Thursday, July 24, 2014

*OFFICIAL BLOG* Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man

If you don't already know, is a source for Indies to publish their own work. There are features that offers that I haven't seen anywhere else. One of these features is immediate availability of free updates to your eBooks. This means that if you have published your work, but you have updates or changes, you don't have to create a second edition. You simply upload a new version, and the buyers are contacted. Unlike other outlets, the updated version is free.
I decided to create a unique book that worked within the parameters of terms of use. I had to make sure that it was a complete work. doesn't allow serials or incomplete works, as I found out with my Rays Rules series. Next, I had to be careful about too much revising. If I created a new or completely different work, I wouldn't be able to update the copy.
Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man is a specially crafted book designed to allow for expansion through minor changes over the span of the book's lifetime. None of the changes will be significant enough to warrant a new edition, and since there is no true beginning or end to a collection of works, it will always be complete. As far as pricing goes, I plan on starting the book at three dollars, and graduating the price over time. Those who buy it now will pay less than those who buy it later, and you will still enjoy the updated versions for free.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

From the Andreas Pavel Stereobelt to the Ear Bud Society

"From the Andreas Pavel Stereobelt to the Ear Bud Society" is an excerpt from Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man, by Stephen L. Wilson.
Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Nook. All rights reserved.  © 2013.

Free images courtesy of
The histories of musical entertainment, communication and society have certainly seen evolutionary shifts and interactions. For example, the discovery of proteges during the Renaissance most assuredly had an impact on the development of society at the time. Rock stars in their day, maestros who were available to perform were vital to the social communication fabric of their era (Social Importance of Classical Music). Since there was no way to record their performances, people would have to physically attend the event. As a result, there developed a specific and refined way to communicate amongst the attendees. Music, communication, and society were inseparable.
Music has played an integral role in identifying cultures throughout history, and continues to do so currently. From harvest dances to military anthems, music has been used as a vital communication tool within societies. When technology began to advance at a more rapid rate following the invention of electricity, so did the development of musical technologies, communications technologies and the importance of both on the ever-shrinking global society.
Music itself has been evolving and changing in fits and starts, sometimes independent of the messages contained within it. From the days of Edison’s first phonograph until modern times there have been numerous booms and busts for music trends. It can be pretty confusing to attempt to shackle the social relevance of musical entertainment with a generalization. However, there is no denying the impact that music has had on society as a whole, from its very inception into culture.
Despite the marvelous advances and technological breakthroughs throughout the ages, I can pose the argument that until Andreas Pavel patented his invention, the “Stereobelt,” no other technological evolution has had a bigger impact on the development of musical entertainment, communication and society at the same time.
By 1972, music was clearly an established force within the very bones of society. The way music reached our societies moved quickly through the mediums of vinyl phonograph records, 8-track tapes and then cassettes. A trend which was emerging was the intimacy of music being key to this expression. Music tendencies were morphing toward a more personalized delivery. For instance, electronic engineering methods, such as the transmissions of public AM, and later FM radio stations were becoming more personally adapted, thanks to the modernization of the technologies. As a result, there was a boom of portable transistor radios that lasted from the 1950’s until into the 70s.
In February of 1972, Andreas Pavel completed his device (In Pavel's Words). He had a successful working model of his invention - a mobile, battery operated cassette player with headphones. His mechanism fit in perfectly with the cumulative social desire to personalize music, or so he thought.
For several years, Pavel enjoyed the novelty of his invention, and made attempts to promote it to various corporations and related entities. His efforts were met with smirks and denial. Not to be discouraged, the underdog Andreas Pavel decided to take matters into his own hands. On March 24, 1977, he secured a patent in Italy, where he was living at the time.
In 1978, Andreas Pavel began what became an exhausting lesson about the underdog never giving up. After being denied and scoffed at, Pavel filed for patents in several countries (Initial U.S. Patent Claim (now abandoned), Current U.S. Patent Claim). Unfortunately for Pavel, the patent process proved to be slow and ineffective for him. By 1980, Japan was mass-producing and selling Pavel’s work as the Walkman - and hard-bargaining Pavel for rights and payments. Although Pavel eventually recovered royalties and compensation in a settlement with Sony, it took twenty-three years to do so (Evidence of Pavel's Struggle). In addition, his life became an expensive roller coaster of litigation. In the end, however, Andreas Pavel is generally recognized as having invented the “Stereobelt” that we all know as the Sony Walkman.
In the decade of the 1980s, the entertainment industry was mutating and morphing into an unrecognizable beast. Once again, technology progress belched along, and the transmission of information over coaxial cable networks allowed music and television to mesh. At this point, the niche for the Walkman as a personal entertainment device lie mainly separate from the visual format. In fact, it was not unusual in the 80s to see young people dressed in fashions imitating the new and wild looks of the televised videos while absentmindedly head-bobbing to something on their Walkman. ‘The look’ was the desired expression, preferred over music for awhile. Individuality was still innocent; music still relied on personal social interaction to be an acceptable means of culturizing. Personal contact was still necessary in order for ‘the look’ to register with the social psyche. The music was secondary.
From that time until now, a virtual Renaissance has occurred in the area of digital technology, and in effect, social interaction, communication and music/entertainment. Within the span of 20 to 30 years coaxial cable has come and gone, replaced with fiber optics. Fiber optics have been one-upped by satellite transmissions. Telephones have transmogrified from a simple, specialized, useful device meant to operate within the confines of a minimal location to a Swiss army knife of social and leisurely outlets, allowing the user nearly complete freedom of environment and selection of entertainment. Music no longer stands alone as the desired type of media which can be readily accessible. Indeed, music is more commonly disregarded as secondary in relation to the popularity of videos, pictures, games and social networking as a portable necessity.
We now live in a world of pads and pods, and electronic media is here to stay. Moore’s Law (Moore's Law Explained) has proven reliable, and now a gadget the size of a deck of cards is able to process more information than rooms full of computers could in the 1970s. Almost as reliably, the personalization of music (and now virtually any kind of entertainment) has finally achieved the event horizon. Regarding social interaction, the power of the people is now shifting to the power of the individual.
The 1950s established the firm ability for society to ascertain power to alter their cultural reality. With the civil rights movements and drastic social welfare reforms, this decade demonstrated that the people, as a society, were able to impact their own destiny. In the 1960s, this new-found power resulted in an overcompensation, and too much freedom caused social backlashes and lessons that we still learn from today. In the 1970s, power of the masses introduced again to the forefront women’s rights, a focus on ethnic achievements, and a desire to challenge the status quo. All three of these decades proved powerful enough to derail social growth in its own way, and yet we seem to have recovered as a society, for the most part. We are now in a stage that I refer to as the “Ear Bud Society,” from which I am afraid we may not be able to fully recover.
Try walking through the food court in any mall, a college campus or an airport on a busy day. Count how many people have their ear buds in, cut off from society. Also include those people so engrossed with texting or gaming on their phone or electronic device that they appear to be unapproachable or detached. Their entertainment is theirs alone, not reliant on the social structure that once helped define music and communication. I have been in social environments where many of the people were engaged in conversation, but it wasn’t with anyone else in the room! Is this truly social? To an objective observer with no knowledge of electronic communications, it would seem that no communication was happening at all, and yet many people were happily interacting with virtual connections. This isn’t social communication, this is pseudo-social communication. It is this facet of the Ear Bud Society that will doom cultural structure in the end; a universally shared belief in an illusion.
Language is changing. It is truncated and interchangeable. ‘Lose’ and ‘loose’ are the same in public forums, and may someday merge into a single word for both meanings. Abbreviations now dominate communication as limits are imposed on text lengths, and time is of the essence. The illusion is that this is a more efficient way to communicate. The reality is that there is now less social motivation to improve language skills. There is a generational acceptance of this behavior to the point where even a discussion along these lines would be considered archaic to the Millennials (What are Millennials?).
As a whole, I fear that the exponential growth of technology and industry will prove to be very demon that fell from grace. What was once hailed as the obvious way to advance as a society has worked so well that now the very technology that created the digital revolution has also created the constricted interactions of people. We believe that we no longer need entertainment to help us define the  communication of others. Our faith is in the internet and satellites to deliver our very communication needs to the palm of our hands. Our individual hands. Society defines our entertainment now as blurbs and flashes of information derived from a personal position as opposed to a public position, as was the case in the past. Communication now serves as a type of entertainment as society molds its mentality to LOL, IDK and WTG. The frenzy of revolving entertainment choices has made music a lesser mode of enjoyment. Music has less social impact than before. Many would argue that this has led to a degradation of musical quality in general.
Instead of witnessing the integration of music/entertainment, communication and society, what is happening is worse than the separation of the three. The social acceptance of this separation is the death knell; the blindness that we all share as we ride this modern wave to the very edge of reason. There is little concerted effort by society to acknowledge the necessity for communication to work as a tool to integrate people. Entertainment is a cheap emotional fix and little more. Miniature adrenaline rushes as we get a high score, or engage with some jerk in a social network, or jump at a purposely startling video. All of this excitement is individual, not shared.
Unless we, as a society, reverse our tendency to indulge instead of intellectualize, we will erode and crumble. As the lack of expression and interaction becomes more and more accepted, communication will change in such a way as to be something other than necessary for the development of culture. Instead, culture will be defined by popular bits and bytes of truncated information, designed for the sole purpose of triggering the individual. Entertainment is already not accepted as a viable mode for reliable communication, for the most part. Entertainment is about individual gratification. As this isolation continues, our society will fade, to be replaced with intellectually stunted, automatonic people with no sense of community, entertainment or society as a group. When this happens, we will have crossed the event horizon, with no hope of returning.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Fainting Goats - How Society Drove A Man Insane

"Fainting Goats - How Society Drove A Man Insane" is an excerpt from the eBook 
Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man by Stephen L. Wilson.
Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Nook. All rights reserved.  © 2013.

Maybe you have seen them. They are these little goats that when frightened, tense up and fall over. Apparently they were bred over time to run with herds of sheep. Since sheep are worth more than pygmy goats, when the goats froze up and fell down, predators would eat the goats instead of the sheep. To medieval sheep farmers, this was a crude but effective way to minimize costs. Because of this, I feel that fainting goats have been given an unfair shake in history, and I would like to help them by creating a new historical niche for which they may identify. I feel that fainting goats need some redemption, and I plan on making this happen when I retire.
I have spent enough time in customer service related jobs to come to believe that the famous humorist, Dave Barry, was correct when he said, “A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.” In general, and as a rule, when given any number of alternatives, people again and again choose to be aggressive in their attack on those they deem as socially insignificant. There must be some sort of mechanism in some people that makes them feel important when they rudely attack others in customer service positions. It appears that two circumstances must exist in order to create this ‘perfect storm’ of customer rudeness: a customer willing to displace their pent-up aggression and a company policy of “kiss all asses”.
I realize that most people aren’t actually this horrible. However, the trauma of this segment of society overrides the general good found in most people. As a result, there is usually a high turnover in the customer service industry. Those who spend too much time being society’s whipping boy eventually either find a different career, or have a mental breakdown. Rare is the individual who is designed to withstand a lifetime of belittlement, ridicule and the worst of what society has to offer.
It is because of this “retail PTSD” that I have decided that when I retire, I am going to buy a hill. I am going to buy a hill far away from society, and a herd of about thirty fainting goats. At the top of this hill will be enough room for a single folding chair, and a supply of yummy goat food. I plan on spending my remaining years on this planet sitting on top of my hill, feeding fainting goats, and then scaring them.
I am not sure how I will do it. Maybe I will just shout, “Boo!” at the top of my lungs. Maybe I will toss those little popping packets you get at the fireworks tent at them. Maybe I could rig up air horn somehow. Any way I do it, I can only imagine the fuzzy little fainters freezing up, and then tumbling down the hill.
Down the hill they will tumble. I will spend my remaining days inventing new ways to scare my goats. And I will laugh so hard when I see them tumble down to the bottom of that hill!
In this way I will help to bring the fainting pygmy goat to a more esteemed station in culture. Instead of being food, the goat is now fun. Kind of like court jesters back in the days of kingdoms and serfs, or rodeo clowns today.
Thanks, rude people. Thanks a lot.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Blueberry Shortcake - The Legend of Bill

"Blueberry Shortcake - The Legend of Bill" is an excerpt from the eBook 
Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man by Stephen L. Wilson.
Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Nook. All rights reserved.  © 2013.

When I was twelve, I had a neighbor, whom I will call “Bill”. We were in seventh grade when we met. Now, mind you, this kid had qualities about him to be proud of, to be sure. Unfortunately, his qualities plagued him to a fault.
An example would be his honesty. One time his brother kicked him in his ear. Apparently, the brother’s toenails were so long that Bill had a noticeable gash in his ear. When I saw it, I knew the kids at school would tease him, so I told him to make up a story.
When we boarded the school bus, one of my more obnoxious friends asked Bill what had happened. Poor honest Bill actually told the truth! Being twelve years old and wanting to make an impression on our upperclassmen in Jr. High, this sort of embarrassing revelation was a socially fatal mistake.
All I could do was shake my head. That’s how it was with Bill. Sometimes he would say or do things so socially damning and sometimes even repulsive, that it was embarrassing to know him.
Now, don’t get me wrong. He had enough qualities to be an interesting fellow. As an example, he was a smart kid; always on the honor roll. He had a wealth of knowledge in several areas. Again, however, his quality overwhelmed his social skills. He had such a matter –of-fact, know-it-all way of putting things that he easily irritated people.
All of this was going on during a time when this poor kid was in first-stage adolescence. His athleticism was dormant, marred by un-coordination. He developed gradually from seventh through ninth grade, but the transition was, as mentioned, gradual.
I was a bit more athletic. Having played seventh grade ‘B’ squad and eighth grade being a starter, when ninth grade came along and I was finally an upperclassman, I somehow persuaded ol’ Bill to join the football team.
 Mind you, this was not unwarranted. When we played at home, Bill could easily outrun me, though his style was all his own, to be nice. He could also kick the laces off of the ball. Since he was full of knees and elbows, he was tough to tackle. In all, I figured this would be a social progression for him and it was a way I could show my camaraderie by introducing him to a positive way to rub elbows with ninth grades’ upper echelon.
 Looking back, Bill probably thought the same. I mean, now that we were in ninth grade, he would have a chance to show off his varsity uniform on game day: A true social gold star.
I should have known better. During the first day of practice, he was involved in a time-honored ritual, probably practiced among young adolescents still. What happens is one teammate gets down on his hands and knees behind someone while perpetrator two engages the suspect in conversation. When perp one is ready, perp two pushes the suspect. What results is comical humiliation at the expense of the subject.
 Bill must have been pushed four times or more that day.
Though I didn’t laugh, I knew better than to disrupt the fate of the issuing of this time-honored tradition. It was pure bad luck. I’ll give him credit. He endured weeks of various versions of time-honored traditions, many of which I suspect were only spur-of-the-moment honored traditions.
At any rate, he was anxious for game day to arrive. He had earned a starting spot on our special-teams squad! I was impressed by his determination. I said as much to him the night before game day. As for Bill, he was confident, and I couldn’t help feeling a bit of pride under the circumstances. After all, most of the people on the team felt the way I did and pretty much accepted him, despite and because of his ridicule.
 At the bus stop the next day, Bill seemed troubled. I asked him what was wrong. He said that something had happened to his uniform. At first, I thought he meant he’d lost it. I couldn’t believe it. Our colors were blue and gold. The jerseys were bright yellow with royal blue numbers. The pants were snowy white; definitely and obviously snappier than our practice pants. How could he possibly have lost it?
He told me that it was worse than that. He still had his uniform, but his mom messed up his pants in the laundry. Upon request, he opened his duffel bag and I peered in. Instead of a dazzling display of bleached white pants, what stared back was a pair of pants stained the most brilliant indigo I have ever seen! I had never felt so bad for the man as I did at that moment. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that this qualified him for entry to the next level of ridicule. In fact, this would probably signify him a ridicule legend. What I most likely said was, "Oh, man!"
All day long, as we strutted our stuff in our varsity, game-day jerseys, we both obviously knew about his pants. I didn’t mention it to anyone, but it weighed heavy on my mind all day.
Bill, as it turned out, appeared in no way bothered; in fact, he was on cloud nine. For one whole school day, his jersey entitled him to hang out with anyone else who was wearing one. He could nod towards a fellow player, and they dutifully nodded back. In public. Even in front of girls. He was one of the gang.
In the locker room after school, I noticed him begin to worry. Our first game was at home. People who knew us would be watching. I knew he was headed for trouble the instant he put on his pants. Everyone else had new, unstained, bright pants. Bill stood out embarrassingly.
I had an inkling that whatever came next would probably be funny, and I was trying to steel myself against it in support of Bill.
Right then, someone shouted out, "Hey! Check out Blueberry Shortcake!"
I couldn’t help it. I had a headache for ten minutes from trying to hold back an onslaught of uncontrollable snorts. From that point on, the situation was hopeless. They respected him enough not to verbally embarrass him in front of the home crowd, but the locker room retorts were plentiful. They couldn’t resist. Even the coach bellowed, "Boy! What the hell didjya do to your britches?"
As for Bill, he never finished the season. I can’t say as I blame him. I haven’t seen him in years, but every time I think of him, I just shake my head.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Fair Game - A Creeper's Gonna Creep

"Fair Game - A Creeper's Gonna Creep" is an excerpt from the eBook 
Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man by Stephen L. Wilson.
Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Nook. All rights reserved.  © 2013.

Why hadn’t I thought of it before? It made the whole process just that much less complex. If only I hadn’t been so unaware of her cunningness.
Although I hadn’t a clue as to what her name was, I knew her habitat. I knew her routine. I knew her life. The realization of how matters could be simplified bit me on the nose.
 I first attempted to capture her with a glance and maybe a slight gesture. Unmoved by her lack of interest, I then attempted a more direct approach. The letter I wrote contained only a sliver of my feelings.
Meanwhile, all of my spare time has been directed towards her in ways she will never know - the endless hours of tracking; hunting in the manner of a wily woodsman following a wounded fox. Because I know her exact routine, it perturbs me that I didn’t reason my moves a bit more carefully. Now is the time in which I must act upon my latest ploy.
After huddling alone near her doorstep in a juniper hedge for the last hour, I knew the moment was drawing near. It was all I could do to conceal the spontaneous giggle that was fighting to reveal itself. Then, the door graciously arced towards me and her ravishing beauty spilled forth. For a brief moment, I was a petrified gargoyle; eyes bulging, mouth gaping, awed by the magnificence of this Helena-like goddess of my dreams.
Following my planned course of action, I leapt from my vantage point and landed directly in front of her. Completely shocked, she wailed, spun and ran back into her house. I had no choice but to sprint after her. I had never been this close before and I had no reason to allow another chance like this to slip by.
I darted past the toppled chairs and disarrayed floor rugs as I followed this fleeting shadow, drawing closer with every step. Close enough to hear her rattling, gasping breaths, I knew that the pursuit was ending.
Just as her hand closed upon the knob to the back door, my hand fell upon her shoulder. She whirled, wailing. Crying out desperately, she demanded to know of my intentions. The two words I hollered out summed up the entire purpose of this chase:

"You’re It!"
And away I ran...

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Normally Abnormal - What IS Normal?

"Normally Abnormal - What IS Normal?" is an excerpt from the eBook 
Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man by Stephen L. Wilson.
Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Nook. All rights reserved.  © 2013.

Believe it or not, this brainstorm actually makes sense. Just read it carefully, staying focused on the meaning of ’Normal’ and 'Abnormal'. 

If being abnormal were normal, then being normal would be abnormal. Therefore, you couldn’t be normal, which would be abnormal. Then again, how could you be abnormal if it was really being normal?
If you were normal, would you like being normal, although technically it would be being abnormal? If you were normal, would you switch to being abnormal just so you would be normal (which is abnormal, which is normal)?
I wonder if being normal when abnormal is normal is anything like being abnormal when normal is normal. I don’t think so. When normal is normal, and you’re abnormal, you’re different. When normal is abnormal and you’re normal, you’re abnormal, which is normal, which is abnormal and so on.
Which would you rather be: abnormal when normal is normal, or normal when abnormal is normal?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Pluck Yew - The Tale of the Digitus Impudicus

"Pluck Yew - The Tale of the Digitus Impudicus" is an excerpt from the eBook 
Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man by Stephen L. Wilson.
Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Nook. All rights reserved.  © 2013.

It is my contention that sticking a middle finger in the air is not worthy of any sort of retaliation or punishment, and the gesture should not even be considered ‘fighting words’. In fact, gestures should be allowed unflinchingly as a First Amendment right to free speech. I will illustrate this by using examples of law, history and social observation. I will show that gestures, even combined with vulgar speech, should not be considered obscene, pornographic or illegal.
 How is it that a mere gesture is offensive, anyway? The perpetrator is not physically contacting the gesture recipient. The gesture itself can be open to vast, if not countless interpretations. Even if the meaning of the gesture is mutually understood, and it is intended to be interpreted as a bodily manifestation of an insult, should the aggressor be subject to penalty on behalf of the recipient, or society in general?
The answer to the strength of the gesture lies in history. Dating back to the Greeks or even before, the middle finger, for example, is represented historically as meaning to be an insult. Aristophanes, the ancient Greek comic dramatist, mentions Diogenes using it as an insult to Demosthenes. The Romans had a name for it – “Digitus Impudicus” – the “Impudent Finger”.
Later legend and storytelling myth has it that a variation of the gesture was used during the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. English bowmen used the index and middle finger to draw their deadly bows against the French. Myth has it that the English called the action of firing arrows “Plucking Yew”, since their longbows were made of that wood. The French, humiliated by these arrogant English bowmen, boldly announced that they were going to cut off the two fingers of any English bowman they captured. When the French failed to capture a single English bowman, the English taunted them by holding up their respective fingers and shouting, “We can still pluck yew!” Even in Europe today the two fingers in a “V” shape has the same meaning as the middle finger has in the States. Story has it that people have modified the gesture to what it is today in the United States; a solitary middle finger. The words “Pluck Yew” have apparently been modified a bit, as well.
Globally, there are many non-verbal gestures that, while not offensive in the United States, are considered very offensive in other countries. For example, the American “A-OK” sign, with a circle comprised of the index finger and thumb, with the other fingers up, is considered insulting in Italy and Denmark. It is also considered to be an obscenity in Guatemala, Paraguay and Brazil. Another example is the “thumbs-up” gesture, considered to be positive body language in the States, but is considered to be an obscenity in the Middle East and Nigeria.
Several important and famous people have used such meaningful body language to emphasize a point. The middle finger was used by President George W. Bush in response to environmentalists during the G8 summit. He called it his “one-finger salute”. Any simple web search will reveal that Britney Spears, Courteney Cox, Johnny Depp, and even Justin Timberlake’s mom all gave the bird to the paparazzi. Many have seen the globally famous picture of Johnny Cash, big right finger straight up at the camera. There are surely a multitude of others.
Other important and famous figures who have used strong body gestures other than the Roman-monikered digitus impudicus include former Prime Minister of England, Tony Blair, who was caught giving the highly offensive British “wanker” gesture in an old photograph of him during his college days at Oxford.
Although not usually headline news, there have been past examples of unwarranted punishment towards this use of a common gesture. On October 25th, 2001, a man named Robert Lee Coggin was driving down a street in San Antonio, Texas, and came behind a person who was driving under the speed limit. Coggin flashed his lights, in an attempt to speed the motorist along. When Coggin finally was able to maneuver around the slow vehicle, he flipped off the driver. The driver, a jailer for the county, called 911 and reported the incident as reckless driving. Coggins was pulled over, and, after some discussion with the responding officers, was cited with “disorderly conduct – gesture”. Coggins plead ‘not guilty’, and was subsequently determined to be guilty, and was fined $250. He then fought the verdict by taking the case to the Texas State Court of Appeals. The court overturned the verdict on grounds that he wasn’t charged with reckless driving, indicating no road rage, and that the gesture was not considered obscene, as there was no accompanying threatened or actual violence that would identify the act as a breach of peace. The court also referred to Cohen v. California as a legal precedent.
Another legal example can be found in the case of Hackbart v. The City of Pittsburgh, et al. On 4/10/06, the plaintiff, David Hackbart, was attempting to parallel park, and another driver cut him off. Hackbart flipped off the second driver. At that moment, he heard someone behind him say, “Don’t flip him off”, at which point Hackbart hung a bird towards the voice behind him. It turns out that the voice belonged to police sergeant Brian Elledge, of the Pittsburgh police department. Hackbart was cited with disorderly conduct. The judge found Hackbart guilty, and fined him $119.75. Hackbart appealed, and not only had the case overturned, but won court costs, compensatory damages, and punitive damages against Officer Elledge, for, among other reasons, breach of his First Amendment rights.
In the case of the middle finger, this “digitus impudicus”, we have a rich history of use as an insulting gesture, a common understanding of its place among international rude gestures, a social acceptance of its perceived meaning, and examples of its use leading to the citation of people who use it. It would seem that society has made its statement – the offensive finger should never again be used, and all who may use it must also suffer the fates of the law. Why would any decent and moral citizen have any reason to use this offensive gesture, anyway?
The First Amendment allows us the freedom to express ourselves, as Americans, in almost any manner we choose. We hear and see graphic lyrics and images. We know about various ways in which speech can be the only possible way there is for a person to feel validated and to be heard. We know about people who bravely express themselves, even though the penalty of doing so was evident and understood to be forthcoming. We have learned about how the law is continually attempting to pin down elusive aspects with regard to what constitutes free speech as opposed to obscene behavior.
As far as I am concerned, a simple gesture should not be considered inciteful or threatening in and of itself. Sure, the middle finger gesture is rooted in history as a graphic display of displeasure towards another person. So are the protected words, “You are pissing me off” or “I think you are an asshole”. In situations where a person is at a loss for words, or while driving, or other times when the spoken word cannot be heard, they should still be allowed to communicate thoughts and feelings to another person. Sure, the recipient of the speech may not like the speech, but in the case of a gesture, that is just too bad. We are allowed, as Americans, to express ourselves in any civil and legally defined way, even if it is crass, rude, ignorant or juvenile. Why should a police officer, who is in a definite position of power, punish someone who is maybe being rude, but not illegal? This, to me, is an abuse of power designed to persecute someone with different beliefs than the offended officer, and must not be allowed in any case. In fact, if the case is overturned, I believe that the officer should be liable for as much as possible, since his or her actions led to the wasted time and resources of an otherwise busy and burdened legal system.
People may argue that we are a civilized society, and as such must continue in our efforts to progress above such uses of gestures. I argue that as far back at least as the days of Shakespeare and the divided classes of ‘groundlings’ and noblemen, privileged society has made attempts to stifle the language and speech of those social tiers less fortunate. It seems to me that this stifling is in an attempt to encourage an understanding among the lower classes that there is a ‘proper’ manner of conduct, and any other conduct unbecoming will be considered ‘low-class’. Sometimes this may be in an attempt to raise the lower classes above their meager status, but I suspect that on the whole it has more to do with affirming and justifying the rank of the privileged socialite. After all, the person in position to make such judgment calls as to what is to be considered socially rude has the power in the society.
 As a result, I believe that the privileged socialite must be exposed to the reality of the life of the lower class, however vulgar. This is an attempt to raise the elite tiers to an even more profound state of social awareness, and to maintain the culture of the history of the lower class.
As recently as the frontier days of the U.S., when Native Americans were being assimilated to the European invaders and their culture, many customs and practices of the Native Americans were scorned by the more powerful white people. Many practices and customs were considered ‘savage’, ‘vulgar’ and ‘low-class’. Although this mentality has gradually changed over time, it is too late for many of the Native American cultures, as entire tribes have vanished completely. We will never have the opportunity to hear their history, even if our culture and society progresses to the point where the elites treasure the lower class culture as much as the lower class does.
Until then, by God, the “lower-class” should be able to display their perceived vulgarity and ignorance in any way that is not harmful or threatening to another human, no matter how unrefined, or how esteemed the position of the offended elite.
Besides, any moral prudence placed on today’s society is a mockery, and quite laughable. Our society is in an unprecedented state of moral degradation, as exemplified by the continually shocking lyrics of modern music, and the extreme subjects in some of today’s highly offensive artwork (‘Piss Jesus’ and ‘Holy Virgin Mary’ come to mind as recent examples). Much of this type of art is upheld by elite socialites as relevant art, which means that, once again, the privileged minority within society pick and choose which moral equivalents the rest of society should follow, and which ones are to be relegated to the lower class as vulgar and beneath them. If I ever have the opportunity to meet any of the meatheads who think that some of this garbage is relevant art, I should lawfully be allowed to express my disgust with a digitus impudicus or two, and no social attempt at retribution. After all, isn’t free speech free speech? Any artist with the grapes to call dung “art” should have the fortitude to endure a couple of “Pluck Yews” for the sake of his or her art.
The fact that many celebrities and famous people feel the need to use the middle finger to punctuate their feelings should be evidence that this gesture has become an accepted standard by which modern humans may communicate. It is clear to me that the intent of the gesture has its place within society as a meaningful expression of disgust, contempt or frustration, and should be used as such so that others may know the feelings of the user of the gesture. The fact that otherwise intelligent people should stoop to such a ‘low class’ version of communication tells me that, in some situations, there is no other speech available that can convey such an exact message in such a brief moment. There should be no offense taken. The gesture, while directed at a person, does no actual harm to the person. In fact, an intelligent person should not feel harmed or threatened by such a gesture or mode of speech, and instead should be aware that the person giving the gesture is experiencing a moment of stress and possibly anger. This being the case, an intelligent person receiving the gesture should be more compassionate and understanding of the feelings behind the gesture, instead of selfishly feeling victimized by the speech.
The idea of a gesture being punishable by law is ludicrous. Aren’t laws put into place to protect citizens within a society? What safety is being compromised by the simple use of a bodily gesture? If a person is driven to the point of violence simply because another person showed them a perfectly acceptable and otherwise decent body part, I say that the true offender is the hothead who can’t control their anger, and instead makes the conscious choice to be a social vigilante, and physically punish the gesture-giver. Who is the more juvenile or possibly mentally unstable of the two – The one who expresses their frustration, anger, or stress efficiently and effectively, with no harm or threat to another person, or the one who sees the gesture, and decides to become violent? Anyone who determines the gesture to be ‘fighting words’ is missing the point of free speech entirely. Our freedom to express ourselves trumps our freedom to become violent, if there is such a freedom. Clearly, our Constitution does not address a freedom to be violent; therefore, it stands to reason that free speech should rarely be considered ‘fighting words’, if ever.
As court case after court case has demonstrated, if a person is fined, cited or otherwise convicted simply for the act of disorderly conduct by way of flipping off someone else, the appeal is always a success. Without fail, higher appeals courts say that simply raising a finger is not against the law. This being the case, it frustrates me that these types of cases are tying up otherwise valid cases within the legal system. In all of the instances I researched, it appeared that a police officer was offended by the gesture, and therefore commenced in punishing the offender. This is not the job of a police officer. Which part of ‘serve and protect’ does this type of behavior lend itself to? None. The ego and uncontrolled response of the officer in question does not fall in line with the call of duty, and in fact should never be a part of a job by a person sworn to protect society. The instant a person does not have the capacity to ignore ignorance is the instant a person should put down their badge.
And our courts are already full of frivolous lawsuits. A police officer, and especially lower courts and legislative bodies, should know full well by now that if a person wants to appeal in these cases, the likelihood is that they will win. Not only is this not efficient government, but there is a possibility of liability in the form of damages awarded to the appellate. Is all of this necessary, when all it would have taken to circumvent this headache is a cool-headed police officer on duty on the day in question or local legislative ordinances acknowledging innocuous gestures as being lawful? Wouldn’t all of this frivolity be recognized as unnecessary if only we, as a society, decided to dismiss gestures as expressions of frustration by fellow humans, instead of acting victimized by a speech gesture?
I have a solution. In fact, there are several suggestions I have, that, if accepted, will change the way in which the middle finger is communicated, expressed, and accepted by society. It should be a law that if a person decides to utilize the gesture, that they be smiling when they administer it. It is extremely hard for people to become violent if another person is not threatening them with harm and they are smiling, no matter what gesture they are displaying.
Another answer would be to change the meaning and perception of the message of the bird. Instead of “Pluck Yew”, or any other vulgar variation, we should announce, “You are number one” or use the finger to greet people, instead of the common wave. Of course, it would take influential and famous people to spread this change of message around. For example, how profound would it be for the Pope to stand up at his next speech and flip off the crowd, both fingers up, while he announces that from now on, his followers would recognize this gesture as a symbol of peace and hope, and that anyone who views this gesture should accept it as not an offensive vulgarity, but rather a symbol of unity and strength? Or if President Obama, in a relevant epiphany, addressed the people of America, expressing his serious interest in making the finger a national symbol of triumph over ignorance; a symbol of the strength of the masses?
I will continue to use the finger as an educational tool, as well as an expressive social tool. I regularly flip off public cameras as I smile. I often hang a bird to a friend, while I exclaim, “You’re number one”. I prefer to flip people off instead of fight. In light of the evidence presented in this writing, I would find it hard to believe that anyone would consider a hand gesture threatening, obscene, or vulgar.