Give War and Peace a Chance

Read “War and Peace.” Pushing Tolstoy’s novel, what an out-of-date idea to tackle. Who is going to buy this viewpoint?

Reading is fun to me. But telling you that “War and Peace” is fun, may be a step too far. Yet I can’t let go of the belief that reading this book, and many other books, would benefit the humans I see in my community and on the Internet.

I know that respecting a dead (or living) white male writer is unpopular in and of itself. Even worse than reading his writings is probably pushing the more distasteful idea of reading substantively. I know people that shun reading any book. They cannot think of a more horrible activity.

The world runs fast, who has time to read more than a handful of words on a screen. Short, pithy remarks are as far as we go to research a subject. I noticed this years ago when I thought I could do away with my dictionary or thesaurus. I would look up a word online and find quick, simple, incomplete explanations of that word. My old three-volume dictionary went into so much more detail that it came from a different world. A world where an in-depth look at words and ideas mattered.

I started to love reading when I was quite young and the love of my life in third grade read Greek myths. I pursued his interests in reading in order to have him love me. The love of this boy did not last, but the love of reading stuck.

I read even more, because I did not trust my mother. She told me things that sounded false to my young mind. I wandered the shelves of libraries. That’s where I found “The Second Sex” and other feminist literature to teach me alternative views to my mother’s “something horrible happens to girls when they get older.” I discovered the horrible was only natural. I also discovered a feminist viewpoint that suggested that a man without a penis is preferable to a man with one. So I also learned to filter my reading.

The women in “War and Peace” are far more traditional and sentimental than any 1960s feminist. The woman’s place is in the home in Tolstoy’s book. That does not strip them of depth, passion, and ability. They grow and change as they learn more about the world and themselves at every turn in this tumultuous period in history.

Today I’m amazed to see young women around me that forsake promotions in the careers they have forged. They cut back on their hours or stop working for a few years and chose to stay home with their children. A more traditional and sentimental view of themselves than the past fifty years have been teaching them. A young woman doctor I know who graduated in the top 3% of her class, actually said that she won’t pursue a more demanding medical specialty because she doesn’t want the long workdays. She sees herself as the primary caregiver for any children she may have and sees this view as still being the way of the world. A practical and emotional draw to domestic life that has not been severed by modern goalposts.

A quick, tweet-length summary could never define any one character or scene in the book. You need nearly 1,700 pages to get a partial grip on the characters and the story. Rereading may be required. The century I find myself living in relentlessly reduces ideas into flat simplifications. If you can’t fit it into a blog or Facebook post, forget it.

One of the most remarkable bit of writing in “War and Peace,” is the near-death experience of Prince Andrew on the battlefield. Foreshadowing the modern times his world was entering, Prince Andrew became disillusioned with the great leaders he idealized and lost his belief that war brings glory. As I read this part, I felt as if a dreamlike, born-again atheism was let lose on the world as a valid and attractive alternative.

Tolstoy critizes the egos of Napoleon and Alexander. Both French and Russian leaders believe the world revolves around them. But just as the earth had been displaced as the center of the universe, so have the ruling classes. Napoleon and Alexander ultimately have little to do with the overall progress of war and peace. The lowliest member of the army has more to do with the final outcome of the chaos that is war than those on the highest rung of the social order. The military orders that come from the two great leaders are mostly senseless and impossible to carry out. Small unknowns on the battlefield make or break the outcome. The serf triumphs or dies from his own decisions and wins or loses the battle. Tolstoy died just before the Russian revolution and “War and Peace” anticipated the uprising.

Today’s power players in politics and personality must conquer the electronic media. Streaming video, audio, quick bites of words, work on fleeting emotions rather than a depth of thought. The hard work of reading substantive fiction retains what is the best in human.

I agree with George Eliot when she said, “Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot.”

If you limit yourself to social media posts and the mesmerizing bells and whistles of sound and colors appearing across screens, than you are merely a consumer and the consumed. Beware of what you buy into, passive scrolling may be the new opiate of the people. Escape a new servitude; read, read, read.

Read and open a narrative with the author, with yourself and the cumulative ideas already pinging around in your brain. Do not be force-fed gruel. Allow unknown worlds into your brain. Challenge your interpretation, go off on a tangent. Add to your experience, don’t just replicate them. Build upon ideas.

The Internet periodically publishes articles calling for the closure of libraries. The argument is that libraries are archaic, expensive, and unnecessary since the Internet is a superior source of information. I believe the real rebels of the future will be found in the libraries and bookstores where the reading selection is more haphazard and not media-driven. Used bookstores are especially of value, unusual and out-of-print books lurk about there. If everything can be found on a computer, who needs books, buildings, or librarians? But how would you know what is being filtered out of the information found on the screen?

Who needs arms and legs and a way to experience the outside world? (I know I’m missing out on a database eternity.) Why keep your music in a box connected to your head and miss out on listening to all the other music out there? Including the sight and sound of birds, the wind, the insects, the turning of a page.

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Truth or No Consequences

So John McCain died from a horrible cancer. Just about everyone is sending accolades to honor his lifetime of service.

At first, I was shocked at all the grand praise I was hearing from the left about McCain. And then I wondered why I should be shocked. Madonna had called John McCain Hitler when he was running against Barack Obama. And I remember Rachel Maddow said that McCain is a diehard hawk and, if elected, he will have us enter every altercation around the globe. She strongly suggested voters stay clear of this bad guy.

Now The Washington Post calls him a hero and wonders what a McCain presidency would have looked like. He has been praised for standing up to the extremists in his party. McCain has been absolved. He hated Trump and regretted Palin. Trump is now Hitler. Enough said.

I laugh at social media debates about truthful stories on the Internet. All that matters is that your story reaches the top of the search engine rankings. Social media has defined truth as malleable in the 21st century. Only the expedient matters. Quick, catchy sound and video is remembered and repeated and therefore becomes truth. Never cross over to the dark side of something that could question your point of view. Do what you must to reach the top of the search engine rankings.

So today John McCain is a great and good man that has passed away. He will remain so until his life will be rebranded. Who knows what truth we will want tomorrow. Madonna may have a change of heart.

The Last Straw in the Box

It’s been over 50 years since Mr. McGuire pulled Ben aside in the movie “The Graduate” to give him advice for his future career. He told Ben, “I want to say one word to you. Just one word – plastics.” That was his message to the next generation. And he was right, the future was plastic, so much so that we are drowning in it today.

Since plastic is a relatively new product, no one knows just how long it takes for plastic to decompose and exactly what toxins it may or may not release as it does so. Decomposition estimates range from 50 years to hundreds of years. One known danger exists to marine life that have been found dead after eating plastics.

Even if plastic posed no danger to the environment, our landfills overflow with it. Apparently we make much more of it than we can possibly reuse by recycling.

In quite a few American cities, sucking on a plastic straw is frowned upon or downright illegal. Obviously banning straws alone won’t solve any adverse effects plastic may have on the planet. Omitting straws from your drink or using an alternative may cause little inconvenience. But just how much plastic can we live without?

K-cups — I use these along with a reusable K-cup basket. I’ve heard rants about the volume of waste these cause. Fair enough, a conveinence I could live without.

Bottled water — Not just for the athletically inclined gym goer. Videos of every crisis situation show truckloads of bottled water being delivered to parts of the world suffering disasters such as hurricanes, wars, or disease.

Food packaging — So much food is sold in plastic. We may bring reusable tote bags to take home our purchases but will we also bring reusable storage containers to the store to scoop out food out of bins and take home? Too many people, too little time. Besides our litigious society would find multitudes of lawsuits if anyone brings in dirty containers and illnesses spread.

Computers — Computers form the lifeline for every business on earth. And letting go of a smart phone is nearly impossible for most people. Can we do without these plastic-encased treasures? I thought not.

Medical Equipment — Tubing, injections, gloves, prescription bottles and more are used once and thrown out. Will we risk disease by trying to sterilize and reuse these items?

Disposable Diapers — I don’t know if working parents can wash cloth diapers anymore. The daycare staff only want the disposable ones. And besides the hot water, soap, and bleach used to wash cloth diapers also comes with an environmental impact.

Tampons — Many come with plastic inserters. Lose the plastic. Maybe a menstrual cup (also plastic). Or maybe go back to rags and rewash them (hot water, soap, bleach problem again). We could go way back and segregate menstruating women into tents again.

Plastic is our life. Eliminating plastic straws may not put much of a dent in our plastic addiction. But eliminating a much larger percentage of plastic can alter the modern world into an unrecognizable one. Change happens, new inventions appear and once the box is opened what comes out can’t be closed in anymore.

The modern world is ambiguous. Technology is both savior and killer. But you wouldn’t know this from the social media rants that insist the world is black and white, right and wrong. The one-dimensional characters of the old morality plays no longer define our world. The personification of pure good and pure evil forces fighting to claim a human soul, a throwback to medieval times, no longer holds water. Straw or no straw.

Does anyone remember the song by the Monkees, “Only Shades of Gray? (Every time I hear a Monkees song now I am surprised at how much I like their music, laugh if you must. I can’t resist inserting one song here.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SubpzqswJRE

Preventing the world from being overrun by plastic won’t come easy. It won’t happen willingly and without pain. More than likely, change will come when the oil needed for the production of plastic is depleted.

The future may hold legends of the good old days of plastic and fuel-powered machines being retold to a younger generation. At that point, with the removal of a good chunk of life-changing and life-saving technologies, the world population will surely have dwindled to far fewer, hardier humans. Science could follow the same path as the dead gods.

Hang Zero

Future moon escapes

Orbit — no matter — by then

Tides cease — toes extinct


via Daily Prompt: Tide

Turn Down the Noise

One-word Daily Prompt: Noise

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/noise/


Social Media

Silence breeds empowerment

Filter shit — keep wit.

Sex, Math and Computers

The most valuable sex education lesson I learned took place in my high school geometry class. Computers and geeks mixed in with the sex ed.

Unlike my previous year in algebra, I loved geometry. How I went from barely passing to straight As in math, I’ll never know.

One day, my geometry teacher took us to a special room at school that housed a couple of computers. Nothing that I’m familiar with today, but large, mechanical desks with no screen that spit out punch tape and later ate it up again for the input and output of data.

Two guys in my class were already experts with these machines. They poked and prodded them into functioning. To everyone else, it was kind of magical yet boring at the same time. These geeks ended up with a four-year math/science college scholarship.

After our visit with the machines, our teacher told us that in the future every home will have a computer. That blew our minds, early 1970s style. What would we use it for? How many people could afford this thing? That computer looked bulky, complex, and unfriendly. The two geeks were the only fans.

Later in the semester, my teacher somehow brought up the  topic of sex in geometry class. He told us that sex takes up less than 1% of your time in married life. He ticked off necessary distractions such as working, shopping, cooking, childcare, cleaning, and whatever else needed to be done.

Today his lessons in love still stick. Although neither marriage nor heterosexual relationships are a given part to that theorem. Those few short minutes in some few short nights don’t seem to be worth the societal controversies. Whatever gets you through the night. A small part of our small time.

My first lesson with computers created an ambivalence within me which still remains. I love the possibilities and I hate my dependence. Like the human bond, deep feelings can move through the spectrum. An embrace may not be far removed from a push away.

Geometry class: you expanded the possibilities in my mind. I remember you fondly.

I Believe, the Geese Don’t

One-word Daily Prompt: Believe

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/believe/


I often ride my bike to a nearby condominium complex that has a man-made pond with a fountain at its center. I also enjoy dozens of ducks and Canadian geese that gather in and around that site. A couple of times this year, I saw a huge white swan floating on the water. I nearly took out my phone to take a picture. Another time I saw two swans floating around.

I told myself, next time I will snap a photo of those swans. So on another bike ride, I saw a swan floating majestically at the far end of the pond. As I rode around the curve of the water, I noticed something that looked like a white board jutting out of the water. As I got closer I realized that board was the underbelly of a swan decoy. The geese must have done a massive shoulder shrug (do they have shoulders?) and probably head-butted that phony swan onto its side.

This saved me the humiliation of looking like a fool in front of the owners of those condos while snapping photos of swan decoys. Also my friends and relatives didn’t have to feign admiration of my phony birds.

I went home and discovered websites devoted to selling tools to get rid of geese and their large piles of poop. (Poop like a goose for a reason.) I won’t get started on the piles of waste produced by other animals (ahem, humans), maybe another blog post.

One goose-riddance website said that, “White Swans are very territorial, making it great to help keep geese away!” These geese saw through this deception, I did not.

If the swans don’t work, and apparently they don’t, the website also sells dive-bombing drones for geese removal.  Great, now I can enjoy the water and birds while getting more paranoid by that drone following me. Or is it repelling geese? I usually look on the dark side so I’d guess that dive-bombing drone is out for my blood.

By Peter Massas