Sunday, April 28, 2019

Everything you know about haiku is wrong.

I know, I know -- the title is clickbait. I'll get to that in a minute. But first, some news:

  • Rivers Run got a lovely review this week at Big Al's Books and Pals. My favorite part is the reviewer's last line: "However, then she lays down a sentence like this, 'Her mournful rasp sounded like the barest trickle of moisture in a desert creek bed.' And minor imperfections are quite forgiven." Did I really write that? Huh. I guess I'm not half-bad, after all...
  • The first draft of Treacherous Ground, the next book in the Elemental Keys series, is very nearly in the can. I have fewer than 1,400 words to write in order to win Camp NaNoWriMo, and I'm pretty sure I'll wrap up the story line at that point, too. Hoping to do that tonight before I go to bed. We'll see how it goes.
And now, about that haiku thing.

Every year, the Golden Triangle Association in DC runs a haiku contest. The Golden Triangle is the designation for the part of downtown DC that the office for my day job happens to be in, and so every spring I see some of the winning entries posted around town. This year, I posted a photo of one of them on my Facebook timeline -- and several people complained that the poem wasn't really a haiku, because it didn't have the 5-7-5 syllable scheme we were all taught in school: five syllables for the first line, seven for the second, and five for the third.

Turns out we were taught wrong. That format is not what makes a haiku a haiku at all.

Just as fiction writers have National Novel Writing Month, haiku enthusiasts have National Haiku Writing Month, or NaHaiWriMo. And they have covered this very topic on their blog, because it comes up every year. It stems from a misunderstanding about the Japanese language -- which counts sounds, not syllables, when crafting a haiku. For example, as I learned at the link above, English speakers consider the word haiku as having two syllables. For a Japanese speaker, though, the word has three sounds -- ha-i-ku. In fact, most Japanese words have more sounds than we would count syllables. So a five-syllable line in English would have far more words than would a five-sound line in Japanese. 

Moreover, haiku's emphasizes the content of the poem, not simply its form. A proper haiku, or so the article says, includes a kigo -- a word indicating the season in which the poem occurs -- and a kiregi, or cutting word, that divides the poem into two parts. Ideally, one part of the poem will be a juxtaposition of the other, and both parts will focus on concrete images that allow the reader to feel what the poet felt when viewing the event.

Here's the photo I posted on Facebook earlier this week. It doesn't look like a haiku under the rules we were all taught, but with our new understanding of the process, I think it qualifies. And I think blackbird is the kigo and turn is the kiregi. What do you think?

One more bit of housekeeping: I'll be on vacation for the next couple of Sundays. Alert hearth/myth readers know two weeks is an unusually long hiatus for me. I'll try to put up a post on one or another of those days, but I can't promise, as wi-fi access is liable to be spotty.

And now I'm off to put a lid on Treacherous Ground. Wish me luck!

These moments of multisyllabic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The love of money.

New cars today have a lot more bling than they did when I bought my last car in 2008. Remote door locks were just becoming a thing, and you had to pay extra for high-end stuff like cruise control. Now, it seems, electronic keys and cruise control are pretty much standard.

Another thing that was brand new in 2008 was satellite radio. Back then, I thought it was a crazy idea -- why would anybody pay for radio when they could get it over the air for free? But then the radio business changed and stations seemed to switch formats all the time, and I couldn't find an oldies station that played more than the Beatles and a few other hits I'd heard a million times before. (This phenomenon is worse for people who worked in top-40 radio. Each radio station used to have its own music director -- an actual human who decided what songs to play. Now stations are programmed by consultants who use committees called focus groups. Members of focus groups always give high ratings to songs they recognize, and in the case of oldies, they recognize songs because they got a lot of airplay. But even now, the guy who gave them all that airplay is heartily sick and tired of them. Like retail-workers-at-Christmas-carol-season tired of them.)

Anyway, I had pretty much quit listening to the radio in the car, except for my own CDs. And then I got Eli, who came with a trial subscription to Sirius XM. Once I found the '60s and '70s channels, it was all over. I'm hearing songs I haven't heard in decades -- including this one by the O'Jays from 1974.

For a moment, let's leave aside the irony of hearing a song about the evils of money on a radio station I'm paying to listen to, when I first heard it over the air for free.

It did, however, get me thinking about morality and how things have changed. Wikipedia says what spawned the song was a Bible verse, specifically 1 Timothy 6:10. It's the one about how the love of money is the root of all evil. I've seen a few truncated versions of the verse -- most often, "Money is the root of all evil" (the Monkees had a sampler on the wall of their pad), but also the snarky "Money is the root of all."

But the original text is about the love of money, a.k.a. greed. I'm no biblical scholar, and maybe a Pagan shouldn't be sticking her nose into this at all -- but my understanding has always been that simply having money isn't the problem. Money is neutral -- neither good nor bad. What's problematic is grabbing and hoarding as much money as you can.

I find it interesting that back in the mid-'70s, this song got a lot of airplay. Not long after, though, we started to see wealth, and the pursuit of wealth, put on a pedestal -- and some of the biggest pushers of the idea were megachurch pastors who told their faithful to send money to fund their big church buildings in order to glorify of God. I guess their mansions and fat bank accounts were meant to glorify God, too.

This idea that wealth is okay as long as you're not a miser seems to have fallen by the wayside, though, in this new Gilded Age, where the top 1% of earners in the US make, on average, 26.3% more than the bottom 99% combined. That's higher than the income disparity in the last Gilded Age. In 1928, just before the Great Depression, top earners made 23.9% more than the rest of the work force. What's more, income inequality has risen in every state since 1975. That's right about the time the O'Jays were singing about the dangers of the love of money. What a coincidence, huh?

A certain faction of the American public talks about making America great again. I think going back to those mid-'70s values, when the top 1% of earners made just 8% of total US income (compared to 22% in 2015), would go a long way toward that goal. I'm not saying America was perfect in the '70s. It wasn't -- not by a long shot. But at least the middle class had a decent standard of living back then.

I'm moving right along with the first draft of Treacherous Ground. April has been a busy month, but I'm happy to say that I'm at 40,000 words as of tonight, so I should have no problem making it to 50,000 words by the end of the month. That puts the book on track for publication in mid to late June. As always, I'll let you know how it goes.

These moments of cautionary blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

On press freedom and Julian Assange.

And why the two are pretty much mutually exclusive. At least in this case.

Gerd Altman | Pixabay

Julian Assange founded WikiLeaks -- a shadowy organization that calls itself a publisher. He has been holed up in Ecuadorian Embassy in London since August 2012, avoiding extradition to Sweden to face sexual assault charges that have since been dropped. As you have probably heard, on Thursday Ecuador withdrew its protection of Assange, allowing the London Metropolitan Police in to arrest him. He faces trial on the bail-jumping charge in London -- but his biggest concern is whether England will extradite him to the United States, where an indictment was unsealed on the day of his arrest, charging him with conspiring with convicted spy Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer.

Ecuador has given a number of reasons for rescinding the sanctuary it extended to Assange for seven years -- among them that he didn't wash often enough and he didn't take care of his cat. (The cat, we are told, was relocated to friends of Assange's months ago.) Perhaps the biggest reason, however, was their claim that Assange continued to direct WikiLeaks' activities from inside the embassy, using a cell phone he wasn't allowed to have.

There has been quite a hue and cry amongst Assange's supporters and others, saying his arrest and potential prosecution in the U.S. will have a chilling effect on press freedom. The New York Times has gone so far as to say that "most of what he does at WikiLeaks is difficult to distinguish in a legally meaningful way from what traditional news organizations, like The New York Times, do every day: seek out and publish information that officials would prefer to be kept secret, including classified national security matters, and take steps to protect the confidentiality of sources." And these same people say that prosecuting Assange for that type of activity could lead, down the road, to charges against any journalist who publishes government secrets -- thereby weakening the press freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment.

But Assange isn't charged with publishing any government secrets. He's been charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion -- in other words, he's accused of helping Manning break into that computer at the Pentagon in March 2010. Manning, who was working as an Army intelligence analyst, had already given WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of classified documents, including information on conditions at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. According to Assange's indictment, Manning was having trouble cracking a password that would have helped her access more documents, and provided the partial password to Assange; Assange later told her in a private message that he was working on it.

It's true, as a number of news outlets have opined, that investigative journalists thrive on leaks of documents and information that they shouldn't otherwise have access to. The classic example is the Pentagon papers, in which Daniel Ellsberg got hold of classified documents indicating the Johnson Administration had ramped up the Vietnam War and lied to the American people about the extent of our involvement there. The New York Times began publishing the papers in 1971, but the Nixon Administration issued an injunction against the paper -- whereupon the Washington Post picked up the baton and began publishing its own series of articles. Nixon sought an injunction against the Post, too, but a D.C. judge -- and quickly thereafter, the Supreme Court -- ruled against the administration. The ruling was hailed as a victory for press freedom. (The 2017 movie The Post tells this story better than I ever could.)

So what's the difference between Julian Assange on one hand, and The New York Times and the Washington Post on the other?

Here's what it comes down to for me: In 1971, the newspapers didn't actively help the whistleblower. Assange did. If the charges against him are true, he actively assisted Manning with attempting to break into a Pentagon computer. He didn't just publish the stuff Manning handed him -- he tried to help her get more. That has nothing to do with the First Amendment. That's not investigative journalism. That's espionage.

WikiLeaks has published secret documents that have blown the lid off of a number of questionable incidents. In some cases, it has been a force for good; in others, its motives have been iffy. But in no case should WikiLeaks be disseminating documents it broke the law to get hold of -- and if it has, then whoever was involved in breaking the law should go to jail.

These moments of journalistic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.