Saturday, July 30, 2011


Every author wonders what names of famous persons he can use and what quotes are allowed without infringing on copyright laws. The Fair Use doctrine below answers the question well, but here is a link to a good discussion of copyright laws that I came across,

Another question concerns the use of old photographs - when can they be used?

1. Virtually all photographs published in the US before January 1923 are now in the public domain.

2. Fair Use generally allows the use of quotes for specific purposes. But as for novels and such, the discussion above notes that copyright laws do apply.

Specifically, the government says:
How much of someone else's work can I use without getting permission?
Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes, or percentage of a work. Whether a particular use qualifies as fair use depends on all the circumstances. See FL 102, Fair Use, and Circular 21, Reproductions of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fear and Loathing

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, a novel by Hunter S. Thompson, is a semi-autobiographical description of Thompson's descent into Las Vegas to search for the American Dream. The search becomes a drug induced escape from reality and a scathing litany of complaints about the American Dream. Under the influence of a variety of recreational drugs, such as LSD, ether, cocaine, alcohol, mescaline, and cannabis, nothing is as it seems. Thompson, as Raoul Duke, and his side kick, Gonzo, wreck cars, destroy hotel rooms, shoot guns, and imagine anthropomorphic desert animals, all the while postulating on the decline of American culture in America's most iconic city of excess.

Nothing is as it seems. Reality is an illusion and this includes the American Dream. A home with a two car garage and a family with a wife and two children is the aspiration of American males in the Sixties. Thompson, writes his novel from this perspective, all the while realizing that the ideal excludes the hopes and dreams of women and minorities, not to mention men who may have a different outlook on the standard heterosexual relationship.

America of the Sixties is conspicuous for its wealth and consumption, yet it is unable to come to terms with the ideals of Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. "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." America in the sixties was a time where nuclear destruction was just the press of a button away, It was a time when the American Dream seem to die with the best and the brightest - John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. It was a lifetime away.

Thompson's novel got me to think. Was America of the sixties so different from 21st Century America?  The danger of  a nuclear holocaust does not seem so imminent, racial disparity, not so great, and personal political differences wordy and not so mortally fatal, at least here in America. Have we changed? Has the world? Perhaps only in degrees, but our methods of dealing with reality and disillusion have altered. For the most part, the excess of drugs and alcohol which characterized the Sixties has been replaced by an excess of food and gadgets. We, as Americans, spend more time indulging ourselves in food and electronics that we don't have time to think about the more serious matters of life.

If the Sixties represented in America a time of social revolution and counter-culture, then today represents a return to the hope that the American Dream can be found in values and traditions. Only the values and traditions of that time have evolved. American's are for the most part more accepting, and not so rigid. The American Dream of a home with a two car garage  and a wife and two children may be fine for some, but it is not necessary that all Americans share this same dream.

This, I think, was Hunter S. Thompson's paradox. He could not resolve his own conceptions of the good life with what was idealized. And so, Thompson sought to destroy everyone's dream and himself. He did this by condemning the excess of the American lifestyle with his own excess of drugs and alcohol, hoping, as he said to "make a mess of myself".

Is there a way out for the contemplative human? Or is the answer merely to get lost in the distractions of living life at a furious pace? Do we really need to make a "mess" of ourselves?

This thought does not need to have an answer. Thompson's predicament was that his answers did not jive with his conception of reality. But, each of us has our own perception of reality. Each of us must come to decide what we need to get ourselves through the day.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summer Trippin'

Summer Trippin' is pretty much a random trip down memory lane. The week started off with a vacation in Destin, Florida with my wife and son, along with a friend and her two children. It was the July 4th weekend, so there were party revelers from everywhere, making their way to the beach to celebrate America's birthday. More on that later.

From Destin, Florida, it is a two hour trip to Dadeville, Alabama. And Dadeville, if you go back to 1835, is the ancestoral home of the Pearsons on my mother's side of the family. Dadeville was first home to James Madison Pearson in or around 1835. My great great great grandfather's arrival in Tallapoosa County coincided with the removal of the Creek Indians by General Andrew Jackson during the period 1830 -1835. The Creeks were removed to Oklahoma near Ft. Arbuckle, which later figures in the life and times of Jesse Chisolm, a famous Wichita figure in the 1860's.

James Madison Pearson had come from Georgia to find new lands and opportunities in Alabama. He brought with him his wife Sarah Brown. They settled quickly into the life style in Tallapoosa County. James bought land at a prodigious rate. Often, he lent money to other land owners and secured payment with a mortgage on the property. By this means, he became one of the largest land owners in Tallapoosa County. The land records are recorded and can be viewed in the Registrar of Deeds in the basement of the County Courthouse in Dadeville.

James and his wife Sarah had a lot of children. One of them was Benjamin Rush Pearson, who was my great great grandfather. He tried his luck at many things before going to medical school and becoming a doctor. He married Sallie Ferrel Coleman and from that union, my grandfather James Madison Pearson was born. Dr. Pearson lived long enough in Dadeville for my grandfather to be born, but then he resettled in Montgomery, the capitol.

Most of this trip was spent in and around Dadeville. And most of my time was spent hunting for the General Charles Lafayette Pearson cemetery.The cemetery is there, nestled in the woods on one of the many properties that James Madison Pearson, the elder, acquired during his lifetime. Finding it is a story on its own, but more on that later too.

Technically, the cemetery is called the General Charles Lafayette Pearson cemetery. Charles was the youngest son of James the elder, and brother to Benjamin Rush Pearson and others. Charles stuck it out in Tallapoosa County, and by all accounts did exceedingly well. He studied law, but did not practice. He went to France and studied the ways of war, from which he got his title General. He came back to Tallapoosa and succeeded as a businessman and as the father of nine children.

What do you want to hear now?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Pursuit of Excellence

My son has to write a paper in college English using example in his composition. Here my example.

Larry Bird joined the NBA Boston Celtics in 1979. Before Larry Bird's arrival, Boston finished a bottom of the cellar 29 and 53. The following year, in which Larry Bird won Rookie of the Year, Boston went 61 and 21, the league's best team season record. Early proof that to Larry Bird, winning mattered.

During Bird's 12 year career with Boston, they won three national championships in 1981, 1984, and 1986. As a player, Bird won the Most Valuable Player award three times, the Finals Most Valuable Player Award twice, appeared in 12 NBA All Star games, voted 9 times to the NBA First Team, and the list goes on and on.

Larry Bird epitomizes the pursuit of excellence. His choice of words would be "drive", a word which summarizes his autobiography, Drive, the Story of My Life. Once long ago, I recall watching a television interview with Bird after his retirement. The interviewer, whose name I don't recall, asked Larry what he would have done if he had not played basketball. Larry responded by saying that he would have been the best darned sanitation engineer in French Lick's history. Off camera, Larry would have said "best damned sanitation engineer".

Larry Bird's rise to the top in basketball is a bit of an improbable story. First, he grew up in a dirt poor family in the small Indiana communities of French Lick and West Baden, Indiana. Larry recalls being so poor, that the rent often went unpaid. If the kids need shoes, his mother took the rent money and bought the shoes and then dealt with the bankers. Larry's father, a Korean War Veteran struggled with life after his return to Indiana. Alcoholism and financial problems together with a divorce caused him to commit suicide in 1975, Larry's freshman year at college.Confused by the size of the Indiana campus, Bird dropped out. For a year he  worked for the Sanitation Department in French Lick picking up garbage, repairing roads, removing snow in the winter, mowing lawns in the summer.

You have to ask yourself, what turns a poor white kid from French Lick, Indiana into one of the NBA's greatest players? One factor was certainly his dedication to practice. Even in high school Larry Bird would often go to the gym early, shoot between classes, and stay late into the evening. He quit both football and baseball to focus on basketball. Likewise in the NBA, he was one who was known to relentlessly, hour after hour, practice his jump shot. Practice makes perfect so the saying goes,  but practice, practice, practice is not enough.

Success in life is more than  practice. It is also having a proper attitude. Attitude is something hard to define, but, that said, we know that it is a belief in success. Attitude is the recognition that you control your own destiny. Attitude is the predominant factor in determining both success in life and happiness. Attitude is a will to win. Larry Bird used the word "drive" in describing his attitude to life. It was the confidence to take shots and make defensive plays that resulted in wins. As an example, in only his second season in the NBA, Bird led the Celtics into the playoffs. They faced off for a second consecutive year Julius Erving's Philadelphia 76ers. Bird helped the Celtics overcome a 3–1 deficit by winning the last 3 games by 2, 2, and 1 point margins, propelling them into the NBA Finals, where they defeated the Houston Rockets in six games. Throughout his career, Bird was known for clutch game winning shots and clutch defensive plays that turned games around.

Attitude is hard to define. It is a confidence in one's own abilities that allows of only one result - winning. Where a winning attitude comes from is equally hard to discover. In Larry Bird's case, his mother's hardscrabble approach to caring for her brood obviously impacted Larry's take on all comers attitude. And there were coaches along the way that encouraged Larry. But it has to be something within that makes the difference. The pursuit of excellence is something the individual has to adopt and hold out as a personal mantra. This Larry Bird did.

Excellence is something that can't be compromised. It allows of only one result and that is winning. All other options result in failure. But importantly, one has to accept the notion that in striving for excellence failures will happen. In Larry Bird's life these were many: his family's poverty, his father's death, his first year at college, all of these obstacles were mere bumps on the road to winning. Moreover, it is obviously a fact that Bird didn't make every shot and the Celtics didn't win every game. The pursuit of excellence admits to failures, but recognizes that it is only though failure that success is achieved. In another field, Thomas Edison once remarked that he failed to make a light bulb work ten thousand times, learning each time what didn't work. And, eventually, what did.

Larry Bird is great example for anyone. Find something you are good at and be the best, whether it is as a basketball player or a sanitation engineer. Strive to get better, work at it, make every failure a life lesson, and enjoy the journey.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

When I was Seventeen

When I was seventeen, my father would tell me, "Get with the program." I didn't understand it then, I am not sure that I understand it now. But he would say it after he had asked me to do something, and I had not done it to his satisfaction. I guess that I wasn't doing it right. Fathers are never really satisfied with their sons, and sons never relish listening to their fathers.

My son is now seventeen, and when I ask him to do something, his response is that he works for someone else. This someone else is his aunt, his mother, anyone else, not me.

I am not upset at this response. Instead, I take solace in the fact that all children repeat the mistakes of their fathers. So, said Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Teacher

They are all familiar people. That is what makes so engaging the characters in Sherwood Anderson's collected short stories which make up Winesburg, Ohio. We have known or met them all before.

Winesburg, Ohio is the American Midwest at the turn of the twentieth century. It is peopled by friendly but solitary inhabitants. Their hopes, fears, and dreams are all confided to George Willard, a young reporter for the Winesburg Eagle.

Kate Smith is the teacher.The towns people thought her an old-maid because she was thirty, spoke sharply, and went her own way. In reality she was the most passionate of souls in Winesburg, Ohio. She is also the most enigmatic. She had traveled widely before coming to Winesburg five years ago. She never married, or at least we know, she is not now married. She is sickly though we do not know the cause. She is passionate and yet like all of the characters in Winesburg, she lives a solitary life.

In George Willard, a former student, she tried to bring home some idea of the difficulties he would face as a writer. On a grassy bank at the Fairgrounds, she declared, "You will have to know life." It was said with the earnestness of someone who simultaneously possessed a notion of the boy's creative potential and her own romantic passions. Taking him by the shoulders, she said, "If you are going to become a writer you will have to stop fooling with words."

Words are spoken, words are heard, and what is spoken is not always what is heard. Thus, it was that Kate Smith explained to George the seriousness of life.

It would be better to give up the notion of writing until you are better prepared.Now it's time to be living.  I don't want to frighten you, but I would like to make you understand the import of what you think of attempting. You must not become a mere peddler of words. The thing to learn is to know what people are thinking about, not what they say.
Of course what Kate says and what she means has two meanings.She is infatuated with George and has romantic notions of an idealistic love. He is at the turn of manhood and understands only the stirrings of lust. Leaning forward, her lips brush his cheek and he becomes aware of her beauty. The event ends harshly as she remonstrates, "What's the use? It will be ten years before you begin to understand what I mean when I talk to you."

Later, a second meeting, a second encounter with romance ends just as badly. In the dark, Kate makes a long lonely walk through the snow to the office where George works. In the warmth of the office her hands again take a hold of his shoulders. The passion blazes in her eyes as she coyly says, " I must be going," she said. "In a moment, if I stay, I'll be wanting to kiss you." For a moment he held the body of a woman next to him before she stiffened. Two sharp fists beat on his face and Kate runs away. George is confused by the conflicting emotions and can not fathom what Kate is thinking about. George stays up reliving the experience in his mind. That night George is the last person in Winesburg to fall asleep.

Sherwood Anderson at the beginning of Winesburg, Ohio called his characters "grotesques". The introductory chapter becomes "The Book of the Grotesques". Anderson goes on to explain that not all the grotesques are horrible. Some are amusing, some almost beautiful. Rather each character possesses a truth. It is the truth that makes them grotesque. For each character tries to live this truth. The character speaks the truth as he or she sees it. But behind the spoken words lies an unspoken falsehood that is revealed to young George.

Every young man has had an infatuation with an older woman. I dare to say that every older woman has been infatuated with a younger man. A teacher finds a spark of genius in a student and a student finds a mentor in a teacher. The emotional conflict is always present. But most often the difference in emotional age renders the pairing impossible. There are exceptions and we read about them in the tabloids or see them in TV exposes, but for the most part the fantasies are fictionalized. They exist in the minds of the players.