Palin the Red

Ha ha!

For her part, Sarah Palin, who has lately taken to calling Obama “Barack the Wealth Spreader,” seems to be something of a suspect character herself. She is, at the very least, a fellow-traveller of what might be called socialism with an Alaskan face. The state that she governs has no income or sales tax. Instead, it imposes huge levies on the oil companies that lease its oil fields. The proceeds finance the government’s activities and enable it to issue a four-figure annual check to every man, woman, and child in the state. One of the reasons Palin has been a popular governor is that she added an extra twelve hundred dollars to this year’s check, bringing the per-person total to $3,269. A few weeks before she was nominated for Vice-President, she told a visiting journalist—Philip Gourevitch, of this magazine—that “we’re set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs.” Perhaps there is some meaningful distinction between spreading the wealth and sharing it (“collectively,” no less), but finding it would require the analytic skills of Karl the Marxist. ?

[From Like, Socialism: Comment: The New Yorker]

One Depressing Link and Three Good Videos

First up, the depressing news that America, land of the free and home of the brave, ranks 36th among nations for the freedom of the press:

The United States is ranked 36th in the world in terms of press freedom, up from 48th last year, according to a report released Wednesday by Reporters Sans Frontieres. The US is tied with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cape Verde, South Africa, Spain, and Taiwan in the 36th spot. Iceland, Luxembourg, and Norway are tied for first. Iran, China, Vietnam, Cuba, and North Korea are all featured among the ten lowest-ranked countries. [From United States Ranked 36th In The World For Press Freedom]

Now, the good news is that we have moved up in our ranking from 48 last year. Still, the fact that we aren’t even in the top ten is disconcerting.

~~~

On an entirely different note, check out this Tuvan Throat Singing Hip-Hop song video from Ralph Leighton. If you like, check out the Boing Boing post

[From Tuvan Throat-Singing Rap by Ondar, with the voice of Richard Feynman]

~~~

As much as I love Batman way more than I like Superman, and as much as I enjoyed The Dark Night, this is very funny:

And finally, some sense in a sometimes non-sensical world: Have a good weekend.

Please Don’t Look

Ostrovsy FashionI have a pet peeve. Ok, I have a number of pet peeves, but I want to share this one in particular with you today. I want actors to stop looking at each other all the damned time.

Bear with me here, it will make sense in a jiffy.

Take a moment to think back to your last argument with someone. Think back to an intensely intimate conversation with a lover, maybe when you shared a secret you never shared with anyone before. Remember that time when you were caught lying to someone you respect. Now think about how you acted in those moments. Did you look directly at the other person or did you look away? Did you evade their eyes in order to shield yourself from judgement, from seeing their anger, from the possibility of seeing their scorn and profound disappointment, or even from seeing too much love and acceptance?

If you watch yourself or others in these or similarly intense emotional moments, I think you’ll notice that people don’t always look each other in the eyes as they talk. Even in non-intense moments, pay attention to how many times you are not looking at the person with whom you are speaking.

Now, go to the theatre. Watch how many times actors look directly at each other during the most emotionally fraught moments. Even when characters have something to hide, actors will often maintain eye contact. I really, really, really hate this about a lot of “realistic” theatre productions. I’m not looking for perfect naturalism in the theatre, but I am looking for representations of what it means to be human. To put it bluntly, humans don’t stare at each other the way most actors stare at each other. Sure, it’s a small thing, but that’s the definition of a pet peeve. I guarantee, however, that if you start paying attention to this, you will see that this practice is nearly ubiquitous. By the way, it’s not the actor’s fault. Actors are supposed to pay close attention to the other actors in the scene, to use the words and tones and body language directed at them in order to respond organically. So of course actors want to keep their partner in sight. Ultimately, it is the director’s fault.1

When I go to the theatre, I am honestly hoping to experience something potent, something that will allow me to understand myself and my world in more depth than I did before the show began. That sounds all big and grandiose, but it’s really not. Chaplin’s silent films showed us something about being human that we’d never seen before—or at least never seen in that particular fashion. Comedy, clowns, satire, and parody equally as suited to revealing our humanity as are the forms of tragedy, drama, avant garde, or absurdism. So this is not about a theatre of ponderous seriousness. I am hoping for a theatre that, no matter the form, is engaged with what it means to be a human, what it means to love or to hate, what it means to laugh or to cry, what it means to tell ourselves the stories that tell ourselves who we are. For this, I need to see actors and directors paying attention to what humans do and how they do it. If a director wants the characters to look at each other directly no matter what they have to hide or how intense the emotions become, that is fine. Such a production is perfectly fine, is peachy-keen, is jim-dandy as long as the director is aware of making that choice and uses it meaningfully instead of simply being lazy or unobservant.

Getting actors to stop looking at each other is not easy. I know. Almost every show I direct I end up having to constantly work with my actors to overcome this particular ingrained habit.2 I strongly believe, however, that the effort is worthwhile and can make for a much more compelling production.

Compelling is good.

Thus endeth the diatribe . . .

  1. Really, every failure of a production needs to be laid at the doorstep of the director. Failure is different from the mistakes that happen during a show, such as flubbed lines, missed cues, etc. Mistakes are inevitable and in no way constitute failure on the part of the production. []
  2. And by “work with” I mean “nag.” []

Entropy is Easy

I waste time. Lots of it. I waste time by surfing the web, making sure I am caught up on the latest status updates on Facebook, reading blogs, watching shows on Hulu, tinkering with my computer’s desktop and settings. If there’s a television around, I am good at wasting time by channel surfing and watching nothing in particular. All in all, given that I’m not working right now and have my days free, I should be making better use of my time than I have been. Significantly better use of my time, damn it!

I have always had a great deal of trouble focusing as a writer when I don’t have my very own space to hole up inside. Even as a child, I used to love taking a large cardboard box and moving all my toys and books inside of it. My mom tells me that when I made a “den” like that I didn’t want to leave it, and that, if left to my own, I probably would have slept inside the box rather than my bed. So yeah, doing the basement living thing and not having my own space doesn’t help.

As much as that might be a valid reason for my lack of focus and productivity, it doesn’t even come close to being a good excuse. Additionally, my proclivity toward procrastination doesn’t disappear when I have my own place, my own “room with a view,” so to speak. I am trying to be more mindful of the ways in which I waste time and attempting to change my habits, especially while sitting at my computer, in order to make better use of my time. The following are a few ideas that I’m trying out or planning on implementing in the near future.

Offloading content to my iPhone

Because I want my computer to become more of a tool rather than a time-waste, I am shifting some of my daily digital consumption to my phone. To start, I’m changing my rss feed reader. While I’ve been using Newsfire (and quite liked it), there is no way to sync it with the iPhone. So last night I switched to NetNewsWire and signed up for the free account on Newsgator. This way, all my rss feeds are synced to my phone. What if I see something in my news feeds while on my phone that I want to blog about or send to someone? The app allows you to “clip” a post or email a post. If you clip it, the next time you open NetNewsReader on your phone, that post will show up in a folder called, oddly enough, “clippings.” Too often I find myself using the mental excuse that reading my news feeds is important and so I should do it whenever I have the slightest mental pause or block regarding what I’m currently working on. I hope that by shifting my news to my iPhone, I won’t give in to the digression of constantly updating news feeds.

Related to this strategy is to make sure that I have subscribed to all of my friend’s rss feeds and then deleting the bookmarks to their blogs on my Safari bookmark bar.

I just opened up Safari and deleted my Facebook bookmark. Sure, accessing it is as simple as typing “facebook” in the address bar, but I also logged out and the next time I log in will not check off the “keep me logged in box.” While I will still have to log in to create notes or post links, I can simply use my phone to keep up on my friends status and postings. The iPhone app is quite good and allows me to perform most of the functions I use on Facebook (status updates, posting photos, sending messages, chatting, reading posts) on a regular basis. Of course it remains relatively easy for me to pull up Facebook and log in and waste time, but I think that by adding some steps into the process I will become more mindful of when and why I’m going to the site. Mindful is good. the iPhone app is quite good and allows me to perform most of the functions I use on Facebook (status updates, posting photos, sending messages, chatting, reading posts) on a regular basis

Desktop Strategies

Really, if you are a Mac user and want to increase your productivity or streamline your workflow, you should take a close look at Quicksilver. I have just set up QS to act as my portal into web searches. So now, instead of opening up Safari and entering search terms, I simply invoke QS, type “goog” hit the tab key twice and enter my search terms. This isn’t about saving massive amounts of time (although it probably shaves a second or two off searching the web), but keeping my focus on task so that when the internet appears before me, it does so for a specific reason. For info on how to set this up, go here.

For several months now, I have been cultivating the habit of closing Mail and iChat in order to mitigate against random distractions. Overall, it has been helpful, but I’ve just decided—literally as I write this sentence—to move Mail off my dock. Seeing as I have Quicksilver, I can open the program just as quickly (if not more so) than using the dock icon, but I find that if I have a momentary pause in my work flow and the Mail icon is right there, staring at me as if to say “open me, open me now to see if you have new mail so you can be reassured that people like you, they really really like you.” Out of sight doesn’t really equal out of mind when it comes to checking email, but maybe it will help me check my mail less obsessively often.

The introduction of “stacks” to OS X Leopard, was a mixed bag for many people. In one of the recent updates however, Apple returned an important function that they left out originally: allowing you to “drill down” through folders to find a file. For example, here is my “In Progress” folder using the grid function: Picture 2.png The problem with this is that if I click on one of my folders, it opens in Finder and I still have to continue searching in order to find the file I want. In list view, however, Picture 1.pngI can navigate easily and directly to the file I want to open. The point here is to get to your task directly.

Of course, Spotlight can also be used to open documents directly,1 and there is no longer the need to keep myself locked to the file folder metaphor. In fact, using Spotlight, you don’t even have to remove your fingers from the keyboard to open up the proper file. I should be using it more often than I do and, starting now, will make a concerted effort to do so.

Using and learning keyboard shortcuts can be a big help. They aren’t just about accomplishing tasks faster than using the mouse or trackpad. As a writer, the less I have to take my fingers off the keys, the less distraction I have from accomplishing my immediate goal. I use keyboard shortcuts more than a lot of other people I know, but not nearly as much I as want. To use them effectively, you have practice and actually take the time to lose focus in order to learn the shortcut. In the short term, trying to learn keyboard shortcuts can be frustrating, but once you know them they can really help keep your focus on the task at hand. Focus is good. There’s a cool widget available for Macs called “xCuts” that provides a comprehensive list of shortcuts that you might find helpful.

Other Ideas

Sit up straight. Really, sit up straight. As I’ve been working on this post, I’ve been sitting at a desk, my feet on the ground and my back straight. My focus has been exponentially greater than the past few weeks when using my laptop on a futon, or reclining in a chair with my feet up.

If you find yourself losing focus, take a few deep breaths. Oxygen is good for the brain.

If you are working at a computer and need a break from the task at hand, take a break from the computer itself. Walk, stretch, read an actual book or magazine, write using a pen and paper, do something to clear your mind and refocus your energies. I don’t think reading your email or checking your blogs will be as effective for refocusing your energies as doing something that doesn’t involve a screen.

Don’t give in to distraction when you have a mental pause or block. Close your eyes, or look out the window or walk around for a moment and then work through the block. Basically, don’t let your mind trick you into relaxing instead of focusing. Otherwise you will find yourself distracted on a regular basis when your mind figures out that it can unilaterally call off your concentration with the proverbial “hey look at that shiny, shiny object/weblink/YouTube video/blogpost/LOL Cat.”

Find ways to separate your computer-as-tool from computer-as-entertainment. One idea that I just had is to set up a profile that I switch into when I know that I will be using my computer strictly for entertainment. This profile would highlight the web as well as games and media on my computer. If I could get into the habit of turning to this profile whenever I wanted to watch a movie or surf the web or basically waste time, then I might be able to be more mindful of the tool/entertainment distinction.

There are as many remedies and strategies for addressing distractions and procrastination as there are distractions and ways to procrastinate. As Merlin Mann points out in his post “Time, Attention, and Creative Work:”

Except inasmuch as it can help move aside barriers to finishing the projects that you claim matter to you, “productivity” is often a sprawling ghetto of well-marketed nonsense for people who really just need a ritalin and a hug. So, for myself, random tips and lists that aren’t anchored to solving a real-world problem for a smart but flawed adult with a mind are dead to me.

The ideas and strategies I have proposed here are definitely geared to my productivity, my creative processes. I hope, however, that some of them might be useful in your own battle against the dissipation of your time and energies. Entropy is easy. Making things is hard. I know that I need every advantage I can get in my struggle for the focus and discipline that I need as an artist and so I will try to follow the ideas I have proposed here, but I would also love to hear some of your own ideas about how to avoid wasting your time.

  1. for documents that you know the name of it is, I think, even better than Quicksilver []

What the Heck is a Drabble Anyway?

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words that is presented on Norm Sherman’s fiction podcast, The Drabblecast. Yours truly will be having his drabble, “Allergies,” published on the podcast this week. If you like listening to stories, especially stories of the weirder variety, this is a podcast you should be subscribed to, regardless of my brief contribution. Mr. Sherman has a very good reading voice, an excellent ear for sound and ambient effects, and publishes some delightfully odd tales.

The show should post this Wednesday, so head over to The Drabblecast to check it out.

You Are Not To Be Like The Hypocrites

[Cross-posted on Daily Kos]

I was sitting in a Baptist church in Maryland when I saw a spider on the pew in front of me. I was maybe 10, maybe 11 at the time and I remember thinking to myself, “if this was a poisonous spider and it bit me right now and I died, I’d go to hell because I haven’t been baptized.” Within the week, I had approached my parents, with all the gravitas of a child making a monumental decision, and told them that I wanted to be baptized. And so, sometime during the following months, I was stripped to my skivvies, dressed up in a white robe, taken out to a fount, dunked under the water and “saved.” Honestly though, I don’t remember any of the baptism, I remember the spider and the fear of hell and the thought that I would be tortured forever and ever.

By the time I was 13 or 14, however, my perspective of the world had shifted quite considerably. Nobody has a more finely honed sense of injustice than a sensitive child who is moving into adolescence. Not only do such people feel the injustices of the world, but, as they edge into their teens, they begin to burn with the self-righteousness that is inherent to all teenagers. By my early teen years, my sense of right and wrong was shocked and outraged at the notion that a being powerful enough to create a universe could be so petty as to condemn a soul to eternal damnation for simply not believing in him/it. I felt that this was a fundamentally insane proposition. If my own ethics balked at the proposition of punishment without end, how could something capable of creating a universe have less compassion than a teenage boy? The cognitive dissonance that I felt trying to accommodate what seems like emotions of jealousy, cruelty, and revenge to a supposedly “loving God” created an emotional impasse. I could either claim to be a Christian and yet not accept certain parts of the Bible (and, in fact, actively despising a god that ordered the slaughter of innocent children), or I could walk away from the whole thing.

I walked away.

Nothing in my experiences and life since has convinced me that I made the wrong choice, because, ultimately, I do not believe in the world view that is espoused by Christianity and other religions. I do not believe that there is a God.

Yet, I have a strong sense of ethics and believe myself to be a moral person. Not perfect, not angelic, but I am not a sociopath. Heck, I’m not even very mean to people I don’t like. I have survived my atheism with a strong desire for social justice, fairness, compassion, equality for all people, and peace. So I am deeply troubled that the religious leaders of this country seem so content to allow politicians to abuse the name of their God in the pursuit of material and personal success, that there isn’t a stronger backlash by religious communities against the Republican tactics of stirring up hatred and fear among their base in order to score dubious political points. I am deeply troubled that good Christians in this country stay silent while people at a Palin rally urge violence upon Obama, that they stay silent when Republicans put out patently racist material in their quest for power, or when our leaders lie, time and time again, to the American people (remember that bit in the 10 Commandments about not bearing false witness? Yes, I’m talking to you Senator McCain). I am deeply troubled when my own relatives smile away or laugh off or simply ignore the virulently anti-Christian behavior of Republicans and yet attempt to preach to me about “being saved.”

Actually, you know what? I’m more than deeply troubled. I am angry. I am angry at the hypocrisy that lies at the heart of the Republican Party in general and the McCain/Palin campaign in specific; angry at all those people who claim to follow Christ’s teachings but who pick and choose the parts of the Bible that they want to support; and I am angry at those followers of Christ who have the audacity to claim some kind of moral high ground over non-believers when they refuse to stand up or speak out against the lies and corruption and injustices that have become part and parcel of our political and government systems. While they may not always say it aloud, many religious people believe that they are better than non-believers or those from other religions. So when they act vicious and when they allow violence and corruption to grow in the name of their God, I see their failures as deeply hypocritical. Christianity (and other religions, I just happen to be most familiar with this one), is supposed to be based on a person’s actions and not just what they say. Just because someone says they believe in God, or that they are Christian, or even that they are a moral and ethical person, does not make it so. Actions, as the saying goes, speak louder than words. As your own God says:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ (http://biblebrowser.com/matthew/7-16.htm)

Claiming that you believe in a religion does not ensure that you actually follow the teachings of that religion, nor does it ensure that you are anywhere close to being a moral or ethical person. Talking religion or morals or ethics means nothing if you do not act appropriately.

Look, I’m not saying that every Republican in the country is a hypocrite. Far from it. I am not a fan of the Democratic party as a whole. If you look at the actions of both Republican and Democratic parties, you will find many of our so-called “leaders,” are saying one thing and doing another. However, at this point in time, the Republican Party is urging violence, is engaged in flat-out lying about their opponents, is attempting to rig elections, and is repeatedly engaging in actions that are not only un-Christian, but that are deeply unethical. I keep hearing lots of blather about God and Country, but I challenge anyone to show me evidence that the GOP is paying the slightest attention to the teachings of Christ or what is best for America. Certainly, they are invoking God and Country as ways to prophesize, to “cast out demons,” and to pretend that they will “perform many miracles,” but in instance after instance, their actions are lawless, hypocritical, and un-democratic.

If a godless heathen can attempt to live a moral life, I would expect all you good Christians to start acting like you have bothered to read your religious texts and are at least attempting to live up to your Messiah’s words such as:

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. (Link)

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” (Link)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” (Link)

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Link)

“You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Link)

Every single one of us can be a better person. Every single one of us makes mistakes, treats others poorly from time to time, hurts people, and takes the easy way out. Each of us has been selfish, hypocritical, and cruel. Our moral standing in the world comes from how we take those moments of failure and turn them into lessons for ourselves and then how we act on those lessons in our daily lives.

Calling for Obama’s “death” is neither moral nor Christian. Calling Obama a baby-killer is neither moral nor Christian. Hating people who happen to vote differently than you is neither moral nor Christian.

You think of yourself as a moral person? You call yourself a Christian?

Start acting like one.

Blog Break

nps on the holdI’m taking a break from the blog for the month of October. I don’t have a particularly compelling reason, it was just something that came to me when I was contemplating my next entry. Considering I’m approaching 500 entries and have been maintaining LtL, with a decent amount of regularity for a personal blog, for almost three years, I figure a month off won’t kill me or lose me what few regular readers I might have.

My thanks to all of you who take the time to read my blog and I’ll have new thoughts, new ideas, and new words for you in about a month.