Intricate Dream

The Tragic Death of the Written Word

Have modern communication methods, such as instant messaging and texting, detrimentally impacted students’ communication skills, and if so, is this influence a dismal foreshadowing of an illiterate future? Some theories lean toward a rapid decline of intelligent readers in our culture, as indicated in an insightful query by Patrick Tucker, the senior editor of The Futurist magazine and Director of Communications for the World Future Society, where he perceptively inquired, “How can it be that less than one-third of 13-year-olds are daily readers, or the percentage of 17-year-olds who read nothing at all for pleasure has doubled over a 20-year period (as measured by the NEA in 2007), or that 40 million Americans read at the lowest literacy level?” (Tucker).

Contrasting opinions have been presented by researchers such as Anupam Kathpalia, who astutely revealed that, “Text messaging may not be all that bad. Some experts add that the use of abbreviations is a novel way of communication that demonstrates dexterity and creativity. This method of communication expands our language capabilities and demonstrates ingenuity.” indicating that text messaging actually exhibits imaginative and resourceful communication alternatives to classic writing styles (Kathpalia). While intriguing arguments exist, both damning and defending Short Message Service technology, the ultimate evidence is irrefutable: modern communication methods, such as instant messaging and texting, have unquestionably influenced students’ social skills; and disastrously, the effect has been mostly negative.

To evaluate objectively the consequences of utilizing such technology, one must first understand the technology in question. Short Message Service, or SMS, is a method of sending short, meaning no more than 160 characters, simple messages between two devices that support the service, such as cellular phones; personal computers and other handheld devices are also capable of exchanging these messages. Jennifer Hord explains how these devices are constantly communicating with towers and their subscribers to update and support mobile users and their ever changing locations. In a nutshell, small packets of information are exchanged allowing the central network to know where each device is currently located and how best to continue providing this vital communication. While unknown to the casual customer, this constant exchange of data allows cellular phone calls, text messaging and other exchanges of information between users within a single network and between multiple networks, as well (Hord). The “store and forward” concept is further elaborated upon by Puneet Gupta, a developer for Lucent Technologies, where he describes a message’s journey from the sender, or originator, to a central SMS center from which it is forwarded to the receiver, or terminator. If the receiver is not available, this method of delivering messages allows the data be stored and delivered when the receiver becomes available (Gupta).

In other words, data is persistently being sent to a central location where it is either passed on or stored based on its purpose. If you send a text message to two friends asking if they’d like to meet for lunch and one of them is out of range of their cellular provider and the other is within range, the later will get the forwarded message immediately while the same message destined for the former will be saved and stored until he or she is available to receive the message, at which time it will be released. This may mean that only one friend will respond in time for lunch but you can rest assured that the other will at least know you made the offer. However, just because you are not placing a phone call, downloading information or sending a message does not mean that your device is inactive. On the contrary, your cell phone is hard at work, relentlessly communicating with towers and access points to ensure you can send and receive the messages and calls you expect from your well paid service provider. So, should your message for lunch be in a finely formed sentence with correct punctuation, spelling and grammar? Is this considered writing?

An interesting concept, loosely based upon the theory that texting is just a quick and easy way of communication and not a form of writing, per se, would state that the damage inflicted upon writing being attributed to instant messages is no more destructive than that of slang used within a telephone call, or indeed, a casual conversation between peers. This concept has been explored by Amanda Lenhart and her team of researchers at the Pew Research Center and she discovered that, “Most teenagers spend a considerable amount of their life composing texts, but they do not think that a lot of the material they create electronically is real writing. The act of exchanging emails, instant messages, texts, and social network posts is communication that carries the same weight to teens as phone calls and between-class hallway greetings” (Lenhart). Another dispute against the notion that texting and social media are destroying literacy in young readers and writers is presented by Professor David Crystal, well renowned linguist and accomplished writer, editor and lecturer, who has referred to common beliefs and statements claiming that these modern forms of communication are contributing to the downfall of the English language as being based on unfounded fears established by language myths and simple ignorance. This claim and other similar opinions have not only been the subject of several of his many books, they were expounded upon in an interview by Joy Lo Dico, writer and diarist for the London Evening Standard, specifically referring to Crystal’s bestsellers, A Little Book of Language and Txtng: the Gr8 Db8, in which she reported that the linguist “found that “txt speak” accounted for barely 10 per cent of the contents of the messages exchanged, and noted that abbreviations have always been part of the English language. . . . The breadth of the internet means that language is morphing not just on grocers’ signs and in school playgrounds, but on a far more fundamental level” (Lo Dico).

However, this does not necessarily mean there are no harmful repercussions from the incorrect spelling, lack of punctuation and rampant sentence fragments produced en masse by constant, ceaseless, careless texting. Several studies have shown that students have admittedly let text lingo slip into their school assignments and have shown a general deterioration in correct punctuation and capitalization due to a lack of practice and repetition of employing correct grammar and writing skills. Kristy Roschke mentions all of these trends in her graduate project, The Text Generation: Is English the Next Dead Language?, and goes on to include the fact that teens have even been known to include emoticons, pictorial representations of facial expressions using punctuation marks and letters, in scholastic assignments (Roschke). Truthfully, the inherent danger to most teens as they mature beyond high school and even into, and after, college is the fateful interview in which they will prove their lacking social abilities, horrendous writing capacity and altogether unacceptable communication skills. It seems to be almost offensively ironic that social media is a leading contributor to deteriorating basic social talents.

For example, many studies have attributed lazy attitudes towards relaying accurate information, a lack of common courtesy and even personal relationship detriment to constant texting but the largest concern has been poor communication skills in corporate America as noted by JoJo Tabares, an experienced expert holding a degree in Speech Communication: According to a 2005 article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, employers are complaining about communication skills. Bosses say the biggest failing among college graduates, job applicants, is an inability to speak and write effectively. Communication skills now top the list of qualities employers seek because these are qualities they cannot teach in their two-week new hire training sessions. However, these qualities are consistently at the bottom of the list perspective employees possess at the interview. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, good communication skills were what employers said was most lacking in college job candidates. (Tabares)

It is obvious that formal writing is still essential in the business world and that shortcuts and text lingo are not acceptable forms of vernacular when professional communication is required. A client will not be impressed with the ability to insert a smiley face into the end of a proposal, no matter how charming an expression it may signify; nor will an employer. Bradley Ballard also alluded to the differences between formal and informal writing and when each is appropriate when he remarked that, “Texting is here and shows no sign of retreat. However, neither does formal business writing and telephone skills. The real trick is to figure out which mode of conversation is best for the given circumstance.” What he was referring to was the fact that high school and college graduates will eventually need to communicate intelligently and eloquently with employers, colleagues and clients and that their future employers would be “the first to insist on excellent writing skills”. He went on to explain that a lack of communication skills can be traced back to grade school when he ascertained, “texting has had a negative effect on the writing abilities, grammar and spelling of students enrolled in primary and middle school. Evidence suggests that because these young students do not yet have a full grasp of the basic English writing skills, they have difficulty in making the shift between texting language and Standard English. Those students who were introduced to texting after gaining a strong knowledge of basic writing skills had an easier time switching between the informal text-speak and formal English” (Ballard).

Have texting devices and instant messages destroyed the English language? Are we destined to slip quietly into an illiterate future simply because younger generations choose to abbreviate more and punctuate less? There is no evidence to support either of these fantastic theories; however, what has been proven is that there is a great responsibility laid upon those of us who believe the written word is worth saving to march onward with resolute and unwavering sentence structure, fight bravely with unapologetic punctuation and prove victorious the gallant grammar and magnificent language we hold dear.

© Daniel E. Barndt ~2012

Original Post (with pictures!) @ BarndtHouse

Works Cited

Ballard, Bradley. Text Messaging and Its Effects on Writing Skills and Employment. Yahoo! Contributor Network. 2 November, 2011. Web. 11 July, 2012. text-messaging-its-effects-writing-10325565.html?cat=31.

Gupta, Puneet. Short Message Service: What, How and Where? Wireless Developer Network. n.d. Web. 18 July, 2012.

Hord, Jennifer. How SMS Works. How Stuff Works. n.d. Web. 18 July, 2012.

Kathpalia, Anupam. The Effects of Text Messaging. Ezine Articles. 7 January, 2010. Web. 1 July, 2012.

Lenhart, Amanda. Writing, Technology and Teens. PewResearchCenter Publications. April 24, 2008. Web. 11 July, 2012.

Lo Dico, Joy. Watch what you’re saying!: Linguist David Crystal on Twitter, texting and our native tongue. The Independent. 14 March, 2010. Web. 25 July, 2012.

Roschke, Kristy. The Text Generation: Is English the Next Dead Language? Teaching, projects, portfolios, and archive files. 2 July, 2008. Web. 11 July, 2012.

Tucker, Patrick. Could Written Language Be Rendered Obsolete, and What Should We Demand In Return? Encyclopedia Britannica Blog. 29 January, 2010. Web. 11 July, 2012.

You Are Not Your Effin’ Khakis!

While a cynical computer hacker was learning about the true nature of reality in The Matrix and a depressed psychologist attempted to help a tormented boy who claimed to be able to communicate with spirits in The Sixth Sense, a true masterpiece of cinematic gold was being released. The year was 1999 and the film was Fight Club. Never have I watched a movie and found it absolutely necessary to watch it again, from beginning to end, in its entirety! The direction is marvelous, the acting: superb! But the underlying message‐depicting a revulsion toward our commercialistic culture and a less-than-subtle anti-capitalist theme‐is an artistic commentary on society that cannot, and should not, be ignored!

This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time.

The Narrator, who is never officially named in the film (a fact that is in no way unrelated to the underlying message criticizing advertising and lifestyle obsession), is an insomniac desperately seeking a cure to his waking nightmare of a sleepless existence. He finds solace in attending support groups of which he has no disease. By allowing himself to let go and weep with the poor souls that are actually suffering from the various afflictions of each meeting he attends, he achieves the essential respite he so urgently needs. Unfortunately, along the way he becomes aware of another “tourist” attending his meetings and this intrusion into his innovative therapy disrupts his emotional release, thus destroying his ability to sleep and returning him to the horror of his previous insomnia. Soon after, the Narrator meets an eccentric soap-salesman with a unique outlook on life and, due to some very unusual events, the odd-couple cohabitate and start a new form of therapy: hand-to-hand combat where everyone wins by learning what is truly important in life.

The things you own end up owning you.

Edward Norton exemplifies a fantastic portrayal of the Narrator (loosely identified as Jack), the epitome of the typical misguided American consumer, in this fantastic film which is about anything but fighting. The director, David Fincher, envisioned the violence in Fight Club as a mere metaphor for the ominous struggle between a young generation and the misplaced values depicted by advertising. Marla Singer, the interloper that disrupts the poor insomniac’s creative therapy, is stunningly represented by Helena Bonham Carter and represents the Narrator’s guilt, regret and fear. Cast as Tyler Durden, Brad Pitt embodies the spectacular antithesis of the Narrator, who quickly becomes our protagonist’s new and improved therapy partner as they form Fight Club: a support group for individuals suffering from modern civilization and commercialism in a detached society.

Her lie reflected my lie…
If I had a tumor I’d name it Marla.

Although expertly adapted for the big screen from an ingeniously brilliant novel and portrayed on film by a cast of immaculate artists, the editing of each scene, shot and sequence predominantly developed Fight Club into a masterwork of cinematography! For example, the scene in which the Narrator ultimately describes Marla as his nemesis is set in a support group meeting with the camera panning behind the main character, projecting the illusion that the audience is in a row behind him attending the same meeting. This illusion connects us, as the viewers, with the Narrator‐we are there with him, in the same room, in the same situation; however, with a flick of a lighter, we are made aware of the intruder. The Narrator turns to see who he already knew was there: Marla, the little scratch on the roof of his mouth that would heal if only he could stop tonguing it, but he can’t. The camera zooms in slowly on the antagonist as she sits smugly in her black garb, black sunglasses, cigarette smoke pouring slowly and seductively from her dark lips in stark contrast to her deathly pale skin. Marla is the Narrator’s infection but she is also his desire‐his cure. At this point in the film, however, she is merely an intrusion into his lie; the lie that was allowing him to sleep. As the Narrator turns we can clearly see the sleepless, drained countenance of a victim immersed in insomnia. After describing Marla as his reason for sleeplessness, a close-up of his face in the foreground with her remaining appropriately blurry but recognizable in the background, casually smoking her cigarette, emphasizes the cancerous leaching Marla inflicts upon the hapless Narrator. The lighter is shot close-up, with only a thumb in the clip, but it’s blatantly obvious who holds the obtrusive paraphernalia, even before the next sequence of shots depicting a black hat covering the face of a woman with a cigarette between her lips. Sound effects play a major role as well. The lighter strike is louder than it should be, indicating the emphasis being placed on its presence in this scene. The Narrator cannot focus on the meeting, the speaker fades away, and even his own thoughts are interrupted and focus on Marla. The final look on the Narrator’s face, a deliberate close-up, epitomizes his helplessness to overcome this intrusion into his endeavor at self-therapy; he is defeated and helpless and, in blunt dissimilarity, Marla is a strong, defiant symbol of unapologetic imposition.

How much can you know about yourself
if you’ve never been in a fight?

Another example of intense use of camera angles, scene selection and sound effects can be clearly appreciated in the fight choreography in the basement of Lou’s Bar. The views alter from first person to a view of both fighters; dolly tracking is used to sweep around as the fighters circle each other. Both fighters, whoever they may be at the time, are shot front-and-center in hard light while the bodies and faces of their spectators are dark and faded into the background, giving the fighters center stage and indicating that they are the stars, they are the heroes. The sound effects are, once again, key elements in illustrating the focus of these scenes. In an adrenalin pumped moment of fight or flight, surrounding noises fade away or even disappear; the crowd that surrounds the fighters lessens while the impact of each blow increases. As the action unfolds and more violent connections are made, the onlookers are all but silent though you can see they are cheering or groaning at what they are seeing but the victor is unaware of their approval or horror; he is intensely engrossed in the beating he is delivering. When he finally breaks out of his trance the sounds return and the fight is over, leaving everyone in a state of surrealism.

When you wake up in a different place at a different time, can you wake up as a different person?

To reduce Fight Club to a simple story of street fighting, bar-room brawling or a shallow exercise in violence would do an incredible injustice to the gifted and talented writer, Chuck Palahniuk, and every shrewd viewer since that has had the insight and vision to see past the superficial surface of the film’s exterior into any of the many underlying layers of social commentary that this exquisitely outrageous film provides into our advertising riddled, commercialistic existence. A beautiful example of how our lives have been saturated in possessions and how true spirituality has been cast aside as an unneeded bi-product of a useless past would be the perfectly appropriate explanation scene in which the Narrator describes his apartment and belongings and essentially describes his pathetic reason for living: price tags appear along with descriptions of his materialistic items as if he was walking through a sales catalogue. He works a job he hates to buy things he doesn’t need; he has no purpose or place in history. Tyler Durdon explains in more detail in his subsequent speech:

We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.

You met me at a very strange time in my life.

The absolute genius of the opening scene sets the tenor for the entire movie and comes full circle by the end of the film: as the opening credits roll, the camera view tracks outward, from the center of the mind; it takes us on a journey from the fear center of the protagonist’s brain through various cerebral scenes and exits a skin pore, elegantly ending between the sights of a Smith and Wesson inserted awkwardly into his petrified mouth. This final shot is repeated near the conclusion of the film, as most of the story is an explanation as to how he ended up in this predicament, but by the time we’ve voyaged with our champion to this point in time our entire perspective has changed and, indeed, so has his. The theme song, Where Is My Mind by Pixies, is undeniably flawless and expresses the sensations of the Narrator as he seemingly losses his grasp on reality. As the final scene illustrates the end result of this unconventional excursion, the audience is not spoon-fed any solutions‐no simple, easy answers are conveniently provided; however, the Narrator has certainly learned something special about himself, society and how he might fit into the big picture. If the viewer is exceptionally lucky, perhaps so have they.

© Daniel E. Barndt ~2012

Original Post (with pictures!) @ BarndtHouse

Equality is a Team Sport

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” [i]

Title IX was signed into law in 1972 and generated major changes to our educational system affording women new and long overdue educational and athletic opportunities. Why then do women athletes continue to get outrageously fewer teams, despicably scarcer scholarships and disgustingly inferior budgets than their male counterparts? It is well past time to change this unacceptable, reprehensible standard.

Our daughters and sisters are as important as our brothers and sons and deserve every opportunity to succeed and excel in sports, education and, indeed, life! Maybe your sister has experienced some sort of sexual discrimination already. Maybe this terrible prejudice has been thrust upon your daughter. What did you say when you had to look into her tear-filled eyes as she wondered why anyone would exude such twisted hate and horrid ignorance toward her based solely on her gender? How could you explain that in this day and age such appalling, bigoted opinions are not only tolerated but actually run rampant in our society? Did it make you angry? Could you feel her pain? Would you, like me, do anything in your power to confront and rebuke the culprits promoting such stupidity and animosity?

As an enlightened nation, we are lucky to live in a time where these chauvinistic, Neanderthal views of our past no longer pertain to women to the degree that they did a few decades ago. However, male athletes still receive 176 million more scholarship dollars than female athletes every year. As recently as 1992, 2.4% of men received athletic scholarships compared to the disproportionate 1.0% of women receiving similar athletic financial support. A slight improvement was seen by the time 2008 rolled around, when 1.6% of male athletes were awarded these grants compared to 1.1% of female athletes. [ii] Regrettably, at this rate of improvement, parity of scholarship distribution will take another 16 years or more before men and women receive equivalent opportunities for scholarships. The sad truth is clear: we have a long way to go before we reach true equality.

While it is true that the majority of money currently generated from spectator sports comes from men’s sporting events; the truth of the matter is, by supporting women’s athletic scholarships the profitability of sports in general could potentially double. Let’s encourage our young women to compete for an affordable education, learn from failure and success and strive for perfection, both in the classroom and on the field! Not only is it appallingly bias to assume men’s sports are the only events that could produce revenue, it’s also prohibited according to Title IX. Regardless of legal implications, consider the benefits of increasing opportunities for young women in sports. The more scholarships that become available for these young ladies, the more competition to qualify for these grants will escalate which, in turn, will improve the skills of all the competitors. By pushing these athletes to new levels of performance, the public’s interest in viewing women based sports will propagate; thus, amplifying the possible spectator sports we currently enjoy and, of course, all the revenue related to such events.

Increased scholarships for young women will result in an overall stronger future workforce, promote more diverse sporting entertainment possibilities and solidify our countries unity by promoting equality. It has been proven that women who are active in sports develop greater confidence, self-esteem and pride in their physical, social and academic endeavors; furthermore, research has suggested that girls that participate in team-based events are less likely to get involved with drugs, less likely to experience teen pregnancy and more likely to graduate from high-school. [iii] By supporting these impressive young ladies today and encouraging their academic growth by awarding them critical scholarships and grants, we will be strengthening and bolstering our homeland’s resilient leaders of tomorrow who will be unequivocally instrumental in shaping and molding our country’s future: promoting even more equality in sports, education and the professional arena, just as their predecessors have done before them.

Studies have established that women’s involvement in sports improves health, grades and leadership skills. Dr. Anne McTiernan, director of the Prevention Center at Fred Hutchinson in Seattle, has attested that participation in rigorous physical activities can reduce a woman’s risk of developing cancer and other diseases. In addition, sports involvement has been confirmed to control anger and anxiety, promote healthy eating and sleeping and benefit the development of grace, balance and poise according to the Women’s Sports Foundation. Athletic female students have historically earned better grades than their inactive counterparts and the graduation rates of young women involved in sports, from both high school and college, outnumber men in sports and, in fact, men in general. Women who have had the benefit of being involved in team activities learn how to take criticism, develop self-improvement skills and become assertive, both on and off the field. Effectively learning how to cope with failure is as important as relishing success; therefore, team sports are imperative to a well-rounded disposition.

While these remarkable, extraordinary young women competing for the limited available scholarships currently offered in today’s imbalanced world are undeniably strong enough to fight for their rights on their own, it is imperative that our entire nation join them in their struggle for equality. This awesome responsibility lies squarely on each and every one of our shoulders and it is our obligation as cultured, progressive, educated Americans to promote vital impartiality, defend basic educational rights and support the fundamental belief that no matter what race, color, creed‐and yes, even sex‐it is up to all of us to ensure that equality is a team sport!

© Daniel E. Barndt ~2012

Original Post (with pictures!) @ BarndtHouse

[i] Title IX, Education Amendments of 1972
[ii] Athletic Scholarships – Who Gets Them and How Many Are There? ~by Leah Westfall, 2011
[iii] Mythbusting: What Every Female Athlete Should Know! ~Women’s Sports Foundation

A Thoughtless Nation

The typical American citizen is willfully ignorant. Content to believe anything and everything the media feeds them they blindly live their daily lives uninterested in challenging the principal majority. Unaware that the accepted “norm” is carefully fabricated and disseminated to the public by a minority with personal hidden agendas. In all fairness, the media is normally merely the vessel of this misinformation, even when the correspondents accept it themselves. In fact, ensuring the purveyors of these untruths believe what they pass along actually endorses the general public’s ability to accept these lies as the unquestionable truth. A perfect example of our nation’s incapacity to recognize propaganda is the ignorant criminalization of marijuana.

Hemp has been used in the creation of woven fabrics for thousands of years and has been traced back to as early as the Chou dynasty (1122-249 B.C.). The first laws passed in America pertaining to marijuana were actually designed to enforce the mandatory growth of hemp in the early 1600’s. George Washington grew hemp at Mount Vernon as his primary harvest. Cannabis was a critical crop and even grown by the government to supply essential rope and related supplies during World War II. The term “canvas” is directly related to “cannabis” due to hemp’s practical use of being woven into this strong and inexpensive material. Literally, cannapaceus means “made from hemp”.

Racism and prejudice were notorious original sources of campaigns to outlaw the recreational use of marijuana. Initially directed toward Mexicans consuming the drug‐farmers were employing them as cheap labor‐the same ignorance fueled misguided attempts to criminalize the plant by blaming black jazz musicians and their “devil music” for the decline of cultural decency.

Political and financial influences to outlaw marijuana seem obvious but many of the indisputable details have been conveniently overlooked. In 1933 Alcohol Prohibition ended, thus reducing funding for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (later to become the DEA ‐ Drug Enforcement Administration). The director of the FBN, Harry Anslinger, actively campaigned for Marijuana Prohibition vomiting outrageous and unfounded lies about the effects and consequences of smoking marijuana.

Anslinger represented the epitome of propaganda based on racism, prejudice and ignorance propelled by both politics and financial greed. His testimony before Congress in 1937 reflected his strong abhorrence of cannabis users and he has been repeatedly reported as uttering controversial quotes, for example: “Marijuana is the most violence causing drug in the history of mankind. Most marijuana smokers are Negros, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes.”

William Hearst was extremely helpful in perpetuating Anslinger’s cause. He, however, had ulterior motives of his own. While he shared a hatred for Mexicans and other minorities, his racism was rooted in his personal finances. He had invested heavily in the timber industry to support his newspaper chain and had lost 800,000 acres of timberland to Pancho Villa, a Mexican Revolutionary general. Hemp would also threaten to further his losses based upon his timber investments. Most of all, publishing scandalous stories about the dangers of marijuana sold newspapers.

Anslinger and Hearst were instrumental in the 1937 bill signed by President Roosevelt that damned cannabis illegal at the federal level. As a result, the hemp industry, in its entirety, was doomed to its ultimate destruction.

It’s easy to draw a logical conclusion to a conspiracy among existing leaders of industry of the day that would be threatened by the widespread use of hemp. Namely, the chemical company Dupont, who actively supported the prohibition campaign, was motivated by removing competition to its patented nylon products. In addition, pharmaceutical companies could not control home-grown remedies to common ailments nor were they prepared to standardize or identify cannabis dosages.

What does all this have to do with modern ignorance? Everything. Some of today’s major concerns are the national deficit, the rising unemployment rate and irresponsible government spending. Why not combat unemployment, cut wasteful spending and contribute to paying off the deficit in one fell swoop? Consider the positive implications of legalizing and regulating marijuana. No longer would we spend excessive amounts of taxpayer money to arrest, prosecute, detain and incarcerate non-violent marijuana users. Instead, by regulating and taxing the sale of marijuana cigarettes, dealers, distributors and growers of black-market varieties of the drug (which are of unknown strength and purity‐lacing cannabis with incredibly dangerous drugs is common practice) would be out of business. The jobs created by this new industry would be substantial and the government would finally profit from the production, preparation and sale of recreational marijuana versus their current practice of spending countless millions of wasted funds to fight a losing war on a substance much less dangerous than alcohol. The later has been deemed acceptable by our culture as a legal drug despite the proven dangers on our society and the daily death-toll attributed to alcohol consumption but, in contrast, it is easily regulated, difficult to refine and the government has already lost that war once.

Furthermore, the countless products available which could be produced from the hemp plant would flood the market with alternatives to their present counterparts; thus stimulating the economy and forcing new levels of competition: driving down the price of fabrics, building materials, food products and the many uses of paper and other similarly produced goods. It is even conceivable that this practice would curb our planets existing deforestation issues.

The medicinal value of marijuana has been addressed to a limited extent in recent years. While more willing to accept its use as a medicine, there are still many critics that crusade to ban even this helpful application of the drug. These advocates often have their own specific agendas unrelated to the actual issue in question: religious leaders standing on “moral values”, political figures seeking increased public acceptance or reelection, and industry monopolies protecting their financial interests. Once again, an example of the dominate minority representing the ignorant majority. Most of these factions preach the dangers of “the devils weed” while few understand even the minutest details of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC‐the active chemical in cannabis). The fact of the matter is, the consumption of red-meat is more likely to cause cancer than smoking marijuana and there has never been a documented case of an overdose attributed to the usage of marijuana. The same cannot be said of cocaine, heroin or even alcohol. A cannabis smoker can fear an increased appetite or escalated fatigue far before the outrageous claim by the 1936 movie Reefer Madness of losing one’s mind and being uncontrollably influenced to become an axe-murderer. Even frequently noted research linking long-term use of marijuana and short-term memory loss are inconclusive as several similarly conducted experiments and studies have resulted in widely varied outcomes. Basically, the medicinal value of cannabis far outweighs its commonly alleged dangers.

Despite all of these facts, the popular opinion of the average American is insistently to keep marijuana banned, that legalization efforts are solely pursued by “pot-heads” and the drug is more dangerous than alcohol. Few of those with these opinions could eloquently or intelligently argue their reasoning without quoting uneducated myths and former perpetuated deceits of anti-marijuana propaganda. Some common lines of thought have been, “Alcohol is legal, thus it is safe if used responsibly” and “Marijuana is illegal, so it must be dangerous no matter what the practice”.

Scarce would be the defender of a substance that has been so demonized in American society; however, the truth remains that marijuana has only been illegal in the United States for approximately eighty years out of our nation’s two-hundred plus (not to mention the thousands of years the plant has been in use preceding our nations birth and it’s widespread acceptance around the world). As for why, it seems blatantly obvious that the prohibition of marijuana is due to the typical American citizen’s complete failure to think for themselves, shrewdly question authority or rebel insightfully against popular opinion. Is it possible to allow ourselves to benefit from this relatively harmless plant? Will we confront our government and demand they cease the needless spending and wasted funds fighting a senseless war on a fictional enemy? Can we agree, instead, to battle unemployment, create jobs and heal our sick? The answer lies in one last, definitive question: do we have the audacity to think for ourselves?

© Daniel E. Barndt ~2012

Original Post (with pictures!) @ BarndtHouse

[i] An archaeological and historical account of cannabis in China by Hui-Lin Li – Economic Botany, 1974
[ii] The History of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 by David F. Musto, M.D. – Archives of General Psychiatry, 1972

[iii] The Forbidden Fruit and the Tree of Knowledge: An Inquiry Into the Legal History of American Marijuana Prohibition by Richard J. Bonnie & Charles H. Whitebread, II, 1970

[iv] Unsubstantiated statement of H. J. Anslinger, Commissioner of Narcotics, 1937 Marihuana Tax Act hearings

[v] Biography of  William Randolph Hearst by Jon C. Hopwood
[vi] Snatching The Patient’s Pot by Edward W. Miller, MD – Coastal Post, 2005

Tim Burton ‐ Creativity Incarnate

There are few that will ever probe so deeply, see so clearly, touch so profoundly the souls of a people than the genius that is Tim Burton! Where to begin? The Nightmare Before Christmas? Perhaps, there are many films that could be deemed his tour de force; however, that may be the film that introduced me to “Tim Burton the filmmaker”. I remember it well. Not the plot, specifically, nor the characters (although who could ever forget Jack and Sally?) but the wonderful darkness‐both beautiful and hauntingly sad, that welcomed me into its warm embrace. Suddenly grasping how a simple children’s story could be innocent yet passionate, chilling but harmless, forbidding and comforting: that was the decadent brilliance that drew me in and has never let me go!

Studying at the California Institute of the Arts led to his working on projects for Disney who awarded him a fellowship, circa 1980. This fortuitous apprenticeship allowed Burton to work as an animator on films such as The Fox and the Hound and The Black Cauldron. Interestingly enough, it could be assumed that this very conventional, mainstream, conservative animation style helped push him toward that murky corner of his vibrant mind that allowed us the privilege of such masterpieces as Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and Sweeney Todd. Ironically, Disney then fired him in 1984 after making a short film called Frankenweenie (the story of a boy trying to revive his dog which was hit by a car), deeming it too dark for general audiences and a waste of company funds. Ah, but were it not for that darkness; never would he have shown so bright!

It would be easy to say Tim was always creative. He enjoyed fine art as a boy and making stop motion films. Be it painting, drawing or just enjoying movies, he continually surrounded himself with creative outlets. It’s no surprise that Edgar Allen Poe was a favorite author and that horror and science fiction were at the top of his genres of choice. He greatly respected Vincent Price, an immense influence in his life with whom he had the honor of working with on several occasions.

No one stands out in Burton’s life like his colleague, his friend, the godfather of his children: Johnny Depp. Cast as Edward Scissorhands (1990) the two continued to build a life-long friendship that would span what could be seen as Tim’s greatest works to date including the wonderful and marvelous twists on childhood favorites such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice In Wonderland! Obviously, Helena Bonham Carter‐a creative soul in her own right‐also played, and indeed still plays, a crucial part in shaping his films. Helena has a boundless gift of portraying strong characters no matter who she depicts (she may be best recognized as Bellatrix Lestrange from the Harry Potter series but I’ll never forget her as Marla Singer in Fight Club! A movie so gorgeously dark and twisted it could have sprung straight out of a Tim Burton dream). Bonham Carter worked wonders as the sweet, lithe voice of Emily in Corpse Bride, the fascinating Mrs. Lovett in Sweeny Todd and the infamous Red Queen in Alice In Wonderland as well as numerous other great Burton films.

Before I started reading about his childhood I knew little of Tim’s personal history; truly, I believe I have but scratched the surface. Regardless, I feel we share some basic traits that I never knew existed and those similarities endear me to a man I already respected. He was an introvert and focused on his art even at a young age, as did I. Spending many days alone, yet content to be so, I enjoyed drawing, painting, sculpting and writing poetry. I frequently attempted to challenge societies perception of what was considered normal, explore unfamiliar territories and confront uncomfortable topics such as death and anguish; perhaps to push back at communal boundaries I felt surrounded me, possibly due to mere teen angst or conceivably to laugh and find humor in that which frightened me most: mortality itself. I don’t claim to know why Burton focuses on such topics, only that I respect how he creates virtue from agony, pleasure from revulsion and beauty from violence. With the incontrovertible success of his ability to twist such stories as Alice In Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory into elegant, sinister works of art, it’s not hard to believe that I am far from alone in my appreciation of that wonderful capacity.

Whichever film may have first broken through the light to reveal the shadow of such glory, whatever magnificent nightmares gave birth to such beautiful gore‐whether it began in a California backyard of the 1970’s or a cynical Disney studio a decade and a half later‐of this I am certain: Tim Burton is the personification of creativity and he has only just begun!

© Daniel E. Barndt ~2012

Original Post (with pictures!) @ BarndtHouse