Friday, May 22, 2015

My Red Nosed Reaction

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On May 21st NBC dedicated their primetime slots to Red Nose Day. I’d seen the $1.00 noses at Walgreens and the commercials, but I didn’t understand what it was. An hour before it hit the air, I put myself into irreverent foodie mode a tweeted that if I wanted a red nose I’d open a bottle of vodka.

From the comfort of my cozy bed, I turned the special on. My HD the screen showed Jack Black being guided, through a city in Uganda, by a 12 year old homeless boy. When the boy showed him the best garbage bins to eat from, my heart sank. When the boy begged to go home with Jack, I completely lost it and cried.

Completely embarrassed by my half assed attempt at online humor, I began thinking about the general unfairness of the world. When I treat myself to fast food, I tend to fill up and leave a few fries uneaten. It occurred to me that in a world of uneaten leftovers and gluttonous pleasure eating, NO CHILD SHOULD BE GOING HUNGRY!

I could site statistics about how many children go hungry each day. It’s been done though. We’ve all heard the numbers, clucked out tongues, and agreed it’s a damn shame. OK, it’s a damn shame. The question is, what are we going to do about it?
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At the bottom of this entry, instead of the usual links to related products, you'll find links to a few hunger related charities, including RedNoseDay.org, which you can donate to.

| RedNoseDay.org | No Kid Hungry | Save The Children | Feed The Children |
| Random Acts Of Pizza |

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What We Talk About When We Talk About Editors - A Guest Post By Jocelyn Pruemer

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A few weeks ago, I received the following message from a Karen Miranda of AutoCrit.

"I came across jameskiester.blogspot.com and wanted to contact you about providing some content for your site, or the possibility of contributing. We offer tips for creative writers, cover topics that focus on the insights into fiction writing and discuss the current landscape of publishing. I wanted to see if we could contribute an article/blog post to your site."

Without it even occurring  to me that her company makes editing software, I told her, "I'd be interested in a piece on the need for good editors & editing."  Later, I received the following piece written by Karen's colleague, Jocelyn Pruemer.
 

Jocelyn Pruemer is an integral member of the AutoCrit team and is focused on providing quality feedback to authors looking to improve the readability and polish of their book.

While the end of the piece reads a bit like a commercial, the piece does contain an interesting perspective on the value of good editing.
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What We Talk About When We Talk About Editors
 
Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Pruemer.
If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class, you’re probably familiar with Raymond Carver. The undisputed master of post-war minimalism, Carver, and his 1981 collection of stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, is unfailingly presented to every eager freshman English student as the be-all and end-all of modern American short fiction (seriously, if you were to ask my first-year creative writing teacher, he’d probably tell you there hasn’t been a book published before or since). And it’s easy to see why. His stories are spare, ambivalent, yet loaded with pathos, his prose-style is as lean as it is precise. It’s often what isn’t said in a Carver story that matters most, making the profound gut wrenching impact of his best works seem almost accidental. It wasn’t.

What they usually don’t tell you in creative writing 101 is that Raymond Carver wasn’t really Raymond Carver. Raymond Carver was really Raymond Carver AND Gordon Lish. That is to say, without Lish, his editor, Carver would have been a completely different writer. When Lish first got his hands on what would become What We Talk about When We Talk about Love, he famously whittled it down to literally half its original size. He mercilessly rearranged, deleted and rewrote line after line of Carver’s bloated prose. What is now recognized as Carver’s signature style of minimalistic gritty realism was really all Gordon Lish. Without him I think it’s safe to say that Carver’s name never would’ve warranted inclusion in the short fiction pantheon among the likes of Chekhov, Joyce and O’Connor.  Carver eventually got fed up with Lish’s rapacious editing style and severed their relationship. His writing suffered.
 
From the world-renowned author to the lowliest scribbler and everyone in-between, every single writer on the planet has one thing in common: the need for a good editor. I don’t care if your medium is the bildungsroman, the blog or the bible tract, if you don’t have someone you can trust checking your work along the way, it probably isn’t worth reading.
 
Unfortunately for most of us, especially fiction writers, editors can be difficult to come by. As an amateur novelist, poet, short story writer etc. your options for an extra set of eyes are usually few. Maybe you have a couple of friends or a spouse who’s willing to read your work, which is always nice, but they love you, and don’t want to hurt your feelings, so it can be difficult to tell whether or not they’re being as brutally honest as you need them to be. Writing workshops tend to be more helpful in this regard, but they too usually lack the cold Gordon Lishian disregard for your ego that makes for a good editor. So unless you have a book deal, or are willing and able to pay a ridiculous sum of money to hire a freelance editor, you’re pretty much on your own.

This is why I’ve found online editing applications so essential. All you have to do is enter in your manuscript and in seconds it scans the entire thing and picks it apart with the machine-like precision you look for in a good human editor. It finds and highlights the usual problems any decent creative writing instructor will warn you about (e.g. adverbs, clich├ęs, passive voice indicators, repetitive phrases, etc.) making it easy for you to hunt down your errors and make the necessary corrections. There are a few great one’s out there, but I’d have to say that AutoCrit tops the list because of its ‘Compare to Fiction’ feature which will automatically compare your writing to a massive database of successful published authors so you can see how your own work stacks up—which is sort of intimidating, but also quite helpful.

Unlike your best friend, or your workshop partners, or even the Gordon Lishes of the world for that matter, AutoCrit and its digital contemporaries don’t miss a single thing. For better or worse all of your amateurish flaws are accounted for, quantified and reflected back at you in brilliant Editor’s Pen Red. Of course, unlike a Gordon Lish, these applications will not go ahead and make the changes for you, leaving the difficult and unsavory task of killing your babies entirely to you. So while an editing application certainly can’t take the place of a professional editor, it can still do many things a human editor can’t. Which means that while it might not be able to singlehandedly mold you into the next Raymond Carver, when used in conjunction with your other resources it is an excellent tool to have in your authorial arsenal.
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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A Trend Of Violence

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Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old African American high school student, was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch coordinator for the gated community where Martin was temporarily living.  Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Eric Garner died in Staten Island, New York City, after a police officer put him in a chokehold for 15 seconds.  A grand jury decided not to indict the officers involved.

Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, was fatally shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.  The Justice Department formally closed its investigation of Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson, declining to bring criminal charges for the killing.

Most recently, Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American man who was a resident of Baltimore, Maryland, sustained fatal injuries from being shot multiple times by police officers. 

OK, Zimmerman was a civilian law enforcement wannabe, rather than an actual police officer.  However, it was his lapse in judgment, and subsequent acquittal, which, seemingly inspired, this decade’s sickest new trend, officer perpetrated crime against the public.  Granted, such abuse of power isn’t a new phenomenon.  1992 will forever be remembered as the year L.A. was torn apart following the acquittal of the officers who savagely beat, taxi driver, Rodney King.

Nevertheless, there’s no denying we’re hearing about officer on civilian violence much more often than we used to.  The question is, is it happening more often, or are we simply more aware of such events?

The tech side of me suspects that the existence of camera phones and social media has given a voice to a traditionally mute portion of the populace, making it harder for officials to sweep incidents under the proverbial rug.  Thus, it’s only our awareness of such incidents which has increased.  Of course, this explanation carries with it the unsettling implication that we’ve been blissfully unaware of the degree of oppression we’ve been living under.

Another explanation would be that the police are made up of a generation which grew up on Dirty Harry, and are more gun happy as a result.  This theory strikes me as being simple minded.  Surely, adults can differentiate between fiction and reality.

Personally, I think the explanation can be found within the realm of mathematics.  In 1974 the world’s population was 4 billion people, by 2011 that number had risen to 7 billion people.  Perhaps I’m a naive suburbanite, but I believe 99.999% of police personnel are honest hard working men & women who put their lives on the line to protect the public.  I’d argue that the percentage of officers prone to making unfortunate choices may still be minute, but because the gross number of people occupying the Earth has increased, the same minute percentage of officers prone to making unfortunate choices represents a higher number.

While math can explain the higher number of negative incidents, it doesn’t address the lack of indictments and guilty verdicts resulting from those incident.  It’s true that most of us (the public at large) don’t watch every minute of such court proceedings. Thus, there may be evidentiary factors we’re not aware of.  However, when an officer puts twelve rounds into an unarmed African-American teenager, Michael Brown, and no charges are filed, the evidentiary explanation becomes suspect.

Police, necessarily, adopt a policy of mutual support.  When they enter a potentially dangerous situation, they HAVE TO KNOW that fellow officers have their back.  Such faith becomes so ingrained in them that it becomes instinctive.  While this attitude is necessary for daily survival, it can be seen as a liability when it leads to covering for one another.  Although I have no proof such an attitude has squelched the prosecution of any of these cases, I strongly suspect this mindset to be the culprit.

The recent Baltimore riots, while destructive, have motivated officials to charge the 6 police officers, involved in Freddie Gray’s death, with crimes ranging from second-degree depraved heart murder* to voluntary manslaughter.  Millions of people will be watching to see what happens next.  Good money says, if the 6 officers are found not guilty, the public’s response will make the recent riots look like a church social.

*=(second-degree depraved heart murder holds that the suspect held a reckless disregard for another person’s life.)
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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

My Thoughts On Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao

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Boxing gloves representing Floyd Mayweather & Manny Pacquiao
Subject: Boxing gloves representing Floyd Mayweather & Manny Pacquiao | Date: 04/19/15 | Artist: James Kiester | This picture was drawn by the author of this blog. |
I'll admit it, I was wrong. I NEVER thought Floyd Mayweather & Manny Pacquiao would finalize a deal.  The powers that be have been trying to put this fight together for six years.  However, not wanting to jeopardize his undefeated record, Floyd found ways to put the kibosh on the match-up.

First he wanted Pacquiao to take a fight day drug test.  When Pacquiao refused Floyd tried to imply Manny was trying to cover up drug use.  Yet, he, undoubtedly, knew Pacquiao couldn't accept such a condition, even before he asked. Boxing insiders and aficionados understand that drawing blood on fight day can leave a boxer weak and sore, handicapping him during the fight.

Then he wouldn't sign a deal, saying he didn't want boxing promoter, Bob Arum, to get a cut of the ticket and Pay-Per-View sales.  Since Floyd would have been guaranteed a multi-million dollar purse, it's hard to picture him caring about who else got a cut. Of course, this is a guy who beat up his wife as his body guards made his kids watch, then tried to sue the jail for not allowing his personal chef to cook for him, so anything's possible.

The nonsense ended this January when Manny publicly confronted Floyd a an NBA basketball game.  The on camera confrontation lead to an all night hotel room meeting and a May 2nd fight date, with an expected pay day of $100 million for each fighter.

On May 2nd fans, with $5,000 for a cheap seat, or $90 for the Pay-Per-View, will be witness to, arguably, the most important fight to take place in the last decade.  It's on EVERYBODY's mind, and has already been analyzed by experts umpteen times.  It's the kind of fight celebrities such as Lorne Greene and Frank Sinatra used to don tuxedos to attend.

Even though it is a big fight, the price to watch it irks me.  Football fans don't have to spend major money to watch the Super Bowl on TV.  Baseball fans can watch their World Series for free.  Being the curmudgeon that I am, I've been determined not spend $90 for the Floyd vs. Manny fight.  Even if I was rich, I wouldn't reward the powers that be for nickel & diming boxing fans.


                                Photo courtesy of                               Amazon's Affiliate Program.
Luckily, my local Buffalo Wild Wings is taking $20 reservations for the fight.  I secured my $20 spot the first morning such reservations were made available.  If I wasn't the first person in Beaverton to reserve a seat, I was the second.  Granted, I'll probably drop the $70, I saved, on wings, fried pickles, and beer, but at least the money won't be going to the chiselers.

The best part of the upcoming fight, is that it proves that having a belt/title at stake isn't what makes a fight big.  OK, each boxer holds a welterweight title, and the WBC has designated a special Diamond Belt just for this fight, which makes the WBC look even more ridiculous than they already look.  People aren't focused on the belts though.  Fans simply want to see, once and for all which titan is dominant.

Each week, I try to pick a series of boxing winners in a free boxing pool/challenge. I'm taking Pacquiao in the challenge on May 2nd.  I actually think Mayweather will control the pace of the fight and win a decision. However, I can't sit there with my friends, bar food, and a beer and cheer for Floyd.  I'd rather root for Manny and take a ding on my challenge percentage.
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