Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Famous Last Words

Someday, whether it be when I'm about to leave the house, heading into surgery, or laying on a bed surrounded by loved ones, I'll speak my last words. As I drove away from my home this afternoon, I pondered the fact that, because it's impossible to pin down your exact time of death, you never know what your last words will be. It occurred to me that, if I never saw my kids again, my last words today would be these:

"And I want you to be nice to each other. Or, in the immortal words of Bill and Ted, be excellent to each other."

Yes, because I can't actually trust my kids to treat each other well while I'm out, my last words would have come from a 1980s comedy.

A few other things I've said on my way out the door:

"I know that you know. I want there to be less knowing and more doing."

"And no cooking or using knives while I'm gone."

"No answering the front door. Unless it's your sister. Never mind--she can come in through the garage."

"And if you're on the phone, and the call waiting beeps, answer it and take a message! Don't just ignore it."

"Not until you're done with your dinner."

And occasionally: "I love you!"

Now that I've shared a few of my regulars, I'd like to hear the "last words" you spoke to your family members today.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Copyright Law--a Primer

Attended an interesting workshop at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference this weekend. (Actually, I attended several great workshops!) This one was on copyright law. Sound boring? Not when it's relevant to what you're doing!

In this day and age, when e-publishing is common, and everyone shares everything on the internet, and absolutely everything has stacks upon stacks of copy protection, copyright law is more relevant than ever. So I thought I'd share a little of what I learned.

None of this constitutes legal advice. Get off your butt and pay for it! There--now I hopefully won't get sued. After all, this is second-hand information, and I'm not a copyright lawyer. As far as I know, it's all correct, but play it safe with professional help.

Ideas are not protectable. Only the physical expression of those ideas are protected. In other words, you can't copyright the idea that zombie monkeys invade the White House and eat the Vice-president's brain. But if you actually write a song, play, screenplay, poem, story, novel, about or paint a picture of it, that can be copyrighted.

These rights protect you, and then your heirs, from illegal use for the duration of your lifetime plus 70 years. So make sure you name in your will who gets the rights to what you publish, because it matters for 70 years.

After that, it becomes public domain, meaning everyone can use it. FYI: everything published prior to January 1st, 1923, is now in the public domain. That means anyone can use it, copy it, or whatever, for whatever, anytime they want.

It doesn't matter how many words you use--if something's under copyright, get permission to use it! An exception to this is if you are producing a satire or a parody. Parody is when you imitate something with the intent to ridicule it. Vampires Suck, for example, is a parody of Twilight. Satire is when you ridicule or copy something with the intent of causing change. Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal was satire. Another example is the NOBAMA bumper stickers you see. They use Obama's copyrighted artwork (you know--the stars and stripes in the "O"?), but get away with it because they are satirical.

That's it for today. Next time I'll talk about why I'm a proponent of Creative Commons copyright licenses.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

God and Doughnuts--an exercise in rationalizing my bad eating habits.

In two TV shows I recently watched (one of them the Grilled Cheesus episode of Glee) a character suggested that God was a real jerk. Asking Abraham to kill his son; teaching his followers intolerance toward gays; disposing of humanity with an enormous flood when things got out of control—I have to admit, Old Testament God doesn’t sound like someone you’d want babysitting your kids.

Jesus came to teach us what God was really all about—Love. But I contend that you do, in fact, get to see the occasional hint of that in the Old Testament. Specifically in the story of God feeding the Israelites during their 40-year jaunt in the wilderness.

Here’s the gist of the story: the Israelites had escaped from pharaoh in Egypt, and had spent a little over two weeks wandering in the wilderness when they arrived in Sin (a real place, apparently roughly between Elim and Sinai.) They’d been slaves, so they didn’t have a lot of stuff to take with them when they left Egypt—including food. They were starving. And they started to complain:

“Moses—when we were slaves, at least we got fed! Beef stew and bread every night. But now we’re free. Yippy-skippy. Free to do what—starve?”

So God sent the Israelites food. Manna. Manna is a bread-like substance which fell from heaven. Each morning, the Israelites gathered it and they ate. Here’s how the Bible describes it:

Small, round
white-ish in color
not as good the next day
something to fry in oil
stale if you leave it in the sun
sweet in flavor

So I finally figured it out—God sent the Israelites Krispy Kreme doughnuts. It’s true! Small, round, sweet bread, white inside, fried in oil, not as good if it sits around all day. This is proof—proof positive, that God LOVED his children.

It’s also why I have to stop at Krispy Kreme each time I go to the LDS temple up in Denver—Krispy Kreme is the food of the gods! It’s a way for me to worship God. (Okay, maybe not.)

But it gets better. When the Israelites got sick of eating Krispy Kreme every day, they prayed for God to send them something else. So he sent thousands of tiny quail for them to catch and cook up.

Can you say, “time for wings!”?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Why We Aren't Making Any Headway in this Country

My next book is about a group of little old ladies who have a book group that reads silly books. They decide they haven't made enough of a difference in the world and they decide to become vigilantes. In my research for this book, I've been reading a lot of bad books, a lot of pop-psychology books, and some good books.

One of the books I picked up was Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People." I was surprised to read something in the first chapter that seemed relevant to today's political environment.

Carnegie tells of a murderer on death row who didn't understand why he was there. Carnegie says the man murdered a policeman in cold blood (in front of witnesses), but that the man excused his own behavior as justifiable. In short, Carnegie says, none of us ever believe that we are in the wrong. It's simply human nature that we believe that we are the good guy.

So when someone criticizes us, we simply stop listening to them. Instead, we become defensive. We rail against our accusers. We claim they are out to get us.

Sound familiar?

So, if everyone (EVERYONE!) believes they are in the right, what does this mean for humanity? It means that (let's pluck a number out of the air) 50% of the time each of us is wrong and doesn't know it.

Well that can't be good for the country. How, then, are we supposed to straighten things out?

Carnegie says criticism simply doesn't work. Instead, positive interaction does.

Abe Lincoln is well known for holding the country together during the Civil War. At Lincoln's death bed, Stanton, the then-secretary-of-war, said, "there lies the most perfect ruler of men the world has ever seen."

Carnegie says Lincoln held his tongue when his generals blundered, saying instead, "judge not, that ye be not judged." When his own wife spoke ill of the South, Lincoln said, "don't criticize them; they are just what we would be under similar circumstances."

Is this how we are behaving toward people in opposing political parties?

Lincoln wasn't always this way. In his youth, he reveled in criticizing others, writing scathing letters about people he didn't like and dropping those letters where people could find them. He attacked opponents in newspaper articles. It culminated when he insulted someone so badly that the man challenged Lincoln to a duel to the death. Lincoln was opposed to dueling, but couldn't get out of it.

The duel was stopped at the last minute, but having been faced with the possibility of killing a man, Lincoln was changed forever. He never again wrote a critical letter. He never again ridiculed someone. He strove for the rest of his life to bring people together rather than prove the superiority of his opinion over another.

I'm a registered Republican. Some people might wonder why I voted for Obama. Especially when I tell them that I liked McCain, too. It's because Obama said that too much of the time, opposing sides spend so much time yelling at each other that they forget that they have common ground. If we came together civilly, we might actually be able to make progress by implementing those things that we agree on. Instead, we let our egos get in the way.

He was talking about abortion--one of the most polarizing issues of our time. The common ground? Both sides want to reduce teen pregnancy. How can anyone argue with that? The problem is that, because we yell at each other, and don't respect each other's opinion, we don't bother to work on even that small issue together.

Obama said, " I absolutely think we can find common ground. And it requires a couple of things. It requires us to acknowledge that..
  1. There is a moral dimension to abortion, which I think that all too often those of us who are pro-choice have not talked about or tried to tamp down. I think that’s a mistake because I think all of us understand that it is a wrenching choice for anybody to think about.
  2. People of good will can exist on both sides. That nobody wishes to be placed in a circumstance where they are even confronted with the choice of abortion. How we determine what’s right at that moment, I think, people of good will can differ.
"And if we can acknowledge that much, then we can certainly agree on the fact that we should be doing everything we can to avoid unwanted pregnancies that might even lead somebody to consider having an abortion.

"We’re not going to completely resolve it. At some point, there may just be an irreconcilable difference. And those who are opposed to abortion, I think, should continue to be able to lawfully object and try to change the laws."

And that's why I voted for the man. Not because I believed in one political issue over another, but because I wanted a person in the White House who was willing to stop calling people names and start getting down to business.

"Can't we all just get along?" is seen as an anemic and cliche refrain. But it shouldn't be. It should be our battle cry. It should be what we start demanding of our political representatives. Whether or not we agree with every political stance they represent, our political leaders should be willing to talk to the people on the opposing side. And that's not going to happen when we're throwing around labels like "left-wing or right-wing nutjob", and "A**holes", and "baby killers" and "Christ killers" and "towel heads" and "camel jockeys" and every other word we like to throw around.

It's time to stop acting like three-year-olds, guys.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Let's VERB Palin!

Love her or hate her, you have to admit that Sarah Palin has a problem. I'm not criticizing--it's a problem she and I share, and it's why I'm a writer, not a radio pundit. We can't come up with a well organized spoken thought when put on the spot.

I got a call last night from the Fraternal-Order-of-Police-Stickers-for-Your-Car. You know the guys--they guilt you into thinking that if you don't give them money then some poor sweet barely-out-of-the-pimple-stage-of-life man is going to die from a sucking gunshot wound to the chest because he couldn't afford a bulletproof vest. And even if you don't believe that, you hope that having the sticker on the back windshield of your car is going to make the cop who just pulled you over think to himself, "gosh--there's no way I can give this woman a ticket--she helped pay for my station's last BBQ!"

Sorry, but I'm just NOT going to give these guys money. I don't mean the police, I mean the sticker people. I want the police to get the money, just not the sticker guys. So you know what I did? When the police department needed more funds, I voted to pay more taxes so they could have it. I want those fresh-faced rookies to have their bulletproof vests, dangit! But I'm not giving money to the sticker people.

So I got a phone call last night, and it went a little like this:

Caller: Hi, I'm so-and-so from the guilting-you-into-buying-stickers foundation. We've just started our most recent drive, which will pay for things like anti-drug education at schools, and all sorts of ambiguous help for our men in blue.

(I wanted to get him off the phone fast, so I decided to tell him I already give money to a variety of causes and am therefore, morally allowed to say no to him.)

Me: I already this year have given money to other things . . . charities, you know . . . for disabled . . . like the Federa-, I mean, Founda-, uh, the group for Blindness . . . that and for other disablednesses that . . .

(At this point I sensed that it wasn't going to get any better, and I hung up.)

I do give money. I tithe to my church. I've taken in people who need a place to live. I give money to my college. I've given money to diabetes charities. I regularly support the National Foundation for the Blind (I have two blind cousins.) I give all my used stuff to the Goodwill truck behind Safeway. I give money and energy bars to homeless people.

In other words, I don't suck as a human being. And I wanted this guy to know it. (Why I feel it's important that a stranger doesn't think I'm a bad person will have to be the topic of another blog post.) But I failed.

Now, I consider myself a pretty articulate person. I have a degree in English from a pretty good university. My writing peers consider me reasonably good at what I do. I've earned money for taking other people's thoughts and writing them down in a coherent manner, earning, in turn, money for those people. So why couldn't I come up with the words on the spot?

I am convinced that I am not an on-the-spot speaker. We all have our flaws. Albert Einstein and Henry B. Eyring were walking across a college campus when Eyring pointed out some beans that were growing in a garden. Eyring asked Einstein if he knew what kind of beans they were. When Einstein admitted he didn't, Eyring concluded that "Einstein didn't know beans!"

In other words, I don't think people should judge me (or Sarah Palin, for that matter) for being unable to string together a coherent thought in front of an audience. It doesn't mean we're not smart. It just means we're not good at that particular thing. On the other hand, when one's not good at something, one probably shouldn't try to get a job that would require one to do it on a regular basis. (I'm lookin' at you, S.)

So I think it would be a nice idea if we had a word for this phenomenon--where an otherwise intelligent person finds a way to make himself look stupid. That way I can say, "wow, when that police-sticker guy called last night, I really Palin-ed it!"

No comments, please, about whether or not Palin is qualified to be put in the category of "otherwise intelligent person." If you go there, you've missed my point.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


When you watch this, take a look at the storage system in the guy's basement. Yes. We have that. LEGOS.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How Fashion Survives without Copyright

Johanna Blakley, in a talk at TED.

I love TED!

The best part of this talk is when she talks about how much money copyright protected industries make versus non-protected industries.