6 dead
2007 – 2 shootings – 42 dead
2008 – 1 shooting – 5 dead
2009 – 2 shootings – 27 dead
2010 – 1 shooting – 10 dead
2011 – 3 shootings – 19 dead
2012 – 3 shootings – 47 dead


total 30 shootings – 300 dead

1984 – 1990: 5 shootings – 53 dead / 10.6 dead per shooting
1991 – 2000: 12 shootings – 101 dead / 8.4 dead per shooting
2001 – 2010: 7 shootings – 90 dead / 12.6 dead per shooting
2011 – present: 6 shootings – 66 dead / 11 dead per shooting

1984 – 1994: 9 shootings – 108 dead / 12 dead per shooting
1994 – 2004: 8 shootings – 56 dead / 7 dead per shooting
(assault weapons ban in effect 9/1994 to 9/2004)
2004 – present: 13 shootings – 156 dead / 12 dead per shooting


CONCLUSIONS:

  • ·      At least one shooting per year from 1997 – 2000 (4 years)
  • ·      At least one mass shooting every year since 2007. (6 years)
  • ·      Longest time between shootings: 53 months
  • ·      1990s as a decade had most shootings, but fewest killed per shooting
  • ·      With the assault weapons ban in effect fewer people per shooting were killed than without it in effect.




Thursday, May 23, 2013

Broadcast Seeding

Photo credit.
This isn't about lawn care. (Although my yard is still wrecked from two extraordinarily hot and dry summers. That's a different blog post.) The clever title works, though. That's why I used it. Don't judge me.

A while back I watched Neil Gaiman's keynote at the London Book Fair and he said some interesting things. (Go ahead and check it out. It's 30 minutes and he takes 7 or 8 minutes to really get going but it's a cool lecture.)

Here's a short version:

He mentions taping music in the 1970s and how the musician's union of his town thought this was going to kill music.  It didn't. He then draws the connection between digital books (invoking the first major pop culture reference in Douglas Adams' magnificent The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy) killing books in the same way that it was thought taping stuff would kill music. Of course it didn't, and digital books won't replace physical books, either. Not completely, anyway.

But what got me thinking was how he said that we (I took it to mean authors) are like dandelions. We spread the seeds of our works to the wind and hope that some of them find a place to land and grow. I suspect he's more like a dandelion than anyone else because he's got an enormous fan base and platform to spread all sorts of seed out into the world but the point was well taken.

We have to keep trying things, failing, trying again then failing better. Not necessarily more spectacularly or incredibly, but learning from the failures. It's okay to suck. It's okay to have almost no response to one's works, but it's frustrating. It leads to fear which leads to hate - you get the idea. Really, what I took away from the lecture was that failure IS an option but no one, not even Neil Gaiman, knows what's going to stick. The best one can do is the best one is capable of at the time and then learning what works. I have to believe that the seeds I've put out into the world are still riding the winds somewhere, looking for some great place to land.

I guess that's what I've always done. Having engaged in creative endeavors ever since my teenage years, I just haven't found the seeds that will grow a fan base yet. That's nothing I can do on my own. I have to have work out there that speaks to people, somehow cutting through the harsh white noise with a clear signal that connects.

There's no envy in me any more of what others are able to accomplish. There's curiosity (how the hell did he do that?) and there's always something to learn from what another does. I'll shift gears but keep doing what I do. Eventually I'll find that base, grow those seeds and my work be the weeds in your gardens. Or lawn.

Bend with the wind. Move forward. Ride the currents and see where I'm going to land.

That's the plan.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Spoilers

Spoilers? Not while I'm here.
I like to watch a lot of shows that are imports to America. Downton Abbey, Sherlock, Doctor Who, and some more. Thanks to the globalization of contacts through social media (Twitter and Facebook, mostly) I have to avoid those arenas when my shows are broadcast overseas sometimes months before they reach our shores.

It's not hard, just turn things off for a while. A day or two at most.

But should I have to?

A lot of other people are watching these series and they get to see them first and talk about them. So many that it doesn't make sense for networks who know their shows are popular world wide to play the game of rolling out across different continents at different times.

Additionally, there are the leakers. People who are privileged to know things ahead of time and release the information into the wild before it's secure. (Full disclosure: I watched the opening scene of The Dark Knight online while it was so briefly available. AND the opening scene of The Dark Knight Rises, too. The thing about these is that they didn't ruin the movie, the articles that linked to the clips were only links and not embeds. To see the clips one had to actually read far enough down then make the choice to see the media. THAT's how you do that. In the end, they only whetted my appetite for the films.)

Also additionally, everyone who goes to see a film before I do and then gushes about it on social media needs a little restraint. It's one thing to say "I don't believe they did that" in a general way, but to start shoving detail after detail into your status update or Tweets, well, then you're ruining it for everyone else, aren't you?

Or I could turn things off for a while.

Some people like spoilers, a lot don't. It's simply a matter of respect not to ruin something for others. Let them have the same thrill you did. It's not hard.

I blame the marketing campaigns that espouse "Be the First" for most of this. It's the American obsession with winning. It's possible that this could indeed be the problem with why some people fail to finish things. If we can't be first, why bother to try?

I'm happy for you that you saw something before I did. That's great for you. But I'm not competing with you to see before you do.

As of this writing, I haven't seen Iron Man 3 or Star Trek Into Darkness yet. I know people who have, who where there on the Thursday night openings. They haven't let slip any spoilers yet and for that I'm grateful. When I see you guys in person, we'll talk, okay?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Somebody Get Me A Doctor


I've been enjoying the latest season of Doctor Who but I'm not sure it's the strongest of the latest bunch. The actors are doing well, the stories are intriguing. I like the new companion, Clara, and the mystery around her has my interest. It's driving the Doctor but...

But I'm not convinced that it's really driving him.

(FAIR WARNING - FROM HERE ON OUT THERE ARE SPOILERS. IF YOU HAVEN'T WATCHED THE SEASON TO DATE, DON'T READ ANY FURTHER. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED.)

Let me step back and tell you that I first encountered Doctor Who (you have to spell out Doctor, it cannot be abbreviated and I've never heard anyone refer to him as 'Doc', come to think of it) when Tom Baker was on. The fourth Doctor is the big one, the one that a lot of Americans know. Anyway, it was on PBS back when there were only four networks and I watched religiously. One of the first episodes had Sontarans in it, then Cybermen, Daleks, Zygons and my favorite story was The Talons of Weng-Chiang. It was on late nights at first (10 pm) then it moved to 5:30 in the afternoons. Great stuff.

The Doctor was engaging, compelling and off-the-wall. When Baker left the series, I lost interest and only checked in once in a while on Peter Davison. I never saw any of the others until the relaunch in 2005.

Wow, what an upgrade. What was charming about the original run was that the effects were so crude but they didn't matter. What mattered was the characters and the story. That slight wobble to the TARDIS control panel as it vwooped through Time didn't matter. Star Wars was out and my expectations of effects (like everyone else's) was changed. But Doctor Who's visuals didn't and it didn't matter. It was about the story.

With the relaunch, the effects were better. The Doctor was still cool, still intriguing, still the Doctor. Christopher Eccleston was great and I was introduced to so much more of the Doctor's universe that I missed in in the twenty-plus years I hadn't checked in. The Daleks were amped up as were all the monsters. David Tennant came along and that's when the show really caught fire. The Tenth Doctor seemed much more like the Fourth yet with new twists, as would befit someone as long-lived as the Last Time Lord.

Oh, yes, in the intervening years I learned there was a Time War and the Doctor - well, he's the only survivor of his species.

When the Tenth regenerated into the Eleventh, a lot of fans were sad. Tennant was a favorite. Matt Smith took over the role and brought some sobriety and gravitas back to the character. But there's the craziness, too. By the end of his first season, Smith was nailing it. He and his new companion(s) really bonded and did so quickly. The Eleventh had a real sense of isolation (after the Tenth had been through three companions) and an almost childlike need to be liked or admired. He fought hard, used his brains generously and encouraged his companions to think, too. There was genuine feeling between Amy and the Doctor and that troubled the relationship between her and Rory and gave the show some good tension to work with. Their departure was announced and there was a lot of sadness at their leaving.

Which brings us to this season. Amy and Rory, the companions of the Eleventh, were removed from the show in an unsatisfying and somewhat contrived way with the return of the terrifying Weeping Angels. His new companion, the aforementioned Clara, came along and has been dubbed 'the impossible girl' because she died twice before becoming the official season's companion. Add to that the mystery of the Doctor's name and the anticipation of the 50th anniversary special coming late this fall, and this season should really be humming.

It's just, it doesn't seem to be.

Why is Clara 'impossible'? Why did she die twice? Why doesn't she remember?

The Doctor seems to know and then he doesn't. Maybe he does. Maybe not. Whenever it's realized why she's impossible and what the Doctor's name is, it will have taken too long to do so. These mysteries, while intriguing, are being dragged out. It's tiresome.

This isn't impatience on my part. It's the way the 'clues' are being dropped. They're being seeded throughout the season's scripts almost as afterthoughts. There hasn't been an episode where the Doctor has actively tried to discover why Clara is impossible. 'Hide' might be the exception, but it didn't really feel like it. 'Hide' really reinforced that the Doctor knows why she's impossible and doesn't need to seek an answer. I suppose there were a couple scenes in 'The Crimson Horror' that did the same thing, but only because Jenny, Vastra and Strax were as befuddled as the viewers. And once again, the Doctor seemed to know the answer but was unwilling to provide it.

As I said at the top, I'm enjoying this season. Not the strongest, and certainly frustrating, but very enjoyable. 'Dinosaurs on a Spaceship' (probably the four greatest words ever combined!) was fantastic, and 'The Power of Three' was thought-provoking. 'Asylum of the Daleks' really got things off to a good start, too. I liked 'Hide' and 'The Crimson Horror' was just plain fun because I love Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax. They add a LOT to any story they're in.

But there have been some moments that I just haven't connected with. 'A Town Called Mercy' left me cold and 'Cold War' was interesting but did little to advance the overall arc of the season. I think. Next week's episode, 'The Name of the Doctor' promises to be good with the return of Richard E. Grant as the villain for the third time this season and it seems like maybe they're going to Trenzalore, where the question must be asked: doctor who?

And that's the mystery from the end of last season. Maybe it's that I don't feel like there's a lot of buildup to the visit to Trenzalore. The Doctor and Clara have really just been fighting the Monster of the Week and - like I said - the mysteries are more reminders that we viewers are supposed to remember than anything the series is working towards.

I guess what it feels like is that this season is more filler than not. Empty calories designed to keep us in the universe until the big celebrations. I wish they'd given us more celebration, or buildup to it, than what's come out so far.

This one's in the books, as it were. Matt Smith and Jenna Louise-Coleman have both signed on for another go-round and that makes me happy. David Tennant is returning for the 50th anniversary special this fall (which includes John Hurt in the cast, too!) and there's the promise of big things with the return of the Zygons who haven't been seen since the 1970s. Maybe the producers have put everything into that event and sort of left this season to take up space to get us there.

The thing is, with a show about a madman with a box who travels through Time, I want my time invested in the show to give me everything it's promised. This season just hasn't. Almost as though everyone involved is just sort of going through the motions. Admittedly last season was tough, spectacular and heart-rending at times and it's difficult to do that every single time.

I'm looking forward to Saturday night's episode, though. It won't redeem the season, unless of course it does. If it ends and I'm smacking my head and immediately ordering the complete season DVD then it'll have done its job.

That's what I'm hoping for, anyway.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Too Many Invitations

Zoltar's got those fox ears up, listening for any hint I might
be interested in coming over to see her. 
Oh, social media. What did we do before you came along? We must never have been happy. All those requests to play the same game, to like the same page, to reblog the same images, to attend all those events...

I had more time to watch cartoons that advertised toys before you were invented.

You can find me on several social media platforms. Usually under my name or occasionally under the handle I've been using since 1999, Ajasont. I started that when I was regularly self-publishing mini comics and have used it ever since. Anyway, you know how to find me if you want.

Now when I'm on those SM platforms, I'm often friends with people I've never met but usually these folks are friends of friends. It's rare that I friend people I don't know at all except for the early days of Twitter and I'd say that of those I've developed a few friendlies that occasionally engage in conversation. That's how I use social media, anyway.

On Facebook I get fewer and fewer requests to play certain very, very popular games than I did even a year ago. My studious disdain and ability to ignore those requests has finally paid off. On Twitter the requests are easier to ignore unless someone decides to mass Direct Message everyone and that's frowned upon these days. Where things are getting out of hand is on GoodReads.

Who'd'a thought?

There's one person who constantly, and I mean constantly, bombards me with updates inviting me to one thing or another. The coloring of a cover for a book. A launch that I will never be able to attend because I have a full-time job and can't travel to the coast for a two hour garden party. But wait! He's also 'hosting' an online Q&A that I could 'attend' and he'd be glad to get me on a list that would send me reminders of when it's coming up...

Stop.

Really, just stop. If I haven't responded to one of your events and we're still 'friends' on the site, you're trying my patience with your scattershot, widescreen, all-inclusive invitations. You're just static. There's no meaningful conversation going on. I'm not engaging with your platform.

Get the hint? Stop inviting every single person you're friends with to every single event you're creating as an author. Right now. Quit it. I'm going to unfriend you if you don't. We connected because one of us was interested and the other said, "Yeah, okay, you look like you might be cool." You're definitely testing your 'cool' by bombing my inbox with invitations. And I mean several times a week you're hitting me up for something. 

I'm not coming. I won't participate. I don't care. Get the hint?

I have books to read, stories to write, TV shows to veg out with. Plus, I've got real-world invitations to consider. 

So stop trying to make yourself look good. Stop trying to inflate your numbers. No one pays attention to those any more unless there's a competition. 

And here's the gist of my message: I'm not competing with you. Not ever. I do my own thing and if you want to follow along I'm glad to have you. If not, focus your scattershot, widescreen, all-inclusive invitations somewhere else will you?

Because He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is on.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Thought Patterns

One bad day is all it takes. Or so the Joker said via Alan Moore.
I don't think the same way a lot of people do. My pattern of thought takes me to conclusions that seem rather obvious to me but are often not the same as others. For instance I believe laws exist for a reason and if more people followed these rules the world would operate much more smoothly. (Like, say, people actually slowing down when the traffic signal goes yellow instead of gunning it half a block from the intersections and crossing in front of me when I have the green light. Just sayin'.) Of course the reality of that kind of idealism is rarely rewarded.

So yeah, I'm an idealist. Too bad for me. I tend to be disappointed. Quite a bit.

But I'm okay with that. This idealism translates pretty well into writing. I can set up a utopian world according to the rules I want, then break them as often as necessary and put my characters (and even the settings) through the grinder.

I can disillusion them in ways that the world tries to disillusion me, too. I can make them feel the things that the world would like me to feel because society thinks it works better when everyone is miserable. Being a writer means having godlike powers in this regard.

But that's boring.

If I really wanted to read about people being downtrodden and not overcoming the trials and tribulations of real life, I'd pick up Dr. Zhivago. No. I like optimism. Not a happy ending (well...) so much as the chance for a happy ending. Where the characters have been significantly changed from the beginning of the book and are maybe thinking differently than they were before. Not everything is happy, in the end, but there's likely a ray of sunshine somewhere if one only takes the trouble to look for it.

The obvious ending is boring, too. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, they're broken apart, then reunited, finally living happily ever after. Ugh. The thing is - and this is important - that's a fantasy. The ideal is that they may live ever after, but there are ups and downs. Yes, I understand that that's implied, but it's almost never explored. Too dull, too lifelike, too boring.

Nah, let's put 'em through some paces. I'd rather start my story after the happy ending. What happens next? Is there another down period? Do they separate because he sees ghosts and she thinks he's just making it up to spend time with someone else? Will she let him forget that he was an idiot when they were kept apart in the first place for believing someone else's lies? What are the chances of a plane crashing into the house they're getting ready to buy?

As long as the status quo is changed at the end of the story, I'll probably like it. However I think that the vast majority of readers don't like that. They want their characters to be the same in the second book as they were in the first. Think about this, did Harry Potter really change all that much? He grew up (as did all the other children) but did that really change him? You'd think after battling that evil SOB for seven years - seven years! - that he'd be a little more tentative, a little more mistrustful of the world.

But he didn't appear to be, did he? Nope. Married with children and living happily ever after.

I'm an idealist. So was he, apparently. I wonder, though, what came next? What could shake him from his normal life? What would it take to change him, I mean fundamentally down to the core of his being?

Ahhhhh....

I've got my own stories to write.