Author Archives: Clayton Bye

Contrarianism by Clayton Clifford Bye

Contrarianism in action: Spock and I prepare to take on some invaders. Note: I’m 6′ 1″ tall

 

A True Story.

I came home one evening from a fourteen-hour workday, having had three hours of sleep the night before. I was tired, cranky and hungry.

My wife met me at the door and said “Can you take us over to the church for Kid’s Club?”

My gut-level response? Gripe!

Yeah, that’s right. I wanted to say no. I wanted to remind her that if she had a driver’s license she wouldn’t need to ask. I wanted to say that the kids could skip their meeting this week. I wanted to ask “What about my dinner?”

But what I wanted wasn’t the best response. It wasn’t even the right response. It was a typical response.

Here’s what I forced myself to do instead: I smiled. I said “Sure.” I trudged out into the cold, scraped the frost off the windows of the car, started it up, went back inside and gave everyone a hug. I did this because it was exactly the opposite of what I wanted to do.

This story took place several years ago, yet similar choices are required of me every day. It’s something that will never change. Success demands you choose actions that are out of the ordinary–every day. Are you prepared to make that commitment?

The Incredible Power Of Contrarianism.

You want a better than average life? Stop doing what most people do. Begin right now. Don’t wait until later today. Don’t put it off until tomorrow. Make some different choices–right now.

I’m serious about this! Change is one of the most universally hated events. You should be prepared to welcome it for that reason alone–just because most other people won’t. Call it Contrarian Thinking or Contrarianism. It’s a way to force yourself to look at your choices from a different perspective.

Here’s the drill… When you want to generate better results than you’ve been getting, consider choosing a behaviour opposite of what you (or most people) would normally select in this particular situation. Now, I’m not saying you have to follow the course of action this exercise points you toward. Just give it serious consideration. Does this choice offer the possibility of better results? Do you have anything to lose by attempting this task? What other alternatives can you think of that might lead you away from the ordinary and toward the extraordinary? Make the best decision for you, based on the results you’re after.

In concise terms, Contrarians believe that the average person isn’t overly healthy, wealthy or happy, that these people just don’t make the right choices, or take the right actions, that lead to a better lifestyle. Contrarian philosophy also suggests outstanding achievement might be as simple a matter as choosing behaviours exactly opposite the average.

Emulate the exceptional not the ineffectual.

Let me ask you a couple of direct questions. Do most of the people you know deal with change well? Do you? If the answer was no (and it should have been), then there’s the justification for becoming a Contrarian. Simply put, if the results most people obtain in a given situation aren’t outstanding, why would you want to behave the way they do?

Let’s use this article as an example of what I’m talking about. A lot of people tend to read self-help literature passively, using the same approach they’d choose when sitting down with a novel. Be a Contrarian; do the opposite! Stop reading the moment you finish this paragraph, and act on what you’ve learned so far. Do something that opposes your normal choices. Not overly affectionate toward your spouse? Get up and give the guy or gal a hug. Say “I love you.” Better yet, put on the coffee, get them something to read and do those dishes they were about to do; show them you love them. It’s the opposite of what you’d normally do, and yet it makes sense, doesn’t it? We all know intuitively that better behaviours lead to better relationships. So, try what I’ve suggested… Put the article aside for awhile, and do something that’s out of character, that’s the exact opposite of what you usually do.

Convinced? Probably not. But that’s alright. Success is a journey, not a destination. The key is to keep moving in the right direction, to make more good decisions than bad.

Let’s look at another example of the kind of success-oriented movement that can be generated through Contrarian thinking. This one deals with procrastination, a problem of epidemic proportions.

Most people, I’m sure you’d agree, have problems with their to-do lists. I know I did. The pressure of things left undone was a constant in my life, and there were always tasks that seemed to get put off until they became so urgent they superceded everything else, wreaking havoc with scheduled work, interfering with more pleasant pastimes, threatening the quality of my life. Solution? Using Contrarian philosophy, I began to do the exact opposite of what I’d been doing. Specifically, I made the commitment to do my unpleasant tasks at the beginning of each day. After these tasks were completed, I’d go through the rest of the day working on a list of prioritized goals, refusing to worry about items shelved for another day because of time constraints. The results not only astounded me, they changed my life.

A Powerful Contrarian Technique.

Step 1: Find the most distasteful job on your to-do list and get it done. Why? The choice represents contrarian philosophy as well as any example I could give you. There’s something invigorating about clearing a repugnant task from your list of things to do, and it’s uncommon behaviour. Try it. You won’t be disappointed.

Step 2: From now on, begin each morning by doing the least preferable job(s) of the day. Chances are you’ll feel so good about yourself procrastination won’t seem half so attractive.

Step 3: Go through the rest of your day working from a list of prioritized goals. Recognize that worrying about things left undone is counterproductive, that a steady, energetic and worry-free progression through your most important goals will leave you further ahead at the end of the day than anything else you could do. It’s another uncommon or Contrarian choice.

Remember: When you’re prioritizing, don’t fall into the habit of putting jobs at the bottom of your list because they’re difficult, or boring, or nasty or… You get my drift, right? Arrange your tasks according to their importance and urgency, not by degree of difficulty.

I have many such examples of Contrarianism in action…

Are you, or have you ever been, a couch potato? I have. Here’s how I beat the habit: I made the decision to give my wife $5 for her personal shopping fund every time I thought about turning on the television or renting a movie. The end result was I don’t watch as much television as I used to, and my wife was able to enjoy several months of shopping at my expense.

Do you have the habit of laying blame when something unpleasant happens? You’re not alone. The Contrarian (and difficult) choice is to take responsibility where most people wouldn’t. After all, there’s a staggering probability that at some point in the chain of events there was an opportunity for you to have done something to change the results you experienced. The Contrarian would also find out what it was they could have done to get better results and would make the decision to alter their behaviour next time around.

Have you got the idea? By identifying the things most people aren’t willing to do–then doing those things yourself–you put yourself way out in front of the pack. So, stop wasting time. Make the change right now. Get contrary. Get different. Get on the high road to success.

Stop doing what most people do, and start doing what successful people do.

Is that all there is to it? Do successful people just choose behaviours that oppose the average? For the most part, yes. In general, successful people set goals they’re going to enjoy pursuing, work hard on a daily basis to achieve those goals, do the best they can within the realm of their abilities and spend little time worrying about what they can’t do or what others think. You must know, you must recognize, that the average person doesn’t go through life this way. The average person is reactive, rather than proactive. The average person doesn’t chart and adhere to a specific course but tends to be at the mercy of the winds of change, a statement supported by the lack of preparedness often exhibited when a strong wind blows through.

Think I’m being too harsh? Then consider this course of action: Get a pen and paper and write down exactly what you want from life, when you want these things to happen and the resources you’ll probably need. Break each of these large goals down into smaller and smaller tasks until you get to something you can do immediately. Do this thing. Then do the next task. And the next. And so on.

What? It’s too hard? It’ll take too much time? Well, you’re right. It should become obvious that this exercise is one without end, that will take you a lifetime to complete. But that’s the point. I’m convinced there are few people in this world who make the decision to spend each of the days they’ve been given on this earth “on purpose.” Yet this is exactly what I’ve observed successful people doing! If there’s one ability these individuals share, it’s focus. Successful people “dig in.” They refuse to be daunted by the lifelong challenge implied by the word “success.” Successful people know what they want and go for it.

Be willing to cultivate experiences which will move you relentlessly toward your goals. Why? Because the average person won’t, and the successful person will.

Spend the rest of your days “on purpose.”

The idea is so elegantly simple. At some level, I believe all successful people recognize that the meaning they choose to place on their experiences determines the direction and shape of their lives. It’s like having a pair of magic glasses to illuminate what’s important and to diminish what’s not, and it bestows the power to make the right choices.

This insight is important! If you can manage to interpret your future experiences in positive, constructive or proactive ways, I’m convinced you can accomplish virtually anything you can envision. Why not begin now?

Get On Purpose.

1. Review the patterns in your life, making a list of things you enjoy doing that you’re also good at. If you come up with zilch, go out and try new experiences until you do find a pastime you can enjoy. Reasoning? If you can’t enjoy what you do, you’ll never achieve an enjoyable lifestyle.

2. Lurking within this list of things you enjoy are thousands of opportunities. Your next job is to find a product, service or idea you can sell that’s related to this list. That’s right–sell. The only way anyone ever makes any money is to sell a product or a service or an idea. Every job in the world is, in some way, a service. All businesses sell something. And behind every one of these businesses and services are ideas people have either discovered or bought. It’s something everyone should think about, if not understand.

3. As for achieving outstanding success in the field you’ve chosen, the procedure is simple… Your earnings will always rise in direct ratio to the following:

a) The demand for what you do.

It’s up to you to find this demand, or create it.

b) How well you do it.

This is where the enjoyment comes in. If you don’t enjoy what you do, you’ll never put in enough practice time to become outstanding at it.

c) How difficult it is to replace you.

The more valuable you make yourself in the eyes of your direct customer, the more difficult it becomes to replace you.

Alright, that was a global approach for getting “on purpose.” But what do you do about staying focused on a daily basis? I like to use what I call the 4 A’s of Achievement. It’s a system I devised for keeping me focused on the results I want from life. The system has helped me to maintain perspective, and it has led me to some outstanding achievements. I know it can do the same for you.

The Four A’s of Achievement.

Awareness: Know what you want–from life, from this day or even from your current task. Plan each leg of your journey “on purpose” and with daily enjoyment in mind.

This is so important! Specific destinations give you a target to aim for, or a direction in which to travel. They give you that all-important thing called focus. Having fun while you’re at it increases the likelihood that you’ll repeat the behaviour.

Action: Get moving! Small achievable steps, taken on a consistent basis, will get you where you want to go.

Virtually any vision you can hold in your mind can be accomplished in time. And as this is a life you’re planning, the only thing with the power to actually stop you is death itself. So, get moving!

Analysis: Keep your eyes open. Learn to recognize when you’re on course and when you’re not.

Think about it: Those miles you rack up every day will only get you to your next port of call if you’re travelling in the right direction. Look for signs. Write things down! Check up on yourself. Stay on course. Get “on purpose.”

Adjustment: If you find a good vehicle or a good road to travel, stick with it long enough to make some progress in the direction of your goal(s). But please! If you take a wrong turn, never hesitate to make a course correction. All good navigators know that staying on course is primarily a matter of small and continuous adjustments to keep from drifting off target.

Be prepared to modify your behaviour and actions as required.

That’s it. The uncomplicated but never easy path to the good life: Consistent and purposeful action over a lifetime – with a vigilant eye on the results.

To recap:

Figure out what you could enjoy doing with the rest of your life, then put your focus on behaviours with the potential to get you living that way. Pay attention to the results you get, making adjustments when needed. Become a Contrarian. Do what others are unwilling to do. Strive to find positive and productive meaning in each experience you have, rather than thinking, feeling, talking and acting as you have in the past. Dare to be different! If nothing else, you’ll end up with a more useful set of beliefs about what you’re capable of and about how the world works. Personally, I think the ride’s going to be more exciting than you could ever imagine. Have fun.

Copyright © 2017 Clayton Clifford Bye

Will ya turn off that TV!? by Susan Day


Since the invention of the moving picture box, parents have been yelling at their kids to turn it off, and go outside and play.

Today more than ever, kids are so heavily connect to screens we may have to ask ourselves is technology hindering or helping our children and grandchildren to read books. And by books, I mean real ones made with ink and paper!

Parents are allowing their young infants and toddlers to use tablets and smartphones. Why? Because there are thousands of games and apps which entertain and educate them. But is this the right way to learn because it’s cheap and easy to use?

Without doubt many parents and grandparents are concerned that their children are spending too much time in front of screens, and not enough time playing outside or reading story books.

Too Much Screen Time?

What is ‘screen time?’ While many of us grandparents certainly spent time in front of the big screen of our televisions, there certainly wasn’t a term for it. Now, children are spending so much time in front of the television experts and researchers have coined a new phrase – screen time.

We all know kids need to learn how to use computers, and that safely engaging online is an important part of building skills they will need in their careers. However, spending too much time playing games, texting, and watching videos will have an effect on a child’s ability to learn the fundamentals of their language. This, in turn, can have an impact on their ability to learn to read and write, and their careers later in life.

How many words should a child know?

An average vocabulary for a four year old, for example, is 3,000 to 4,000 words. Children learn the majority of words they are ever going to learn before they get to school. Sadly, there are children beginning school with a vocabulary of only 500 words. This means they may never develop the language skills needed to do well in life. While you may not want your child to grow up to be an author or a journalist; you would want them to be able to put a complaint letter together or create a thorough resume for a job.

What can we do to help children develop a love of reading and books?

There are many things which you can do to help. Share reading times with a child or visit your local library together. Talk about books, and the types of stories which are available. Go to bookshops or reading events, and make books a big part of your shared lives.

It’s up to all of us to engage children with quality “off-screen” activities so they can learn to grow and develop as best they can.

Who is Susan Day?

Susan Day, children’s author and writer, has developed a 7 Step Guide to Help Children Fall in Love with Books and Reading. Her blog, Astro’s Adventures Book Club, is full of ideas and tips to help parents and grandparents engage children with books. You can download the guide here: http://www.astrosadventuresbookclub.com/

Susan lives in country Australia with four dogs, three boss cats, three rescue guinea pigs, and an errant kangaroo. Apart from writing and reading, she loves painting, and gardening.

The Oscars Been Awarded but There Are Dark Shadows on the Silver Screen by Kenneth Weene

Just over a century after the release of D.W. Griffith’s film “The Birth of a Nation,” Nate Parker’s film of the same name came to the silver screen. While the Griffith film justified the Ku Klux Klan and portrayed white racism as the salvation of America, the Parker film traces the life of Nat Turner and the slave revolt which he led in pre-Civil War Virginia. From totally opposing perspectives, both films spoke to the fear and anger that has poisoned American race relations since before the Revolution.

It should certainly not surprise us that films speak to our national consciousness and help us define who we are and what we believe. If there is one art form that is quintessentially American, it is movies, and what greater purpose has art than to explore the human condition.

While the two “Birth of a Nation” films explore the darkest sides of American race relations, three other films released at the end of 2016 try to raise an entirely different set of issues.

“Fences,” based on the August Wilson stage play, presents a Black America that is separate and if not equal one that has its own unique culture. The protagonist Troy Maxson is a Black man who is painfully aware of the limitations that have been placed on his life because of his race. Fearful of what the world will do to them, he tries to protect his sons by forcing them to see the world through his own bitter eyes. Set in the 1950’s, “Fences” references both the fact that Black Americans were fenced in by segregation and prejudice and the career of Jackie Robinson, whose success as a baseball player gave hope for an avenue towards equality.

“Loving” is based not on a play or story but real lives. Richard and Mildred Loving were a working-class couple who loved one another. Because he was White and she Black, the state of Virginia forbad their marriage. Going out of state to marry, they returned to Virginia and found themselves jailed and only released if they promised to leave the state. Featured in a Life Magazine story which I remember reading, the Lovings eventually won not only the right to have their marriage recognized in the home state but also the legal end of miscegenation laws in America. Loving v. Virginia was decided by the Supreme Court Dec 12, 1967. The movie asks a simple but poignant question: are Blacks less human than Whites; are we not all more nearly human than otherwise?

During the years between 1958, when the Lovings married, and 1967 another story was also playing out in Virginia. NASA was established in 1958 with the goal of taking America into space. “Hidden Figures” focuses on three Black women who worked at NASA’s Virginia facilities. Dorothy Vaughan eventually became NASA’s first Black-American supervisor. Mary Jackson became an aeronautical engineer. And, mathematics whiz Katherine Johnson played a pivotal role in figuring out how to bring the astronauts home. These three women entered NASA when it was a segregated and misogynistic organization and managed to find the recognition they deserved. This multiple-biopic subconsciously takes us back to Jackie Robinson as it challenges us to judge people not on race but on competence. Should the best mathematician, engineer, or supervisor not get the job regardless of the color of their skin. The message is clear: we are all the same under our skins. Or, to use one of the most self-conscious lines of the script, “At NASA we all pee the same color.” Presumably, that is the color of rocket fuel.

Why this sudden spurt of films about the Black experience in the fifties and sixties? It would be easy to point out the diversity has become an issue in Hollywood and particularly when it comes to awards. That may be one part of the answer.

Another, and in my opinion a more important answer is represented by that centennial of the release of that abhorrent film “The Birth of a Nation.” The release of that film in 1915 began a portrayal of Black America that has often been offensive and assuredly requires redress. As distasteful as the representations of Blacks has overall been in film, that issue pales in comparison to the actuality of Black life. And, on the other side, as horrific as slavery, segregation, and bigotry have been, there has been real movement towards civil rights. Without doubt, the possibilities for Black Americans are far greater and better today than they were at the beginning of the fifties and sixties.

The question that these three films asks is what has made things better. During those years, powerful voices were raised, marches held, and riots occurred. Were those the catalyst for change, or did change come because White America came to see Blacks, like all of us, were more nearly human than otherwise? These new films would have us ignore the marchers, the rioters, and the conflicts. They would have us learn a new mythology of American race relations, one in which aspirations change the world and the system can be altered from within.

These three movies are trying to rewrite the history of race in America. They are trying to say, “Let us forget about racism and segregation. Let us forget about the struggle that brought Civil Rights. Let us instead recognize that the right prevails, that ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,’ and that the basic American character is one of decency.”

Is this revision realistic? Can we rewrite American history and bury slavery, segregation, the Klan, and discrimination? The rage of both “Birth of a Nation” films is seared into the soul of America. It cannot be so easily papered over. Elimination of America’s racial divide will require not simply the creation of a new set of “happier” myths but real reconciliation.

The great Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung spoke of the shadow, that part of each person that they cannot accept in themselves. It is the part of the person that they keep hidden. Reconciliation cannot take place until those shadowy parts on all sides are exposed in the light of recognition. As much as I enjoyed the three films, “Fences,” “Loving,” and “Hidden Figures,” I see them not as sanguine harbingers of a just and equal society but as signs that once again America will try to bury that which is dark in our history. If the “American Dilemma” is to be resolved, it cannot be by the application of whitewash but only by the piercing sting of real discussion.

* * *

Bio: Novelist, poet, and retired psychologist Ken Weene has long been a movie buff. Currenly, he is co-writing a script based on his novel Times to Try the Soul of Mani. You can find more of his writing at www.kennethweene.com

 

The First American?

Flames licked the reindeer, fat dripped, and the fire flared up. Startled, Kayla turned the spit. Last year she’d been a child stampeding prey toward the hunters’ ambush. She’d peeked from behind rocks as the shaman released the spirit of each captured animal and bowed her head in gratitude as he dedicated their bodies to feed the tribe. This year she was newly a woman, and …

Don’t think about it.

She gazed around the camp saying a silent farewell to the familiar. Marc, Iro and Rog stood together, far from the fire’s warmth, their breath clouding white in the cold. She watched from the corner of her eye and matched her breathing to Marc’s.

“Daydreaming are you?” Luna took the spit from her hand.

Kayla blushed and stepped aside.

“Ola is waiting for you.” Luna’s frown revealed her jealousy.

Kayla struggled to keep her mind empty while Ola dressed her in fine skins. The old priestess was reputed to see what others were thinking, and terrible punishment awaited those who defied tribal rules.

“Don’t be fearful, Kayla. You are blessed. Tonight, when the moon is high, the shaman will take you to the sacred caves.” Ola’s words, spoken in kindness, fell like stones on Kayla’s heart.

Her father was an artist, one of the few tribesmen allowed in the caves. He’d told her about the pictures, the star map that guided travelers and the animals that beseeched the spirits for a successful hunt. He’d drawn star maps on the ground and showed her the beasts that lived in the sky, but he never spoke of the priestesses who lived there.

When Kayla was chosen, her mother had wept at the honor, but her father showed no joy. The next time they were alone, he’d told her about warm and fertile lands that lay across the great water. Many hunters had set sail, following the star maps, but few returned. The shaman had decided the trip was too perilous, and now it was forbidden.

Ola finished braiding her hair and escorted her back to the fire. Lines of tribesmen spiraled away from the warmth. Flames reflected amber on their hungry faces. Artists came first followed by toolmakers, hunters, women suckling babies, and lastly the other women. Children ate with their mothers.

Kayla took her place at the very front. Moments later, a procession moved down the hillside; the shaman had finished his fasting and prayers. He blessed the roasted reindeer then sliced the smallest with his long blade and offered the choicest part to Kayla. Only after she’d been served did the elders step forward to receive their portions. They carried their food to the sacred table, and the young women served the other member of the tribe.

Kayla ate sparingly. Marc would do the same, and he would hide food in his clothes, as would Iro, Rog and their women. When the bones had been picked clean and the rest of the tribe lay heavy with meat, they would be swift. Later, the meat they’d hidden would sustain them until they reached the great water where fish swam in shoals.

The shaman had finished eating. Ola signalled that it was time. Kayla walked toward the huts where she was to make her final preparations. As soon as she left the fire’s light, she changed direction and began running. Marc met her by the rock where she’d hidden warmer clothes. She changed quickly, and they raced to the river, where the others waited.

“Hurry.” Iro pointed toward the camp. Dots of light spread out from the fire, torches moving up the hillside and down toward the huts but not toward the river—not yet. “They’re already looking for her.”

Nila, Rog’s woman, was with child and would slow them down, but with this head start, they’d reach the boats hidden where the river’s ice became water. The river would carry them to the great water. The star map in Kayla’s head would guide them to the new land.

Eleven moons, two deaths and one birth later, two small boats entered the bay that one day would be called Chesapeake. Gentle waves rocked their boats. The motion soothed Baby Dora, who’d been howling since being removed from her mother’s breast so that Nila could pull in a net filled with fish.

“Do you want your child to be born here?” Rog said.

“Our child will be born here whether Marc approves or not.” Kayla rubbed her swollen belly. Already, it had begun to tense and release in the rhythm of birth.

They beached the boats and constructed a shelter of bent saplings and the skins they no longer needed for warmth. That night they enjoyed the plenty that this land provided. They thanked the spirits for their generosity and asked that blessings in the afterlife be bestowed upon Iro and Joa who’d disappeared when their boat capsized in icy waters. The next day, as the sun poked its first rays into the sky, Kayla gave birth to a son.

Bio: Writing is Patricia Dusenbury’s second career. In her first, she was an economist who wrote numerous reports that peoples’ jobs required them to read. Now, she writes mysteries to entertain readers and, perhaps, atone for all those dry documents. Uncial Press e-published Patricia’s first three books, which are now also available in hard copy. A Perfect Victim was named 2015 Best Mystery by the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition (EPIC). Secrets, Lies & Homicide was a finalist for EPIC’s 2016 best mystery and a top ten mystery in the Preditors and Editors Readers’ poll. A House of Her Own was nominated for a RONE award and is entered in the 2017 EPIC contest. A member of the Sisters in Crime NorCal chapter, Patricia lives with an aged Malamute on a very steep hill in San Francisco.
More information about Patricia’s writing is on her webpage PatriciaDusenbury.com. She is on Facebook as Patricia Dusenbury and on Twitter as PatriciaDusenbu.

In Praise of Short Stories by Patricia Dusenbury

Reading short stories is like cruising a buffet. Try a bit of this and a bit of that, experiment with new things. If you find something you love, go back and fill your plate—i.e. read a novel by the author. Or keep nibbling on this and that, enjoying the variety.

Just as the buffet—quick and efficient with lots of choices—fits well into modern life, so do short stories. Do you ride mass transit? Look around, everyone glued to their phone is not chasing Pokémon creatures. Do you go to the gym? I’m not coordinated enough to read on a treadmill, but others are. Your colleague, reading while she grabs a quick sandwich at her desk? Could be a short story.

On the other side of the pen, a short story offers writers a chance to try something new and different, to experiment without investing the chunk of time a novel takes. My novels are about mysteries and relationships. My short stories are all over the place. Part 2 of this post is an adventure story inspired by Paleolithic cave paintings. Anthropologists argue about who the amazingly sophisticated artists were and where they went. I wondered if maybe…

Short stories are defined by length (duh) with under 750 words usually called Flash Fiction and over 15,000 words pushing novella. Perhaps the shortest story, certainly one of the saddest is, “Baby clothes for sale, never worn.”

Can you compose a story—mystery, romance, sci-fi, whatever—in ten words or less? Submit your story as a comment and you’re in a lottery to win a copy of Black Coffee, a newly-released collection of twenty-three short mysteries noir. Edited by Andrew MacCrae, Black Coffee includes my excursion into the dark side, Nor Death Will Us Part.

Bio: Writing is Patricia Dusenbury’s second career. In her first, she was an economist who wrote numerous reports that peoples’ jobs required them to read. Now, she writes mysteries to entertain readers and, perhaps, atone for all those dry documents. Uncial Press e-published Patricia’s first three books, which are now also available in hard copy. A Perfect Victim was named 2015 Best Mystery by the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition (EPIC). Secrets, Lies & Homicide was a finalist for EPIC’s 2016 best mystery and a top ten mystery in the Preditors and Editors Readers’ poll. A House of Her Own was nominated for a RONE award and is entered in the 2017 EPIC contest. A member of the Sisters in Crime NorCal chapter, Patricia lives with an aged Malamute on a very steep hill in San Francisco.
More information about Patricia’s writing is on her webpage PatriciaDusenbury.com. She is on Facebook as Patricia Dusenbury and on Twitter as PatriciaDusenbury.

The Politics of Opinion

I picked this piece out of a dusty cupboard and thought to myself, this is just as pertinent as it was when I published it several years ago.
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As a reviewer, I’m regularly approached to “analyze” specific books. Sometimes it’s the publisher asking, and sometimes it’s the author. What, exactly, are they looking for? They’re hoping I will read the book provided and write several paragraphs of glowing promotional material they can show the public as proof that an informed and independent reader likes the book well enough to suggest it’s one you want to buy. But reviewing doesn’t always work that way: there are times when I dislike certain aspects of a book and, in all fairness, will write about these dislikes. I’ve often gone so far as to slam publishers and editors when the quality of their work reduces the quality of the book being reviewed.

Which brings me to The Politics of Opinion.

Generally speaking, politics is the process by which specific groups of people arrive at a single decision. For example, an “individual opinion” is an expression of something you believe in, when you don’t also provide positive proof of what you say. Such an opinion expressed by a group (including a description of how they arrived at that decision) would be the Politics of Opinion.

So, what do I mean when I use the phrase The Politics of Opinion when I’m talking about reviewing a book?

First, when I write a review, I’m not trying to change the opinion of a “group.” I’m providing information and beliefs regarding a specific book I have read, so that you, “the individual,” have some idea or reference point from whence you can move forward to make up your own mind regarding the book in question. Sometimes I provide proof for my beliefs, oftentimes I don’t. They key here is that if you respect my opinion, I may influence your decision to read said book.

Now, when an individual or individuals or organization (a reviewing company, publisher, etc) attack my reviews, my abilities, even my character, using our comments section, they’re trying to change not only my opinion but the opinions of all my readers. Our public clash puts us in the arena of The Politics of Opinion. You see, you the reader (as a group) are being offered all kinds of extra information and insights into the book being discussed, a glimpse of the reviewing process, and even a more complete idea of who I am. Good things, all. But, you’re also being asked to make a “group” decision: to ignore me.

So, when I say a book borders on pornography, someone challenges that opinion and I, hoping to offer further insights for you, provide proof and/or additional information to help you make your reading decision, The Politics of Opinion are in full force.

Anyway, in a nutshell, here’s my (generous) definition of pornography: if the format in which the book appears doesn’t or can’t stand on its own with the erotica removed (erotica is writing designed to sexually arouse the reader), then you’re looking at a piece of pornography. Using this definition, I felt Cheating Death by Annie Alvarez came very close to being pornography. Bloody Passion by Laura Tolomei, without it’s many erotic scenes, still stands up as a short story… but I’m paying for a novel! So, I ask you, my reader, if 3/4 of what I’m paying for (as fiction) ends up being erotica, doesn’t that suggest pornography to you?

Looking forward to your comments.

Clayton Bye is a professional writer and publisher with well over 50 books to his credit. He has also worked as an editor, proof writer, ghostwriter and public speaker. Clayton lives in a small town in northwestern Ontario in Canada. He refers to it as “God’s Country.”

Copyright © Clayton Clifford Bye

 

Speaking My Mind by Monica Brinkman

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There comes a time in one’s life when they no longer can hold their tongue. It could be as a youth, discovering the workings of the world or a wife who no longer allows the beatings and tongue lashings from her once adoring husband. Be forewarned, for it shall happen and you will have the choice to quiver in fear or take a stand and speak up.

Today is my day, my time, my moment and I siege the opportunity with passion and vigor and purpose. Hate me? Fine. Detest my words? Good. Object to my opinion? Okay. For I do not worry about what you think of me, nor if you condone my actions, nor will you when the moment appears in your life.

What propels me with such passion? It is Fear! I am weary of living within its grasp. I am tired of it hovering over my head, my every thought, my every choice, my every opinion for lest I annoy, anger or upset another.

Cities, states, countries and the world’s inhabitants live in such deep alarm of what could happen to them if they let their true thoughts out. What would their ministers, their rabbis, their neighbors, their supervisors, their friends, and family think of them, or even worse, do to them should they allow truth to leak out? Oh, for horror above horror, they would certainly be struck down by lightening or silenced for life; their tongue torn from their mouths. Or certainly shunned by the town and cast out as an evil demon into the darkness of the night.

All dramatizations aside, in the real world, their voice would be heard. Perhaps a few would pass judgment, some would agree, but most would merely listen and go on with their lives. The seas would not part nor the earth, underfoot, give way. You see, no matter what you might like or think, the entire world does not revolve around you as an individual. You are simply not that important to others no matter how much you may wish to be so.

What is important is that each one of us can voice our opinions, speak our mind without living in fear of consequence. After all, when one speaks it is how they are feeling at that exact moment in time. They may or may not feel the same way in the next minute, hour, day or year. For we evolve, we learn and we change per our experiences in life. And it is grand and it is good and it is how it should be. Yet so many continue to hide their thoughts and shut out communication. I ask you, who do this, to toss away the fear, for that fear lives within your own mind.

In the end, we can only be the person we have become, the thoughts we have embraced and the actions that we choose. Me? I’d have it no other way. I invite all of you to toss that fear aside and allow all to experience the real person behind the façade; the truth of essence and the force of your personality. Please, be yourself; let others in and you will find great joy as the fear, once so vivid, ebbs into a faint memory. You might even find others adore the real you.

Bio: Monica M Brinkman believes in ‘giving it forward’; reflected by her writing and radio show. A firm believer open communication is the most powerful tool to make positive change in the world; she expresses this in her books, The Turn of the Karmic Wheel, The Wheels Final Turn and in her weekly broadcast of It Matters Radio.

An avid writer, named a true storyteller, she has been published in several anthologies and wrote a weekly column for over two years at Authorsinfo. Her works can be found at various sites throughout the internet. Visit her blog @ http://itmattersradio.wix.com/on-the-brink

Monica resides in the Midwest with her husband, two dogs and five cats.

Steven Pinker’s Linguistic Sounding Brass and Tinkling Cymbal: an essay on thinking by James L. Secor, Ph.D.

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Because of my infatuation with the absurd, I see it in many a place. In fact, I often don’t need to make it obvious; the writer does this on his own. In this case, I expanded on his idiocy–long since disproven as a theory of language–via letting a class of students engage in lit crit & analysis. This was a college class in China. They went haywire and tore him apart; from that, I fashioned this writing. Of course, most Westerners wouldn’t have the slightest idea why he was talking through his hat. . .which is why he could get away with it. Steven Pinker’s worth in linguistics is noteworthy as no linguist of any merit and no linguistics journals even so much as cite him; he is the modern world’s greatest pseudo-intellectual.

 

The Essay …

Jonathan Swift showed just how silly an “enlightened” stance can be in Gulliver’s visit to the land of the Houyhnhnms. The Houyhnhnms, huge horses full of a lot of horse sense, spoke beautifully and convincingly of themselves and their brilliance and intellectual superiority; but they, in their reason and rationality, enslaved Yahoos. These superior beings also believed that Gulliver could not have come from some island across the ocean because they believed, rationally and reasonably, that such an island did not exist and, therefore, it did not. Despite having no experience upon which to make such a judgment. Yet, experience is a state of consciousness. Karl Popper maintains, in Unended Quest (p. 218), that “it is silly or at least high-handed to deny the existence of mental experiences or mental states or states of consciousness; or to deny that mental states are as a rule closely related to states of the body, especially physiological states.” Which would seem to confirm the Houyhnhnms in their intellectual behavior for, after all, they are basing their judgment on the experience of themselves and their superior knowledge and intellectual ability. They never met any others their superiors. So, it stands to reason, that they believe as they believe and are right to do so.

So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut writes in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. And other novels of absurdity. Novels of people with individual mental states of consciousness.

On and off throughout history, science has had a bad name because of such thinkers, men (in most cases) who have a particular mental experience. More often than not via the same lingual pyrotechnics as Jonathan Swift used to elucidate such foolishness. With this in mind, it would be good if critical appraisers could be a tad more discriminating in their choice of scientists to congratulate and hold up as shining examples of their art discipline. Steven Pinker is considered to be such an enlightened one by popular publishers and science journalists. Steven Pinker is considered the leading figure in language and linguistics studies in the US, especially via neurological investigations. Dr. Pinker is a psychologist, which of course means he knows better via an understanding of the deeper reaches of motivation to behavior. And Dr. Pinker is a Houyhnhnm thinker, a man who runs in the face of David Hackett Fischer’s Historian’s Fallacies and Stephen Toulmin’s The Uses of Argument and any of Karl Popper’s assumption-questioning writings–even though he cites Popper in The Stuff of Thought–because he hasn’t the experience of them. A few examples will, I think, suffice to elucidate the priceless thinking and intellectual cerebration science writers hail as Dr. Pinker ‘s ground-breaking theories.

To begin at the end, as Edgar Alan Poe suggests writers do:

“[N]ear death experiences are not the eyewitness reports of a soul parting company from the body but symptoms of oxygen starvation in the eyes and brain” (The Mystery of Consciousness). This presupposes that there is a separation of the body and the soul. But it is just a tautological dismissal that, in reality, proves nothing because death/near-death is a time of low oxygen in the brain. This happens when people smoke and drink, too, but they report no similar experience. Occasionally, those who ingest LSD or magic mushrooms relate such experiences, without oxygen starvation. Dr. Pinker is saying that these people did not experience what they experienced. There is no scientific evidence to verify this dismissive judgment, yet it cannot be dismissed as it comes from Dr. Pinker’s Houyhnhnm thinking, as purportedly supported by Dr. Popper. It is, then, of no import that such a statement as this is an opinion of science; for, as a Houyhnhnm there is no reason except his say so. Indeed, he’s from Harvard, a university that consistently produces the superiorest of the superior. Dr. Pinker engages in characteristic Houyhnhnm tautological perseveration to prove his point that alternative states of consciousness are not real. He believes they can be explained by some kind of physical state: they are the result of oxygen deprivation to the brain because, well, oxygen deprivation is part of the experience. Like smoking or drinking. This is Houyhnhnm science.

Earlier in the same essay, published in Time (19 Jan. 2007), Dr. Pinker states, “Consciousness surely does not depend on language.” How unfortunate that, in fact, it does depend on language, for without language no one would know of anyone’s consciousness, no one would be able to admit of it, nor would one be able to talk about one’s own consciousness of one’s self, outside of consciousness of the world around one. We are languaging animals: our world is described and built and adapted by our language (Cf. Humberto Maturana generally).  Without talking about it (expressing it), how is one to communicate that one is conscious? And, indeed, which state of consciousness one is in, for there is more than one consciousness. Well, perhaps being an experience and experience, as we’ve already noted, is a Houyhnhnm characteristic, it is not out of order that Dr. Pinker can maintain that it doesn’t exist just because someone says so.

Yet, in this essay (The Mystery of Consciousness), Dr. Pinker makes the most amazing and contradictory statement: there is a seat of consciousness and it is in the “higher” part of the brain. He supports himself by citing Crick, the other half of the DNA discoverer duo. However, earlier on, he maintains that consciousness consists “of a maelstrom of events distributed across the brain.” He even notes that Bernard Baars “likens consciousness to a global blackboard.” Perhaps it is premature and somewhat arrogant to ask: Which is it Dr. Pinker? Is there a seat of consciousness, like the seat of language in Wernicke’s or Broca’s areas? Or is it a brain-wide phenomenon? But let’s not talk about that.

Let’s talk, rather about how consciousness can be only “neural computation” while conveniently excluding soft matter physics. If consciousness is a physical seat in the grey matter of the brain, it stands to reason, I think, that there may be external stressors that affect a cell’s functioning on the cellular level as well as the macroscopic level: swelling in the brain effects behavioral aberrations which, I think, have something to do with “neural computation.” If a change happens on such a large scale, a change must have happened on the cellular level since the cells themselves are not static entities–or perhaps there is some other reason for the brain to pulsate. That is, the environment in which nerve cells operate affects their operation and this tee-tiny alteration creates, in the aggregate as cells do not operate in isolation from other cells, a greatly enhanced alteration in the behavior these cells cause to happen, as an expression of themselves. Even the pulsation affects, macro- and microscopically, of “neural computation” of the cells in the body react to contiguous and non-contiguous cells’ “neural computation.”

Dr. Pinker’s thinking seems to be quite linear and rather simplistic and very, very concrete. Indeed, his thesis that you cannot talk about consciousness because he can’t talk about it is untenable. Dr. Pinker is a genius Houyhnhnm.

His dismissive Houyhnhnm attitude runs throughout his writing, that is, “I don’t believe it, so it’s all pish-posh.” At the same time, Dr. Pinker is attempting, via classical science (physics), to explicate consciousness/perception/emotion when in fact classical science divides the world into two–body and spirit–and cannot explain what happens in the mind via the physical brain because the mind is not a physical reality. (Show me the mind, Dr. Pinker.) Classical science has trouble seeing that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; that is, the brain and all that goes to make it up creates something greater than itself. As if to thwart the thinking of the Houyhnhnm, Karl Popper says the mind is the producer of human language, it is “the producer of theories, of critical arguments, and many other things such as mistakes, myths, stories, witticisms, tools, and works of art” (Unended Quest, p. 221). Dr. Pinker could not get his mind around Bertrand Russell’s grandmother’s plague upon him: “What is mind? No matter! What is matter? Never mind!” What Popper seems to be saying is that the mind is what allows Pinker to say and do whatever it is he says and does, albeit this is a decidedly un-Houyhnhnm-like thing to believe.

Dr. Pinker also says, “everyone agrees that the hard problem (if it is a problem) remains a mystery.”

Who is “everyone”? (Perhaps a rather un-Houyhnhnm-like query because everyone knows who everyone is.)

The hard problem is “explaining how subjective experience arises from neural computation.” That is, consciousness is a mysterious physical anomaly in classical physical bio-chemistry. There is a kind of tyranny of the biological, the physical, here in that Dr. Pinker purports to be able to explain the non-physical by the physical, which is, in and of itself, a mystery. Not to mention the apparent opposition to what he’s already said. If consciousness is physical, Dr. Pinker, show me it because I’m only a Yahoo. Simply saying it is so doesn’t make it so, unless one is a Houyhnhnm or a religious leader.

There are some people, notably I.N. Marshal, who do not believe consciousness is a mystery or, rather, that it is a mystery by way of being a problem for which there is an explanation. Marshal, Zohar and others approach consciousness from a quantum mechanical viewpoint. (Dr. Pinker flippantly speaks to this science later.) Dr. Pinker sees the brain as a computational entity; it doesn’t do anything else but computer neurologically. David Deutsch, on the other hand, believes that to call the brain a computational thing is not only limiting but wrong (Cf. The Fabric of Reality). Truly an anti-Houyhnhnm proposition that seems to point to Dr. Pinker’s confusing brain with mind or, rather, considers there to be no difference: brain is mind and mind is brain (The Stuff of Thought, p. 259). Everything is rational and reasonable and solely to be found in the neural functioning of the physical brain. Everything for Dr. Pinker resides in the physical brain. The brain’s functioning is the answer to everything. The brain rules! The brain also leaves us no choice. We are at its mercy. But it’s a mystery as to how this happens and what this mercy is. Even Dr. Pinker admits it’s a mystery when he says we have an innate language instinct. Why? Because instinct is a mystery in and of itself. And so it is that Dr. Pinker is talking in circles.  This is Houyhnhnm science.

What happened to environment and heredity in Dr. Pinker’s theories is also a mystery.

Dr. Pinker even talks of language as if it were bits and pieces that are put together according to certain rules–like the brain is bits and pieces put together according to certain rules–implying that to not follow the rules results in non-language and–perhaps I stretch the point here–stupidity. (Where does that leave James Joyce, Antonin Artaud or the Absurdists?) Stupidity is Dr. Pinker’s forte: all his argumentation is reducing ideas he does not agree with, including Lakoff and Johnson’s, to the ridiculous, using bits and pieces of their writings in order to lambaste the entirety of their theories and impart to them ideas or beliefs that are, in reality, his conclusions based on conscious misinterpretation such that the argument to ridicule is itself ridiculous and therefore his ridiculous statements don’t sound so ridiculous, that is, they sound sensible (Cf. The Stuff of Thought in its entirety). Houyhnhnm scientific thinking.

Dr. Pinker never bothers to prove his opinion; corroboration by his own testing is not scientific proof, according to Popper; it is more in the way of a laboratory simulation. Laboratory simulation always produces what you want to prove so it proves nothing, in fact. Except that it is Houyhnhnm science.

Dr. Pinker, in “Words Don’t Mean What They Mean” (another Time Inc. article, of 6 Sept. 2007, an excerpt from The Stuff of Thought), lays lines on his listeners, role plays, sidesteps, shilly-shallies and engages in “all manner of vagueness and innuendo.” We also do as he tells us we do, without apparent thought: assume “that the speaker is rational.” Dr. Pinker’s rationality is of the Houyhnhnm variety. So Dr. Pinker is seen to be eminently intellectually gifted and full of astounding insight, as gullible Gulliver saw the Houyhnhnms.

The most insidious Houyhnhnm argument Pinker makes results in his debunking quantum mechanics. To wit:- “Some mavericks, like the mathematician Roger Penrose, suggest the answer might someday be found in quantum mechanics. But to my ear, this amounts to the feeling that quantum mechanics sure is weird, and consciousness sure is weird, so maybe quantum mechanics can explain consciousness.” Well, Einstein thought quantum mechanics was weird, too. It’s of no consequence that Einstein’s been proven wrong on this point. Of course, the logic that uses one extremist to debunk the entirety of a science and Richard Feynman is Houyhnhnm logic. Isn’t it? Gulliver was a maverick.

Dr. Pinker wishes to take the mystery out of language via scientific examination and neural explanation and, to do so, he posits that language is an instinct. . .a very mysterious thing indeed is instinct. Instinct is, I think, something that cannot be explained: it just is. And as it is, it is mysterious in its being. In his infinitely regressive method of analysis, Dr. Pinker ever reaches the point where he can explain nothing and it’s at this point that language becomes instinct (Cf. The Stuff of Thought). So, in truth, Dr. Pinker explains nothing and keeps language in the realm of the mysterious. But it sounds good. Wow! Language is built in. We’re different. The Houyhnhnm cerebration is that if I say it is thus, it is thus. And therefore it’s science.

A fool (Yahoo) might ask, “How?” and show his stupidity in thinking that debunking the mysteriousness of language by attributing it to the mysteriousness of instinct is ridiculous. . .if not mysterious. Even so, Dr. Pinker cannot explain the languaging of deaf people or Koko the gorilla–unless his definition of language is in its speaking; that language is not language unless it’s spoken. Which makes writing not language, maybe?

Again in “Can’t find the words? Make ’em up,” Dr. Pinker resorts to Houyhnhnm-specious thinking in his Chinese example of onomatopoeia and sound symbolism via the Chinese for light in weight (qīng 轻) and heavy (zhòng 重). However, qīng has many meanings in Chinese, such as light green, clear and innocent. So does zhòng:  middle, hit, numerous.  In Chinese, mostly, the sound of the word is just the sound, but the pitch changes the meaning. For instance, qīng 青 (light green), qīng 请 (please), qīng 清 (clear, usually referring to river, stream, lake), qíng 情 (passion). All “qing.” All have the sound “qing,” But their meanings have nothing to do with each other. The implication Pinker is making is that there is a parallel between sound and meaning that holds across the language and, therefore, all languages (even though he debunks this in The Stuff of Thought). It doesn’t. Especially as Chinese is a tonal language. Dr. Pinker is not aware, apparently, that there are at least nine characters in Chinese with the pronunciation of qīng (first tone); some do not have opposites.

If a Yahoo looks at large (dà 大) and small (xiăo 小) he might find that, yes, da is the strong fourth downward tone but xiao is the sing-song third tone. Not only this but da changes its tone with usage, that is, in context. And what are we to make of inside (nèi 内) and outside (wài 外) or up (shàng 上) and down (xià 下)? These opposites are the same tone. Using Pinker’s Houyhnhnm mind, we can easily take gāoxìng (高兴happy) as, at best, so-so and bēishāng (悲伤sad) as good feeling. This is ridiculous. Gāo 高 (high) and dī 低 (low) are both high tones but, according to Dr. Pinker’s Houyhnhnm theorizing, mean differently, that is, dī cannot be low because its tone is high. What is worse, we can take bái 白 (white) as the same as hēi 黑 (black), that is, as white, because black is dark and the tone is not: if we follow Pinker’s statement, then we confound black and white. It’s a terrible Yahoo argument, of course, for how could a top Houyhnhnm psychologist lead his readers to confuse black and white, right and wrong?

There are only four tones in Chinese (five if you count the neutral tone), so onomatopoeia and sound symbolism via tones is extremely limited and apparently has little to do with sound meaning, according to the Yahoo Chinese who developed their language. Further, all these also challenge “families of words share a teeny snatch of sound and a teeny shred of meaning.” In Chinese, word families share a shape, not necessarily a sound or meaning. For instance, the shape family of ku口 (mouth) yields gē哥 (song), dīng叮 (mosquito bite), jiā加 (add), nà呐 (no meaning by itself), xuān喧 (noisy), zào噪 (chirp, as with insects or birds)–just a few of the 300+ kŏu口family characters.

This association of sound with meaning is the kind of thing we used to do as children and laugh about. Dr. Pinker, here, is making a Houyhnhnm-specious argument. He also does not speak or read Chinese–nor does his audience, which is why he can get away with such a Houyhnhnm statement. Further, generalizing from one instance to the entire corpus is intellectually indefensible. Factual errors on the part of an academician and scientist are not acceptable. Though, perhaps, the superior mentation of Houyhnhnms can be forgiven.

Except that in the early part of the 20th century, the onomatopoetic theory of language had already been disproven by linguists and philosophers, though, of course, for many modern doctorate holders, that’s ancient history: it is often the case that, in scholarly writing–especially dissertations–references more than 5-10 years old are verboten. Not only history is lost in this way but knowledge. Yet, Dr. Pinker is a follower of Chomsky’s universal grammar theory and that was put forth in the early part of the 20th century. A conundrum, to be sure. Indeed, “the names which occur in human speech cannot be interpreted in any such invariable manner. They are not designed to refer to substantial things, independent entities which exist by themselves. They are determined rather by human interests and human purposes. But these interests are not fixed and invariable. Nor are the classifications to be found in human speech made at random; they are based on certain constant and recurring elements in our sense experience” (Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man, p. 134). It seems, then, that Dr. Pinker is taking words not only out of context but isolating them as individual units and attempting to build a theory of language from these bits and pieces that have no relationship to each other and no relationship to use or culture. There is no juxtaposition. For Dr. Pinker, words are, well, just words. They don’t appear with other words and they don’t change their meaning in association with other words. Writers, those picayune Muse-inspired applied linguists par excellence, who are never taken into account by linguists as knowing anything at all about language (and therefore never consulted or, heaven forbid, studied), know this to be untrue. Indeed, for Natalie Goldberg, this is a major aspect of writing: words rub up against each other and change their meaning or connotation (Cf. Wild Mind). And Gendlin’s theories are based on contextual usage (Cf. The Philosophy of Entry into the Implicit and other writings). Dr. Pinker seems to be measuring language–and he seems to be confounding la langue withla parole–as if it were a scientific thing, a state of being, and this is not possible. He is trying to deduce the characteristics of an electron solely by figuring out where it is and how big it is. It and its action, its behavior when moving in context, are different things. But, then, that’s quantum mechanics and that’s already been displaced into File 13 by Dr. Pinker.

Thus, as the name of an object has little to do with the truth of the object but, rather, emphasizes particular aspects of the object, we come across the many words for “snow” in certain Eskimo languages and “hit” in some Amerindian languages and the various counters in Japanese for different entities: long and thin (hon本), round (ko個), flat (mai枚), people (nin人). Or, if we look at the moon, as Washington Irving did in his History of New York, we find that the Greek word mēn emphasizes its measure of time while the Latin word luna, luc-na refers to its brightness.

But even more to the point, Chinese words are made of two characters, for the most part. In fact, in Chinese, a single character does not often have meaning. So, what does he make of bō 玻 and lí 璃, which have no meaning when in isolation but when used together, as in bōlí 玻璃, which means “glass.” There are many similar examples, such as pútáo 葡萄 (grape), yīngsù罂桃 (opium), luòtuó 骆驼 (camel), pángxiè 螃蟹 (crab), to name a few words in which the individual characters (the first ones in this instance) are meaningless by themselves.

This fact also challenges Dr. Pinker’s statement that “long words may be used for things that are big or coarse, staccato words for things that are sharp or quick.” “Staccato” and “ratatatat” are long words–and staccato–yet are for sharp or quick sounds. There is nothing short here, which is the implication in Dr. Pinker’s thesis above. The problem is that almostall Chinese words are short, which means, according to Dr. Pinker, that Chinese cannot talk about big and coarse things. Actually, Chinese can: let’s see. . .zhéxué 哲学 (philosophy) and zhū 猪 (pig)–that’s big; xīnguì 新贵 (parvenu) and cūsù 粗俗 (vulgar)–that’s coarse. Taking into account all these factors, we can safely come to the conclusion that Dr. Pinker’s theory is as right as he thinks because it is appropriate to Dr. Pinker’s thinking, which is Houyhnhnm thinking.

Dr. Pinker’s definition of onomatopoeia is that it is solely sound-based; but in Japanese there are two major types: giseigo and gitaigo, the latter referring to actions. A third group, of which gōtcha-gōtcha is a good example, refers to states of being (upset stomach or being mixed up in this instance). In Chinese, onomatopoeia is used, mainly, for giving strong impressions, expressing things realistically and representing the rhythms of various activities.* Dr. Pinker is a follower of Chomsky’s Universal Grammar, yet he cannot uphold this thesis in Chinese or Japanese. But Dr. Pinker is a cutting edge Houyhnhnmist!

Dr. Pinker also notes that most “sn~” words refer to the snout (nose). This kind of assertion plays because: 1) he’s an authority; and 2) no one’s going to actually count all those words. . .except for a second language learner who counted and found 60% of the “sn~” words in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary had nothing to do with the nose. Not a very worthwhile observation, of course, as students are your penultimate Yahoos.

In his The Language Instinct, Dr. Pinker engages in the most egregious Houyhnhnm analysis of how children gain an understanding of how to use language given that they are not open to hearing constant repetitions of patterns: he shows us how they, children, use higher intellectual functioning to come to a conclusion, his conclusion. In truth, children are incapable of even the simplest of arithmetic computations. Not only do children not have this ability to logically analyze backwards from a given until they are much older, Pinker is going about his explanation backwards, as if the end product is the cause when it is more probably the effect of the learning (Cf. Terrence Deacon, The Symbolic Species, for a different take on this).

Dr. Pinker first slides around issues by using ifs, shoulds, coulds–suppositions that assume much but prove nothing.  “[C]hildren should start off assuming that their language requires the largest possible governing category, and then to shrink the possibilities inward as they hear the telltale sentences” resulting in “this subtle pattern of predictions.” But they already don’t hear constant repetition. Children are also supposed to “assume, by default, that languages have a fixed constituent order. They would back off from that prediction if and only if they hear alternative word orders, which indicate that the language does permit constituent order freedom. The alternative is that the child could assume that the default case was constituent order freedom.” [Bolded words not in the original.] Eh? “Constituent order freedom”? What kind of children does he know? Children who can classify at age 2 or 3?

Dr. Pinker is thinking, it seems, that children have the same mental agility as he, an adult Houyhnhnm, and can engage in axiom-making and assumption-getting that go with higher inductive and deductive reasoning. He is having children reason as an adult Houyhnhnm might. This is fallacious reasoning. One that, perhaps, Jonathan Swift perhaps might could have used in Gulliver’s Travels or any of his other satires. Children can’t add one and one, Dr. Pinker. Children can’t tell that 10 cc of liquid in a short, round glass is the same as 10 cc of liquid in a tall, thin glass. Unless, perhaps, of course, they are Houyhnhnm children, little people full of horse sense. Again that ancient philosopher of language, Ernst Cassirer: “If a child when learning to talk had simply to learn a certain vocabulary, if he only had to impress on his mind and memory a great mass of artificial and arbitrary sounds, this would be a purely mechanical process.” But, of course, Dr. Pinker does believe that the brain is only involved in mechanical processing. However,

It would be very laborious and tiresome, and would require too great conscious effort for the child to make without a certain reluctance since what he is expected to do would be entirely disconnected from actual biological needs. The ‘hunger for names’. . .reminds us that we are here confronted with a quite different problem. By learning to name things a child does not simply add a list of artificial signs to his previous knowledge of ready-made empirical objects. He learns rather to form the concepts of those objects, to come to terms with the objective world. . . . And language, taken as a whole, becomes the gateway to a new world. All progress here opens a new perspective and widens and enriches our concrete experience (Essay on Man, p. 132).

 

So it would seem that learning all of these words is learning an objective world. As Suzanne Langer posits in many of her writings, especially Mind, the brain’s job is to find meaning.

The brain we humans have took millions of years to evolve but the language we use evolved (evolves) in hundreds or thousands of years. So, language cannot be an evolution-dependent item, as Dr. Pinker posits. But it could be, as Dr. Deacon notes, a co-evolutionary item, à la Baldwinian evolution/selection (Cf. The Symbolic Species). But Dr. Terrence Deacon is not among the media’s edge-defying Houyhnhnm scientists. Who knows why. Perhaps because he’s not colorful enough. Or maybe he’s too fond of gorillas, especially gorillas that symbolize (Koko). And gorillas are a lower life form. They are not Houyhnhnms. And–horror upon horror!–Dr. Deacon consults with Koko.

Dr. Pinker does not like Dr. Deacon. Actually, Dr. Pinker doesn’t seem to like anyone who doesn’t think as he does. This becomes obvious in The Stuff of Thought, especially as he cites himself 20 times, twice as often as any other writer/theorist–and Terrence Deacon not at all. His weight in the corpus of linguists around the world is evident via their not citing him at all in their work.

But Steven Pinker is colorful and animated and popular and that’s what’s needed in selling a Houyhnhnm science. As long as it sounds great, it’s good. As long as it’s making fame and fortune for a previously unknown psychologist, it’s cutting edge.

It is of no account that the Yahoos in the Old West called these kinds of people con-men or snake oil salesmen and Medievalists charlatans. They are not, of course, Houyhnhnms and, therefore, jealous in their jibes.

_______________

 

Works Cited

Books

Cassirer, Ernst. An Essay on Man. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1944.

Deacon, Terrence W. The Symbolic Species: the co-evolution of language and the brain.New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1997.

Deutsch, David. The Fabric of Reality. New York; Penguin Brooks, 1997.

Fischer, David Hackett. Historians’ Fallacies. New York: Harper & Row, Pubs., 1970.

Gendlin, Eugene. The Philosophy of Entry into the Implicit. Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1997.

Goldberg, Natalie. Wild Mind. New York: Bantam, 1990.

Langer, Suzanne. Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling (3 vols.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967-1982.

Pinker, Steven. The Language Instinct. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1994.

__________. The Stuff of Thought. London: Allen Lane, 2007.

Popper, Karl. Conjectures and Refutations. London: Routledge Classics, 1969.

__________. Unended Quest. London: Routledge Classics, 1994.

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. London: xx, 16xx.

Toulman, Stephen. The Uses of Argument. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964.

Vonnegut, Kurt. God Bless You Mr. Rosewater. New York: Dell Publishing, 1965.

Internet

Brockman, John. Edge. http://www.edge.org/

Pinker, Steven. Can’t find the words? Make ’em up at http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/book_extracts/article2474562.ece

__________. The Mystery of Consciousness at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1580394,00.html

__________. Words Don’t Mean What They Mean at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1659772,00.html

 

*Huang Jia’ning is a tri-lingual interpreter: Chinese-English-Japanese. It is thanks to his input that I was able to discuss the problems with interlanguage onomatopoeia, despite my years in both China and Japan. Also, Zhu Li’an is a Level II Interpreter with international experience and a publishing history, including a new translation of Oscar Wilde’s work. We worked together to refine this information.

In case you are wondering who I am, a long time social activist and playwright growing up in the theatre of the late 60s and 70s, I fell in love with absurdism. This has continued into prose and got me notoriety during my doctoral years in a school that was conventional and traditional and not much interested in the outside world. I took this into Japanese theatre. Along the way, doctoral studies opened up a slew of doors so that, for me, it was not a terminal degree but a beginning place for further studies: history, language, comparative lit, comparative religion. And I lived in Japan and China for a total of 12 years, so some cultural overlay shows up in my writing. More of me can be found at https://talesofthefloatingworld.wordpress.com and https://branded.me/james-secor. Otherwise, I’m a virtual unknown.

Crazy Making – Abortion By Delinda McCann

 

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Since I’ve worked in human services particularly with at-risk youth for over forty years, I guess I have to be called a liberal.  Despite the label I have some beliefs conservatives hold dear. Out of compassion for both the mother and the baby, I hate the very thought of abortion.

My heart breaks every time someone mentions the topic of abortion and people mention it frequently as a political issue. I know this issue influenced more than one voter. Since I really hate everything about the topic, I’m to the point of saying put up or shut up.

My solution for this painful subject would be to prevent unwanted pregnancy.  I’d hang dispensers of cheap or free birth-control pills in women’s rest rooms.  I’d treat birth control shots the same as flu shots.  You can get them at the pharmacy on Tues. or Thursday.  The supermarket will hold a clinic every day for the first week of the month, in the back by the produce department, and the fire department holds a clinic on the forth Saturday of the month. Maybe rural communities can have a birth control van that visits once a month to dispense pills, shots or implants somewhat like other medical vans that do screenings. They could even do PAP smears and talk about the side effects of birth control.

My church holds a health fair every spring doing vision, hearing, blood pressure, and weight checks while instructing people on when to see a doctor.  We could be doing birth control implants.

I want to rethink how we get birth control medications into the childbearing population.  My approach would cost the voters some money, and this is where I part company with conservative thought.  The only suggestion I see from conservatives is throwing stones at those who have had abortions.  I get shouted down when I start talking about free to cheap birth control that works.

At the same time that people are criticizing me for advocating for cheap and accessible birth control, they say they want smaller government.  Giving out free birth control is too much government interference, they tell me.  “We need a law,” they say as if enforcing a law is less government than providing a service.

It doesn’t take much to put up a vending machines that dispenses pills in women’s restrooms.  We do have them for condoms.  Women wouldn’t be forced to use birth control, but it would be available.  So why is that too much interference as compared to monitoring every doctor and every hospital and investigating every procedure for removing polyps, or treating bleeders.  Why is distributing a drug more government than arresting people, collecting information on their private life and going to court to argue with a doctor who is saying the patient was anemic from blood loss, and her baby had died and decomposed inside her? It is cheaper, quicker and easier to just make the meds available to women.  Accessible birth control involves smaller government.

I just cannot wrap my head around a position where people do not want to spend tax dollars on human services, and will deny a service that should cut government spending on human services for at-risk children. All people will say is that abortion is killing or it’s immoral.  “Fine, then let’s prevent it,” I say, but this is the point that others get angry and shout that abortion is killing and immoral.  Preventing it doesn’t seem to be part of their vocabulary, and I get convicted as guilty for wanting to prevent abortion.

Some days it appears to me that the pro-life people want more abortions so they can feel superior and throw stones at others.  They never get on the prevention bandwagon, because that would involve government spending. The whole scenario doesn’t make sense.

I understand that some people on their own cannot see any options other than passing a law that won’t prevent anything, and will place more women at risk.  Why can’t those people take it as a matter of faith that someone who has worked with at-risk populations might know some better solutions to the problem?  This distrust of the opinions of professionals who work in human services is another factor that contributes to the crazy making aspects of our national dialog.  I don’t know how many times I’ve been ignored for saying there is a better way to solve the problem of abortion.

The conservatives tell me, “Making abortion illegal will prevent abortions because they will be harder to find and people will be afraid of being punished.”  God made laws, “Don’t eat of that tree.  Have no other Gods. Love your neighbor.”  How’s that working for God?  It has never worked for God since the whole tree thing.  Lawmakers need to be careful not to place themselves above God.

People, especially desperate people, do not obey laws.  Any woman who can read can figure out how to quietly and privately induce an abortion.  They’ve been doing it since time began.

Making a law doesn’t save the baby’s life.  Making a law doesn’t prevent the trauma to the mother.  Making a law just allows the law-makers to shove the problem of loving their neighbor under the carpet.  This is the point in the dialog on abortion where I loose all compassion for those who call themselves pro-life and want to make laws.  I see nothing but cruelty and hate in their position.  Further, I never see any attempt by the law-makers to jump on the pregnancy prevention wagon or even thank me for my comments on how to end the tragedy. The loving answer is to prevent the unwanted pregnancy through easy access to birth control along with education about who needs it – women of childbearing years.

At the end of the day, I’ll choose the loving answer to meet the needs of others, and I guess that puts me in the hated liberal camp.  So be it.

***

  1. Ladies, in addition to the pharmaceutical birth control, have your partner use a condom. If you would have an abortion if pregnant, use another mechanical method of birth control such as a sponge with your pills and have your partner use a condom.

Delinda McCann is a social scientist with a history of working with at-risk populations for over 40 years.  Currently she is the author of five novels published by Writer’s Cramp Press. She has published numerous short stories and essays.  She also runs a small organic farm located near Seattle WA. You can find her books and short stories featured on her website. http://delindalmccann.weebly.com/index.html

The Encounter By Cynthia B Ainsworthe

portrait of a beautiful brown-haired woman in a flower wreath sitting in the autumn forest close to the harp

John Drake drove down the dirt road, scarcely wide enough to allow for two passing cars. He slowed down at every sign, hoping he would find the name of the turn located on the tattered, coffee-stained road map. After stopping for the fourth time, he pulled over to what once was a rest stop for would-be campers.

His eye caught the glimpse of something fleeing not far in the woods. A young woman, twentyish, wearing a flowing gown, with a ring of flowers on her head, and a light blue ribbon tied around her neck. Her fingers grazed lazily over the autumn leaves on a nearby tree limb above her head. She stopped and looked at him. Her eyes grew intense and seemed to communicate a sad, beckoning message. John swallowed hard. He sat straighter, and ran his finger between his turtleneck collar and his throat.

Why is she staring at me? Is she lost? There are no spring flowers now. Why does she have flowers in her hair?

As compelling as the image was, he forced himself to check the map again. When he looked up in her direction, she was still there, only deeper into the forest.

His hand shook as he grabbed the keys and got out of the car. He stood a moment, watching her, and then walked around the car to the edge of the gravel, where it met an overgrown path. She didn’t move, but seemed to study his form for a few seconds, before she turned and darted into the forest. His steps grew faster and faster till he was at a slow run.

She disappeared out of sight behind a clump of thick-trunked trees.

John stopped and turned in a complete circle. There was no sight of her. Which way had she gone? It had to be that way. Instinct took over as he trudged through the growth of trees and fallen dead tree trunks hosting clusters of mushrooms crossing his path. Still, no sight of her.
Is she in danger? Does she want me to help her in some way?

A small clearing came into view with an old cabin standing in the center. As he drew closer, John saw it was missing some of the planks used to make the walls, and had no door. The hole that must have held a window revealed that the damaged roof allowed a stream of sunlight to fill its interior.

I wonder if she’s in there? Why is she hiding from me?

John hurried to the cabin, then slowed his pace, suddenly apprehensive. He toured the perimeter, careful where he stepped for fear of finding a hole, or some abandoned well. Coming back around to the front, he noticed a pale blue ribbon on the step to the rickety porch. He bent down, picked it up, and rubbed the satin fabric between his fingers. She is real. This ribbon proves it. He peered cautiously into the cabin. Empty. He looked around again, squinting to sharpen his focus. He could see no sign of this mysterious woman. He stashed the souvenir in his pocket. Her image haunted him. He returned to the car and continued to his destination, hoping to find the peace and quiet he sought for his weekend retreat. Dust kicked up as he picked up speed.

Crossroads came into view, with what appeared to be an old general store on one corner. An old brown pickup truck stood under the shade of an enormous oak tree. John pulled into the makeshift parking lot of packed dirt, and grabbed his map before getting out of the car. He stepped onto the old porch and noted a hand-honed wooden rocker. The sound of creaking wood under each footstep announced his arrival before he opened the door.

John stood a moment, searching for someone to assist him. He spotted an older woman behind a rough-hewn wood counter. He noticed a thin gold wedding band on her finger.

“Hi, Ma’am. I’m new in town and need some directions.” He laid the map on the counter, and pointed to his desired target.

The woman leaned over the counter and studied the map. “Nice to meet you,” she said with a slow drawl. “I’m Mabel. My husband, Henry, is in the back.” She pointed over her shoulder. She took a pencil from the gray bun at the back of her head and made an X on the map. “You are here. You go down this road till you get to a Y. Take the right fork, and the next left will take you to the campsite. You should be able to find your way from there. There’s a sign. You can’t miss it.”

A stooped man with a weathered face came from the back and stood next to her. “Don’t drive too fast in these parts. We don’t fancy road kill ‘round here. Critters got a right to live, and we only kill for what we eat. No huntin’ for city sport—not fair to the animals.”
John shifted his weight. He picked up the map. “No chance of that. I’m here for some rest. I only brought a sketch pad and pens.”

“You’re a painter?” the man whom he assumed was Henry, stroked his chin.

“Yes.” John smiled. “Though I only do that for fun. I’m an investment broker.”

Mabel’s jaw set. “One of them that makes money from others—skinnin’ them alive and they don’t feel it until they’re near dirt poor.”

They’re not very friendly here. I better get moving before it’s dark.

He paused at the doorway, and turned back to the older couple. “Do you know of a young woman in her twenties around here? I saw her in the woods—thought she might need help so I stopped the car and tried to find her, but she vanished.”

The couple exchanged knowing glances.

After a moment, Henry stiffened his posture. “Nope. Don’t know of any person like that. Sure you aren’t seein’ things from lack of sleep? Been drivin’ too long?”

“I know what I saw.”

Maybe he’s right. Stress at work and the long hours driving could’ve played tricks with my eyes.

* * *

The stranger left far quicker than he arrived.

Mabel looked up at Henry. “You think he’ll get to where he needs to be?”

“Don’t know. City slickers can be a bit disbelievin’ with all their book learnin’.” He started stocking the fresh shipment of canned green beans from the cardboard box onto the shelf behind them. “We might not see him again. Might end up like the rest.”

Her brow furrowed, accentuating the look of worry. “I hope not. All-in-all, he seemed like a nice young man.” She gazed out the window. “He might be back for some fixin’s. Might need some spray for all those bugs in the cabin.”

“Don’t go fussin’.” Henry tossed the empty box to the others in the corner. “What’s meant to be will be. Nothin’ no one can do. If we see him again, then we will. If not, it’s nobody’s business.”

“You’re right.” She patted his hand on the counter. “I fret too much over things that’s none of my concern.”

* * *

John hadn’t slept well. He tossed and turned and couldn’t make out if he slept with one dream blending into the next, of it he spent his entire night looking at the shadows and images formed by the moonlight. The vision of the girl in the woods tormented him.

I know she is real. Why can’t I stop thinking about her? Why did that couple at the store act so odd when I mentioned what I saw?

He slung his legs over the edge of the bed, stood up and gave an expansive stretch and yawn. A well-worn coffeemaker stood on the small dresser along with Styrofoam cups, packets of instant coffee, sugar, and powdered creamer. He filled the coffeepot with water from the bathroom sink then poured the contents into the reservoir. He pressed the “on” button to boil the water.

Nothing happened.

He checked the wall socket and re-plugged the appliance. Still nothing—not even the faint sound of gurgling water. Damn it! Now I have to go back to that store and find out where people eat around here. Maybe I can buy a new coffeemaker.

John dressed quickly. He checked his pocket and pulled out the ribbon with his keys. He looked at it briefly then stuffed it into his shirt pocket.

The morning sun nearly blinded him, and he grabbed his sunglasses from the glove compartment. The drive seemed much shorter than he recalled yesterday. He didn’t need a map this time. He drove back to the general store as if he had driven this road numerous times before. I was so lost yesterday. Why do I know these roads so well now? Am I still dreaming?

This is weird.

John pulled into the same parking area. He got out and checked the money in his wallet, and hoped he had enough. He wondered if the older couple would accept credit cards.

He opened the door and walked straight to the counter. Mabel swept off dust with an old rag that must have seen better days.

He cleared his throat. “Ma’am, I was here yesterday asking for directions.”

Mabel gave no indication that he was there, nor that she heard him.

Henry came from the back with a large barrel of pickles supported on a hand truck, and un-packed them toward the entry. “I haven’t seen that young broker man—the one askin’ for directions,” he said.

John stepped toward Henry. “Are you blind? I’m standing right here in front of you.”

“Yup,” Mabel replied. “Guess he’s gone for good. Hope he finds out where he’s supposed to be.”

She brushed away a lock of gray hair from her forehead and secured it with a bobby pin from her apron pocket. “Hate to think he’ll get lost.”

John turned to the woman. “Why are you ignoring me? I am here, right in front of you,” He almost yelled, panic rising in his throat.

“Henry, do you think he really saw her in the woods?” Mabel placed her hands on hips.

“Don’t know. Might have.” He chuckled. “It’s not like he had proof—a picture or somethin’.”

John reached into his pocket and retrieved the blue ribbon. He waved it in the air. “Yes, I do have proof! Here it is. Right in my hand.”

Mabel and Henry took no notice.

What is wrong with these people? Are they purposely being rude? I’m from the big city—that means I don’t exist?

In exasperation, John slammed the ribbon down on the counter. It was his only proof that he had seen her and that she was real, but he didn’t care. What he saw and experienced the day before fell back to second place. He felt a new urgency to be somewhere, but didn’t know where that place was located. He headed for his car.

At the door he paused at the sound of Mabel’s voice, and turned around.

“That man was here. Look, Henry. Here’s the ribbon.” She took it from the counter and handed it to her husband.

“I’ll take care of it. Put it with the others.” He shuffled to a box under the far end of the counter.

“I wonder what he thought when we didn’t say a word to him when he was here.”

“I didn’t know he was here—not until that ribbon. Didn’t even feel a breeze.” A small smile curled at her lips. “Guess he hasn’t learned that skill yet.” She watched Henry carefully place the ribbon in the container. “When do you think they’ll find the body?”

“All depends how well that girl hid it.”

John’s mouth gaped open. They are totally nuts. I’ve entered some kind of twilight zone.

His car was gone.

In its place was the young woman in a flowing nightgown with a blue satin ribbon around her neck. Her arm reached out to him.

© 2016 Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Cynthia has longed to be a writer. Life’s circumstances put her dream on hold for most of her life. In 2006, she ventured to write her first novel, Front Row Center, which won the prestigious IPPY Award (Independent Publisher), as well as garnering numerous 5-star reviews, one from known Midwest Book Review. Front Row Center is the first book in the Forbidden Series.

This novel is now being adapted to screen. A script is in development by her and notable Hollywood screenwriter, producer, and director, Scott C. Brown. Remember?, and Forbidden Footsteps are books two and three in the Forbidden Series. She also contributed to the award-winning anthology, The Speed of Dark, compiled by Clayton C. Bye, published by Chase Enterprises Publishing. Cynthia enjoys retirement in Florida caring for her husband and their five poodle-children.
https://www.amazon.com/Cynthia-B.-Ainsworthe/e/B00KYRE1Q8
https://www.cynthiabainsworthe.com