Category Archives: Personal Essay

Death of a Nation By Delinda McCann

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island

Woody Guthrie

Our country is our home. We are rightfully proud of the many things we as a people have accomplished together. Our great experiment with a democratic representative form of government is something to be proud of. Our statements of equality among all people and our struggles to attain that ideal are worthy of praise.

Like any great experiment we need to be asking ourselves where are we in the process? Is the experiment over? Did we succeed or did we fail? We’ve had some glorious moments. Have we fallen short of the goal? Is there any way we can get the experiment back on track?

Note: I’m not touting any great success story here. We’ve become a nation perpetually at war, not as the world’s police force enforcing justice and defending freedom, but at war to support the profits of a few.

We are no longer either a democracy or a republic. We are an oligarchy, quickly sliding toward fascism. The United States of America has become the world’s greatest threat to peace and prosperity. Within our own country, we send men and women to fight in wars to protect the economic interest of the few. When those men and women return home broken in body, mind and spirit, we send them to live in the streets among the elderly, and disabled.

We made some progress in cleaning up air and waterways, but our drinking water has become compromised and except for the efforts of the poor, nothing is done to protect our drinking water.

We aren’t doing too well in many respects as a nation. Our economy is dedicated to the greed of a few, yet the poor get the blame for the conditions in this country. Racism is blatant and growing. The notion of caring for the sick, disabled and elderly, has almost disappeared from public policy.

War, bigotry, corruption and pollution all exist to enrich the oligarchy. Nobody is safe from the oligarchs in the US. Where will this lead. Can we as a people unite and turn our backs on the corrupt power elite? Are we too fragmented to do so?

What have we become and what is the moral answer to our dilemma? Some people are waiting for a hero to raise up out of the oligarch class and lead us to freedom. Heroes do not come from among the rich and powerful. Hoping for one of the oligarchs to solve our problems is futile.

From around the fringes of society, we hear people asking should we dissolve this union. Is dissolution the only moral option? By breaking into three to five smaller nations, we can dissipate resources in such a manner as to make it more challenging for the oligarchs to go to war.

Is it time for a constitutional amendment that expels certain states from the union because they refuse to live by the morally bankrupt standards embraced by more fearful regions? Should we dissolve into regions that have common issues and values and let other regions go their own way?

It is time to ask the questions and hold the discussions. With dissolution as the stick driving us forward can we unite for the common good? Maybe this country has reached the point where the common good cannot be served without a final amendment to the constitution stating that due to irreconcilable differences geopolitical regions with common interests may go their separate ways.

Delinda McCann is a mostly-retired social psychologist. During her professional career she worked with at risk youth and individuals with disabilities. Her research in the field of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome led her to become an advisor to several governments. To ease the stress created by working in the disabilities field, she took up gardening. Never one to do things in a small way, Delinda now runs a small farm and sells cut flowers. She writes general fiction based on her experience as a social psychologist. She has published five novels. She expresses her sense of humor in many of her short stories. She’s also published numerous professional articles on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Youth At-Risk. The professional articles are rather academic and dry, but Delinda pulls what she knows about human behavior, disabilities and youth into her fiction.

You may purchase her books at: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Delinda+McCann

You may view her flowers, gardens and personal blog at: http://delindalmccann.weebly.com/index.html

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

 

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.

When Doing the Right Thing Turns out Wrong by Micki Peluso

a (2)

The day, like the week preceding it, started out dreary and overcast, but patches of blue soon poked through the dense clouds, offering a promise of bright sunshine. Then the doorbell rang and the weather was no longer a concern, as the safety of my small grandson became threatened and the lives of those who loved him, thrown into panic.

My 20-year-old daughter was in the downstairs den and answered the doorbell. She seemed to be speaking at great length and I assumed it was another magazine salesman spouting his pitch. Curiosity overcame me and I glanced out the front window in time to see a police car pulling out of my driveway. As I turned around, Nicole and 4-year-old Jesse, who had spent the night with us were coming up the stairs.

“What did the policeman want?” I asked.

“He wanted to see Jesse,” Nicole answered. “Someone reported him as a missing child.”

“What?!”

“Don’t get upset. I explained that Jesse’s been with us since he was born. But you should have seen the picture of the missing boy. He looks exactly like Jesse.”

“You should have called me.”

“Don’t worry, Mom, it’s all taken care of.”

But it wasn’t. Half an hour later, two police cars pulled up and six policemen, including a sergeant, were at my door. By the time I got downstairs, they were crowded inside the living room of my other daughter’s downstairs apartment. Jesse, who had been visiting his aunt, was backed up flat against the back of her recliner, his face masked with fear. I reached for him and as I picked him up, he whispered, “Grandma, get these guys outta here and lock the door. They think I’m some missing boy.”

“It’s all right, Jess,” I said out loud. “We’ll just tell them that they have the wrong little boy.”

“They won’t believe us, Grandma,” he whispered back.

“Of course they will. Don’t be frightened. You know that policemen help people.”

I put him down and he returned to his previous stance, backed as far into the recliner as his small body would allow; his expression guarded and apprehensive. I would not realize until later that Jesse’s instincts for self-preservation were far stronger than my own.

My two daughters and I spent nearly an hour speaking with the policemen, who were all pleasant and non-threatening. Apparently a young couple in our neighborhood had seen a poster of a missing child at the post office and then saw Jesse riding his tricycle up and down my block and reported him to the police.

The resemblance to the missing boy was uncanny. In the picture he was even wearing a cowboy hat similar to the Australian bush hat that Jesse wore and coveted. We gathered up pictures of Jesse and pointed out to the policemen that while Jesse resembled the missing boy, who was two-years-old in the picture, when Jesse was two he had looked entirely different. They seemed to agree.

I gave them a run-down on Jesse’s life; how he had come to Staten Island at six-weeks-old with his mother and older brother after his parent’s divorce; how I had babysat the boys while their mother worked and how, until recently, when she remarried, the three of them had lived in the downstairs apartment. I was confident that they believed me.

Then the sergeant looked at Jesse, who was no more relaxed than before and said, “Would you like to take a ride with me?”

“No!” Jesse answered, a stony look on his face.

“Jess,” I said, “Wouldn’t it be fun to ride in a police car?”

“No, it wouldn’t,” Jesse stated emphatically, pressing himself even further into the back of the chair.

“Listen,” I said to the sergeant. “Why don’t you drive over to our daughter’s home and she can show you his birth certificate and answer any other questions?”

They agreed and wrote down the directions. Jesse, clinging tightly to my leg, watched them leave, then insisted that I close and lock all the doors. I called his mother and told her what had happened.

“My God!” she said. “How can I prove he’s my child? Birth certificates can be forged. Mom, don’t let Jesse out of your sight!”

Eventually the matter was cleared up and the police were convinced that a mistake had been made. But the nightmare was far from over. Ironically, my daughter also resembled the description of the missing boy’s mother, who had taken her son and disappeared.

I remembered having asked one of the policemen if it was possible that a private detective was looking for the missing boy and if we would have to watch Jesse carefully for some time. The man had looked at me somberly and said, “If he was mine, I would.”

By the day’s end the entire family was a nervous wreck, as the ramifications of what had happened and still might occur, became increasingly clear. Only then did we realize that the police, upon returning with extra men and a superior officer could have and probably would have taken Jesse from us if they believed that he was the missing child. Had my child been missing, I would have expected them to do no less. And only then did we realize that the boy’s family and/or hired detective might still take him first and ask questions later.

What scared us the most was that the father of the missing boy had not seen his son since he was two-years-old. Jesse, at four, looked just like what the father would expect his son to look like. Jesse, was frightened, acutely aware of what had nearly happened. He feared realistically for his safety.

“Nicole,” he said to his aunt, ” If I get taken somewhere and I can’t get back home, I’ll always remember you.” He had nightmares for weeks, clinging to his mother and me, and often cried for no apparent reason.

Jesse’s mother called the Missing Children Hotline, and explained the situation, begging them to explain to the missing boy’s father that a mistake had been made, and that he was welcome to come to New York and see for himself that Jesse was not his son. The person she spoke to told her that he was aware of that particular case and that he would handle it. My daughter asked that he please get back to her. He never did. We also tried to contact the boy’s father ourselves, with no success. We felt as if we were fighting an invisible threat with no means to protect ourselves. Were we believed, or were we being watched?

From that day on, we guarded Jesse carefully, watched him every moment and never left him alone; always careful not to let him sense our fear. But as time passed and Jesse forgot the incident, we were never able to relax completely, never again able to feel secure.

The paradox to this story is that the couple reporting Jesse as a missing child did precisely the right thing for the right reasons. The police responding to the report took exactly the right action. Anyone spotting a possible missing child has a moral obligation to report it. I would not have hesitated notifying the authorities if I thought I had spotted a missing child. And if, God forbid, my own child was missing, I would demand and expect immediate police action, willing to go to any lengths to recover my child. Yet in doing all the right things, a family was given the scare of their lives, and a small boy was made to feel frightened and insecure. That day, which had shown so much promise turned, albeit through the best intentions, into an ominous nightmare from which we would be a long time awakening.

 

Micki Peluso began writing after a personal tragedy, which lead to publication in Victimology: An International Magazine and a 25-year career in Journalism. She’s been staff writer for one major newspaper and freelanced for two more. Twelve of her award winning short fiction and slice of life stories are published in anthologies, magazines and e-zines. Her debut book was published in 2012; a funny family memoir of love, loss and survival, called, . . .AND THE WHIPPOORWILL SANG which won the Nesta CBC Silver Award for writing that builds character. She is presently working on a collection of short fiction, slice of life stories and essays, in a book called, DON’T PLUCK THE DUCK. Her debut children’s book, ‘The Cat Who Wanted a Dog’ will be released in May, 2016.

http://www.mallie1025.blogspot.com/

The Big Gay Note by Cody Wagner

May first crush was on my eighth grade gym teacher. To protect the innocent, we’ll call him Coach Hottie. Coach Hottie was gruff and demanding and every gay eighth grade boy’s dream.

Despite the 35-year age gap, and the fact that I was only 13, which made the possibility of a relationship very very illegal, my teenage naiveté convinced me there was absolutely nothing wrong with the idea of our being a couple. In fact, I imagined us holding hands down the halls of Pampa Middle School, everyone eying us jealously. I even imagined wearing matching coach shorts to show my dedication as we strutted around. Sure, the entire school was homophobic, but my mind concocted amazing stories of love and acceptance. And they all hinged on a relationship with Coach Hottie.

And so I pursued him.

I found every reason to stay after gym class and offer to help with his paperwork (although I had no idea what he actually did). I volunteered to skip dodge ball to clean equipment racks for him. I even offered to wash his clothes in case his “washing machine ever broke, or, you know, whatever.”

The big problem – besides the aforementioned illegalness (OK I thought I made up a new word but ‘illegalness’ isn’t being corrected.) – was the fact Coach Hottie was very straight. And he acted like I barely existed. Therefore, my interest in him started to waver a bit over the course of a year.

Then came the Towel Incident ™.

Eighth grade gym was the only year I was ever forced to shower. After every class, we had to strip down and rinse off. Eighth graders are disgusting, so it was the school’s way of cleaning us up after we hit each other in the face with big red balls for an hour. The problem was, the idea of getting naked in front of my peers terrified me. After all, I was gay and, um, my hormones were raging.

Consequently, I was always the last student to get naked. I’d strip down, throw a towel around my waist, and go stand near the showers. But I wouldn’t bare all and shower yet. No, I had to stand there, convincing myself everything would remain calm and I wouldn’t get beaten up.

One day, as I stood there talking myself down, I heard, “Wagner, take off your towel and shower!”

It was Coach Hottie.

Immediately, my face flushed and my entire body tingled. Sure, he was just frustrated and trying to end the class. But my juvenile mind interpreted the Towel Incident very differently. My first and only thought was, He wants to see me naked!

And thus my crush was kicked into overdrive.

That night, I decided I had to come clean (pardon the pun). Trembling, I sat down and wrote a love note to Coach Hottie. I wrote that I was gay. And for the first time, I poured my feelings out. The note was long, emotional and perfect.

I sat back and stared at my masterpiece. Grinning, I grabbed an envelope and carefully wrote “To: Coach Hottie”. I debated drawing little hearts on it, but decided to let the note speak for itself.

After folding and sliding the paper inside, I sat back imagining Coach Hottie’s response. He’d be skeptical opening the note. He might even tell me he didn’t have time. After reading a few sentences, though, his expression would change. A tear would probably fall from his left eye. He’d drop the note and say, “How did you know?” I’d just smile and shrug as we leaned in for our first kiss.

Hugging the note, I placed it on my desk before bed. Then I tucked myself in, imagining the joy the following day would bring.

Thank God rational thought hit me in the middle of the night.

I don’t know what did it, but I shot up at 3:00AM thinking, What in the hell am I doing? It was the first sensible thing I’d thought in years. Part of me thinks a future version of myself sent eighth grade Cody a dream message. Either way, I hopped out of bed and tore up the note before I could stop myself.

For some reason, the insanity of what I’d done eased my crush on Coach Hottie. And something else began building up in my head. Despite the fact I never gave Coach Hottie the note, it was still the first time I’d ever written I was gay. That stuck!. Putting the words on paper actually made it real.

After that night, I really began to realize who and what I was.

It stuck with me so intensely that, when I wrote my novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, I knew I had to include that scene. In the book, my main character doesn’t write a love note. Instead, he writes that he’s gay out of pure frustration. Instead of tearing the note up, it ends up outing him.

The note solidified who I was, so I figured I’d let it kick start my character’s life. Only, because it’s fiction and I could let my imagination run wild, I did so in a way where the note would take him somewhere he’d never imagine or expect. I hope he thanks me for it when he’s all said and done.

Who knows, maybe he can write me a little note.
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About the Author
Cody Wagner loves to sing, mime (not really), and create. He writes about topics ranging from superpowers to literate trees (really). His award-winning debut novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, recently “came out”. See what he did there? Cody dealt with bullying as a teen and wanted to provide a fun escape for all the underdogs out there. He’s also handing out cookie dough to everyone who grabs a copy. Check out his writing and see more of his wackiness at www.wagner-writer.com or find him on Twitter @cfjwagner, Goodreads at www.goodreads.com/wagner_writer, and Amazon at www.amazon.com/Cody-Wagner/e/B016NYGV40.

Rare Hawaiian Treasures by Michael Ajax

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After flying all night, getting off the packed airplane at Honolulu International airport felt wonderful. The warm, tropical sun and swaying palm trees greeted us. Jumping into the rental car, we wanted to drive straight to the western shore where our fabulous beach front condo awaited. But arriving early in the morning, allowed us to reflect on why we didn’t request an early check-in. Never a group to waste an opportunity to explore, however, we headed for Waikiki beach. After enjoying a nice lunch with live music at the Hard Rock Café, we strolled across the street and dipped our toes into the Pacific Ocean. The enormous beach, packed with tourists, radiated excitement.

A bit of shopping along the row of tiny t-shirt stores filled our need of being with the busy crowds. After that, off to the quiet west shore we went. The curvy drive past old, densely packed houses gave us a chance to see what life was like for the inhabitants of the island. It wasn’t the polished perfection of the steel and glass hotels and lush condos of Honolulu, yet there was a grittiness about the place, a feeling of balance with the island and the ocean that could never be experienced from the top of a skyscraper.

A stop at the local grocer reinforced this feeling. Simple green corrugated steel decorated the store as we passed through the small front doors and walked into a bygone era. From the store, we drove two miles to the tall, gated condo. As we made our way to the fourth floor and opened the door of our room, the actual decor didn’t resemble the pictures from the internet. Old plywood protected the patio windows from the construction going on outside. A full work scaffold, complete with ropes, buckets and cement tools hung directly before the windows. This was not a welcomed sight to exhausted travelers.

A few frantic calls later, the agent arranged for us to move to a smaller condo on the eight floor. Since the kids agreed to sleep on the couches, we decided to make the best of it. A stunning view of the bay and beach below was worth the inconvenience.

a

After getting a good night’s rest, I convinced everyone that hiking up Diamond Head, an extinct volcanic crater on the east side of Honolulu, would be a great day trip. Since Mark Twain had visited the Kingdom of Hawaii almost 150 years earlier, and ridden a horse to the top of Diamond Head, I longed to follow in his steps. Although no horses are allowed on the path today, every step for me was special. Breathing hard and sweating, we walked through the long tunnel to the exterior cliffs of the ancient volcano. In that moment, we were swept back to WWII with the weathered concrete gun turrets and narrow stairs that once housed soldiers that defended the island. The vistas of Honolulu on one side and the expansive Pacific Ocean on the other were breathtaking from the summit. Although this same cityscape was not what Mr. Twain saw, I imagined how he might compare it to what the beautiful island had been in his day.

b

The following day, we visited the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor. Taking a tour of the USS Bowfin submarine gave us a glimpse into the past. The Park Service’s movie of the attack on Pearl Harbor and ferry ride out to the Arizona Memorial were somber, moving events. No trip to Hawaii is complete without a stop here.

d

Back at the condo, relaxing and enjoying the gorgeous beach became our highest priority. Walking along the uneven rocks that jutted deep into the powerful ocean made me appreciate this astonishing place for what it is—a delicate blend of moving life and beauty. Every night my kids attested to this because although the calming roll of the ocean lapping at the sandy beach is wonderful as you drift to sleep, the pounding of the high tide in the middle of the night is not as soothing as one might believe.

c

On the morning of our fourth day on the island, as we awoke to balmy breezes, we immediately slid open the balcony doors to enjoy breakfast on the patio. Below us, on the normally tranquil beach, people gathered near two large, dark objects that must have washed onto the shore during the night. Covered in sand and not moving, two Monk seals lay next to each other. Neither one moved.

In short order, signs and cones were erected to form a perimeter to keep onlookers away from the mammals. We wondered what terrible events could have occurred to cause two seals to be in such an unusual state. It was not natural for wild animals to be so close to humans.

As we approached the barricade, a nice woman greeted us. A volunteer from the Monk Seal Response Team, she came down to help educate people and protect the monk seals from harm. Since the Hawaiian Monk Seals are one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world, with only about 1300 remaining, we were happy to lend our support in any fashion we could.

Monk seals are named for the folds of skin that somewhat resemble a Monk’s cowl. Normally, these warm-water seals live near the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, but this mother had, just two days earlier, separated from her young pup near Kawaii and swam straight onto our beach to recuperate. She wasn’t sick or injured, just tired from traveling. We totally understood. Since monk seals do not mate for life, the other seal next to her was most likely her suitor, a younger male.

As we milled around, admiring the seals from a safe distance, the female opened her eyes. With a few twists of her body, and flaps of her tail, she wiggled into the ocean surf. The next large wave carried her off. The darker, sleepy male opened his eyes and lifted his head. Realizing the other seal had left, he made a mad squirm toward the ocean. Like an arrow, he swam to the female and together, the couple danced up and over the waves like birds in flight. And without any warning, the two disappeared into the Pacific.

After returning to our condo for breakfast, we spent the rest of the day submerged in the crisp ocean learning to body surf. That evening, we took the kids to a beach front luau and danced long into the night. We all had a great time, along with a few cuts and bruises from surfing.

In the end, our vacation was rich with Hawaiian memories. Yet with all the unique things we did, it was our brief encounter with the monk seals, and enjoying their simple splendor, that still resonates deep within me. The world is a richer place because of the rare treasures found only in Hawaii.

***

Want to find out more about Michael’s writing? Check out his website at www.michaelajax.com and get a look at his book on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/tombtriceratops

 

Write is Right by Dellani Oakes

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 I’m the first to admit that I can’t spell. If it weren’t for spell check, the greatest invention in the modern age, I’d never get anything written. Next best, on-line dictionaries, because now I don’t have guess every time I can’t spell a word. If I misspell a word when looking it up, the program will ask me if I mean…. And it gives me suggestions.

I misspell stupid things—anything with IE or EI, will always be reversed. Fortunately, the computer notices and changes it for me. Yay! Necessary. Camouflage. Bureaucrat. These are examples of words I frequently misspell. There are others, but I am most consistently wrong with these. I can usually get through necessary, but I have to spell it to myself as I go. I can’t just type or write it.

When I was a teenager, I had an extensive vocabulary. With a college English professor for a father and an elementary school teacher for a mother, how could I not? Unfortunately, I couldn’t spell the extensive vocabulary and had to rely on much more basic things. When I asked my English teacher about it, he told me to “Look it up.” “But how,” I asked. “Can I look it up if I don’t know how to spell it?” No one ever had a good explanation. It took me years to learn that if it wasn’t under the spelling I thought, that was wrong, I had to try something else. Tedious process. Again, thank god for spell check and on-line dictionaries!

I finally cracked down and put my mind toward spelling better when my English teacher, Mr. Frakes, gave me back a paper that said: “For story and content A. For mechanics F.” Much embarrassed, I decided that perhaps spelling did matter. It was a long process, and it only partially took, but I have finally gotten more conversant with spelling. I had thought of writing this piece, leaving the typos in, but decided that made me look way stupider than I was willing to look and I corrected them. I’m all for window dressing, but that would have been a little much.

I was grateful to Mr. Frakes for teaching me something else with that one message. That was to be as fair to my students as possible. I adopted that method of grading when I became a teacher, because I had some brilliant students who couldn’t spell their way out of a wet paper sack. One even bought a “Bad Speller’s Dictionary” only to find that his misspellings were so messed up, they weren’t in there. My heart went out to him. I felt his pain! More than once, he’d hand in a paper with the same word spelled three or four different ways, all wrong. I asked him about it once.

“I figured if I tried it different ways, one of them would be right.”

Sadly, he was completely wrong in that assumption. Somehow, he defied the laws of averages and statistics, defied the gods of grammar and still managed to mess it up completely. I lost track of him once he graduated. I hope he, like I, learned to spell and that he can find compassion in his heart for others the way I had compassion for him.

 

In addition to writing, Dellani Oakes is a prominent host on Blog Talk Radio.