Tuesday, January 27, 2009

An open letter to the armed services

...also a closed letter, I sent it in just now. Here's an unsolicited email I received from army recruiter yesterday... UNCLASSIFIED//// Dear JAMES HAZELTON, The U.S. Army is a place you will find your strength. Not only will you gain physical strength, emotional strength and strength of purpose, but the Army will strengthen your future as well. We offer many educational benefits and opportunities that will help you accomplish this. The Army has programs that can help you pay for college, pay off existing student loans, earn college credit or finish college without interruption. In fact, facilitating your education is one of the most important benefits you can receive as a Soldier. Army Reserve (Part-Time) * Army ROTC: Students at more than 700 colleges and universities nationwide can take advantage of one of the best leadership courses in America. Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) Cadets gain practical experience in management and problem solving while training to become Army officers. * The Army College Loan Repayment Program: Paying off your student loans becomes easier, with up to $20,000 for Soldiers who enlist part time in the Army Reserve; up to $20,000 for Soldiers who enlist in the Army Reserve for six years. * Education Career Stabilization (ECS) program: Many units in the Army Reserve now allow deferment from mobilization while you are in college, giving you an uninterrupted path to your degree. Active (Full-Time) Now you can qualify for up to $72,900 in college education benefits through The Army College Fund and Montgomery GI Bill. Additionally, whether you hold as few as 30 college hours or you already have a degree, you can earn an education bonus of up to $8,000 , depending on your qualifications. What's more, you can combine these education bonuses with the newly increased enlistment bonuses. With a four-year enlistment, you can now earn up to $40,000 for enlisting in a high-priority job skill. What's more, you might also qualify for up to $65,000 to pay off your federally insured student loans through the Army Loan Repayment Program. Limited bonuses are also available for an enlistment of as little as 15 months plus training. If you would like to discuss in greater detail how the Army can help facilitate your College desires please reply or contact me on my cell phone below. [contact info] To be removed from this mailing list please reply with the word “remove” in the subject line UNCLASSIFIED//// ...and the reply I sent back. I'll have no part in this. It's terrible that you're exploiting the financial situations of college students in a bid to enlist them into service. Also, how many people have you really tricked by the claim that this email is somehow "UNCLASSIFIED"? I mean, really, the people who fall for the "OMG, I'm needed for a secret mission!" ploy are probably not the people I want defending the country. Participation in the armed services of this country is voluntary, so let's keep the tricks and false-flattery out of it, shall we? James Hazelton Once more I'm forced to vent my frustrations at this system. As you all may know, I'm somewhat of a pacifist, (i.e. pinko-commie-longhair) and I've grown increasingly fed-up with the tactics used by the armed forces to recruit young men and women into the service. Being a young man once myself, I know first-hand of these treacherous tactics which include, but are not limited to:
  • Unsolicited phone calls - I got rid of these when I finally told the fifth recruiter that I had suffered a terrible injury, and would never walk again.
  • Unsolicited emails - [see above] I get probably three of these every semester, you'd think they'd get the point.
  • Uniformed men, handing leaflets in malls - the army has certainly taken a page from tobacco companies here, "Hook 'em while they're young"
  • Unending TV and web ads - "Look at me! I joined the army and now I'm a rocket scientist/engineer/astronaut/video game tester! Whoo!" -the following statement can be said about maybe one percent of those who enlist.
And finally, because I could not type the bullet hard enough to make my intense hatred for this next trick known, I present to you: "The Army Arcade" I first heard about this during a recent NPR broadcast. It was good that I happened to be near my destination while listening to the interview because my ire could have caused me to ram the nearest car in frustration. This just kills me. From the outside it looks like a normal arcade, in the same way that the soothing light of an angler fish lures in prey, but on the inside, kids (even at 18, these people are just kids, for crying out loud) are confronted with blackhawk and humvee simulators, in which they can blast insurgents within walking distance from the food court. Also present are xbox 360 and PS3 gaming consoles, loaded with army approved and INTENSELY REALISTIC (intensely sarcastic caps, there) depictions of the life of a soldier. It's bait and switch, simple as that. All of their tactics are. In conclusion, I'd like to note, that for the right people and the right reasons, there's nothing wrong with joining the army. I'm sure that it can be a positive experience for those who enjoy it. But these tactics, however, are those of a desperate system, gleefully ready to trick these young men and women into a life which they may be completely unprepared for. Dangling student loans, or adventure, or teenage-gaming-bloodlust in front of these kids is an awful way of doing business, and needs to be stopped immediately. Or maybe the arcade should feature a PTSD simulator, instead.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

I want you to think about this word.


I was browsing the internet tonight; looking up definitions, as I often do, and I started thinking about something I'd read in On Writing Well by Zinsser. He says, in the 25th anniversary printing of the book, that we shouldn't use the word "alright." It's sloppy, he says, it's a made-up word. (You'll notice I don't have quotes around those paraphrasings, because I'm pretty sure that I'm grossly misquoting him. Also, don't use the word "paraphrasings," because I'm pretty sure I just made it up.)

This whole thing came about as I was writing an email. I came to a situation in which I would either use "alright" or, the apparently more proper version, "all right," and couldn't think my way out of the impasse. My initial instinct was to just go for the more colloquial version, leaving out an l and a space for the sake of succinctness. But there's this other part of me, the part of me that uses words like "succinctness," that cried out in favor of the proper usage.

Once again, I turned to google to save the day. I wanted to know the final verdict on these two uses, and the internet hive mind was my best chance. So I clicked on this link, trying to find the answer, but initially received nothing of the sort.

What I had found, found in the paragraph below the definition, blew my mind. I'll quote it directly from the MW website:

"usage The one-word spelling alright appeared some 75 years after all right itself had reappeared from a 400-year-long absence. Since the early 20th century some critics have insisted alright is wrong, but it has its defenders and its users. It is less frequent than all rightalright — Gertrude Stein>. but remains in common use especially in journalistic and business publications. It is quite common in fictional dialogue, and is used occasionally in other writing"

Like I said before, this blew my mind. It told me a few things: that "all right" was indeed the proper usage, that the writers of this dictionary had too much free time, and that for FOUR HUNDRED YEARS, people did not use (at least in writing) the phrase "all right."

This blew my mind. This means, are you with me?, that some time in the 13th century...somebody, probably a monk, it's always a monk writing things back then, said, "Yeah, the bible's all right, but do I really have to sit and transcribe it all day?"

Then. FOUR HUNDRED YEARS pass before that phrase is written again.

Think of how awful it must feel to be that guy, starting a new catchphrase (he was probably really proud of it, too) and he's not able to see the phrase used again within his lifetime. It was this line of thinking, ladies and gentlemen, that enabled me to finally make my choice. I'm going to honor whoever it was that first used "all right" by using only the proper version, not the cheap, bastardization conceived after 75 years of proper use.

And the next time you use "alright" in an email, you'll think of that person, spinning literarily in their grave.

(good news everyone, it seems that literarily is also a word!)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A few short scenes

...because I can't think of anything longer...

 I've never been one for long stories. In fact, most of those that I've written here hover around the lowly thousand-word mark. Paltry, in comparison, to most contemporary examples in even the short story genre. Today, however, I will do nothing to break this trend, and if anything, I'll destroy my average word count by presenting a few even shorter stories. Enjoy.

The Wheels: A Tale of Horror

He sat contentedly in his place, glad for even a short respite from the nagging troubles of the day. The calm he felt here was surprising; indeed, the air was sweet with a new fragrance, the floors were freshly waxed, and he'd finally found a place where he could be alone. But then, in the midst of his relaxation, they came. A sound, which from that day on would haunt his dreams, found its way into the room. A sound which sparked a sudden fear into his heart. A sound which he never imagined could sound so frightening, so ominous, or so dreadfully urgent. He knew it at once to be the low creak of rubber, spoked wheels, rolling slowly upon the tile floor. A peek below the partition confirmed his fears: and they were coming nearer. There was no escape, he soon realized, no dignified way to fix this situation. Hearing the deliberately audible sigh, beyond the aluminum wall, struck him finally down. He'd never use the handicapped stall again.


"God, it's never been so hard to light a cigarette," the diver mentioned, shaking his butane lighter.

"What the hell? Who let you have those?"

The diver pulled a dripping ziploc from beneath his wetsuit in reply.

"Do you even know how dangerous those are down here?"

The diver laughed, trying his lighter again. "What, are they more cancerous under water?" Flik...Flik...

"Well, no, but we're in an enriched oxygen atmosphere--" The second diver, pulling himself into the habitat, set his goggles down and laughed, "Here bro, let me help you out with that," lighting an acetylene torch from his toolkit.

"Oh my god no."

On the surface, the investigation into the cause of the explosion would come to a sudden conclusion. Amidst the floating debris, a plastic bag containing a half pack of Pall Mall 100's was sighted floating next to a set of badly burned index and middle fingers.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Jasper Johns Tribute Triptych

...three paintings on three canvases in three colors, but mostly because I wanted to use the word triptych.

The wal-mart bags and carpet are very much part of the piece.

Subverted Flag
See: Flag (1954-55) and Study for Skin (1962)

See: Diver (1962)

Numbers 1-9
See: 0-9 (All in One) (1960)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Book Review: The Idiot

...by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I've finally finished this, the eighth of Dostoevsky's novels, after an on again, off again relationship which spanned nearly the length of a school year.

I'm busy, okay?

Nevertheless, I'd recently taken it upon myself that, in the space of this winter break from school, I would finally finish the novel. Well, I'm proud to report, as I already have in my opening sentence, that I have finished--and that I have this to say about the book.

The plot goes something like this: our protagonist, Prince Lev Nikolaevich Myshkin arrives by train in Petersburg after spending the entirety of his childhood in a Swiss institute, where he has been cared for and treated for his epilepsy. The definining attribute of the character is his utter innocence, developed from his long absence from "normal" society. He's often described, and accused of, acting very childlike, which, when combined with his epilepsy, earns him the moniker of idiot. The story soon develops as the presence of the Prince is felt throughout the new society in which he finds himself. The most notable storyline is the developing rivalry between Aglaya Epanchin and Natasya Fillipovna, two women vying, strangely, at times, for the Prince's heart. And I'll tell you right now, the ending, is amazing.

The most unique thing I've enjoyed about Dostoevsky's writing is simply the way in which it is presented. His narrator is not a typical omniscient third-person, but rather, the story is told from the point of view of a character, best described as anonymous observer and historian. What I mean to say, is that the book is written mainly in second-person, in that the narrator directly addresses the reader as if telling the story aloud. This perspective gives Dostoevsky a masterful amount of control over the flow of information. At times, the narrator will discuss the entirety of a family's history, or the innermost workings of a character's thoughts; but when needed, the narrator will feign ignorance, shut the door to his own omniscience and build tension between the story and the reader. He also uses this technique in books like The Brothers Karamozov, Crime and Punishment, and Demons, to the same effect.

The second point that I'd like to make is that this book is very much grounded in reality. It doesn't have a mushy, Jane Austenesque, hollywood ending. I like it that way. Inevitably, in every book I read, I'm subconsciously trying to figure out the ending, fitting the plot to the three-act outline, finding the important metaphors and reading into them the deeper meanings being shoved at me by the author. I couldn't do that here. Try as I might, this book refused to go where I thought it would, but for the simple reason that the characters actually make decisions like human beings. The plot moves, not by the narrator, but by the events themselves. Everything about the plot feels very much like the historian narrator is decribing, not telling, the story as it happened. It was very refreshing.

And so ends my long affair with The Idiot. I've had fun, I've spent too long reading it, and I think now it's time for me to read some lighter fare. Time for a literary break.