Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Importance of Net Neutrality

Comcast and Verizon are trying to kill the internet as a viable form of communication.  That is the only possible result I can see from their petition to have a 'fast lane' for their own content and a 'slow lane' for everybody else (Except, of course, those who can pay a whacking big fee.)  Already, the internet in the United States is slower than what other countries enjoy.  In the US, the most important consideration is that the Big Boys get their cut of the money.

Since it was first developed, the internet has served as a conduit for ORDINARY PEOPLE.  We've made new friendships we could never have thought of before, met people we could never have met through ordinary social interactions.  These friendships span both miles and age groups.  I myself have grown and learned much from this kind of contact - contact with ordinary, not-so-powerful people.

The biggest reason Comcast and Verizon have hatched their plot with the blessing of certain elements in power is that ordinary people have found their voice in politics.  Care 2 petitions about all sorts of causes have rocked the world.  The internet propelled Howard Dean and his 50 state strategy.  It still propels Organizing for America, Move On, VoteVets, and similar organizations.  Ordinary people are taking part in their government and expressing themselves and petitioning on social issues of all sorts.  This has been massively liberating, and, frankly, I think Comcast and Verizon will find that without these features they will have an empty shell on their hands.

Thanks to a free internet with no fast lane for the big boys, I myself, a 68-year-old domestic violence, stroke, and cancer survivor with false teeth, hearing aids, and glasses, have been able to find a voice.  I write articles on on three subjects, and these are read all over the world.  This blog is another avenue for me to speak out and to share personal interests and experiences.  In addition, through I have been able to earn a little extra money writing and editing.  I fear none of these services will be available in the 'fast lane'.  So far, nobody has said how slow the 'slow lane' will be, or how hard to use.

I was taught to think for myself and look up my own sources, not accepting blindly whatever I was told.  Recently on the Net I have researched Buddhist doctrines, the Russian city of Yakutsk and its famous horses, domestic architecture in Lahore, Pakistan, and many other various subjects.  I WANT ALL THIS INFORMATION TO CONTINUE TO BE AT MY FINGERTIPS.  

I am not interested in the latest stories from Comcast and Verizion.  I want in-depth coverage of major happenings from a variety of sources.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I'm fighting for a free internet.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Joy of Painting Protest Pictures
In these grim times in the United States of America, almost everyone is anguished and/or frustrated.  Those of us who believe in the Affordable Care Act, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps are horrified we have legislators who believe we should do without them.  We can't see erasing the gains we, our parents, and our grandparents fought and worked for.  Since I depend for more than half of my income on earned Social Security (40 years' of work), I have been fighting depression.
Facebook has given me a way to express myself and fight back.  Everybody and his turkey is posting captioned pictures of all kinds to prove their points.  I decided to add my dressed-up cats to the mix.
For years I had been frustrated painting smiley, happy cats for public consumption at craft fairs.  Not surprisingly, my initial impulse to draw was founded in operatic photos.  Some of those are none too pleasant, because opera deals with all the emotions.  Lately I have done a couple of works that let those feelings out, and I shall see how the public reacts to a painted box of operatic scenes.
Then, suddenly, I had a purpose for emotional art.  I, too, could express myself on Facebook, in my articles on, and here.  I've been cullling every photo or image I could find among my collection, looking for pictures of worried, unhappy, or angry people.  These images include ones taken from magazines, art books, costume histories, movies, and operas.  I usually change the clothing so the original source is not too obvious.
This is immensely satisfying emotionally.  I draw and paint with a purpose, working out my anxiety and hoping someone will benefit from sharing these images.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

"Our First Language Is Music"
 That's what my son told me several months back.  I was shocked; I had never dared think that way.  Yet it is true for both of us - the first way we think to express our feelings is in music.  This is partly natural affinity and partly because - at various times in our lives - music has been the safest way to think about our emotions and let them out.  That's how music has made its way into my novels.  It's my natural way to express myself.
I thought about this tonight because of an experience I just had.  Lately I've been really depressed over a nasty financial bump in a life that's been filled with bumps.  I wanted to crawl into my hole and work very quietly and very hard at home.  But I had been invited to take part in an interfaith choir singing the Faure Requiem.  I have done it with the St. Joseph's folks before, and their choir director is very exciting to work with. - In fact, their choir director and mine form a marvelous pair for any singer.  My director was on the piano tonight, helping his friend.
Psychologists tell us that getting out among people and doing something when you're feeling down is always a good practice.  Tonight's rehearsal brought me back into a world where I feel I'm valued and can make a contribution, no matter what.  And the Faure Requiem is a wonderful piece to sing right now.
You see, I am extremely angry about the government shutdown and the political woes of retired folk like myself on both the state and federal levels.  The "Libera Me" section of Faure's work is just the right medicine!  Anger and retribution are right there, and I can sing my feelings right out.  The magic of shared music flowed through me, and I felt strong enough to bear up.
That's why you find Mussorgsky's Field Marshall Death taking his place in science fiction.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Animal Connection
Whether we like it or not, animals are an important part of our world - not just our table.  From time immemorial, people have watched animals and learned from their behaviors.  There are even martial arts forms based on animal fighting and defense methods.  And, oh, how we love the creatures!  A recent beer commercial focused on the joyful reunion between a man and a horse.
Rita Mae Brown has written a number of successful mysteries featuring animals who talk to each other, cooperate, and find the solution to mysteries faster than their humans do.  Animals will cooperate, given the right circumstances.  The internet is full of pictures of mother animals giving succor to babies of other species.  And the science fiction platform gives me space to explore human/animal relationships.
I chose giant talking cats as a bridge between the human and animal (and alien!) worlds.  Why?  I've lived with cats all my life and know them better than I know any other species.  One could almost say why not cats?  They and dogs are the species closest to the human heart, and we all know the value of their animal senses
Everybody knows animals can hear and smell much that we can't.  They can also get into spaces we can't and examine things more closely than we ever can.  If humans were ever forced to other worlds, we would certainly need the help of our animal companions to make sense of them! 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Keep a record of what you're writing!
Years ago, a creative writing teacher told me about William Faulkner's method of keeping up with his characters.  Faulkner whitewashed a wall of his workroom and wrote the various characters' names and relationships on it as he worked.  When he'd finished the book, he whitewashed the wall again.  Given the density of his prose, I could certainly understand his using this method!
 Now, since I've created a whole universe, the lesson's come home in a big way.  I use the Excel expertise I built in the office to solve my problem.  The character list at the front of BEFRIENDING ALIENS is a spreadsheet converted to Word.  I wish I had done this for A TEST OF ALIEN ALLIANCE; the list makes it much easier for people to follow the story.
Now that I've helped my readers, I decided I'd better help myself.  I have a spreadsheet with a list of all the planets I've thought up, who lives on them, and a little bit about them.  In the same workbook I've set up a spreadsheet of all the space ships I've mentioned in both books, who controls them, and what they are used for.  This has proved to be a wonderful resource, and I'm going to have to add a character page for my current work.
If you write a series, as I'm attempting, it is horribly easy to forget people's names and the planets they live on.  Almost every series author has slipped up this way at one time or another.  Terry Pratchett has the best cover-up; he says they're just alternate realities!  Anyway, you can really get your fans confused.
Name mistakes like this are often subtle enough to pass unnoticed by proofreaders.  I discovered one in BEFRIENDING ALIENS that really bugs me and am hoping nobody notices it.  Tell me if you find it.

Friday, August 9, 2013

This Writing Life
Everybody needs to write - even if it's just a pocket diary.  For one thing, it's great to be able to look back and find when you last had your oil changed.  On a more personal level, it is good to log your daily experiences and feelings.  Sometimes it helps to write a rant and then tear it up.
Then there is the urge to write a story - any kind of story.  Personally, I have two self-published science fiction novels out through Xlibris.  This is a self-publishing company with a difference - they will sell your book on their own website and place it on the major book websites.  They have lots of other services - which cost money.  Apparently, either you charm an agent into taking your book on and selling it, or else you spend money.  One thing you do is blog about your writing and try to get tips from and share tips with others.  That's what I want to do now.
Book outlines:  I keep reading about those, but I can't seem to make it work.  Over the years, I dreamed up a group of science fiction characters and a giant plot arc.  From there, I go about writing a story in spurts of inspiration.  The characters have a life of their own and dictate part of the story; for the rest, I start with familiar concepts and situations.
The author who's been the most inspiration to me is one whose works I picked up fairly recently, Eric Flint.  He has done a lot of science fiction/fantasy types, but the one that sticks home with me is the 1632 series.  Flint is not only an excellent historian, he also has a Labor background that gives him workplace safety details at his fingertips.  The really amazing thing about the 1632 phenomenon is that he's invited and encouraged other authors - and even beginners - to play along.  Baen Publishing's online 'Grantville Gazette' has led to a series of novels and stories that touch every possible field of alternative history. I'm especially fond of his music specialist, who writes wonderful stories of 20th Century music happening to the 17th Century.
What I've built is a whole alternate universe.  Prudent people are now pointing out that we don't have a Planet B - a real problem that I try to help tackle in the real world.  In fiction, I've built a multi-planeted human universe with two groups of multi-planeted aliens around it.  Here I can play out passions and hint at practical solutions that would raise hackles if I tried to voice them in the real world.
If you write, why and how? 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Verdi's Don Carlo
I recently got CDs of this opera out of the library.  Unfortunately, I haven't yet found it possible to replace my old LP version.  Yet this opera means a lot to me - my son, too; that's his drawing - and I just had to hear it again.

Don Carlo is one of Verdi's later operas and a musically complex work.  It does not pretend to be a historical account of events during the reign of Philip II of Spain; rather, it was adapted from Friedrich Schiller's play.  Schiller, writing in the early years of the 19th century, had a revolutionary turn of mind and made the mentally challenged Carlo a would-be political hero.  Verdi, a true Risorgimento revolutionary, had it adapted for opera - all the drama he could ever want, and a lesson in liberty, too.

I, too, used this opera as a teaching tool, since I discovered my son would learn anything you could put to music.  The auto-da-fe scene, with the voice from Heaven welcoming the victims, was a great way to teach the necessity of separating church and state.  The scene in Philip's chamber, when he is forced to bow to the will of the Grand Inquisitor, is even better.  ("Then the throne must always bow to the altar," the king concludes bitterly.)

Verdi's vision of civil liberty is represented by Carlo and his (fictional) friend Rodrigo trying to get Philip to stop the persecution of Flanders under the Duke of Alva.  (This particularly vicious persecution, combined with the actions of the Conquistadors in America, ruined Spain's reputation in history.)  

I find it particularly fitting that the ghost of Charles V plays a pivotal part in the opera.  The fink who founded the Holy Roman Empire did withdraw to a cloister before his death.  In the opera, he has remained as a spirit, posing as a friar.  "The woe of the world follows us to the cloister," he intones.  "Only heaven can calm the war of the heart."  My son's drawing shows him calling to his startled grandson.  To have a good operatic ending and satisfy an old revolutionary, he appears if full regalia to Philip and the Grand Inquisitor and drags Carlo off to the safety of the cloisters.

This is wonderful, multi-leveled music, with especial beauty in the horn parts.  The characters - too many to mention here - are well drawn and believable.