Today's Topic



April Notes

Natalia J. Garland

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Notes are tough to write, even though I relish the creative challenge. Today's Notes are only the fifth installment I have written since 2005 (and I have been writing essays since 2001). I had planned to write Notes, over time, for every month. That is not going to happen, however, because my intention is to cease writing essays by the end of 2010 and start a new project.

Notes began as a way to compile some of my essay topics that that were never completed. I took the core ideas and tried to condense the material (ideally) into just one, two, or three paragraphs per topic. It was a time-saving technique and it enabled me to use material which somehow was not coming together in essay form. It also presented me with a different conception of creativity. It required that I stretch my ability to structure language and develop meaning.

When I began writing essays for the web, nobody was writing blogs. E-mail and chat rooms were popular, but blogs had yet to evolve. If you wanted to run your own website, you had to learn H.T.M.L. Anyway, Notes afforded me an opportunity to be bloggish without actually producing a blog. But, I discovered that bloggish writing was less satisfying to me than essay-writing. I need space. I need words to clarify other words. I need introductions and conclusions, and a theme woven in between. So, accordingly, included in today's Notes are some thoughts about the impact of texting and tweeting on the English language and good writing.

Typewriters are not dinosaurs
When I walked into my local office supply store and saw two typewriters for sale, I thought I had stepped back into the 1970's. I have not used a typewriter since I was in college, and I did not know they were still being manufactured. I thought they had become as extinct as dinosaurs. I still own a word processor, which I regard as perfect for just plain typing, but I do not even remember what happened to my old typewriter (which was made from metal rather than plastic).

Who would buy a typewriter? I suspect there are some older people who still feel more confident with a typewriter than with a computer. Although I think it would be a disadvantage not to be able to cut, copy, and paste, computer screens are hard on the eyes. If an older person still had nimble fingers but had poor eyesight, and if they only wanted to write and not access the internet or play games, then a typewriter would be a sensible purchase. Also, a typewriter is much less expensive (both models were under $150), and you do not have to buy virus protection software. Maybe I should go back to the store and get one.

Vice President Biden's choice of words
On March 23, 2010, as President Obama and Vice President Biden were announcing the passage of the healthcare bill, Biden shook Obama's hand and said into his ear: "A big f---ing deal." How do we know this? Biden had left his microphone turned on. There are three reactions that I have to Biden's use of vulgar language.

First, although I recognize that language(s) is always changing (vocabulary words, pronunciation, even the rules of grammar), I find it reprehensible that the most hostile curse word was used by a high-ranking elected official. Apparently, Biden was quite comfortable using the f-word with Obama. One would expect, publicly, more sophistication from our highest leaders.*

Now, at the risk of contradicting myself, I will venture that not all curse words are equally foul or totally taboo--depending on the circumstances. Certain curse words are used to express intense frustration or anger, or sometimes to emphasize a point. It enables some people to release or calibrate emotional pressures. However, it can have a negative effect on people within hearing range of the curse words, especially children or subordinates: it creates an atmosphere of tension or toxicity. When curse words are used to express hostility or contempt, then it becomes verbal abuse. Personally, I do not curse--I do not believe in it. It is a lifestyle choice. However, I will make a Jimmy Carter confession: I have sinned my heart. Occasionally, I have given mental consent to a curse word within my own mind.

Unfortunately, curse words and other vulgar expressions have become habitual for some people. There are people who do not just utter the occasional or rare expletive, but who daily intermix curse words into their conversation. In that regard, the f-word is especially flexible because it can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, and adverb. You could use the f-word several times in the same sentence without even realizing, for example, that you had switched its usage from noun to adjective and back again. Despite its being common, it is still the most hostile, shocking, and vulgar curse word.

Second, Biden's use of the f-word showed a lack of respect for the Office of the President. Even if Obama was not offended, that is not the way to speak to the President of the United States in an official context. Now, at the risk of sounding sexist, I think men still use language differently from women. If Obama and Biden have a familiarity with each other in the backrooms of the Capitol, and if they want to talk macho with each other, then I suppose that is their prerogative. If they ever visited me in my home, however, they would not be allowed to talk that way. And, I do not want to hear them talk that way on television. It is degrading. What poor role modeling for America's youth!

Third, Biden's use of the f-word seemed to express an attitude of arrogant triumphalism regarding the passage of the healthcare bill. There seemed to be an us-against-them attitude. Again, the f-word is the ultimate expression of hostility. Biden could have said, "Congratulations, Mr. President," or "Good work, sir." If the healthcare bill was truly on behalf of the American people--and not a desperate and stubborn attempt at personal victory over Republicans and not an expansion of government power and control--then the reaction would have been one of happiness rather than what seemed an indirect expression of contempt for the opposition and the people.

Favorite things
(1) Petunias provide a beautiful winter treat in the Desert Southwest. While other areas of the country are covered in snow (and I like snow), the flower-planting season is underway in the desert. Not every flower is adaptable to desert conditions, even in our mild winters, but petunias are hardy plants. I planted some petunias last mid-October and they just finished their lifespan at the end of March. However, petunias are still available at the nurseries. So, I bought another batch of these multi-colored marvels. They are doing well, but the weather is getting hotter each week--I hope they continue to thrive.

(2) There are many educational DVD's available nowadays, some of which are reasonably priced. I can watch these DVD's over and over, and never get tired of them. There is a lot to learn, and it also inspires me to do more reading in areas which are not my specialty. I have DVD's on American history, ancient civilizations, animals and wildlife, and the planetary system. And, I am collecting more as my budget permits. I think what makes educational DVD's especially valuable is that they are suitable for homeschooling. As hardcore liberalsim and extreme multiculturalism continue to define our worldview, however, it might be wise to purchase some of the older programs while they are still available. Even now, you have to be careful regarding bias toward history (revisionist history) and the creation of the earth (the unnecessary divisions between reason, science, and faith).

On my bookshelf
Probably everyone has a fascination for some other time and place. I have always been intrigued by ancient Egypt and the Medieval Ages: two very different but amazing periods of time. I happened to find two books on these cultures that provide me with reading for pure pleasure. Then, getting back to our world's current problems, I will also discuss a document on the economic crisis.

(1) Temples, Tombs, & Hieroglyphics, by Barbara Mertz. This book is a popular history of Egypt. In other words, it is not academically technical, but accurate and enjoyable for the average reader. Mertz combines her keen intellect with creative expression. And, there are pictures! Mertz has also written a lot of fiction--another new world of literature that I can look forward to in the years ahead.

(2) Historia del Rey Transparente, by Rosa Montero. This book is written in Spanish. It is very difficult to find Spanish language books in America's major bookstores--that is, books written originally in Spanish and by native Spanish-speakers. The majority of Spanish language books are translations of popular American fiction, most of which I do not read even in English. Although I am not fluent in Spanish, having studied it later in my life, I find it a great pleasure to be able to read in Spanish. My main foreign language is French. Even though my French gets rusty from time to time, it still feels natural--like English. I can think in French. I cannot think in Spanish and probably never will.

Montero lives in Spain, has written other novels, and is a newspaper reporter. Historia del Rey Transparente takes place in the 12th century, and is nicely written at an intermediate level of modern Spanish. If you took a year of college-level Spanish, and if you have a good dictionary and verb book, and if you have the desire, you could probably read this novel which offers just enough challenge to make it a learning experience. Montero won Spain's Que Leer award for this novel in 2005.

(3) A Roadmap for America's Future, by Representative Paul D. Ryan (R-WI). This document, Version 2.0, is 87 pages in PDF form and was written in January 2010. It is "A Plan to Solve America's Long-term Economic and Fiscal Crisis," and is an alternative to Obama's policies. Part of the Roadmap suggests a new route to Social Security benefits. Although Ryan wants to ensure the continuation of Social Security for future generations, part of this plan involves the incremental raising of the retirement age: not to exceed the age of 70. This will not affect anyone currently aged 55 or over, but will apply only to the younger generations.

Allow me to respond by admitting that I deeply resent the retirement age already having been raised from 65 to 66/67. I feel cheated, defrauded; victimized by own government. I have always loved my work, but I was also planning my retirement. The prospect of an extra year or two is sufficient, after many years of schooling and working, to prompt re-appraisal of retirement goals. Depending on one's working environment and on the type of work, the added stress of staying on the job until age 70 (or 67) could become a burden for some people. Age 70 is already old age. Five good years--now 65 to 67 and later possibly to 70--would be lost. As you get older, time is precious. If you still have unfulfilled dreams, the retirement segment of your life is your only hope for final fulfillment. For those under 55, take heed and live your life with double carpe diem.

Allow me to add just a short, poignant, extra note: my good neighbors, who were in their late 70's, died of cancer a year apart from each another. If they had retired at age 70, that would have given them seven or eight years of leisure--and a portion of that span would have been consumed with suffering and medical treatments.

Cell phones, script-writing, and acting
Although my age might be showing, as it sometimes does, I remember when movies and television shows were written without the inclusion of cell phone conversations--because cell phones had not been invented yet. There were scenes in which an actor or actress would be talking on the telephone, but they were often written as real monologues which required talent and the memorization of lines in order to perfect. Shakespeare wrote a lot of monologues: it was an art to write them as well as to deliver them on stage, and they were an integral part of the whole performance.

The cell phone interspersions in current script-writing, however, are frequent and mundane. They add nothing to the artistic value of drama and acting. It is like listening to someone talk on their cell phone in the supermarket: my reaction ranges from annoynance to who cares?! It is not entertaining or meaningful to listen to numerous cell phone interspersions in a television series. At most, they might help to carry the plot forward, to put events into sequence, but they are overly used, poorly done, and boring.

The problem seems to be one of duplicating real life in a script as opposed to artistically portraying real life. Cell phones are a reality--it might appear phony (pun intended) if they were eliminated from a script. However, cell phone conversations are not conducive to good drama. The challenge is to insert them in such a way that they add interest to the story.

Offhand, I recall an actress who was particularly adept at doing old-fashioned telephone monologues: Patricia Routledge in her role as Hyacinth in the British series, Keeping Up Appearances. She was masterful at captivating her audience using only her talent and one prop--her slimline telephone.

Cell phone users are possibly using their phones more for texting nowadays than for phone calls. I read that the average American cell phone user sends 584 texts per month. I have not really seen much texting in television shows. How boring to watch someone texting! Does anyone remember when personal computers first went on the market? Remember those big, beige, bulky monitors and rickety keyboards? In those days, some television script-writers began to include computers in the story. Usually, someone would be trying to locate secret or deleted files, and the camera would zoom on the computer monitor--as though to involve you in the process and make you feel like you really were getting inside information. It was a waste of film and a poor substitution for the arts of acting and photography. Give me Shakespeare's soothsayers any day.

Tweeting and language usage
What can you say, and how can you say it, in 140 words or less? I just recently joined Twitter [mynatalia2010]. This is my first attempt to undertake a project beyond my website. Most people use Twitter to give brief messages or to provide links to other articles on the internet. There seem to be a few people, however, who use Twitter to write poetic messages. Tweeting can be used for quick, up-to-date communication, or for artistic expression if you exert your creativity.

My tweets are sort of free-verse poems. Since Twitter allows only 140 letters per message, including spaces and punctuation, it requires effort to compose a succinct yet complete message. I try to avoid using e-mail or text lingo--you know, ur for you are, or b4 for before. To me, the challenge is to stay within the measured format (however arbitrary) and to use standard English and to make it work. Sometimes, I use only a single space after periods in order to have more spaces available for a short word. It is a pleasant challenge: not too easy, but not too difficult.

Tweeting in Spanish
While browsing Twitter, I noticed there are many people tweeting around the world and in different languages. For example, Newt Gingrich is tweeting in Spanish now [GingrichEspanol]. I have always thought that conservatives should make their views available in Spanish. No, I do not think we should be a bilingual English/Spanish nation. But, it is a reality that there are many Spanish-speakers in America, some of whom speak no or very little English. Whether these people are here legally or illegally--it does not matter for the purpose of informing them of conservative views. Without a conservative voice in Spanish, this segment of the population can only listen to (and believe) the hardcore liberal and radical voices.

Tips on how to read a novel in a foreign language
This is how I approach a novel. It works for me; maybe it will help you, too. (1) Remember that reading does not require good listening or speaking skills. It only requires a knowledge of grammar and a grasp on pronunciation. Even if you cannot easily understand people who speak, let's say Italian, you can still enjoy reading a novel in Italian.

(2) Begin by skipping around the novel, reading the easiest paragraphs or pages first. This will give you some confidence. Do not approach the novel rigidly: reading from page one and straining your way through to the end. This can make language a miserable experience and prompt you to give up. Relax. You are in charge. (3) Next, get out your dictionary and verb book. Go back over the difficult paragraphs and pages. Look up the words you do not know and figure out the verb conjugations. Work at your own pace. Even if you master only one paragraph every couple of days: that is an accomplishment to be proud of and to build on.

(4) Then, read one chapter from beginning to end. If this goes well, continue with another chapter (in order or out of order, whatever you prefer). Or, repeat the same chapter until it flows smoothly. (5) Finally, read the entire novel, in order, from beginning to end. At this point, it will feel almost like reading English. Enjoy.

Salt ban
Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) wants to ban salt in restaurants. He introduced Bill A10129 on March 5, 2010, the purpose of which is to prohibit restaurant cooks and chefs from using salt in food preparation. How can Ortiz possibly enforce such a ban? Will President Obama appoint a Salt Czar? Are Americans really going to legalize marijuana and outlaw salt? What about alcohol and tobacco? Is Ortiz saying that Americans can have a martini before dinner and a cigarette afterwards, but no salt in their beef stroganoff?

Since I seem to be looking at bygone days in today's essay...I remember a type of bagel which was known as a salt bagel. You could buy them in real Jewish bakeries. They were a water bagel, or a plain flour bagel (not an egg bagel), with coarse salt sprinkled on the top (sort of like a pretzel). Delicious. I have not seen this type of bagel in a long time. Maybe they are no longer available. If I ever find one again, maybe I will send it to Ortiz--then maybe he will change his mind about the salt ban.

Catholic kids not invited to White House
Only public school children were invited to the White House Easter Egg Roll (scheduled for April 5th). There were 3,000 reserved tickets spread among 11 public schools in the D.C. area. Many other tickets were available through a lottery system which was open to Catholic and other private school children both inside and outside the D.C. area. Could Obama's focus on public schools and omission of private schools not be interpreted as a pursuit of federal control? If you are a kid in the public school system, which is already an arm of the government, then you get preferential treatment.

There was apparently no explanation from the White House regarding their omission of Catholic children from the reserved ticket list. The White House Easter Egg Roll is taxpayer funded, and the parents of Catholic school children pay taxes. Let us remember that President Obama also ended the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program which provided private school vouchers for low-income and minority children. I wonder how the University of Notre Dame--the Catholic university that awarded Obama an honorary degree--feels about this. I wonder how the Easter Bunny feels about this.

As I said, writing Notes are difficult for me. The proof is that some of my categories today nearly turned into short essays. (Written 04/05/10: bibliography available.)

[*ADDED NOTE 1: It appears that President Obama indeed approves of vulgar cursing in public. When he recently gave a speech in Columbus, Ohio, commenting on the number of road projects made possible by the Recovery Act, he said this was a "" Obama paused between big and deal, which could only have been in reference to Biden's "big f---ing deal." This reference, combined with Obama's recent remark about kicking -ss, seems to indicate an immature attitude and a lack of respect for voters.] (Written 06/22/10)

[*ADDED NOTE 2: Yesterday, on July 21, 2010, the White House Official Twitter Account [], posted the following: "A Big Deal: Obama signs Wall St Reform..." Again, this appears to be further evidence of a lack of civility toward the public. Of course, A Big Deal (notice the upper case letters) had to refer to Biden's "big f---ing deal." Instead of reprimanding Biden, the White House seems to have turned this vulgarity into the rebellious motto of hope-and-change politics.] (Written 07/22/10)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2010 Natalia J. Garland