The Kindle

I am a bibliophile. I love the feel of books. I love the smell of an old bookstore. I love the wealth of knowledge they represent and I have a huge personal library close to 1,000 volumes. I have resisted (and investigated) the new book readers. Until yesterday when I bought a Kindle. It was delivered to me about two hours ago. I am already convinced that it represents a revolution in reading. But not only that: it represents a revolution in research as well. With the ability to upload two hundred years worth of scholarly journals and out of print books via Google’s book search I now literally have at my fingertips, whilst traveling in many places–like Turkey, Latin America and parts of Asia–a wealth of knowledge I hitherto did not have.

If you are on the fence about buying one, let me push you off of it right now. Go to this link and get one. You will not regret it.

Race, The ‘Other’ And Human Agency

Now that I have seen Avatar I stand by my original post on the film. But, let’s face facts, the narrative archetype of which I speak in my previous post is fraught with all kinds of difficulties because it is too easy to misinterpret, or misconstrue the timeless ideas behind it. We are so caught up with our triple obsessions of race, neo-colonialism and ‘gong native’ that the film becomes a rorschach test to each and everyone of us, ergo the film does smack of neo-colonialism, in a sense, it does smack of racism, in a certain sense, it does smack of going native.

The problem with all these criticisms is the ‘in a certain sense part.’ The rorschach nature of the film prevents us from investigating why this narrative trope is so powerful, so resonant on the human psyche–not just the Western one–critics take the easy way out and throw up their hands about racism, and neo-colonialism and, horror of horrors, ‘going native.’

But first, let’s dispense with all the easy criticism that can be made of the film: it is anti-corporate. In this day and age of populist rage a la Glenn Beck and the Teabaggers, or the populism of the progressive left, why not take a swipe at Goldman Sachs, Monsanto and Big Oil? Not only are they stripping America of its wealth, they are mining the planet of its wealth.

The film is also pro-green in a very unsatisfactory and unhistorical way–as the film views the noble savage living in peace with his and her native environment as a good unto itself, as the way it should be. This is a disservice to the ‘green movement’ as it follows the silly characterization right wingers have of the environmental movement as a bunch of luddites who would have us living in some kind of post-industrial revolutionary socialist state of nature. Of course, this is an old idea–at least 500 years old. It came out of the early Western experience–primarily the English and French one–in the New World. But, as Charles C. Mann amply documented in 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, the idea that man was living in an unaltered landscape by the time of the pilgrims is terribly false. His book documents and distills much of the most recent scholarly literature on the topic and proves the myth that the upright savages the pilgrims found here in the New World we’re living in a pristine state of balance with their natural environment is false. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t do everything we can to preserve the precious balance of life on our planet–mind you–it is just to say that the human impact on the New World was far, far greater than most people realize.

But, it would have been an altogether different film if Cameron had tried to include that leitmotif. So, back to the criticisms:

The problem with racism and the racist critique is that it is an ill-defined, and ultimately a useless construct of the Western mind. It’s also intellectually lazy. There is no such thing, biologically speaking, as race. We are all homo sapiens, not homo sapiens asiaticus, or homo sapiens caucasiensis, or homo sapiens africanus or the like. Race is too often confused with culture. There are a multiplicity of cultures on our planet. Alas, the racial construct is still useful to many people on all sides of the political spectrum. Sadly, the racial construct is used most commonly when it comes to constructing the ‘other.’ And the ‘other’ is very problematic, but ultimately an innate part of human nature. There will be always—at least for the foreseeable future, in groups and out groups. There will always be alpha-males and subordinates. It’s in our primate nature.

Futhermore, the dialogue of the ‘other’ isn’t limited to the West. About the time the Greeks were beginning this dialogue in Herodotus vis-a-vis the Scythians, the Chinese were doing the same thing. There is a tale in the Records of the Grand Historian of a Chinese diplomat who ‘went native’ by joining the Xiongnu. This isn’t a dialogue unique to those evil dead white men. Now, if you want to critique this archetype from the point of view of the Eurasian steppe nomads versus the settled cultures of the littoral, I’m all ears.

This review is too clever by half. Some excellent points are being made by the reviewer, but ultimately the analysis falls flat:

This is not a vision of a racially harmonious social politic: it is an inversion of the logic of passing that seems acceptable only because it imagines the experience of becoming a person of color as necessarily ennobling. The film argues that once a white person truly and deeply understands the non-white experience, he becomes an unstoppable combination of non-white primitivism and white rationalism which is exactly what happens. In order for the audience to support the transformation of Jake Sully into Braveheart Smurf, it must accept the essentialist assumptions that make such a combination possible … and those assumptions are racist. In football terms, this is a variation of the black quarterback “problem.”

Let’s look at the character from another point of view, and not the ‘racial one.’ As I wrote before:

There is a reason movies like Avatar use this narrative archetype. . . The archetype is a common foundational myth, pops up in many national literatures and historical writing for a reason. It’s been used by the Turks, the Mongols, the Mayans and others. It’s not about colonialism, it’s about the fluidity of tribes, a much older human grouping and one that is much more primal.

Tribes have been, historically speaking, very open to newcomers, those not ethnically or racially or even linguistically pure, for lack of a better description. . . There is even a tale in 12th century Turkish collection of poems called the Dede Korkut that is almost identical in plot to Avatar.

In the end it is a story about who we choose to be, or in modernist terms, human agency, and the fluidity of personal identity. That is why it is such a powerful and oft used narrative archetype.

It’s just realy hard for me to take the racist critique of Avatar seriously when the story being told is about as old as humanity itself. To my mind, the shrewdest analysis so far, the one that comes closest to the real question the movie mines is this one:

What many people seem to forget is that Jake Sully, the main character, is established early on in the story as being both an ostracized and emasculated character. Thus, he does not fall into the classic white privilege archetype that you see in white guilt fantasy.

Jake Sully is emasculated in a literal sense because of a combination of physical injury, financial inadequacy and family tragedy. Not only is Jake Sully a Marine who cannot walk or fight, but more tragically he knows that there is a cure for his injury, but cannot afford it.

Again, there is a reason this narrative archetype is used. It’s about human agency, regaining or even gaining something we never had: the respect of others and proof of our value as individuals; and really, what if the lead had been played by Will Smith? Would the reviewer make the same criticism? I seriously doubt it. He’d be celebrating our post-racial inclusiveness.

It’s a fun film, the special effects, a surfeit, wrapped in a smorgasbord spilling out of a cornucopia, are worth shelling out the money. But high-brow art? No, it’s not. Pick up Homer, the Dede Korkut or the Chinese poets for that.

Things I Ponder At Four In The Morning When I Can’t Sleep

“We no longer give much thought to moral progress–a prime concern of earlier times–except to assume it goes hand in hand with material progress.”

Quoted from A Short History of Progress ~by Ronald Wright.

Actually, I’m pretty dubious about the whole idea of progress, but it’s an excellent point he’s making. Our morals are locked in amber while our technology races ahead of us, dragging us with it and most likely off a cliff.

Our Dark Digital Nightmare

I’ve been following the Google Book Search litigation pretty closely. I’m a bibliophile, so hey! This story in the New York Review of Books by Robert Darnton simply must be read by all, not just bibliophiles. On principle Google’s desire to digitize all the books in the world is a good idea. Who could not possibly appreciate having every book ever written at their fingertips?

Of course, there are serious problems with the way Google is going about it. As always, privacy issues are front and center, but also monopoly power. Both, in my opinion, alone should nix the deal. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Darnton makes some very cogent points about the pending litigation and Google’s efforts to water it down. The most important critiques in the article come from a European legal draft. I include the points I think are key in summary:

1. The settlement gives Google a virtual monopoly over orphan works, even though it has no claim to their copyrights.

2. Its opt-out provision, which means that authors will be deemed to have accepted the settlement unless they notify Google to the contrary, violates the rights inherent in authorship.

4. It gives Google the power to censor its database by excluding up to 15 percent of the digitized works.

5. Its guidelines for pricing will promote Google’s commercial interests, not the good of the public, through the use of algorithms created by Google according to Google’s secret methods.

6. It favors secrecy in general, hiding audit procedures, preventing the public from attending meetings in which Google and the Registry will discuss library matters, and even requiring Google, the authors, and publishers to destroy all documents relevant to their agreement on the settlement.

Google’s reaction to all this is oddly reminiscent of Citigroup’s actions pre-Travelers merger when Sandy Weill said, “repeal Glass-Steagall or not, we’re merging.” He basically defied the government to do something. Of course, we all know what happened there.

This is an equally grim situation, although it may not seem that way. The power of one corporation having all the books every written under its corporate, profit driven power should give us all pause. And it should awaken Congress and the president Obama form their slumber. As I said, in principle, Google’s idea is an excellent one. But in the end we are talking about a public good and a public service. This is not a project a private corporation should be heading up. This is properly a function of the state. As Darnton notes:

The most ambitious solution would transform Google’s digital database into a truly public library. That, of course, would require an act of Congress, one that would make a decisive break with the American habit of determining public issues by private lawsuit. The legislation would have to settle ancillary problems—how to adjust copyright, deal with orphan books, and compensate Google for its investment in digitizing—but it would have the advantage of clearing up a messy legal landscape and of giving the American people what they deserve: a national digital library equal to the needs of the twenty-first century. But it is not clear how Google would react to such a buyout.

I think we all know how Google would react. Lobbyists and TV sycophants trotted out bemoaning government intrusion into a matter of the market.

Such is the way of the world now, I suppose. And yet, the idea of a virtual library of Alexandria at our fingertips, in our Kindle, at any given time?

One can hope.

Pakistan and India

A new friend recently posted an essay of mine on India at his blog. It’s turned into a pretty interesting discussion, if a bit nasty at times. But do give it a read. In the interest of further elucidating my views on India here are links to several other posts of mine on India, it’s society and so-called economic miracle.

The Economic Challenges of India

On That Indian Economic Miracle

India As Rising Power Meme, Needs To Be Squashed

Conversation With An Indian IT Professional

India Is No China

The Trojan Horse Boogey Man

Turkish FlagsI’m a bit of a Turcophile, as many of you are aware. That’s why I read this post by Arianna Hufffington’s ex-husband with interest. A friend of mine, who is also a bit of a Turcophile sent me the link. We had an interesting discussion via email and I’ll append his thoughts at the bottom of the post. Needless to say, he disagrees with me to a certain extent.

As to Huffington: he makes some good points, but overall the tone is such that he cannot separate the Turkish Islamists from the Turks. And that is unfortunate. Michael Huffington writes:

Last night on 60 Minutes there was a 14-minute segment about Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). It was an honest look at religious freedom (or lack thereof) inside one of America’s military allies. It is a story that should be seen by the leaders of the free world as well as people of faith.

The Ecumenical Patriarch of 300,000,000 Orthodox Christians (of which I am one) is similar to the Pope of the Catholic Church. And yet he is a treated as a second-class citizen in his own country where he was born. The Orthodox “Vatican” is called the Phanar and it is located on less than an acre of land in the city of Istanbul. There have been so many threats of violence that they have had to use barbed wire and cameras to protect the priest inside the property. The last century has seen the Orthodox Christian population diminish from 2,000,000 in 1900 to less than 4,000 in all of Turkey today. Most were forced out. Yet this geographical area of the world was mostly Christian a thousand years ago.

First, a little reality check. There very well may be 300,000,000 Orthodox Christians in the world. At least many of them are nominally Orthodox, in such post-Communist places as the Ukraine, Belarus and the Russian Federation? But, it must be remembered, the Orthodox Church is semi-autonomous, the separate national churches like the Russian or the Bulgarian or the Greek don’t take their marching orders the way Catholics do the Pope. The idea that there are 300,000,000 pious Orthodox in the world is fanciful, at best.

Furthermore, there was a vibrant community of Nestorian Christians in Central Asia all the way to China—the mother of the the Great Khan Mongke was a Nestorian for that matter—and in China there was a bishop, in the Middle Ages. Should we be poking our noses in their business as well, trying to resurrect the faith there too? I make this point, not to invalidate Huffington’s point about religious freedom. I simply make it to point out the absurdity of worrying about a religion that began dying out in Anatolia almost a thousand years ago (1071AD) and finally did so in the last century.

Over the past 20 years, Turkey has been trying to gain admittance to the European Union. Turkey is not a European country. Most of its land mass is in Asia Minor. It is not ethnically, socially, culturally or religiously European. Yet the U.S. government (especially under President George W. Bush) has lobbied the Europeans forcefully to admit Turkey into the EU because Turkey is our military ally, and the American military and political establishment didn’t want them falling into the Russian or the Iranian sphere of influence.

Couple of different issues at play here. Yes, Turkey has been trying to gain admittance for quite some time. And the Euros would have been wise to have accepted Turkey 15 years ago. This would have forced the secularists in government to change the economy for the better. And it was a huge missed opportunity, if Europe truly cares about Turkey remaining secular. Here’s what happened instead. The Turks grew disillusioned with the secularists and voted for the soft-shoe Islamists to run the country and economy, making what I would call a Faustian bargain, hoping they would fix the economy and not impose their brand of religious politics along with it.

The Turks got an exceptionally strong economic recovery, as I documented during my time there. But they also got the Islamist baggage along with it. And now that the economy threatens to head south in light of the global financial crisis, the Turkish Islamists are using the culture war card to stay in power.

This is a shame. It is also worrisome. Just look at the power the culture war has over the American imagination.

Now, as to Huffington’s contention that Turkey isn’t a European country. Well, a good 15% of the landmass sits in Europe. So does Istanbul. Of course, that’s easy to dismiss. But what isn’t is this: Turkey has been an integral partner in the European state system since the French allied with the Turks several hundred years ago to outflank the Hapsburgs. So, feel free to dismiss Turkey as an “Asian country.” But let’s not forget history.

I visited Istanbul in 1972, and Ankara in the 1980′s when my company had an office there. The Republic of Turkey was founded less than a century ago by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk on October 29, 1923. His government changed the local culture from an Islamic dominated society into one that was modern, democratic and secular. One of the major changes was that women were given the right to vote. They were also given the freedom and encouraged not to wear the veil. But today Turkey is returning to its Islamic traditions under the government of Prime Minister Erdogan who took office in 2003. He belongs to the Justice and Development Party which was founded by former members of an Islamist political party. Whereas I never saw women wearing the long black burqas during my visits, I did notice in the 60 Minutes segment that women are now doing so. (Under the Shah of Iran burqas were banned by law, but under the law of the Islamic Republic of Iran they are required.) Will that someday happen in Turkey also?

What Huffington describes is terribly, terribly true. As you are all aware, I have a very difficult relationship with hejab—defined loosely as Islamic dress for women. And hejab in Turkey is just a symbol of the creeping Islamism in the country. Alcohol has been banned in many places in Istanbul for Turks. (Of course, for an economy that derives a quarter of its GDP from tourism, foreigners can still drink to their hearts content.) The freedom of the press in the country has been losing ground for a decade. You Tube is unavailable in the country. Instead they have a what is called, “Turktube,” or some such. Evolution is being challenged in the public schooling system. Honor killings happen more than most will admit. Harassment of key secular intellectuals and artists. I could continue but the point is that the Islamists are pushing the outer boundaries of Turkey’s secular past for the worse.

Now, to Huffington’s other comment: could Turkey go the way of Iran? Not any time soon, because the civic space is still very vibrant and filled with the secularists. But they are losing ground. Were the economy really to head into a tailspin? Perhaps. The larger point is to remember what I wrote when I was out East near Lake Van: I really felt like I was in Iran already. Less than 10% of the women were uncovered. Worrisome, indeed.

It is clear that Turkey is a different place than it was in 1987 when it originally made its application to accede into the EU. If Turkey were ever allowed to join the European Union, the consequences would be reminiscent of those that happened to the city of Troy when it allowed the Trojan Horse inside its fortified walls. The Muslim culture would ultimately dominate Christian and secular Europe. As can be seen in Turkey today that country does not welcome or protect other religions within its borders. They have seized Orthodox Church properties, closed churches, monasteries and schools. If one walks with a priest down the streets of Istanbul it is not a comfortable feeling. Many priests will change out of their church clothes and wear business suits once they leave the confines of the Phanar. This is not religious freedom as we know it in the west. While we welcome people of all faiths in America we cannot be so naïve as to expect all countries to do the same. But we cannot allow their cultural mores to snuff out our religious freedoms or the freedom of women to have equal rights.

This is where I get off the Huffington bus. He’s engaging in the whole, “Muslims are going to take over Europe” concern trolling here. Nonsense. As I have repeatedly stated in posts about Iran and Turkey: the best way to counter the Islamists is to engage them and play their own game. Tell Turkey, sure, you can join the EU, but remember, hejab in the EU is a no-no. You don’t like it, too bad. Moreover, religious tolerance is a key virtue in the EU and a fundamental aspect of the acquis communitiare, and if you can’t ratify that, well, you’ve got no chance of joining the EU. The bottom line here is that the EU has leverage over the Islamists in Turkey it’s too pusillanimous to use.

France and other European countries rightfully have serious and well-founded reservations about admitting Turkey into the EU. If Turkey were admitted any Turkish citizen could travel, work and reside in any EU country because they would no longer need a visa. There are Islamist fundamentalist in Turkey as there are in Iraq, Iran, Egypt and other Muslim countries. This would be a security nightmare. The American Administration should butt out of this issue and let the Europeans make their own decisions.

Clearly Huffington has been huffing some glue here. Yes, of course, there are Islamists in Turkey. But not of the virulent al Qeada type. Please. Are there terrorists? Yup, sure are. But they are Kurds. A people who speak an Indo-European language who value secularism just as much as the secular Turks and Europeans do. Again, the Kurdish issue is more leverage the EU could and has used. But I do agree with Huffington in that the US should butt out.

This brings me back to the interview with Patriarch Bartholomew. At the end of the interview the Patriarch says that he feels crucified in his own country. It is clear that over the last century the church has been crucified in that there are only 4,000 Orthodox Christians left out of a population that totals 72,000,000 people. In the Bible Luke 9:5 says “And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them.” It is probably past time for the Patriarchate to leave its homeland. The Turks have made it unbearable to live and work there. There are many other countries in this world that would welcome the Patriarch and the several dozen priests that remain. And why should the next Ecumenical Patriarch of 300,000,000 souls have to be a Turkish citizen just because the Turkish government “won’t allow” any other citizen of any other country to hold that position? A government should not hold a veto right over the spiritual leader of any religion. Orthodoxy will grow faster and more soundly if its roots are planted in nourishing soil. After all Jesus Christ did not stay in Jerusalem or Bethlehem for most of his ministry. He had no physical house or building to live and work in. Instead he wandered the countryside meeting all who wanted to listen.

I agree. The Patriarchate would be better off in Greece. Will it happen? Probably not. It would be a serious blow to the Turks internationally if the Patriarchate announced it was leaving. But if it did, it might force the Turkish Islamists into a nasty little corner, one the secularists could capitalize on.

I’ll let my friend have the last word here. He’s much more positive than I am about Islamism in Turkey:

On the topic of Turkey, I’m less concerned than you are, but keeping a very watchful eye on things. Yes there is harassment, which is not good, buts its unclear to me to what degree this is being done by isolated but vocal fundamentalists, part of a broader movement, supported by the Erdogan government (directly or indirectly) and so on.

Like you, I know and have had conversations with a range of people in Turkey. My general feeling is that while Erdogan’s government is introducing religion into the government its happening in a way that is different than the religious fundamentalists here or elsewhere in the Middle East. While it may seem similar I think that something different is happening, that at least so far, does not raise the same alarms for me as elsewhere. Of course I could be smoking crack, but it feels different to me.

Having said that, I also don’t think that Ergogan can take things very far. Both the military and the “deep” government (there’s a word for the permanent part of the Turkish government that I’m blanking on at the moment) control too many levers of power and will not permit much movement on the issue. As such I suspect that introduction of religion into Turkish society and government will be more superficial than all encompassing. Enough to sate the majority of the vocal supporters while leaving the real crazies disappointed, think abortion clinic bomber types.

Misdirected Flow

I always wondered why there were flies painted in the bowls of so many urinals across the globe.

Especially the Dutch and the Danish urinals. (And yes, I realize urinals is not the greatest topic in the world.)

But I really had no idea there was so much subliminal message going on.

Gives new meaning to how dense men can be and are.

Me included.

True Lessons Of The Return

Dirt Road To The TurbesiHere are the keywords to a google search someone made this morning which led them here: hard to return to life after traveling.

I can so relate. There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not pining to be on the road somewhere. In Oman earlier this year I had a conversation with a young woman from Australia. She said, “I’m absolutely wrecked for normality now. Traveling for any length of time more than six months will do that to you.”

If you’ve got the travel bug, by all means follow it. But word to the wise: life will never be the same. And there are negative consequences to the traveling life. It’s not all fun and games.

Your parents won’t understand you. My father still schemes and manipulates to keep me in one place, to settle down, have a family and all that. Seriously, at 39 years old it ain’t likely. As soon as I can I’m getting back out on the road. My mother is much more accepting, but I think that’s just out of resignation than anything else. And while my sisters love hearing about my stories the envy is real; that I chose to go out in the world and do what I do, and they are at home, raising families, dealing with ‘real life’ as they call it.

A traveling life also truncates friendships, even those that are ‘lifelong.’ Of course, there is that glowing time when one returns home after a lengthy absence when you connect with all your old friends. And for some of them the bond does get stronger–those, however, are few and far between. For most it does not. At first they are glad to see you, but then the wide gulf separating two different lifeways is all too obvious. Text messages and invitations to go out for happy hour and such dissipate. Phone calls don’t get returned. The euphoria dies.

And searching for a ‘real job’ when you return?

Don’t make me laugh. Just the other day I was turned down for a job. The reason: “well, you’re the most qualified for the job, but you’ve been out of the job market so long–by choice and not due to a layoff–that we’re hiring someone fresher.” It is what it is, I suppose.

But, the rewards?

It’s been six months to the day since I returned. And I’m thinking at some point soon the Chronicles of the Return will need to be renamed the Chronicles of A Mistfit, in the sense of someone who just doesn’t quite fit in.

I’m not complaining, not remotely. I chose this path and I am grateful I did. I wouldn’t do anything else. Nothing in life has ever made me feel richer, more alive and in touch with the reality of our glorious home, Earth, than traveling. And I doubt anything ever will.

An Archetypal Narrative Isn’t Ipso Facto Political

Several friends who dogged on Avatar have seen it recently. And every one of them tells me, “go see it.” Of course, every one of them says, “it is like an alien version of ‘Dances With Wolves’ and is all about white, post-colonial guilt and race.”

Although I haven’t seen the movie I have seen ‘Dances With Wolves,’ ‘Dune,’ and ‘District 9.’ There is a reason movies like Avatar use this narrative archetype. And it has nothing to do with race, or post-colonial guilt or being white. The archetype is a common foundational myth, pops up in many national literatures and historical writing for a reason. It’s been used by the Turks, the Mongols, the Mayans and others. It’s not about colonialism, it’s about the fluidity of tribes, a much older human grouping and one that is much more primal.

Tribes have been, historically speaking, very open to newcomers, those not ethnically or racially or even linguistically pure, for lack of a better description. We call that great grouping of people who left North East Asia and spread out across the much of Central Asia, the Near East and Eastern Europe, Mongols, because Mongolian was the principle dialect of the headman of the tribe. But there were many more Turkish speakers in that great agglomeration of peoples than there were Mongols. Why do you think Turkish is the dominant language group between the Bosporus and the Tien Shan? There is even a tale in 12th century Turkish collection of poems called the Dede Korkut that is almost identical in plot to Avatar.

In the end it is a story about who we choose to be, or in modernist terms, human agency, and the fluidity of personal identity. That is why it is such a powerful and oft used narrative archetype. Post colonial racial guilt? Whatever. If there is any vague political intent innate in the archetype it is about freedom. Try reading a history book not written by some anti-Enlightenment right winger from time to time.

Chasing The Word Dragon

Riffing off my recent language posts here lately, I want to highlight some of the writing exercises I do every week. I call it ‘wordwork,’ but you might call it writer’s calisthenics, exercises designed to break through the fog of morning and get the creative juices flowing. Each day I do several exercises, paint a scene with words, write a brief character sketch, five hundred words handwritten. But once or twice I week I do a random word writing exercise. (Take a ‘found’ word or phrase and use it in a scene, or character sketch, or sometimes even a blog post.) And one of the best places to find random words or phrases is the Urban Dictionary. If you haven’t visited it, I would suggest you put it in your RSS feed. There are some really hilarious modern words and idioms to be found there.

Just today I stumbled across the following: immaculate congestion, defined as: When traffic is backed up for miles on a highway, crawling along — and then suddenly everyone returns to normal high speeds without passing an accident, stalled car, or road construction. Then there is Elf-Esteem, which I think many of us can relate to: The feeling of being overworked, underappreciated and like you don’t exist to others during the holidays while in actuality the season’s success depends on you. And my recent favorite, chasing the dragon, which is defined as: Originally in reference to feeding an opium addiction, this can refer to ploughing through any task past the point of diminishing returns, with disregard to one’s own health, sanity or well-being.

There are many, many more phrases and words worth mining. What I find fascinating about the Urban Dictionary is there is this whole community effort to catalog the emerging slang, idioms and colloquialisms emerging out of American pop-culture. Pop-culture is certainly a catalyst for language change. And often pop-culture creates some very descriptive, concrete neologisms. This is to be applauded.

Now, I’m not a language purist. I’m not going to go all concern troll-French Academy of Arts and Sciences on you, worrying about how best to preserve the innate character of our mother tongue, English. Why?

Because languages evolve and change. Witnessing that change–and perchance to be a part of it–is what being a writer is about. Who doesn’t want to coin a phrase that English-speakers will be using in two hundred years?

If languages are going to change, why not have a front row seat? Better yet, why not step into the ring?