You Use That Type Of Language?

It’s been a while since I complained about the English language. Now’s as good a time as any. Some of this I’ve said before, but all of it bears repeating. So here now are my nits to pick with the English language.

  • English teachers, stop telling students you can’t end sentences with a preposition or split infinitives. Those are Latin rules. Last I checked, English was not a Latin-based language, in which it’s impossible to end sentences with prepositions or split infinitives. In English, of course, it’s possible. “To boldy go…” Guess what? That’s legit. And the whole preposition thing is a linguistic myth up with which I will no longer put.
  • Singular “they” – Unless you can come up with a better gender-nonspecific noun that “it,” which screams “inanimate object,” you’re going to have to give up any and all objections to singular they. Or you have to go back to using “thee” and “thou” as “you” is technically second-person plural. But please don’t use “thou.” It’s annoying.
  • Why is the word “shit” on the banned list? You can say “feces,” “poop,” and “crap” with impunity, but somehow, “shit” is supposed to be bleeped and banned. Who made up that shit? Let’s be honest. “Poop” actually is more gross than “shit.”
  • Our phones now have touchpad keyscreens. They have full keyboards. Time for txtspeak to die. Even my stepson, who insisted I needed to learn 133tspeak thinks it’s pretty lame now. You can type full sentences. It won’t kill you.
  • I love the concept of “It is what it is.” I’m sick of the phrase.
  • Advertisers: The only kind of gifts are free gifts. Drop the free. Seriously. It looks stupid.

The Cars They Are A-Changing

Right now, the guys I envy the most are the ones converting their cars over to fully electric. It’s a throwback to the 1930’s-1960’s when young men would get under the hoods of their cars and try to improve on what Detroit shipped them. But even in the 70’s and 80’s, when you had to, you could get into an engine and do what needed to be done.

Out walking the trail Sunday morning, I noticed the cars parked along Riverside and Eastern and at the Sky Galley at Lunken Field. They’re all front-wheel drives, with the odd Mustang or Charger running rear-wheel. Those cars, like the Neon I’ve driven for the past three years, aren’t very friendly to modification or do-it-yourself work. Even changing oil is a pain. And tune-ups?

Good luck with that. I no longer have the ratchets needed to get at the plugs in today’s engines. If I did, I’d still be driving my father’s 2000 Taurus.  Ziggins owns it now. Ziggins worked on cars in the 1990’s and still has some of the tools I can’t justify buying now.

Back in the eighties, when I was too broke to do anything but dream, I wanted very much to buy and restore an old muscle car. Likely a Plymouth or Dodge from the late sixties. One of my uncles swore by Chrysler (which he hasn’t really done since that idiotic merger with Benz), so I would have a lot of input on how to go about it and what parts I should have used. As it was, I spent most of the late eighties and very early nineties trying to keep really cheap beaters running.  And it wasn’t hard. Open the hood, and everything you needed to get at was there. If you had a four- or six-cylinder vehicle, so much the better. The sixes were some of the best engines to run and to work on. Chrysler’s inline six had a slanted block that put everything you could possibly work on right at your fingertips. It also had the advantage of blocking water from shorting out the electrical system.

The cars I least liked working on – and ironically the cars I like best these days – were Fords. Fords needed special transmission flood, put metal tubes in the way of fluid dipsticks, and leaked oil like sieves. Mind you, this was back in the days when Detroit somehow forgot how to build a proper car, from about 1973 through the early nineties.

Even the first foreign cars I owned – an old Datsun I bought off my ex-brother-in-law and a Toyota Corolla – were easy to work on. Both were built in the mid-eighties, the heyday of the Japanese car.  Now?

It’s hard to find anything. You can’t rig anything to work when it breaks because everything is computerized.

But the guys trying to get ahead of the electric curve, they’re the new hot rodders, the tinkerers. The technology is new, like it was early in the last century. Had I the money and the time, I’d probably be trying to convert the Neon.  Just for the helluvit.

States Rights And Wrongs

I’ll be honest. I’m not a big fan of states’ rights. Yes, it’s a huge component of the conservative mindset these days, but whenever talk of government abuse of the little guy comes up, I think of my own experiences. And in my experience, the State of Ohio has done more to screw me over than the federal government has ever done.

And history seems to be on my side. Go all the way back to the dawn of the Constitution. Originally, they were looking for a way to shore up or augment the Republic’s original constitution, the Articles of Confederation. Why? Well, it’s all well and good to make sure the central government doesn’t do to the former colonies what the British Parliament did. The trouble is, some states decided that, since we didn’t have a central government worth mentioning, they didn’t need to pony up for their share of the Revolution. Rhode Island seemed to be the worst offender.

When the dust settled, they came up with the Constitution. While states were carefully considered when it was written, the idea was to make sure the states couldn’t screw each other over.

Then we come to the Civil War. What was the Civil War about? Well, let’s be honest here. No matter which argument you take, pro or con on secession, the bottom line is that the states of the Confederacy wanted the right to essentially consider a large portion of their population as property. Now you can scream nullification (not even in the Bill of Rights) or secession is the right of a state (Sorry. The original Articles of Confederation are still in effect where they do not contradict the Constitution. Otherwise, there is no Constitution. And the Articles explicitly bar secession.), but would the Civil War really have happened if the slavery issue had been resolved by 1850?

No, not really.

I could go on and on, but where the states as entities fell down was in the post-New Deal era, when they decided to use the federal budget to augment parts of their own budgets. What happens when you start asking your sugar daddy in Washington for money? Sugar Daddy is going to want something in return.

So is the federal government getting too large?

Well, yes, but the real problem is the people in Columbus and Trenton and Sacramento and Albany and so on have dropped the ball. Ohio, in particular, has not been about attracting business, shoring up citizens’ rights, or keeping residents in the state for a very long time. What has Columbus’s priorities been for the last thirty years? Bogus tax bills. Taxpayer funded swag decking out state legislators office. A high-speed rail line that goes a whopping 39-miles an hour.

As a result, Ohio is losing population, losing jobs, and losing representation. California is borderline bankrupt. Texas is talking secession. (Probably won’t happen in any relevant time frame, but still…)

So, if you’re central government is bloated and your states are anemic, what’s to be done?

A few things.

  • The original first amendment was intended to reduce the size of Congressional districts so that representatives would be able to interact with constituents better. That amendment is still on the table. It needs to be passed. Sure, it means that there would be over 2000 members of the House of Representatives, but so what? My congresswoman represents a district that stretches from I-75 to the West Virginia border. Do you honestly think she represents my interests? She represents Clermont County, where she lives, quite nicely, but that’s a whole ‘nother world.
  • Open up the elections to third parties. The rules for getting on the ballot in most states are rigged so that only the Libertarian Party gets on. Most serious libs I know are Republican.
  • Decide now – there are fifty governors, they can huddle amongst themselves to do this – if America is one big nation, which we do a good job at, or if it’s more like the European Union, a collection of independent states. Either system works, and both are in keeping with the Constitution, but the question not only has to be addressed, it needs to be periodically revisited.
  • Make the cabinet-level departments reactive, which would require states to be proactive. Sure, there should be federal policies on education, energy, interior, and so on.  But the model used to amend the Constitution should be used here. Three-fourths of states adopting a program or similar programs or policies is a reasonable threshold for nationalizing it.

It’s not perfect, but it beats the hell out of some moron on 24-hour cable pretending to be a serious pundit while he or she is busy scaring the hell out of you to sell books or gold-buying schemes.

My Town Monday: Opening Day, 2011

It’s Opening Day once again, in Cincinnati, a High Holy Day slightly above Ash Wednesday. Which says a lot about this heavily Catholic town.

Like last year, the Reds are going back to the Big Red Machine for their Grand Marshal. Last year, it was Johnny Bench. This year, it’s going to be Joe Morgan, who played second base during the Reds’ famous run in the 1970’s.  Rather appropriate, since Joe has returned to the area with a car dealership and a position in the Reds’ front office.

As with every year, the parade begins at Findlay Market, the public market in Over-the-Rhine, makes it way southward to Fountain Square, over Ft. Washington Way (That’s I-71 through downtown for those of you just passing through), and into Great American Ball Park.

Opening Day has a strange effect on the town. While Marge Schott was embarrassing herself in the national press near the end of her tenure as Reds owner, she was a familiar and much-expected figure in the parade. Think of her as Peter Griffin’s dad. When Carl Lindner owned the team, the first President Bush made two appearances to throw out the first pitch, including the first game at Great American Ball Park (which I attended.)

The most disappointing Opening Day for me was Ken Griffey, Jr’s debut as a Red in the old Riverfront Stadium. Yes, it was great to see Junior come home to Cincinnati, but it also rained. And I got sick the next day, so I could neither go to work nor take the afternoon off to watch the rescheduled game.

For me, one of the most memorable Opening Days was a game I did not attend. In 1994, when the Reds still had most of the talent they had from the 1991 World Series win, my original hometown club, the Cleveland Indians, opened Jacobs Field. I was off work with a foot injury, and oh, damn! I had to stay home and watch baseball. This was back in the days when local TV stations still carried Major League Baseball.  (Yes, I know. WOR and WGN carry the Mets and the Cubs still. Those are exceptions.) In those days, WLWT, featuring an up-and-coming anchorman named Jerry Springer, carried the Reds. ESPN carried the Indians debut against the Arizona Diamondbacks.  I sat with my swollen foot up and iced, a six pack of Killians at my side, flipping back and forth between my American League team and my National League team.

Last year’s Opening Day came with an ominous note. Manager Dusty Baker told the team that, if they didn’t win this year, owner Bob Castellini would clean house.  The Reds took the NL Central before falling to an unstoppable Philadelphia Phillies.  This year, there’s a feeling Cincinnati sports fans haven’t felt for a while, not since Brian Kelly coached the UC Bearcats.


Opening Day this year comes early, March 31.  It’ll be chilly, but then that’s not unheard of for Opening Day.

Nor does it stop the fans from coming.

More at the My Town Monday blog.

Help Me Become A Community College Graduate!

Okay, here’s the deal. In order to get the associates I should have finished back in the 1990’s, I have to complete a capstone project. It’s simple.

By next Wednesday, I need to propose three ideas to my instructor, one of which will become my project.  I have two on my plate. The third is for writers, and that’s where some of you come in.

If you’re a working writer, you know what a pain in the ass it is to track what you have out there, what works you have in progress, and who owes you money. One of the projects I propose is an app for that, specifically a Windows-based app.

I know, I know. A lot of you are Mac heads out there, and I do want to create a version for Mac, but I don’t have the resources or the programming know-how to do that yet. (ie – I never took Java classes). But, if this project flies, I intend to go back and make version 2.0 more platform agnostic.

For now, I need writers, both for input and, if you’re working in Windows XP or Windows 7, beta testers.  And I need to know by next Wednesday (March 30, 2011, in case you come in late. At that point, ignore this.)

Writers groups in the Greater Cincinnati area are certainly welcome.  I’d be happy to come speak to your groups about participating.

So if I sell my instructor on this concept, you’ll be helping me graduate, which means you’ll be helping me get back to writing.

You’ll also guarantee my wife, who has also gone back to school, can continue sleeping with an upper classman.  (Those freshman girls!)

Crime Doesn’t Pay, But SF Takes Forever

I said I wouldn’t blog here about my science fiction efforts, but I think this topic should be an exception.

The last crime story I published did not even reach 2000 words. The last one I submitted was less than 5000. The first science fiction story I completed?

7900 words. The next one? Over 10,000.

So why is that?

Part of it is world-building. A friend of mine and I discussed this over lunch. I said I was proud of the fact I could write in a naturalistic setting. A story set on an Islamic colony looks like a slightly altered version of Chicago. The second story’s setting has more in common with The Grapes of Wrath than Star Trek. In fact, you never really do see any starships in the second story. In the first, you get a glimpse and the interior.

But then if I wrote a story set in Chicago, it would take very little for me to communicate that to you. Chicago is a huge city, like three others on this continent. It’s a Midwestern city.  And it has a lot in common probably with your hometown. New Medina and the colony of Grimauld, however, are places you will never get to see, even if someone goes out and builds them. They are both light years away. And what my protags are doing there needs some explanation.

If Nick Kepler or one of my other characters has a story to tell, it’s not a stretch to explain murder, larceny, or identity theft. Your frame of reference exists on the six o’clock news. An act of terrorism? Did you want domestic (Oklahoma City) or imported (9/11)?

But what if a suicide bomber escapes by uploading himself to the grid, a la Battlestar Galactica‘s Cylons? How about an idyllic farming community overrun by a bunch of alien berzerkers who look human enough, but show up by stealing HG Wells’ thunder?

In the case of the latter, it takes some explaining just to make the existence of the farming community believable.

I have to explain more.  And a couple of people have said to me that the novella is probably a better platform for science fiction than the short story. Then again, the first short story I ever wrote, “Race Card,” checked in at just under 7000 words. I now have little trouble writing 3000 words or less. So is it the genre? Or do I just need to get better at it?

We’ll find out.

Attention Deficit Dis- Hey, Look! A Squirrel!

My wife and my brother will read this and go, “Well, duh!”

I have the attention span of a gnat. The best way for me to pay attention to anything is to have a distraction. My mind wants to wander after a few minutes, so having someplace for it to go allows me to come back immediately. Right now, I’m writing this while watching reruns of Family Guy. When my brain says, “OK, I’ve given you a whole line. Now I’m bored,” I can just watch Quagmire’s quest to become Rhode Island’s most notorious sex offender. A few sarcastic lines from Stewie or Brian, and I’m right back to work.

Programming or writing a story is easier.  In fact, when well into a story, attention is not a problem. If anything, I’ve lost track of time or all awareness of my surroundings while writing.  Doesn’t happen often these days with my schedule, but it happens.

Programming will suck up my concentration, but it’s not as creative as writing. So I need the television. My current job is perfect. I do both development and infrastructure. So if I’m in the middle of a particularly tedious block of code, someone comes to my rescue by breaking their computer.

I’m not sure if it’s genetic or environmental. I’m pretty sure Ziggins will say I’ve always been like this. I have a tendency to go off on tangents off of tangents. It might be why I love to write. I can erase the more meandering prose (and frequently do).

I like to blame MTV. It’s what Gen X’rs do.

My Town Monday Cincinnati: The West Side

For the past month, I’ve worked in Delhi Township, on the city’s West Side. The West Side is a strange and distant land where the folk are friendly, but the customs are strange.

Actually, much of Cincinnati’s reputation comes from the West Side. Not that the East Side isn’t Cincinnati. It is. But it hosts out-of-towners like Bengals players, P&G executives, and some jackass named Winter. The West Side?

Here’s what you need to know about the West Side.

  • West Siders want to know where you went to high school. Any West Side high school will do, but Elder (Seton for girls) is the Mack Daddy.
  • Moving more than two blocks from the house where you grew up is considered moving away.
  • Moving outside the 275 Loop is considered leaving town.
  • It is Lent. Thou shalt make the fish fry every Friday night.
  • They still drink Hudey and miss Burger over on the West Side.
  • The West Side is the birthplace of Pete Rose, which, in Cincinnati, ranks slightly below Bethlehem as a high holy place. And Bethlehem only moved up because Pete bet on baseball.
  • The West Side has a seething hatred of Cleveland, despite being more like Cleveland than the East Side and Cleveland being completely unaware of anything south of Columbus.
  • The West Side is also home to the city’s oldest continuously running ferry service, the Anderson Ferry. For $10, they’ll carry you across the Ohio River to Northern Kentucky and back. (There are a few water taxis downtown, but they’re passenger-only, servicing Newport-on-the-Levee.)
  • The West Side has more independent chili parlors, including Price Hill Chili, Delhi Chili, and Camp Washington Chili.

Every large city has “the old neighborhood,” some more than others. Columbus, for instance, is wall-to-wall new, having grown from an oversized cow town to about 1 1/2 times the size of Staten Island. For Cincinnati, it’s the West Side, where old Cincinnati is still very much in evidence.

More at the My Town Monday blog.

Coming Soon!

I’ve been wanting to get started on this for a while, but real life has been busy, busy, busy. I actually had less time during unemployment than I do now.  Go figure.

Anyway, as life settles into a new routine, I’m finally getting started on getting my old short stories online.  Up first will be the first story I ever published, “A Walk in the Rain,” which was done by the fledgling Plots With Guns way back in 2001.

It’s not soup yet. I have to format the story for Kindle and for Smashwords, which means I need a Smashwords account. But the cover is done.  Here it is.

I’ll slowly release the rest of my short stories, except for the most recent ones, over the next few months. Eventually, I want to put them into a collection called The Compleat Winter.

What about Northcoast Shakedown and the Kindle edition of Road Rules?

Stay tuned.