All posts by Steve

Objective Reality

A Hot Day in Henderson Nevada
A Hot Day in Henderson Nevada

When I think of objective reality, I think bleak. Really bleak. Bleaker than, well, consider the following.

Science pokes around to find out how stuff works. That’s really all it’s about. The reports people believe about science on social media and elsewhere are just that: reports by non-scientists about things they don’t really understand and which are usually reported incorrectly. In other words, they’re mostly BS. Smart reporters stick the word “may” into the headline, which covers their non-objective butts, but nobody ever pays attention to that. Hell, that whole “vaccines are dangerous” thing should never have been reported in the first place. Amongst scientists, doubt began to creep in almost immediately. Amongst the public, not so much, huh? Science never once “said” that vaccines were bad. There was one study. Vaccines “may” be bad, was all it says. Turns out that they aren’t. Science, I’m trying to say, dabbles in objective reality. And, as I said, it can seem bleak.

What seems (just seems) like objective reality in science is called a Theory. What reporters call a theory, scientists call a “hypothesis.” That’s a small bit of objective reality right there. But, here, look at a few scientific theories (believed to be objective reality.)

  • Universal Gravitation (Newton’s theory of Gravity to most.) It isn’t “what goes up must come down,” either.
  • Newton’s (quite the guy) laws of motion. You know, inertia, equal but opposite reaction, stuff like that. (Newton’s theories are so solid that many call them “laws.” No violators have ever surfaced to date.
  • Newton’s (holy cats!) laws (again, laws) of thermodynamics.
  • Einstein’s theories of relativity, general and special. The discovery of gravity waves recently put the final nail in the coffin of doubters. These theories are almost too weird to believe, but they work.

Using these theories, which are believed to represent objective reality (and so far they’ve all worked quite well) one can conclude that the purpose of life is to reverse a localized buildup of negentropy. Or, to waste energy. Long story, but it’s true. Also, in biological science, one learns that life is, after all, DNA. The survivor in all cases is DNA. Recently, when some physicists were asked to describe the causes of cancer, they figured out that cancer is a way that DNA survives when the cancerous tissue is otherwise damaged. Yep. DNA will survive. This information about life is also objective reality. The universe, from a scientific point of view, doesn’t care a fig about humans.

But it likes life, in the form of DNA. Humans are just elaborate structures built by DNA to replicate itself. And, as it happens, to use up extra energy stored underground.

See, bleaker than anything, huh?

Which explains why I like humor. Studying bleakness does nothing to make life more pleasant. If all that bleak information is true, then it’s more important than ever that we treat each other with respect and kindness, because this is what you get, folks. We can enjoy this cruise on Planet Earth, or we can be miserable. Seems to me that those most afraid of objective reality are the ones most into making things worse. I’m trying to make things better. Don’t know if I will, but I’m trying. Nothing big, just trying not to be a dick too often.

In conclusion, here are a few plainly obviously true fortune cookie fortunes, along with potential objective meanings:

  • Your wealth will be augmented within the month. (Maybe you’ll pick up a quarter off of the sidewalk somewhere?)
  • Your talents will soon be recognized and awarded appropriately. (Maybe you’ll hear, “You’re a no-talent loser and I’m canning your ass!”?)
  • Your imagination will point you in a new direction. (Maybe off a cliff?)

Just stuff to think about. 🙂


Taken at the Butterfly Pavilion off the Boulder Turnpike in Colorado
Taken at the Butterfly Pavilion off the Boulder Turnpike in Colorado

I’ve written exactly one decent poem in my life. I’d post it, but it’s been lost for a long time. Too bad, too, because I am unlikely ever to be quite that distraught again, or at least I hope so. The thing is, poetry is difficult, because each word must carry a great load of meaning. You could put a novel in a phrase, if you’re good at it. As some people, of course, are. Eliot, Pound, Shakespeare, Dylan (first and last name, same to me,) and others. And then there are the rest of us. I suspect that anyone could write good poetry if they were sufficiently motivated. Unfortunately, as poetry rarely pays the bills (Williams Carlos Williams was a physician. Bob Dylan a folk/rock/pop star, to name a couple examples) very few people are motivated by the simple thrill of writing poetry. Even Shakespeare wrote his stuff to pack the house and get juicy roles for himself and his friends. So maybe poetry isn’t such a lucrative career choice, at lest per se?

Well, then, consider picture books. If anything, a picture book is worse than a poem. You have maybe 27 words, maybe a few more or less, to tell a complete story. The stories may seem simple at first glance, but consider the cadence and rhyme of Goodnight Moon. It’s beautiful, and at the end, you know a great deal about the person going to sleep, a great deal about the world that person lives in, and you’ve enjoyed some beautiful words in the learning. It’s right up there with, “I could write a book. I have a word processor” if you think you can just pound out a picture book. (And this ignores the importance of the pictures as well.)

And now consider the full-length novel. Twain wrote that The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is the difference between the lightening bug and the lightening. Do you suppose he checked every word in every book to ensure that each one conveyed just what he meant it to convey? Oh, heck yes he did! And his books have proved to be enduringly popular for a century and a half, so far. He wrote long form prose with the same eye for detail as one needs to write a picture book, or a poem.

Food for thought.

How Many Languages?

Hyperbolic Vaulted Dome Inside Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. By Gaudi.
Hyperbolic Vaulted Dome Inside Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. By Gaudi.

How many languages do you know? Well, I’ve got one down pretty well, that being the one in which you are reading. Then there’s some Spanish that I know, which comes in handy once in a while (and I know how to order eggs over easy if I need to,) I also know some German, er, Deutsch. And even, this surprises even me, some French beyond what a tourists needs to get by in France. And just now I’m studying Portugese.

My friends Leslie and Andrew are, you know if you follow this blog, circumnavigating the planet in a 30-foot sailboat. Yesterday Leslie and I were texting, and the conversation turned to language. Leslie told me that she thinks that she and Andrew should invent a code based upon the 25 words they know in who knows how many different languages. Wouldn’t that be cool? Nobody would ever know what you said to each other! That, and the fact that studying foreign languages has become sort of a hobby of mine, led me to think about the effect of knowing a foreign language on writing in English.

For one thing, I have a book, which may never see the light of day for various reasons, but it exists, which includes some Spanish dialogue. And, it’s accurate. So, there’s that. But mostly, I don’t use foreign words (beyond the sixty percent French infestation into English, that is.) So how do foreign languages help? I can think of a couple or more ways.

First, things like the subjunctive, or any of the multifarious perfect tenses. (My favorite example being Yul Brenner as the King of Siam saying, “I am thinking that your Moses shall have been a fool!” You tell ’em, Yul!) Before my first formal Spanish course, I had managed to get all through public school and not know what the heck subjunctive and perfect tense even were. Because, in English, if you really don’t want to use them, you don’t really have to. Besides, some times they’re so easy that you don’t even notice. I think this shall still have been the case all along when you read this sentence.

Second, as English actually is about sixty percent Romance language, learning a 99 percent, or even 90 percent Romance language can help in understanding quite a few English words. And it can certainly help with English spelling if one studies both a Romance language (Spanish is the easiest, so far as I know) and German. Take the word thief, for instance. You know how to pronounce it and you know what it means. In German, you pronounce it exactly the same way and it means just what you think it does. Same with belief, grief, and (ahem) brief. The (ahem) is because only lawyers use brief the way it’s used in German. That is, it’s a letter. A lawyer might write a letter to the court (brief) in order to plead a case. In fact, they all do, and all the time. For the rest of us, the meaning of “sum it up as fast as possible” prevails. You know, be brief. (Be careful, though. Chief, for instance, has shortened itself to Chef in German. There again, though, you see where the meaning of “in charge of the kitchen” comes from. The Chef is, in fact, the chief.)

That “or when sounded as “A” thing? French. Neighbo(u)r. Unless you mean the word “their,” which is a possessive used about “them,” which of course opens up a whole can of spelling worms, so we’ll pretend we don’t know about it. In German, “ie” is pronounced like a long E. This also explains some seemingly odd spellings in English. But most of the spelling rules you learned? Such as adding an e to the end of a word makes the vowel long, or the second vowel in a row makes the first vowel long? French. Pure French. But our syntax? Pure German. Talk like Yoda we do not so much is the only significant difference in syntax between English and German. You’ll notice that the preceding sentence makes perfectly good sense, except that nobody would say it that way. Except if they’re speaking German.

Well, I find knowing a few other languages, at least a bit of them, makes English easier to deal with. After all, our mother tongue is basically German with a boat load of French dumped onto it, spelled however the heck it works out in translation.

And they say that English is difficult!


Happy-Happy in Badas Sumbawa, Part Two

Note from Steve: I asked Leslie if it was bad if I kept reading the name as “Badass.” She replied that that is how they pronounce it. Not sure I could keep out of trouble there, as I’m more of a “wiseass.”

It’s the next day that Iksan decides he is no longer going to call me Leslie, but An-nay.  Once again, our phone is ringing with Iksan on the other line at 8:00 a.m. “Good morning!  Iksan will take you to Immigrasi, today,” We did talk about this possibility the night before, but m

Source: Happy-Happy in Badas Sumbawa, Part Two


Taken from the Embarcadero in San Francisco on a Fine Summer's Day
Taken from the Embarcadero in San Francisco on a Fine Summer’s Day

We’ve all read the quote from Mark Twain. That one about how the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightening bug and the lightening. Herein, I propose to illustrate the Master’s point. Not with a lecture, but with a few examples. From music and advertising, mostly.

An early example of advertising using songs wrong didn’t involve lyrics, but the title of the song. The owner of the pizza joint where I was employed put out a radio spot that used the theme from M*A*S*H as background music. Do you know the title of that piece? He didn’t. It is Suicide is Painless. Nice ad for a Saturday night pie, don’tcha think?

More recently, there was an ad featuring the Crosby, Stills & Nash song Our House. Here’s the relevant verse:

Our house is a very very very fine house,
With two cats in the yard,
Life used to be so hard . . .

The commercial, right at the “Two cats” point, showed a couple of rabbits. Rabbits are nice. Awwww, cute, soft widdle bunnies! But, they are not cats! That was jarring, to anyone paying attention. The commercial did not air for long.

And, my favorite example is a commercial for Windex(tm) that aired quite a while ago. It used the song I Can See Clearly Now. You may recall the line from the original song, It’s gonna be a bright, bright, sunshiny day! That song was hugely popular, and more than one artist covered it, so it was stuck firmly in people’s minds at the time the commercial aired. And it would have worked, except that they changed the words to be bright, bright Windex type day. Eeeeew. Wrong! Stop! What the hell have you done to my favorite song? (So to speak.) Not sure that spot lasted three days.

All three of these examples, and there are many more, are what happens when somebody doesn’t pay attention to words. That M*A*S*H tune is pretty, for sure, but anyone who knew the title probably got delivery from the competition. And those bunnies, while cute, were not cats! For the love of lyrics, a couple of cute kittens would’ve still given the awwwww factor, but kittens are, you ready for this, cats!

And, Windex, old buddy, that was just stupid is all, just stupid.

Now, it may well be that in all three of my examples, somebody who knew nothing of wordsmithing, say, a Pizza shop owner, or some executive at Windex, was actually responsible for those gaffes. I like to think so, because advertising is one way for creative people to cash in on American capitalism. But for writers like us, there is absolutely no excuse for such poor word choices. And cats,  for Roget’s sake, CATS!

It’s Getting Better All The Time

A View from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
A View from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Your writing, I mean. Every day it’s getting better and better. You do write often, don’t you? Heck, I’m writing as I write this. It isn’t that difficult. What I mean is, you must keep writing, keep getting  your work reviewed critically, and keep learning from your mistakes. Sooner or later you’ll be able to sell some of your work, and that’s when the fun begins, right? The fancy cars, sexy dates, big houses in several European countries? Damn skippy it does!

Or, maybe you just enjoy knowing that people are paying for the privilege of reading what you’ve written. That’s kind of cool, huh? In my case, my wife, toughest critic in the known universe, had to exclaim that I’d gotten a lot better since last she read anything I’d written. And, she’s right. And, I knew that already. Somehow, ultimately, you need to read your own work as if you hadn’t written it, which is a lot easier to write than to do. But it can be done; I’ve done it; I knew my work had gotten much better. And so will yours! Because, selling a book is a lot like getting to Carnegie Hall:

You’ve got to practice, practice, practice!

Now, go forth and write something, you hear me?