Which Title Would You Choose?

On the passing of Ray Bradbury and Fahrenheit 451.

If you are one to hit the “writing” tag,  by now you have certainly heard of the passing of Ray Bradbury yesterday at the age of 91. For pure entertainment purposes, I prefer Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and some of his other short fiction. Dystopian futures are not exactly a pick-me-up, but reading Fahrenheit 451 is a necessary endeavor for anyone that cherishes the written word. If you haven’t read it yet, stop here and go immediately to your local independent bookstore and purchase a copy. A used paperback version will likely be under $5.

Those of you familiar with the story, know why I ask what title you would hope to be.

My first thought was Hemingway and For Whom the Bell Tolls. Brilliant, but I’m not sure I want to become such violence, such stupidity thrust upon fellow human beings. I thought of  Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Again, too much violence, even if it’s fantasy violence. The trilogy is even bloodier. Fantastic stories all, but not ones I would wish to carry in my very fiber.

I thought of Le Clezio’s Desert. Spiritual but filled with war. Smiley’s The Greenlanders, no war but violent at times. I started to go through all the books I love and soon realized there was probably going to be some violence, no matter which one I chose. I’m not sure if that is a statement about me or literature.

And so I came full circle, back to my favorite writer, Hemingway. A book with mighty struggles but little violence. And every retelling would be like a trip to the Caribbean. My choice: The Old Man and the Sea. I can feel the warm, blue sea splashing around my toes already.

What would your choice be?

A Brief Moment of Hope

Before the left and right tell you what to think about President Obama’s State of the Union address, think for yourself.

Before Malloy and Big Eddy start crying “sellout”, before Hannity and Beck and the drug-addled hypocrite remind you that a marxist wrapped in an American flag is still a marxist, take time to let the President’s own words sink in.

The birth of hope.

Hope. Picture it any way you want.

Why dwell on what divides us? Why not focus on an America where we help each other out instead of tearing each other down?

I like to envision a future where we lead the world in green technology, a time when I can visit my family 300 miles away after just an hour train ride. I look forward to an innovative new education system that rekindles wonder and imagination in our youth. I look forward to a windmill in every back yard instead of an SUV in every garage. I look forward to an Iraq and Afghanistan that use books instead of bullets to define their destiny. All these things are within our grasp. The Declaration of Independence was not penned with pessimism, it was signed with hope for the future, theirs and ours.

So keep in mind, when the merchants of partisanship start to rant, they are free to tell you what they think, they have no right to tell you what you think.

Perhaps no one said it better than George Bernard Shaw. Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

Be the change you’re waiting for. Dream.

The Audacity of Keeping Promises

Updated: 04-20-11, originally published 12-01-09

When President Obama announces his plans tonight (5:00 pm pst) to increase troop levels in Afghanistan, the loudest uproar will come from citizens who voted for him. Apparently they chose to cover their ears when he repeatedly stated such intentions during his campaign. Hopefully, they will actually listen this time.

The future of Afghanistan is too important and too complex to be summarized in a poll question or sound bite. Unfortunately, that’s what will happen. Most Americans won’t listen to the President. Instead, they’ll rely on headlines or pundits to tell them in a single sentence what the entire speech boiled down to. Obama has taken weeks to come to this decision. The least we can do is take the time to listen to his reasoning.

I hope he talks about a new strategy in Afghanistan. I hope he ensures us that additional troops are only needed to stabilize the situation, temporarily, while this new strategy is implemented. I hope he focuses more on rebuilding the country and less on protecting Karzai and his illegitimate government. I hope he offers Afghanistan an alternative to war.

I understand the need for security, and the need to defeat the Taliban, but that victory must ultimately be attained through education and economic support. We need to build more schools and less compounds. We need to help the Afghans grow barley instead of opium. We need to build hospitals, not blow them up. We need to combat fear with hope.

The British invaded Afghanistan looking for trade routes, the Soviets invaded seeking a puppet, we invaded seeking the world’s most wanted terrorist. None of us succeeded. Let us be the first to leave this small, poor, breathtaking country and it’s people in better shape than we found it.

That’s what I hope I hear tonight. If not, I’ll cover my ears … and go back to the keyboard once again.

(If you think rebuilding Afghanistan is a worthy cause, you owe it to yourself to read “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin or visit the CAI website at www.ikat.org ) Update 04-20-11: In the context of certain recent revelations about Greg Mortenson and the CAI, I would take the tea with a grain of salt. But I still believe the answer in Central Asia is education. If we don’t build their schools, radical Saudi’s will, with their own fundamentalist curriculum.