Sunday, December 14, 2008

Scarlet Ribbon

On a shimmering scarlet ribbon I ride. Over mountain peaks and across pastures green. I journey on and on. With your love and guidance I am carried into the world. To newer towns and ancient cities. Hopes, dreams, and promises. Your ermine and your pearls.

With my pen I paint a picture of you who were born with nothing yet who walked in robes of gold. Dawn’s light reveals a valley. Rugged and deep, with secrets still untold. In the distance stands a giant wheel. A drawbridge slowly rises. From the tower sound three bells. But for whom do they toll?

Each spring we watch leaves turn green, only to wither in the fall. In days coruscating in sunlight we waltz through vale and glen. Dusk drifts us into a nocturnal world where midnight flowers bloom. Woods bathed in phosphorescent moonlight; the melodies of owls.

I must leave you now. My scarlet ribbon carries me higher. Fields mist with rain. Sky glistens like steel. Fish labor upstream in a cascading river blue. In which tongue will you speak? In which land will you reside? My passion is for people. A journey into the sun.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Change Comes to America

Since I last posted, the big news, of course, is that the United States has a new president-elect! My relief that eight years of George Bush’s policies are almost at an end-- eight years that have seen the influence of the United States decline--is tempered by concern for the future.

As a holder of a British passport I wasn’t able to participate in the election. Had I been able to, I would have voted for Obama. The alternative wasn’t acceptable to me. I think the Republican Party has become too closed-minded, too focused on issues that divide. But more importantly, they have proved themselves inept at governing the country. Perhaps they’ll now embrace the political landscape of the future and not retreat into a cocoon believing they were not “conservative” enough. They need to focus on issues that really matter instead of on focus issues that divide.

Though I like many of Obama’s policies, I have never warmed to Barack Obama the man. Certainly he is capable, smart, and much else besides; but I can’t get myself to like him. Of course, a president doesn’t have to be likeable, just competent. A competent president: now there's a concept!

Brought up on the staid politics and three week campaign that is the norm in the U.K., I am wary when I see grown men and women swooning, crying, and chanting at political rallies. I just am. I know people were desperate for change, and I am sure Obama is aware of the power his words can have on people. My hope is that they translate into deeds.

The superlatives that have been showered on him remind me of the early days of Tony Blair, a man I never trusted or liked. In his ’97 election victory, Blair successfully threw the governing Conservatives off balance by adopting many centrist policies, yet I wonder how many of his supporters are happy with the way it ended when he left office. Blair was also seen as the harbinger of change (he changed Britain in many ways I didn't agree with) but turned out to be the master of spin.

I hope an Obama administration brings the change America needs. I hope, too, that he retains a measure of confidence should the economic mess left by the Republicans bite harder. Perhaps his victory wouldn’t have been possible without eight years of Bush’s bungling and divisiveness, but I do think it's brilliant that the electorate elected a black man to the highest office in the land. I also hope it bodes well for the British-U.S. relationship. He has a lot of goodwill—as well as a lot to contend with—and I wish him well.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

It's All Green To Me

The dictionary defines green as “a color intermediate in the spectrum between yellow and blue, an effect of light with a wavelength between 500 and 570 nm” Of course, that is not the response you’d hear from most people when asked to describe the color green. Should they do so the conversation might be somewhat short lived!

Green is not a primary color (colors that cannot be created by mixing others); rather, it is achieved by mixing two primaries—yellow and blue. On the traditional color wheel its corresponding color is red.

Most people recognize green for what it is: just a color. But it is much more than that. Linguistically, its origins go back to the old English word, growan, “to grow”. It has uses in everyday life, especially in colloquialisms.

When green is good you can cruise through the traffic lights. Should you have a good idea you might get a green light to proceed. Someone with a green thumb is good with plants, which are often green themselves. If you are bored with what you are doing you might want to move to greener pastures, hoping that the grass is greener on the other side.

But when green is bad, watch out for the green-eyed monster lurking in the background. And don’t put your entire faith in someone who is still green, much less go near them if they are green around the gills.

Mixing green: Mix it with blue and it produces echoes of nature – water and forest; with brown it screams “organic”; coupled with red it is festive, the color of Christmas.

Many words are synonymous with green – sage, pine, mint, moss, fir, jade, and many more besides. Emeralds are green and so are some animals, notably frogs and lizards. Some just appear green; others really are. In nature taking on a green hue is good camouflage. Humans, too, have imitated this by wearing green in military and in other fields. Green signifies growth, health, and renewal; though culturally it has contradictory meanings.

Color psychology tells us that green is the easiest color on the eye and can improve vision. It is seen as calm and refreshing. People waiting to appear on stage sit in “green rooms” to relax. Hospitals use green because it relaxes patients.

On a light note green M&Ms are rumored to be an aphrodisiac though this is likely due to the genius of marketing rather than anything else.

In folklore green has traditionally been used to symbolize fertility and rebirth. In Ireland it comes in 40 shades, but in Britain it’s thought to be unlucky, which might explain why you see few green cars on British roads.

It is the symbol of environmentalism. It is also the main color many Islamic countries use on their flags. In fact, the only national flag in the world that has just one color with no design or insignia is green – Libya’s.

Perhaps when historians look back at our age green may come to define it, the age in which we woke up to the “green” earth. As a concept, that might mean taking the focus away from our endless consumption and towards the idea of living a more thoughtful life. Instead of having things, doing things.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Divided by Technology

I like to think I’m a reasonably patient person, though there are a few things that test that patience. Prominent among them are automated phone systems. But then again, who hasn’t been annoyed by them?

A common reason for my irritation has to do with my accent (it’s British). Odd as it may seem, on many occasions the voice recognition technology has struggled to recognize my particular brand of English.

For example, one time I was required to say the word “Texas” only to be told that my response was not recognized. Being stubborn and mischievous--while also determined to get one over on the ubiquitous computerized voice--I persisted with my take on the pronunciation (after all, everyone else can understand me so why can’t you, I thought). Still unable to proceed, I gave in and again repeated “Texas”, this time slowly drawing out the vowel sounds. I was immediately connected. Strange, isn’t it?

In an age of rapid changes human contact is being further eroded, and I am not a fan. All I really want when I need to resolve a charge on a bank statement, ask about a promotion--or whatever else it may be--is to speak to a human.

My preferred tactic is usually to play dumb so that I am automatically connected to a real person, though I suspect they are onto that one and already have plans to circumvent it.

Worst of all, perhaps like me, you’ve been on hold for a long time only to be greeted out-of-the-blue by a rather cheerful "Goodbye!"

The next time I get stuck in automated phone system hell I'll use some cockney rhyming slang and state that I want to rabbit (on the dog) with the gov’nor (speak on the phone with the manager).

Now that really would be interesting...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

"Change" is in the Air

The GOP bandwagon rolled into town this past week just as the weather began to feel more like fall. But it wasn’t only the weather that was changing.

Remarkably, the Republicans were able to wrap up their conference by stealing from the Democrats the mantle of change. After eight years of short-sighted policies and misgovernment, you’d think it was the Democrats who owned change. Not any more.

John McCain’s acceptance speech was big on change. He told the crowd that he couldn’t wait to introduce Sarah Palin to the “old, big spending, do nothing, me first, country second, Washington crowd.” He further promised that “change is coming.”

Only a week ago you’d have been hard pressed to conceive of such a turnaround in Republican fortunes, and though questions may yet surface about Sarah Palin, it appears that the Republicans have re-energized their campaign.

Perhaps in response to Palin’s speech, in which she contrasted Obama's experience to her own, the Democrats are now quiet on the experience issue; whereas the Republicans, for similar reasons, speak more of change than of experience.

As I watched the red, white, and blue balloons cascade down on the delegates I almost had to rub my eyes to convince myself that these were the incumbents. If McCain can succeed in separating himself from George Bush it would be remarkable, though count on the Democrats to continue to link them together at every opportunity.

Finally, contrast McCain’s concept of change (shaking up the government), to Obama’s (inspiring people to make change) and you have a fascinating contest. But with all the alarming things going on, can an incumbent party really successfully re-cast themselves in this way? Can they pull it off? More to the point, will voters buy it?

Change is clearly a force with a momentum of its own. But what an exciting race!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Personal Letter: An Endangered Species

I love technology--technology makes things convenient--but I wish technology had left the personal letter alone. Although it’s a long time since I used a pen and paper to write to anyone, I am beginning to lament the personal letter’s passing.

I used to write letters to friends and family, but not any more. Like the telegraph before it, the personal letter is passing into history, replaced by email and other instant forms of communication. Sacrificed at the altar of technology, it is no match for the speed, brevity, and ease of communication that is email.

It’s a long time since I looked in my mail box and saw anything among the bills, junk mail, and discount coupons that I wanted to rush to open. You might not get excited about receiving an email, but receiving a personal letter--envelope and all--is exciting. Go on, I dare you to admit it!

So what does letter writing reveal that email doesn’t? Certainly part of it is being able to use a good pen. Using some nice stationery and different color inks add a little flair that email cannot match. Then there’s the writing itself. Words—animated by a breath of life and written by hand have the power to impress. Visually sensual, they create a favorable impression on the mind, adding to the overall aesthetic. It might be easier to say the same thing by email, but it’s that personal touch that makes all the difference.

A personal letter conveys a sense of humanity--pen and ink form a connection that electronic communication cannot match. Writing a letter is a different process--it lets you know that the author took the time to think the words through.

I like email for its ease of use, and having got this far down the screen, the Delete, Cut and Paste, and Spellcheck features have become my friends. Email is certainly instantaneous; it is at the same time impersonal.

In another generation perhaps letter writing will be viewed as an archaic form of communicating from a past time. If that’s so, its impact on history cannot be overstated. Consider: The historical personal correspondence of presidents, kings and queens, prime ministers, and other historical figures just wouldn’t be the same with email.

One of my friends still sends me personal notes in the mail on the occasion of a holiday, departure on a trip, or arrival back from one. I love to receive them.

Nostalgia aside, time marches on and I fully intend to march with it; however, I have resolved to treat myself to a good pen, and the next time I want to tell a friend or relative more than "Hello-How are you?-What are you doing tonight?" I’ll write them a letter. I might not get back into the habit on a regular basis, but I am resolved not to lose touch with it.

Now, just how much does a stamp cost these days?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Save Our Language! (LOL)

News reports that text messaging is creeping into mainstream use likely has language purists everywhere running for the hills, rolling their eyes in horror. And those fearful types who are always first to warn of a coming (linguistic) apocalypse will surely do so again at the drop of a pen.

But wait a minute. Is this really such a “threat”? I don’t think so. Though not adctd2txt I certainly love to use it. As a means of saying what I want to say in as few keystrokes as I can say it, it fits the bill perfectly.

Unheard of and unused just a few short years ago, text messaging has gone from a standing start to being pretty much indispensable for many people. And yet if the doomsayers are to be believed, it is now poised to wreak destruction on the long established written rules of the English language. Well I’m not buying it.

In the short term I think there will likely be more errors in grammar and punctuation among school kids, as well as an increasing use of txt talk in conversations, but having faced down linguistic threats of all kinds; having adapted to new influences; and having survived many centuries largely intact, I think the English language is more than ready to hold its own in the long term. And as someone who finds secret pleasure in browsing through a book on punctuation or grammar I’m all for that.

I can’t see the English sentence structure changing too much just because it’s easier to send a text message enquiring “WYD?” to find out what your friend is doing. In any case, it’s easier on the fingers and thumbs.

The rules of language, built up over the centuries, are not going to crumble because of texting. OMG! I certainly hope not. Time will tell, but AFAIC txt msging is gr8!

EOM :)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Just a Few Words...

My intent when thinking about starting a blog was to comment on the myriad ways in which the English language is used—be it sublime or just plain silly.

But after a little light-hearted consideration, I concluded that starting a blog was really all about me, and that blogs are self serving. Undeterred by this revelation I decided to start one anyway, invite readers to respond, and see what direction it takes.

I promise to refrain from recording a running commentary on my life; rather, I’ll just share some thoughts from time to time.

And even if I have nothing particularly interesting to say, I’m always interested in what other people are thinking and doing, and what's happening in the world.

So here it is:

Thanks for stopping by - a real post will appear soon.