Commenting Boot Camp, Day 3

The Commenting Boot Camp assignment for today is to use a comment to ask a question. So when the latest post from Cheryl Moore’s outstanding Unbound Boxes Limping Gods appeared in my Reader, I decided it was finally time to ask about the story’s timeline.

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Commenting Boot Camp, Day 2

The second Commenting Boot Camp assignment is to include a personal story in a comment. This opportunity led me to find an interesting analysis of fantasy literature types from Steven Atwood, and I’ve posted a comment on how those types could apply to Gray Metal Faces.

In order to show the imaginative power of my fencing team members (fencers are the most creative people I’ve ever met), I’ve included some short fantasy sequences, framed as dreams or hallucinations. Rune seeing an image of a Sea Goddess in the northern lights; Annie being visited by the spirit of her ancestor; The Bird dreaming the team enters the world of “Hamlet.” Unfortunately I haven’t been satisfied with most of the fantasies I’ve drafted so far; perhaps thinking in terms of the categories Steven identified will be of help as I revise those sequences.

Today’s assignment also came with a link to a very useful article on commenting etiquette.

Commenting Boot Camp, Day 1

The inaugural assignment for Blogging University’s Commenting Boot Camp is to post comments on three new blogs:

  • Andra Watkins pays tribute to the memory of a friend who made people feel like they mattered
  •  Jordan Rogers at The Politics of Writing reflects on those things that bring him enjoyment
  • Over at The Manic Years, a harrowing account of a mind suffering under the influence of bad energy

Fighting for Her Brother’s Freedom

Mark Aldrich, The Gad About Town, frequently uses his blog to highlight human rights abuses across the globe, such as the case of  Hussein Abu Al-Khair, a Jordanian man currently facing a death sentence in Saudia Arabia over what appears to be fabricated charges. Mark’s columns are well researched and informative, and are written with a tone of controlled urgency that engages rather than enrages.

His blog also features a Today in History column that, rather than a nostalgic indulgence, demonstrates his fondness for trivia, a distinctive trait of an active, curious mind. The occassional short story or poem can also be discovered on this delightful blog.

Madness

A succinct, powerful commentary on the United States presidential election by Paul F. Lenzi, who describes himself as “an old school, conservative, flag waving, spirited patriot.” That’s exactly how my late parents and grandparents thought of themselves, and I’d like to think they’d share my disgust with The Fraud, the man who will likely become one of just two people with any chance of becoming the most powerful person in the world this November. (And for the record, I’m not a fan of the other likely candidate either, but the threat she represents is not nearly so dire.)

I hate the argument that dismisses comparisons of The Fraud to Hitler and Mussolini, simply because he isn’t assassinating his enemies and his followers aren’t goose-stepping in the streets. Continental European fascism, with its brutish displays of power and appeals to eugenics, is too antithetical to Anglo-American traditions to be anything more than a fringe movement in the United States. I believe it was George Orwell, writing in the 1930s, who claimed that English fascism would only come to power if it smiled rather than snarled. It’s the same sentiment expressed by Albert Brooks’ character in the 1987 film Broadcast News:

What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he’s around? Come on! Nobody is going to be taken in by a guy with a long, red, pointy tail!  . . .  He will be attractive! He’ll be nice and helpful. He’ll get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation. He’ll never do an evil thing! He’ll never deliberately hurt a living thing… he will just bit by little bit lower our standards where they are important. Just a tiny little bit. Just coax along flash over substance. Just a tiny little bit.

I honestly believe The Fraud, should he somehow win the presidential election this fall, would be an existential threat to this country. A friend this week told me she feared The Fraud would start World War III, implode the national economy, or get assassinated were he elected; I replied that all three disasters would be near certainties. His presidency would be catastrophic, and the United States would at the end of his term be a dispirited, broken nation, as emotionally devastated as a parent watching their children being executed. I’m semi-serious here — The Fraud must be stopped, must be sent back to hosting his crappy television show, to losing money over his failed business deals, to pitching his mediocre brand of products. We can’t be cosigners to his fifth bankruptcy.

Sorry for the political rant, my friends, but this sentiment just had to come out at some point. And I’m doubly sorry for diverting attention from Paul F. Lenzi’s fine blog.

The Point Of Living

Peter Wells, of the countingducks blog, is a proficient author of short fiction. Each of his stories exists independent of the others, and while they are typically only a few hundred words long they never leave the reader asking what’s next — the writing is precise and focused, providing a thorough examination of a concept or character while also being consistently entertaining, with the occassional clever line that never seems forced or overbearing.

His About page is worth reading on its own, and contains its own little gems —  Life soon passes, my skin attests to that.

His latest story, The Point of Living, is the first-person narrative of an unnammed man who follows numerous paths to personal fulfillment, each of which leads to a dead end. Over two decades of this man’s life is summarized in just a handful of paragraphs (approximately two mouse clicks are required to traverse from beginning to end, your exact effort a function of  screen resolution), and at the conclusion the narrator is as uncertain as ever, yet somehow in exactly the place where he’s most comfortable. Like most of Peter’s stories, it provides an image that lasts far longer than the time required to read this clever little fable.

Between the World and Me

Another personal first — reading a book to prepare for an upcoming comic book series.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, the winner of last year’s National Book Award for Nonfiction, is partly a response to the killings of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and other unarmed black Americans. None of their slayers were convicted of a crime (most were never taken to trial), but Coates doesn’t revisit the details of these killings or lay blame on the exonerated, most of whom he does not name. He takes a broader view instead, arguing their deaths were just the latest development in a long history of violence against black Americans. His focus is on the destructive power of institutional racism, much in the tradition of Alex Haley’s The Autobiography of Malcom X, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, and Richard Wright’s Native Son. Like these other authors, Coates highlights distrubing and shameful truths about American society in a thorough, almost scholarly manner, with an understated tone of righteous anger. This narrative, however, is framed in an extended letter from Coates to his son, bringing a tone of genuine affection that doesn’t dismiss the ugliness the author sees in the world, but does provide a reason for continuing to struggle against that ugliness.

The audiobook is read by the author, which from my experience doesn’t work well; I once listened to an elderly William Golding read his wonderful Lord of the Flies, and the experience can only be described as painful (the sniffing — dear Lord, the sniffing). Authors are rarely good readers, and Coates’ performance certainly lacks the polish that a professionally trained vocal performer could have provided. Yet the author’s voice is filled with a passion that comes from addressing his son nearly continually; his delivery may not be pefect, but not even a perfect actor could hope to emulate the power of his conviction, making the author’s decision to read his own work a wise one.  

Percentages Of Knowing Stuff

Just signed up to participate in next week’s Commenting Bootcamp from The Daily Post. Posting intelligent comments is an important part of the development plan for my blogging career, and I expect to learn a few valuable lessons next week. I also expect to review some content I already know, which has inspired me to create the following guide to the Percentages of Knowing Stuff. This information is based on decades of both formal and informal learning experience, and while it is supported by absolutely zero scientific or statistical evidence, I insist on its accuracy, especially the percentages:

  • Category 1: stuff I already know, and really don’t need to hear again (approximately 8.65% of total course content)
  • Category 2: stuff I already know, but need to keep hearing until I actually start doing it (approximately 22.18%); assuming I’m actually paying attention this time, this knowledge will be migrated to Category 1 
  • Category 3: stuff I already know, but didn’t know that I already knew it (approximately 46.93%); this knowledge will certainly be migrated straight to Category 1
  • Category 4: stuff I don’t know, and wish I’d known sooner  (approximately 10.30%); this knowledge will also be immediately migrated to Category 1
  • Category 5: stuff I don’t know, but won’t think is important until several months later, when I may or may not remember it (approximately 11.94%); this knowledge will be immediately migrated to Category 2

A Cut to the Head of Hatred

Ibtihaj Muhammad. You could be seeing her name a lot in the coming months.

Muhammad is a member of the US national fencing team. Already a gold-medal winner at international tournaments, she will be competing in this summer’s Rio Olympics, and hopes to win a medal in sabre.

This picture helps explain why she’s not just another Olympian . . .

That scarf covering her head, my friends, is a hijab. Muhammad is Muslim, and in accordance with her faith wears a hijab at all times (except when confronted by ignorant conference security personnel), even when competing; the fact that fencers are completely covered in safety equipment, making the hijab neither a hindrance nor distraction, is actually one of the reasons fencing initially appealed to her. And this slender Muslim woman, with the thousand-kilowatt smile and fierce competitive desire, will be the first American to compete at the Olympics wearing a hijab — and will likely find herself in the middle of a volatile national conversation.

The United States of America is about to have a fierce, ugly, potentially violent debate about Islam. It will be sadly similar to our past battles over civil rights, communism, and slavery. A response to the massacres at San Bernardino and Fort Hood will be demanded, and the First Amendment of the Constitution will be recited like an ineffectual spell cast against our fears. The person who is likely to become one of just two people with any realistic chance at becoming our Commander in Chief next January has already advocated, without feeling the need for apology, a national register of Muslim Americans and closing our borders to Muslim visitors. We will be reminded of the time United States citizens were imprisoned for the crime of their ancestry, and argue over whether our government was right to apologize forty years later for that act. We will re-learn the definition of habeus corpus while recalling how The Great Emancipator rescinded that right.

And more than once, as our national political conventions close and we turn our attentioned towards the Rio Olympics, Muhammad will likely be asked to remove her hijab, for some bogus reason. We respect your religious practices, but . . . just don’t wear the hijab when you’re competing, or during performances of the Star Spangled Banner. It will prove your loyalty, demonstrate you’re not a threat, show respect for the victims of terrorism. It’s for the good of your religion, and your country — it’s just the right thing to do.

Don’t think those arguments are going to win her over:

I’ve never questioned myself as an American and my position here. This is my home. This is who I am. My family has always been here. We’re American by birth, and it’s a part of who I am and this is all that I know. So when I hear someone say something like, “We’re going to send Muslims back to their country,” it’s like, “Well, where am I going to go? I’m an American.”

Sabre fencers don’t defend, they attack, and I expect Ibtihaj Muhammad will confront our national fear of Islam like the sabre fencer she is. She’ll respond to pleas for “doing the right thing” with two quick steps forward, closing within striking distance before her inquisitors realize she’s even moved, slicing with her silver-thin blade straight to the head (in sabre, hitting the head is not only valid but expected and, judging by the reaction of most sabrists I know, welcomed) and striking with the fury of justice. And I also expect that she, in accordance with section t.87.3.a of the USA Fencing rulebook, will follow each of her upcoming bouts against fear, ignorance and hatred, by stepping back, taking off her mask, and saluting her opponent . . .

And flashing that thousand-kilowatt smile from beneath her red-white-and-blue hijab.