To the Shores of Tripoli

In the early 19th Century pirates from the Barbary States, Morocco, Tripoli, Algiers, and Tunis, started raiding the merchant shipping of the newborn United States.  They would take the ships and crews and hold them for ransom, ultimately wishing to extract tribute from the United States.

When the Brigantine Betsey was captured by Moroccan pirates, diplomatic channels were first tried.  Spain’s recommendation was to pay tribute to the Barbary states to get them to leave us alone. Then US Minister to France Thomas Jefferson decided to send envoys to Morocco to try to  purchase treaties.  The attempt was apparently successful in that Morocco agreed that if any ships were captured and brought into Moroccan ports they would come under the protection of Morocco and be set free.

This did not help when Algeria seized the schooner Maria and then Dauphin.  Diplomatic talks failed.  Envoys were authorized to pay up to $40,000.  The four Barabary Coast states wanted $660,000 each to free the crews and ships (Morocco apparently forgetting its existing treaty, or perhaps simply not considering it to apply when it was another of the Barbary states that did the actual pirating).   It took a decade, during which time other ships were taken and their crews enslaved, before the US won their release at the cost of $1 million (out of a total Federal budget, for all purposes, of about $6 million).

This continuing demand for tribute led to the first rumblings that America had had enough with these people.  The US formed the Department of the Navy in direct response in 1798.

Thomas Jefferson, then Vice President of the United States along with President John Adams once more tried to negotiate with them going to London to negotiate with them, a much more serious move than a similar trip would be today.  The response they received was disheartening in the extreme:

It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise. He said, also, that the man who was the first to board a vessel had one slave over and above his share, and that when they sprang to the deck of an enemy’s ship, every sailor held a dagger in each hand and a third in his mouth; which usually struck such terror into the foe that they cried out for quarter at once.

It was clear at this point that paying tribute was a losing game.  However, then President John Adams believed we needed a stronger navy before we could stop.  The US agreed to pay $1 million a year (still a substantial portion of the US Federal budget) for the next 15 years for safe passage of US shipping through the Mediterranean.

However, when Jefferson took office as President in 1801, Tripoli demanded an additional $225,000.

This was enough.  Jefferson refused.

Frigates were sent to protect American shipping. Congress never voted a declaration of war but they did authorize the President to instruct American vessels to seize all vessels and goods of the Pasha of Tripoli “and also to cause to be done all such other acts of precaution or hostility as the state of war will justify.”  The US ships, joined by a Swedish flotilla, blockaded Tripoli.

This undeclared war continued for several years before the battle that is the reason for today’s post.

On March 6 of 1805 Lieutenant William Eaton of the United States Marines starting at Alexandria Egypt with a force of 600 marines and 400 locally recruited Arab and Greek mercenaries and began a 600 mile trek across the Libyan desert.  In the course of this trek friction arose between the Muslim Arabs and Christian Greeks.  There were several mutinies among the Muslim forces.  Eaton quelled the mutinies and finally reached the port city of Bomba in late April where the ships Argus, Nautilus, and Hornet waited under the command of Hull.

On April 26 Eaton sent a letter to the Governor of Derne asking for safe passage through the city.  This request was, of course, denied with the Governor reportedly writing back “My head or yours.”

So on April 27, Eaton attacked.  A cannon from the Argus had been shipped ashore and the Hull began a naval bombardment.  Eaton divided his forces in two, sending one group under Hamet to cut the road to Tripoli and attack the city’s weakly defended left flank.  He led the attack against the harbor fortress himself.

When his mercenary forces wavered under musket fire, Eaton led the charge himself being seriously wounded in the wrist.  Hull, seeing the charging forces, ceased fire.

So successful was the charge that the defenders in the fortress fled, leaving their cannon loaded and ready to fire.  Eaton turned the guns on the city.  This attack, in combination with Hamet’s flanking maneuver, led to the city being completely taken by mid-afternoon.

And this battle provided the young United States with the leverage to win back the captured Americans and end the First Barbary War.

At it added an important line to the Marine Corps Hymn.

 

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Where the DC movies went wrong.

This is going to be a bit of a ramble.

Lately there have been two battling Superhero franchises:  The Marvel Cinematic Universe and whatever mess DC has been putting out lately.

That wording should tell you what fandom camp I fall into.  And what makes that ironic is that I grew up on DC comics.  While I was fond enough of Marvel Comics, it was DC that was my true superheroic love.  Superman, Flash, Wonder Woman, Batman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Teen Titans, Green Lantern, yes, even Aquaman.  I couldn’t even pretend to be a collector because I would read and re-read them until they were falling apart.  No “mint” copies in my collection.

Then Frank Miller did the Mini-Series “The Dark Knight Returns.”  It was a good story.  It was a great story, as a story.  As a stand alone, as one particular take on Batman and his future, it was marvelous.  But it was not the Batman I’d grown up on.  And when DC started making the Darknight Detective more “Dark” and less “Knight” let alone “Detective”, well, that was the beginning of a downhill slide for me.  Your mileage, of course, may vary.  For a while there he was almost a split personality.  A more well-rounded, sane individual when working with the pre-Crisis Jason Todd (back when Todd was, like Dick Grayson, a circus performer whose parents were murdered–as one letter writer said “Where else are you going to find a young man with that kind of acrobatic training?”), then a completely different and far darker individual when working on the West Coast with the group he formed the “Outsiders.”  Gradually the cowled psychopath would take over the character.

Meanwhile, over in the Superman Comics, Superman was still the Big Blue Boyscout.  And I loved it.

Then came the movie “Superman”.  Oh, wow.  Christopher Reeves nailed it.  As Reeves said in a interview (quoted here among other places):

“What sets Superman apart is that he has the wisdom to use his powers for good. He has all these powers, but he’s got the mind of maturity – or he’s got the innocence, really – to look at the world very, very simply. And that makes him so different.

When he says, ‘I’m here to fight for Truth, Justice, and the American Way,’ everyone goes: *snicker* *cough* *ahem*.

But he’s not kidding.” 

 Reeves totally got it.  The movies may have been over the top silly in parts but Reeves understood the character and was true to him.

Well, years passed and we had Keaton’s Batman.  Very Milleresque, but as a stand alone “different take” it was pretty good.  Kilmer’s wasn’t too bad.  And the less said about Clooney’s the better.  There was the Brandon Routh version in Superman Returns that fell like a dud.

Then there was Nolan’s version of Batman.  This one actually lightened up a bit on Batman himself.  Okay, I think he was wrong in The Dark Knight.  Gotham could have handled that, given what had happened to him, Dent had gone nuts there at the end.  Batman as a heroic figure  would have had more value than was lost in seeing that their idolize DA had human failings.

Then along came Zack Snyder to direct the new Superman movie, “Man of Steel”.  Okay, look, I’ve heard arguments on both sides regarding the collateral damage from the fight in Metropolis and the killing of Zod and how Superman “had no real choice.” This may be true, Superman had no choice.  But that was Snyder’s choice.  In the comics, Superman has killed, yes.  However, that falls into two different categories.  One is the very early development of the character when the writers and editors were still figuring out what the character was going to be.  Then, once they did that and we had the “Big Blue Boy Scout” those rare instances were where he was forced to at extremis, and gain their dramatic power because he is deeply committed to preserving life, not taking it.

Snyder’s Superman, as portrayed by Henry Cavil, does not have that.  One could argue that they’re returning to the roots of Superman, the very first stories where he was a bit more casual about things like that, but that Superman was far less powerful, far less of a god among mortals.  “Faster than an express train” “Nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin” “Leap an eighth of a mile”. Compare that with any of the modern versions. The more “relaxed” attitude toward use of lethal force, combined with the far greater powers of the modern Superman is not, IMO, a good combination and breaks the character.

What we end up with is an invulnerable, super strong, super fast bull in a china shop.  Those people concerned about what this incredibly powerful alien is going to do are right to be concerned.  He has given them no reason to allay their fears.

They worry that he’s a threat for the very good reason that he acts like a threat.

And this is not just a matter of putting Superman into a difficult spot that he’s going to have to dig his way out of and show that despite how things look he’s really that Boy Scout.  This is a different, darker, interpretation of the character.  As indicated by Snyder’s complaint that people don’t like this version:

“The thing I was surprised about in response to Superman was how everyone clings to the Christopher Reeve version of Superman,” he told Forbes. “How tightly they cling to those ideas, not really the comic book version, but more the movie version. … If you really analyze the comic book version of Superman, he’s killed, he’s done all the things. I guess the rules that people associate with Superman in the movie world are not the rules that really apply to him in the comic book world because those rules are different. He’s done all the things and more that we’ve shown him doing, right?”

First off, he shows here that he does not understand the comic book version.  Yes, Superman has done “those things”.  But they were exceptional things, not, frankly, the only things we’ve seen from the character.  When the first thing we see about how the character deals with a difficult challenge is killing the challenger we don’t have “this is something he was forced to in extremis”.  We have “this is how the character deals with challenges”.

I don’t think he “analyzed” the comic books.  He went through cherry picking what he wanted to do, the character he wanted to make, regardless of whether it was actually true to the iconic character or not.

Even the outfit.  Superman’s costume was inspired by circus costumes.  The muted colors are just plain wrong on the Man of Tomorrow.

The people who are complaining are fans of the comic books.  They generally have read the comic books, probably a lot more thoroughly than Snyder ever did.

Look, I’m the last person to say that nothing can be dark. “If you want to paint pictures like that, you need to use some dark colors.” But it can’t be all dark.  And in a comic book superhero world of all places–especially when it comes to characters like Superman of all things–the purpose of dark is to make the light seem all the brighter.  When all you have is dark, you just have a muddy, bleak landscape, what some folk call “gray goo”.  I know that appeals to some people, but those people generally aren’t Superman fans.

And, so far, with the new DC movies, that’s really all I’m seeing:  unremitting dark with nary a bright spot to be seen, as far as the eye can see.

Blast from the Past: Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness. Part 3, The Pursuit of Happiness

The day before yesterday I addressed the right to life, yesterday the right to Liberty.  Today I round out the trifecta with the right to The Pursuit of Happiness.

You may notice a trend here.  Each of these gets more abstract, and a bit more involved, than the one before.  Some consider this one the most obvious of the three.  After all, no matter what anyone else does you can always try to be happy.  After all, it doesn’t say a right to be happy, just to “pursue” it.

But is that all that “The Pursuit of Happiness” means?  After all, Thomas Jefferson was well educated and many consider him one of the most intelligent men of his day.  Would he include something so trite in his statement of the philosophical underpinnings of why the US was declaring independence?  Would the other intelligent and highly educated men have left it there if it were something so basic that, well, even a prisoner in chains can try to be happy, can “pursue happiness” if that’s all it means.

I don’t think it can be that trite.

To pursue happiness is to seek something beyond mere survival.  Liberty is a large part of it.  One must have the freedom to do the things that one believes will lead to happiness.  But more than that is required.  If one has to spend every moment, every ounce of effort, every gram of resources in merely staying alive one has nothing left to pursue happiness.

So, in order to pursue happiness, certain needs must first be met.  One must have something left after the struggle for survival.  It need not be much.  Consider, for instance, if the world economy utterly collapsed.  Infrastructure broke down.  Technology was wrecked.  After this catastrophe, imagine you are one of the few survivors left with nothing with which to work.  You’re all alone.  Your family (if you have one) is gone.  It’s just you, trying to survive.

That would be a pretty harsh reality.  Would it be possible to pursue happiness in this new world?

Well, at first you’d struggle just to survive. (Some people, no doubt, would just give up and die, but you’re not one of those, are you?)  You’d have to find or build shelter, find water, find food.  A piece of the roof of that collapsed house is leaning against a charred piece of wall.  It’s not much, but it will keep the rain and snow off and with a fire by the opening you can keep it warm enough not to freeze in the cold.  There’s a retention pond not too far away.  It’s not much.  The water is uncomfortably dirty, but it’s water and it keeps away dying of thirst.  Maybe in the rubble of that library you find some books on edible plants and some old books on how to build fish traps and snares.

You survive.  And before long at all you find that taking care of the basics of survival doesn’t take up all your time and effort.  You have time to do other things.  Maybe you find some books among the rubble to read for the sheer pleasure of reading.  Or maybe you fiddle around with different ways of making sounds and create some form of musical instrument and play for your own entertainment.  Or perhaps its pictures or sculpture that catches your fancy.  Or maybe it’s simply decorating the tools you make to help you in your survival.  You don’t need to carve those designs into the axe handle, but they please you.  In any case, you can do more that mere survival.  You can do things to improve your lot on an emotional level, to pursue happiness, rather than just for mere physical survival.

And when you’re confident you have the means to survive, you leave the little piece of roof that sheltered you and set out to find others.  Perhaps you do find them.  Now you have companionship.  And while the pain of your lost family never goes completely away (it never does), it recedes to bittersweet memory and you can build a new family.

So even in this horribly apocalyptic world it’s possible to meaningfully pursue happiness.  Mind you, one could fail anywhere along that chain.  But the right isn’t to obtain happiness, just to pursue it.  And as soon as you have the possibility of some freedom of action and thought beyond that required for mere survival, it becomes possible to seek more.

Now let’s change the scenario a bit.  Instead of being alone, let’s bring some other people into the picture.  But these other people aren’t nice people who want to be friends.  They’re roving bands of raiders who will kill you over the rabbit you managed to trap and the wild onions you dug up for dinner.   Now, instead of just seeing to the task of survival you have to constantly be looking to your back trail.  You have to make sure your camp is hidden.  Small fires made with only bone dry wood because smoke can attract raiders.  That means a cold camp when it’s wet.  That music you would otherwise be making?  Can’t do that if it will pinpoint you to raiders.  And so on.

Notice how that picture changed?  Instead of being able to spend the necessary time to survival and spending the rest on whatever you will, whatever might bring you a modicum of happiness, all of your time is now taken up.  When not hunting/trapping/fishing/gathering you’re hiding.  Finding other people?  Can you trust them not to be raiders?  And when you are pursuing mere survival you have to worry about what, or rather who, you will find around the next bend of the trail or over the next ridge.  Gone is the time spent on other activities.

And that is the greatest threat to the right to “Pursuit of Happiness”, other people–people of ill will.  Nature may be harsh, often dangerous, but there’s no malice in it.  But bring in people with actual malice and the picture changes.

What is needed is a modicum of order, enough order to keep the people of ill will “pruned back” sufficiently so that everyone else isn’t having to spend every moment looking over their shoulder wondering, and enough stability that you can step back from the mere task of survival and do something else.

“And to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

So there we have it, the reason for government.  It is to act against the use of force whereby one person (or group of persons) infringes on the right to life and liberty of another, and to provide that minimum of order and stability required to allow each individual to pursue happiness as that individual sees fit.  Enough order.  Enough stability.  Enough so that the people of ill will who mean you harm are kept in check, but not so much at the government itself becomes a threat to Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness.  To go beyond that is itself an infringement on the rights held by the people.

And if you appreciated the above post, you might enjoy my novel Survival Test, where a group of people must face a challenge to survive and go beyond mere survival to prosper

War!

A series of diplomatic crises precipitate a limited nuclear war on Earth. Missile defenses block access to space. Nothing goes up and nothing comes down.

The people of the various space stations, the moon base, and a space colony whose construction had just begun must find a way to survive until the war is over.

The ultimate survival test.

As always, click the cover image to get the book.

Blast from the past: Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness, Part Two: Liberty

In yesterdays post, I spoke on the Right to Life and how that Right implies the right to defend that life and the right to possession and carrying of the means of effective defense.

Today, I speak on the Right to Liberty.

To recap, from the Declaration of Independence, we have: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,”

Last time we discussed life.  This time we discuss Liberty.  Life is fairly straightforward.  There might be some controversy over where life ends and where it begins but for the majority of the time we are quite clear on what “life” means.  Liberty is a bit more complicated.  In general, ones right to life does not infringe on another person’s right to life.  There are exceptional circumstances:  in defending one’s own life one may end the life of another.  In those cases, however, it can be seen that the one who created the situation, the one who placed the other in the need to defend his or her self, willingly took upon himself a risk and the onus for his loss of life is on himself.  It is the same case as when someone engages in any dangerous activity.  If someone engages in free rock climbing and falls to his death it is not the cliff’s fault or responsibility but his own.  Some ask “but does he deserve to die for that.”  This is not a matter of deserving to die, but of freely taking choices knowing that that could be the outcome, and therefore freely taking the risk on oneself.

And choice is the key, which leads us to Liberty.  In the end, Liberty is about choices, real choices, not “do this or die” choices.  Being forced to do something or give up the right to life is not a choice to most people in most circumstances.  As one simple example, a person may choose what to eat.  They cannot usually choose if they eat or not in the long run.  Some few may chose to not eat to the point of death from starvation, but that is rare and we need not consider it for the general case.  We will consider that any choice that involves “do this or die” is not a free choice and, in fact, extend that to extreme pain.  Since people have been known to choose death in preference to extreme pain we can say that “do this or suffer” is likewise not free.

Liberty, then, is about free choice.  One can define Liberty as the sum total of choices available to a person.  The problem there arises when my choices may affect the choices available to someone else.  Liberty is about ones ability to make choices so long as they do not forcibly infringe on the same right in someone else.  The key word there is forcibly.  If one, say, likes to wear bright colors that clash someone else may not like that.  They may find it unpleasant when the discordant one walks into a restaurant, but it’s not a forcible infringement.  One can tolerate it or not as one chooses.  As Erik Frank Russel put in the mouth of one of his characters in And Then There Were None, “I can please myself whether or not I endure it.  That’s freedom ain’t it?”  They can wear what they wish.  You can like it or not as you wish.  Liberty on both sides.

Other cases also become apparent when one considers Liberty as being about free choice.  If one is able to arm oneself and defend one’s home against invaders, that is free choice.  That is Liberty.  If one needs to stand in guard every night because the invaders–whether robbers, rioters, or foreign invaders–are constantly present, that is not.  Again free choice is the key.  A society where you can defend your home at need is more free than one where one cannot.  However, a society where a person needs to spend most of his time in standing guard over his home is less free than one in which he can pursue other activities and only take an active guard at special need.  Again, free choice is the key.

The initiation of force to infringe upon another is contrary to the Right to Liberty.  But what happens when someone does forcibly infringe on the Liberty of another?  What then?  In that case, the use of force to end the infringement is justified.  One might attempt reason or persuasion to accomplish that end, but experience has shown that when one uses force to infringe on the Liberty of another, only force will persuade them to cease.

And so the principle of Liberty, while not sanctioning the initiation of force to restrict the Liberty of another, does sanction its use to defend ones own.

From whence comes this force?  Is there some special source from which the force to restore liberty must come?  One may look for such a source without finding it.  Some may claim that it comes from Government, from some body chosen in some manner, whether from Divine Right of Kings or The Will of the People, that is the sole repository of the right to use force.  Yet, again, experience has shown that such sources of force are, if left unchecked, more likely to be used to restrict than to preserve and restore Liberty.

No.  In the end, like with the Right to Life, the Right to Liberty, and the power to defend that Right, must come down to the individual.  Each individual must have sanction, the final Liberty, to defend his or her own Liberty.  The individual may delegate some of that power to a greater group to act as Guardians of that Liberty, in particular as a defense against encroachments on his or her liberty from other groups that he cannot defend against as an individual.  But in so doing, he runs the risk that the Guardians may, in turn use that power to infringe his own Liberty.  Against such chance he must retain both the power and the license to use that power to defend his Liberty against even the Guardian he and his fellows have chosen to protect it.

In Right to Life we had the conclusion that to deny the means of defense against those who would infringe it is to deny the right itself.  So it is with the Right to Liberty.  For Liberty we generally choose Guardians to secure and defend that Liberty.  And yet history has shown all too often that those Guardians themselves can become a threat to Liberty.  The body of the people in themselves, must then retain the power to defend their Liberty even against their chosen Guardians.  The balance of power must remain with the individuals so that even their chosen Guardians cannot with impunity infringe on their Liberty.  To deny the right to defend Liberty, by force if need be, is to deny the right to Liberty itself.

More tomorrow.  In the meantime, why not check out my recent story:

Jeff Bannock, while working his after school job at a construction outpost on the moon, merely wants to graduate and head to college. But a casual find of an obsolete memory chip leads to more danger than he ever bargained for.

(Click on cover picture to get the book)

Blast from the past: Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness, part 1, Life

The United States was founded not only as a geographic entity, but as a set of principles.  Indeed, the set of principles takes precedence of the geography.  As G. K. Chesterton said, “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed”.

Those principles were originally set out in the Declaration of Independence, to wit:

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights, are Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness.  That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from consent of the governed.”

The above was written from memory.  Some of the punctuation and exact wording might not match exactly, and I may not have matched Jefferson’s rather idiosyncratic sentence breaks, but it should be fairly close.

It should be noted that much discussion was had over whether “property” should be included in the unalienable rights.  In the end it was not included in this document but the discussion itself shows that it was considered of fairly close par.

Now, while “unalienable” does not mean that the exercise of the rights cannot be taken away, when written into the Constitution, the standards for two of them (life and liberty also with property in that case) of which a person may be deprived is given:  due process of law, which is after one has been tried in a proper court of law with opportunity to answer accusations and summon witnesses for ones own defense.

So, short of that, one may not be deprived of the right to life*.  But how can one have a right to life if one does not have the means to effectively defend that life against persons or things that threaten it?  Note, this is not a right to require others to defend ones life.  Doing so would be an infringement on their own Liberty. (Likewise, to digress a moment, requiring others to provide “health care” for one is an infringement on their own right to Liberty. To the very extent that you are requiring them to provide for you, you are enslaving them.) But that you cannot require others to provide for the defense of your life only underscores the importance of your own right to defend it.  One may enter into agreements with others for mutual defense, mutual assistance in the defense of each individual’s life, liberty, and property, but entering into such agreements is merely the exercise of the individual right combined with “peaceable assembly.”

So, right to life and right to defend that life.  But can such a right exist when means to defense are denied?  Could a peasant in Feudal Europe be said to have a right to self defense if he is limited to bare hands and farming implements against a mounted and armored knight?  Oh, he might have the “right” to try, given the proper legal code, but it would be meaningless without the means.  Give that peasant a firearm and suddenly that armored knight finds that he cannot with impunity take that peasant’s right to life.

And, so, a right to life, and its implicit right to defend that life, must come with the right to effective means for defense. And, so, if there is a right to life, then there must be a right to defend that life, and there must be a right to effective means to that defense.  To deny the latter, to deny the right to effective arms for self defense, is to deny the very right to life.

And to deny the right to life is to deny all other rights which a person might hold.  For how can one have liberty without life?  How can one have property without life?  How can one pursue happiness without life?

*Note here that I am not speaking to the abortion debate on the subject of “right to life.” Much debate could be had on when life begins and, thus, when “right to life” comes into play.  That is not my purpose here.  Similarly, there is lesser but still some debate on when life, and therefore the right to same, ends.  Again, not my purpose here.  So please don’t get sidetracked into those debates.

More to come.  And in the meantime, something to read:

War!

A series of diplomatic crises precipitate a limited nuclear war on Earth. Missile defenses block access to space. Nothing goes up and nothing comes down.

The people of the various space stations, the moon base, and a space colony whose construction had just begun must find a way to survive until the war is over.

The ultimate survival test.

(Click on the cover image to get the book)

Metaphors be with you

Given where I fall in the writing game, I always feel rather pretentious when I blog on the art and craft of writing, but here goes.

Polonius, in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet said “since brevity is the soul of wit and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes”.  Some people, invoking that, suggest that writing should be as brief as possible, trimmed to the bare bones, told in the fewest words that gets the idea across.

Polonius, however, was a stupid old bore.

The true goal in writing is not brevity, but vividness. How clearly, how vividly one paints the picture in the readers mind.  This is how you get immersion and reader involvement in the story.

And one of the great tools to achieve that is the well-crafted metaphor (and I’ll include simile here as well).  Note what I did above.  I used several standard metaphors as a form of emphasis:  “bare bones”, “paint the picture,” even “immersion”.  And in the Shakespeare quote as well. “soul, “limbs and outward flourishes.”

Or consider another use by Shakespeare in The Scottish Play.  After Macbeth murders the king and then frames and murders the two guards he could have said:

“I feel very guilty about these murders”.

Brief and says what he feels, but not vivid.  Consider instead:

“What hands are here? Ha! They pluck out mine eyes.
Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.”

More wordy certainly, but far far more vivid.  We aren’t just told that MacBeth feels guilt for his actions, we see it.  We feel it.  And when Shakespeare wants to echo it again with Lady MacBeth’s own guilt, why it is simplicity itself with:

“Yet here’s a spot.”
and
“Out, damned spot! Out, I say!”

We don’t have to wait until she references blood a few lines later to know that the spot on her hand is blood.  We’re already primed by the previous metaphor.

Of course in the modern age we are so used to the idea of “bloody hands” is such a common metaphor that we don’t need to be primed for its use.  But even so, the echoing of themes and ideas, including the use of metaphor, through the play strengthens the vividness of the story.

When you write, the challenge is to put the picture that you have in your head in all its glory down onto the page using words.  And that can be a monumental challenge.  To use another metaphor by another poet “All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind” (Khalil Gibran).  But with good use of metaphor, as well as other tools one can help other people’s minds experience that “feast.”

One place I often go for inspiration when it comes to metaphor is music.  Music is very much about feelings and, so often makes intensive use of metaphor.  One of my favorites is Feint, by Epica:

The whole song is practically one metaphor after another building on an emotional theme to the climax:

“This black page in history
is not colorfast will stain the next
all that remains is just a feint of what was meant to be.
This black page in history
is not colorfast will stain the next
and nothing seems, in life and dreams like what is meant to be”

And so we poignantly are shown that the events referenced in the song don’t just affect now, but echo into the future, turning the world upside down.  Now, I don’t know anything about the person this song is in homage to.  I don’t know if I’d agree with the positions expressed or not.  I’ve never really bothered to look into that.  It’s the emotional content of the song to which I’m referring here, and its very vivid use of metaphor to create that emotional content.

Of course, there can be bad metaphors too that kill the imagery and throw one out of the story.  Some examples from student papers:

  • His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.
  • She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just
    before it throws up.
  • The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry
    them in hot grease. (I don’t want to know how the author knows that.)
  • He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East
    River.

Well, you get the idea.  A bad metaphor can destroy a piece of writing even more easily than a good metaphor can beautify it.  Either way, the metaphor is a powerful tool.

So go, use metaphor, paint your world in vivid colors, light and dark.

And in the meantime, you might enjoy this story:

A young mother hears the Norns. They tell her of terrible things to come. When Ulfarr wants her gift of prophesy to serve him, he takes her and steals away her children. Can the young mother escape from Ulfarr’s clutches and save her children from him? Only the Norns know.

Click on the cover image to get the book

Feeding the Active Writer: Low Carb Skillet Pizza

First one of these since moving from my old blog.

When I went low-carb a lot of my old favorite foods went off the table.  One of them was Pizza.  The issue ha always been what to use as the crust?  Well, here’s one.

First, preheat a skillet or griddle over medium high heat.  I love well-seasoned cast iron for this.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups grated white/Italian cheeses.  I use the bagged shredded stuff, usually the “5 cheese Italian” but feel free to grate your own if you want.  Just make sure you have some softer cheese that melts well in there.  Straight Parmesan probably would not work
  • 2 Tbsp or so of low-carb marinara (recipe below)
  • A bit more of the grated cheese
  • Your choice of toppings.  I like a virtual solid layer of sliced pepperoni.

Spread the 1 1/2 cups of cheese in a thick disk on the skillet/griddle

Let the cheese cook.  It will first melt, then toast.  As it starts to toast, the disk will start to look less melty and more solid.

Check it from time to time, attempting to slide a thin, flexible spatula under the disk of toasting cheese.  When you can completely slide the spatula under the cheese all the way around and to the center without causing the cheese to crumple up (if it starts to while you’re testing stop and use the edge of the spatula on the top to try to stretch it back out.  Come back a bit later to try again) it’s ready to top.

Spread the marinara over the top of the disk of toasted cheese.  There may be pinholes through the cheese caused by bubbling during the cooking process.  Some of the marinara will drip through these holes and sizzle against the pan.  This is fine and won’t harm anything.

Spread a little bit of the extra cheese over the marinara.  You don’t need much, not with a crust of toasted cheese.  This cheese is basically used as a glue to hold the top of the pizza together and keep the toppings in place.  Of course if you like a lot of cheese then knock yourself out.  It’s your pizza.  Make it like you want it.

Add your other toppings, whatever you  like on pizza, as much as you like.

It can help to sprinkle a bit more cheese over the top, again as a glue to hold things together.

Let it continue to cook a few more minutes, until the cheese you’ve just added is at least mostly melted.

Now comes the tricky part, transfering the pizza out of the pan to a cutting board or plate.  I have a frying pan and not a griddle so the raised rim makes it difficult.  What I usually do is use a large, thin, flexible spatula to lift one edge, slide a plate under that edge, and then work my way across lifting with the spatula and edging the plate under it.  Sometimes this doesn’t work and the pizza crumples together.  In that case I just flip the ends into the middle and call it a calzone.  Still tastes as good.

The end result should look something like this:

20170409_203859 web

Serves…Aw, who am I kidding.  You’re going to eat the whole thing, aren’t you?

Enjoy.

 

Edit:  Ack!  I’d forgotten the Marinara recipe.  Oh well, it’s easy enough:

Ingredients:

  • 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes (shop around to find the ones with the lowest sugar content–this will be the big problem for us low-carb types)
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tbsp garlic powder (what can I say?  I like garlic)
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried parsley flakes
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar (or red wine if you prefer)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Preparation:

Add all the ingredients into a blender.

Mix on low until smooth

Store in the refrigerator in an airtight jar until use.

Really.  That’s it.

Enjoy.