Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year's Eve...

Happy New Year to those of you who have already made it into 2010, and for those of you who are still on this side of midnight, Happy New Year's Eve, and I hope you have a fun but safe celebr ation.

Me? I'm staying home and hiding from all the madness. It's a tradition that I like just fine, thanks. I'll make dinner, watch some TV, maybe some DVDs, possibly watch the ball drop in New York when they televise that (if I think of it), and perhaps get some writing done. I've got a new internet project that I hope will go live within the next week or so, and I need to do some preparation for that.

I did have to share something I saw earlier today as I was on the bus on the way home after spending the day knitting with friends.

There was a guy standing on the median at one of the busiest intersections in town, one of the places where people usually stand with signs asking for work, for money or for something to eat.

None of that for this guy. His sign read, in big block letters: "WON'T LIE. NEED BEER."

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I guess my worse nature came out, because I settled on laughing. But, you know...I think he at least deserves points for honesty.

Monday, December 21, 2009

That was just...amazing

Every once in awhile, you see and/or hear something that just has to be shared.

I'm watching "Spectacle", Elvis Costello's show on the Sundance Channel. It isn't a regular stop for me, but every once in awhile I tune in. And, boy am I glad I did this evening.

To open the show, Costello sang the most amazing version of "If I Only Had A Brain", (from "The Wizard of Oz), that I've ever heard. It was sweet, quiet, very much in the spirit of the movie, accompanied by just a guitar. There are almost no words for me to describe how lovely it was. So I won't even try.

But, if you get the chance to see a re-showing of the episode - it's the one on which his guest is Rufus Wainright - tune in early, it's the very first thing on the episode. I think you'll like it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I told you I recognized that rock...

It is amazing, some of the things you find when you channel-surf late at night.

Amazing, and occasionally frightening.

A couple of nights ago, I had just finished watching “Capote” (fabulous film, by the way…you should see it if you haven’t), and wasn’t quite ready to go to bed yet, so I started flipping through the channels, looking for something interesting.

I landed on a secondary cable version of one of our local TV stations, where there was a movie that looked oldish and like something that used to show up on Creature Features, which I loved when I was growing up. Because my father taught me from a young age to appreciate truly bad movies, I decided to watch for awhile.

It took a few minutes to find out that it was a little thing from 1966 called “Jesse James Meets Frankenstein”.

Yeah. I know. Still, with a line like, “You should have stayed in Europe and given pink pills to little old ladies”, I just couldn’t resist spending a little time with it.

But, it was getting late and I was getting cold, so I went to bed instead of watching to the end.

When I got up the next morning, however, I was still curious about the film. This was mostly because I thought I recognized the rocks I saw in several scenes. Well, not the exact rocks, but they looked like the rocks in the hills around where I grew up. That was in Southern California, so it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that I did know those rocks.

So, I clicked over to IMDb and looked the film up, half expecting that I had heard the title of the film wrong.

But there it was, so I checked the list of filming locations and, sure enough, the movie had been filmed at Corriganville, a movie ranch a few miles from where I grew up.

Discovering that piqued my interest further, and I did a little more research.

I found out that the movie had been made in 8 days (which is six days longer than Hollywood legend claims it took to make the original, Roger Corman-directed production of “Little Shop of Horrors”). Based on the general quality of the acting, among other things. I also discovered that the lab equipment in the film was the same equipment used in the original Frankenstein films, made years earlier by Universal. The equipment was also used later on, in “Young Frankenstein”. Which almost gives “Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter” a little legitimacy. A little.

The acting was so bad…really stinky, in fact…I looked to see if any of the cast ever worked again.

Well, yes, as it turned out. The marshal was played by Jim Davis, who became better known for his portrayal of the Ewing family patriarch, Jock, in the prime-time soap opera “Dallas”. And the title role of Jesse James was played by John Lupton, a name that was familiar but that I couldn’t quite place.

Lupton, it turns out, might possibly have been in every TV series ever made. Well, maybe not every one, but the list of shows he did parts on was quite long. And before this movie, he had been in, among other productions, the 1953 version of “Julius Caesar”, the one in which Marlon Brando played Mark Antony and James Mason played Brutus. Lupton only had a small part in that, but he had been in it. One of the interesting things (to me) was that “Julius Caesar” was partly filmed at the Iversosn Ranch, another movie ranch that was at the other end of Santa Susana Pass Road from Corriganville.

Lupton is also an August 23rd person, which means nothing to any of you. But my birthday is also August 23rd, so I get to add him to the list of people who share my birthday, something I’ve been putting together for a long time and is probably far more interesting to me than it should be.

And then there was Narda Onyx, who played Frankenstein’s daughter, Dr. Maria Frankenstein, who was looking to recreate her father’s experiments in the Old West. According to IMDb, this was her last film.

And so you see how easily amused I am, that I can write over 700 words about a B-movie (well, maybe a D-movie, when you get down to it) after actually taking the time to do research on it.

All because I recognized those rocks.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A little less "drama", a little more emphasis on the "docu", please...

So, I'm sitting here watching a so-called "docudrama" on History. It's called "Manson" and is, of course, about the murders of Sharon Tate and others by followers of Charles Manson.

It's a new take on the whole mess and includes an extensive interview with Linda Kasabian, the hippie girl who lived with Charlie and his "family" for all of a month, was taken along on both nights of carnage but never entered either house, then turned state's witness and was one of the main reasons (I think) that Charlie and the others were convicted.

I know the theory behind docudramas and all, that sometimes characters are composites and small details might be changed. But this is more like a documentary with re-creations of the events being examined. The re-creations are interspersed with interviews with some of the individuals involved, including not only Ms. Kasabian, but also prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi and other surviors of Manson's group. Under these circumstances, I sort of expected that the filmmakers (the film is a joint UK/Canadian production) to be able to get the details correct.


Near the beginning of the film, a title is shown to indicate that the location being shown was the Spahn Ranch. Well, it had to be a re-creation of the ranch; the buildings at the actual location were burned in a brush fire in, I think, 1970 or so. But that doesn't mean that it's okay that the title identified the ranch and then gave it's location as "Benedict Canyon".

The Spahn Ranch was not in Benedict Canyon. Benedict Canyon is in the Santa Monica Mountains. Spahn was in Chatsworth, in the Santa Susana Mountains, a whole different location, miles north of Benedict Canyon. I know this to be so, because I lived not more than 8 miles or so from Spahn during the time the events portrayed in the film were happening. I passed by there on a fairly regular basis. I knew people who hung out there on occasion.

Which is, perhaps, why I'm just a little disappointed that the filmmakers couldn't manage to get such an easy-to-check detail correct.

Other than that, it's a fairly interesting film, even to someone who is farily familiar with the whole story. It really is notable that Linda Kasabian finally consented to tell her story, 40 years on. Apparently, she has been living under an assumed name and had only spoken for the record about her experience once or twice before, which is remarkable considering the enduring fascination Manson and his exploits seem to hold for so many people.

It's also interesting to read some of the reasons why prosecutor Bugliosi thinks the story still holds such interest, which he spoke about in an article for The Guardian at the time, in August, that the film was first shown on television in the UK. Click here to read that article.

It's raining, it's pouring...or, things to do inside on a rainy day

I've been stuck at home, mostly, for the past week by a combination of rainy, cold weather and a car that isn't working.

One would think that this would mean that I've gotten all those things done around the apartment that I've been putting off for so long.

One would be wrong.

Well, partly. I've gotten all the laundry done this week. All of it. And I've pretty much kept the dishes washed, rather than letting them accumulate until the sink is full, something I usually justify by thinking that it's a waste of water and energy to fill a sink with hot water just to wash a couple of plates, a frying pan, a cup or two, and a few pieces of silverware.

But I still haven't decorated for Christmas. And I still haven't found a place to store the ten books and one DVD I have out of the library right now, rather than just stacking them on the chaise in the living room (the stack looks kind of like the Leaning Tower of Pisa or something right now) in hopes that I will see them and get some of them read before they're due.

I haven't even really done much reading...and I'm kind of bitter about that, because I had one book due today that I returned while Pamela was running me around town on errands, which I hadn't finished reading.

I have done some knitting, which is a good thing, since some of it has to be done next week for the gift exchange Friday night at the yarn shop and some more of it has to be done for...well, that better be left unsaid, since I don't know who's reading this. (Insert evil smilie here.)

And I've mostly got the laptop set up for work stuff after the desktop went belly up the other night. That's been a real pain in the arse to never realize how much you rely on those bookmarks to get you to heavily-used sites.

There are so many things I could be doing...writing projects, cleaning. Baking something just to run the oven to get the place to warm up a little. But right now, all I really want to do is go take a nap.

Or, maybe, sit here and play with PlayDoh. No really. I was out Christmas shopping a couple of weeks ago (before the car broke), and Pamela found a package of 10 mini-cans of PlayDoh for $3.50. She handed the package to me, which meant that it had to go into the basket, since I love PlayDoh more than almost any toy I ever had growing up. Not quite as much as I loved my little red demolition derby car that would break into four pieces when I wound it up and aimed it at a wall, just to be put back together and demolished again, but that's another story for another time.

Maybe that's it. Maybe these rainy days remind me of when I was young, and I didn't have all these "things that have to be done" and I could just sit and watch the rain fall, or veg out in front of the TV, or play jacks on the linoleum floor in the entry hall, or go read a book until I fell asleep.

Man, what I wouldn't give for jacks and a ball, and a nice smooth linoleum floor so I could play a game of jacks or two right now.

Of course, with my arthritis, I'd have a seriously difficult time getting back up off the floor when I was done. But what the heck. It'd be worth it for a good game of jacks, I think.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Giving "Billions and Billions" A Whole New Meaning...

I want you to click here. Just do it. It's safe for work.

Okay, now that you're that amazing or is that amazing?

That photo is a result of several exposures totaling 48 hours late this past summer, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, and some of the galaxies shown are 13 billion light years away (in case you've forgotten your astronomy, 1 light year = around 6 trillion miles). Basically, that means when you look at that photo, you are looking 13 billion years into the past. That, all by itself, is mind-boggling, as far as I'm concerned.

But that's not all.

Each of the bits of light in that photo is a separate galaxy, not just one star, like most of what we can see when we go out and look up into the night sky.

What? You don't do that? Well, you should. It's pretty.

Anyway. Each one of those galaxies is made up of billions of stars. Take the Milky Way, for example. Our galaxy contains somewhere around 200 billion stars. Multiply an approximation of that by each galaxy in that photo, and you've got a lot of stars. A lot of planets, too, probably.

Which is interesting to think about, I think. Imagine all the possibilities presented by that many stars, that many planets, that many...places.

Well, who knows what has happened in the intervening 13 billion years. All those stars might be nothing but cinders now, and their planets with them. Still, I don't know how anyone can look at a photo like that and not have the words, "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." occur to them for at least a little while.

Yeah. We might be the only intelligent life in the universe (and I sometimes have doubts about us, even). But we might not, too. And if we are not...what might have happened out there, over all that time and in all that space?

We'll never know, of course.

But it's a lot of fun to think about.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Getting on with it...

This is me, moving on with my life.

Today is a year since my mother died. In some ways, it seems like forever. In other ways, it seems like it was just yesterday.

And, the oddest thing: I woke up this morning at just about the exact time I got the call last year that she was gone. I missed her. But, somehow it was okay. It was as if the universe was finally giving me permission to move on. Or, maybe, it was just me giving myself permission to do so.

I’ve actually been feeling this way for the past couple of weeks, after going through a period of a few weeks when I felt about as bad, emotionally, as I did right after she passed. I felt vulnerable, needy, as if I couldn’t do anything right. But then, astonishingly quickly, almost overnight it seemed, that feeling of sadness lifted.

It isn’t that I suddenly don’t miss her, because I do. But I’m losing that feeling that I should be doing something for her, or not doing things that she might not have liked or approved of. There were flashes of that in the past year, but just flashes.

I would have liked to do more today to memorialize Mother, but I couldn’t figure out the right way to do that. And so, I just moved on. I went shopping with my best friend. We took toys to the Toys for Tots drive and went out to lunch. Then I came home and took a nap. And now I’m thinking about the writing I want to do, as well as wondering what I’m going to do about my car, which has decided to be cranky and which I really can’t afford to get looked at now.

And it felt right to do those things.

And it feels right that I’m watching some Doctor Who episodes while I’m writing this and trying to decide what to have for dinner.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Been awhile...

Sorry it has been so long since I've been in here.

It's been a busy time, and a bit of a sad time. I got my work hours cut back, and I've been trying to find something to do to replace the income that went away with the lost hours. No success yet, and I'm beginning to get worried. No. I've been worried since I found out about the cut, but I've been trying to remain positive.

That's difficult to do, especially while also dealing with the emotions that are coming along with the approach of the first anniversary of my mother's death, now less than a month away.

Sometimes I think I'm doing so well, and then I get hit with all those emotions again, all those memories. I try not to let them get too out of hand, and I try not to bother my friends with all of it too much. They were such a help during the time before and after my Mother's death, and I don't want to burden them with how I'm feeling now.

By the same token, I don't want to come over here and be all whiny and depressing and anxiety-ridden. Makes for boring reading. But I've been distracted with everything and so haven't spent much time looking around for interesting things to share.

I hope things start looking up soon.

I plan to write more often, whether they do or not.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

And apparently the finger-crossing didn't work...

...because there's a big new fire (well, new yesterday) in the Moorpark-Fillmore area of Southern California.

Reports say that this fire was a result of spontaneous combustion on a farm in the area, not all that far-fetched given the high temperatures in the area when it started.

Once again, a hint...finger-crossing is not a good way to prevent wildfires.

Monday, September 21, 2009

As a strategy, it leaves a little to be desired...

With at least two fires still burning in Southern California, Santa Ana winds - what we just called the East Wind when I was growing up there - are predicted to kick up today. One forecast calls for gusts up to 45 miles per hour tonight.

The wind, combined with predicted high temperatures in the high 90s and low 100s for the next couple of days, is par for the course for Southern California in September. It is also a dangerous situation, especially with a continuing drought in the region.

So what strategy did Joe Sirard, who works for the National Weather Service in Oxnard, advocate for avoiding fires? The Los Angeles Times quoted Sirard as saying:

"If any fires were to develop or ignite, it could be a serious situation where the fire could explosively grow. It's going to be a potentially hazardous situation, so let's cross our fingers."

Pardon me while I laugh and roll my eyes.

Not that there is really anything funny about the situation. But "it could be a serious situation"? No, it is a serious situation, and more than potentially hazardous. Take my word for it. I've lived through east-wind driven fires more times than I care to recall.

And this - " let's cross our fingers" - is a strategy for keeping fires from starting, or fighting them if they start? Maybe I just don't have much of a sense of humor about wildfires, but that could be the most inane thing I've ever read.

To give Mr. Sirard the benefit of the doubt, crossing one's fingers is one of those platitudes that just jumps out of people's mouths without conscious thought sometimes. Still, it seems like a spokesperson for the NWS could come up with something a little more intelligent than that.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

It's a long, long way from Fresno to Salt Lake City...

Ah, the three-day-weekend road trip.

At least until gasoline prices started getting so out of hand, road trips on three-day weekends were a tradition in the US. They still are for some people.

For my family, not so much. We didn't do the weekend-getaway thing too often.

However, this past Labor Day Weekend, I took the opportunity to ride with friends to Salt Lake City for the weekend. On the heels of that trip, I can tell you one thing for absolute certain:

It is a freaking long way from Fresno to SLC.

I haven't looked up the actual mileage. I'm not that brave. But I know that we were on the road by around 4:30 or 5 p.m. on that Friday, and we didn't reach our destination, just north of SLC, until around 7 a.m. Saturday morning. Even with figuring in a lost hour for the time change (from Pacific Time to Mountain Time), that's more than 12 hour in the car.

Monday morning, we were in the car by around 5 a.m. and I didn't get in my back door until around midnight. Yes, that's an even longer drive. But instead of retracing our route back on I-80, we dropped about half-way down Utah and came across on Highway 50, billed as the Loneliest Road in America.

They aren't lying. Once you get into Nevada especially, there are five towns across the entire width of the state. None of them have very many people. Well, with the exception of Fallon, but they're nearly to Reno...and they have a Naval Air Station. Of the others, I think the biggest one had a population of 5,000. Maybe.

Lest you think I'm whining too much, I will add that the drive, especially on Monday, was absolutely gorgeous. Couldn't say much about Friday night/Saturday morning, as it was dark most of the way. Not as dark as it could have been, however, considering that it was full moon, or close to it.

You know those roads they talk about in the west, that go on pin-straight for as far as the eye can see? Saw those. Interspersed with winding mountain roads through passes in the 6,500 to 7,500 foot range. They don't call it the Basin and Range Region for nothing.

I would recommend the drive to anyone who likes getting out where you can drive for miles and not see another person or car or any sign of civilization. Only do it when you have three or four days to spend because, despite the sparse settlement, there are things to see out there. There are petroglyph sites, archeological and paleontological sites and, still in Utah, a quarry where you can go and dig for your own trilobite.

Don't know what a trilobite is? Go look it up. I've been entranced by them since I was a little kid.

But we all decided, in the last stages of the drive home, after a stop in Lodi for dinner and as we were driving down the 99, that Fresno to SLC and back is not a sane three-day weekend trip. Unless you're willing to fly.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Street-corner Totalitarianism...

Disclaimer - I write this post not as someone trying to criticize Christianity, but in response to one particular Christian (at least, that's how he portrayed himself) who seems not to have bothered to do any research before he decided to preach on a street-corner.

Last night on the way to dinner, I happened to have to stop at a red light at the busiest intersection in town. It is the place where people often gather to get their message out to the world. This time, however, it seemed not so much a gathering - there were only two young men in evidence - as a takeover. There were signs planted in the ground. There were the two men. And there was a bullhorn.

If you know me at all, you know I had to put my window down so I could hear what the young man with a bullhorn was saying.

The Gospel of Luke, he shouted though the horn, says that it's fine to compel people to come to Christ.

Huh? What? Never heard that one before. One would think I would have come across that sentiment, if it exists in any widely accepted school of Christian thought. I graduated from a Christian university, after all, and took several Biblical studies and theology courses in the course of my education there.

He can't, I thought, be saying it's all right to force people to believe something, or to act as if they believe something, just because someone tells them the must.

The light changed, and I drove on, but what I had heard bothered me a great deal. There was some discussion of it over dinner, before the friend I was dining with and I went on to other topics.

It was still bothering me this morning when I woke up, so I decided to do a little research.

Thanks to an online Biblical search engine, I discovered that there is a verse in Luke's gospel which does, indeed, use the word "compel" in a parable that talks about a supper, a master, a servant, and bringing people to the table for supper. Or, the Supper, meaning, I suppose, to bring people into communion with Jesus.

In the King James version of the Bible, Luke 14:23 reads:

And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.

That wasn't the sort of Christianity I was brought up in. I was always taught, at least before my lengthy foray into Mormonism, that god wants people to worship him because they want to, not because they are required to. No compulsion, no force involved.

That is the definition of "compel", after all: "to drive or urge forcefully or irresistibly"; "to cause to do or occur by overwhelming pressure" (Thanks, Merriam-Webster Online.)

Fortunately, there were links to Bible commentaries on the website I was looking at, and so I had a look around to see what the commentators had to say about this verse and it's meaning. The reading was interesting.

Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible casts the verse as an invitation to all, that the servant in the parable was not to take excuses such as that the invitee was not worthy of the supper, or that the invitee did not have proper dress to enter the master's house.

Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible states explicitly that the verse is not an "argument...for compelling men's consciences, nay, for compelling men against their consciences, in matters of religion." Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, calls the verse an instruction to the apostles to invite Gentiles to follow Jesus at a time when there were huge controversies about whether once must be a Jew in order to follow Jesus.

In another commentary to something called The Fourfold Gospel, the commentators follows Jamieson, et al. in insisting that the verse is a commission to make sure that no one holds themselves to be unworthy of the gospel. It specifically adds that they were to be constrained by moral and not by physical means" and that "Physical constraint would have been contrary to all custom" at the time.

That was clearly not what the street-corner preacher was saying last night. Even in the short bit of his screed that I heard, it was very clear that his intent was to say that it is just fine and dandy to force people to follow his particular brand of Christianity. That there is only one choice, his choice, and that he stood ready to "compel" - his word, not mine - people to follow Jesus.

I could hear it not only in his words, but in his tone, in his emphasis of that word, in his very posture, which was nothing if not aggressive.

Where do people get these ideas? That it is perfectly alright to force someone to accept Christianity, or Islam, or Judaism, or some other religion or philosophy, that they do not believe in.

And, how would he enforce this compulsion? By physical threats, economic threats, with firearms?

And what ever happened to the Christianity of my youth, where no one would ever have had this concept of what it means to be a Christian, that it is okay to force others to follow your religious beliefs, much less shouted it through a bullhorn as a threat on the busiest corner in Fresno?

I can only hope that this street-corner preacher was an aberration, that he was speaking only for himself and the young man who was with him, and not for the vast majority of Christians in America. Anyway, he wasn't speaking for the Christians I know.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Follies...

I love funny signs. I also love signs that aren't exactly what you'd call, oh, accurate.

I live more or less across the street from our local CSU campus. I won't mention it's name, but its initials are Fresno State.

This evening, as I was coming home from shopping, I happened to drive past the on-campus arena. The electronic message board was, as usual, flashing promotions for upcoming concerts and for beer. But, in between those, another message came up, this one in relation to the new semester, which starts Monday.

"Welcome Week, August 20 - September 16"


According to my calendar, that's not a week. It isn't even a fortnight. If it were February it would be whole month. Really. That is a span of twenty-eight days. Four weeks.

So, my question is...In an institution of higher learning, which is what Fresno State is supposed to be, who is the genius who decided that twenty-eight days makes a week? Surely there is someone on campus who realizes that one week equals seven days.

Not freaking twenty-eight.

I'll grant that "Welcome Month" isn't alliterative, like "Welcome Week" is. Which makes it the English department's fault, yes? They like alliteration over there.

Still, it makes me nervous that the same people who are educating the state's children apparently can't tell the difference between a week and a month. It's just...wrong.

Wait. Stop the presses. I know who did it.

It was the same dumbass who scheduled one of my finals there (one of the two semesters I attended the school before fleeing for a more promising campus) for 8 p.m. on a Friday night.

Has to be.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Maybe you can help me understand this...

So, I'm starting to re-read Lies My Teacher Told Me (Touchstone, 1995), by James W. Loewen. I mentioned it in a post a few days ago as covering some of the same territory as Michael Parenti's History as Mystery, only in a better, more interesting way.

In the Introduction, on page 15, Loewen writes, after discussing how boring history textbooks (and especially high school history textbooks) are and how often they aren't exactly accurate:

Often a textbook is written not by the authors whose names grace its cover, but by minions deep in the bowels of the publisher's offices. When historians do write textbooks, they risk snickers from their colleagues--tinged with envy, but snickers nonetheless: "Why are you devoting time to pedagogy rather than original research?"

I knew that textbooks (of most kinds) are often not written by the named authors, but ghostwritten by publishing company employees. They're kind of like U.S. Supreme Court decisions that way; those are often written not by the Justice whose name is on the majority opinion, but by their law clerks. So that is not a shocking revelation to me.

However, I'm having a serious problem with his characterization of the attitude of many professional historians to the writing of textbooks. Why would they not want to participate in the writing of textbooks? Why would a professional not care whether or not the knowledge in their field is accurately presented to the next generation?

Maybe Loewen is exaggerating the problem? I don't know. I do know that the history textbooks I had in school, and that I've run across along the way are mostly very boring. I've never done a fact-check of any of them...although that would probably be an interesting project (yes, I'm a geek). But, despite the fact that whoever writes the books has to get a lot of information into a fairly small amount of space, I don't believe that history textbooks have to be boring and error-ridden. And certainly, even if the books are name/date/fact heavy, teachers can make the subject interesting. I've seen that done before. Not in my own junior high and high school classrooms, but that's another story for another time. It can be done.

What do you think? Can history textbooks be interesting and accurate? If Loewen is characterizing the attitude among professional historians toward the writing of textbooks accurately, do you think they need an attitude adjustment? How can that be accomplished? Do you think part of the problem lies at the hands of the textbooks publishers?

Oh, and one more question: If the minions are going to continue writing the textbooks, how do I get to be a minion? I think that would be a fun job to have. Well, maybe not if I have to do it in a basement, but still...I'm a writer, I love history, and I wouldn't have a problem with checking facts. I love to do research.

Edited to add: I do not mean to cast aspersions on the motives or attitudes of any professional historians by what I've written here. I'm asking these questions for a couple of reasons: 1) I don't know how accurate Loewen's characterizations are. 2) It is an issue that I'm concerned about as a writer; I want all books to be interesting, no matter what the subject, and I believe that they can be. I'm just here to learn.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Book Review: West of the West...

I don't usually go around telling people they must read a book. Mainly, that's because I don't generally like people telling me that I must read some that they've just finished reading. I don't mind recommendations, mind you. Love them, in fact. But I just figure that you like what you like, I like what I like, and those two things might not be the same thing.

I'm going to make an exception here. Bet you saw that coming.

Whatever you're doing right now, go out and find a copy of West of the West: Dreamers, Believers, Builders and Killers in the Golden State (Public Affairs, 2009) by Mark Arax, and read it.

Well, finish reading this first, but then go get the book and read it.

West of the West is a spectacular book. It is a series of essays that grew out of Arax's reporting (he was a writer for the Los Angeles Times and is a contributing writer at Los Angeles magazine) and his life. The stories he tells are fascinating, and his writing is graceful without being inaccessible. No matter who or what he writes about, he is present and engaged in the story he is telling.

And he tells a wide variety of stories here. There are several stories about immigrants...from Armenia, from Mexico, from Pakistan, from Vietnam. Besides the immigrants from other countries, he also writes about immigrants to California from other parts of the United States, in a piece called "Last Okie of Lamont", that mourns the passing of the Okies from the town where the labor camp John Steinbeck used as his model for the camp in The Grapes of Wrath was located.

He also writes about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how it has affected two families in the heart of the state; about Humboldt County, in the north state, where the debate is not whether or not to grow marijuana, but whether to do it in an environmentally responsible way or in a higher-yielding but far-from-green way; about a dairy farmer who only wants to be left alone to provide raw milk products to consumers who wish to buy them.

Arax shows the reader a bit of his own life as well, and in the process perhaps a bit of how he had become able to see the world around him the way he does.

I recently heard Mark Arax speak at a writers group I belong to, and one of the things he said that day struck me as particularly important. He said that it is impossible for a writer to be completely objective, because writers are not robots, but humans. So, the writer's goal is not to be objective, but to be fair. As far as I can see, he has met that goal admirably in these essays. He has a point of view, and he sometimes shares it, but not at the expense of the point of view of others.

Perhaps the reason, or one of the reasons, I like these essays so much is that a fair amount of them strike personal chords for me. I am an Okie on my mother's side of the family, which made much in "Last Okie of Lamont" familiar. My father was an immigrant to this country, so those stories about immigrants made a lot of sense to me, as well, despite the fact that their experiences are really not at all like his in most ways. And he writes more than once here about Fresno and the surrounding area, where he was born and where I live. Some of the places he mentions are places I drive by weekly, if not daily. There are events he explores that I knew as stories in the local news section of the paper when they were taking place.

But this isn't just a "Fresno book" or a "San Joaquin Valley Book", but a book about the California experience. And although Arax has picked and chosen the stories he tells, the real and complete California experience is here. Not the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and not just the big cities and the beautiful people, but the real California. Arax's California is the California where the very poor live cheek-by-jowl with the very rich, where the farmers have to argue with the cities for their water and with the government for their very right to exist, where the most horrible and wonderful things can happen.

Okay. I'm done now.

Go. Read. This. Book.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

In which I finally manage to finish reading a book...

It took me a week, but I finally finished reading Michael Parenti's History as Mystery. I was nearly finished, but it took most of a week to make myself sit down and read the last ten pages or so, which are the end of a screed criticizing what he calls psychopolitics, the psychoanalysis of historical figures.

It isn't that I completely disagree with him on this, but it was also the part of the book where he explicitly (and finally) comes out as a Marxist historian, not my favorite way of analyzing history. As I said in an earlier post, it isn't because it's Marx, but that I find it a fairly simplistic way of looking at history. This is probably because I see a variety of things shaping historical events rather than just putting everything down to class conflict.

So, it was really funny to find Parenti, on page 265, calling psychopolitics "simplistic in its interpretation" and "reductionist", since that is pretty much how I view Marxist historical analysis. Just proves, to me anyway, that how you feel about historical analysis is relative, based on your own biases.

And, goodness knows, we all have our biases. I'm just more comfortable when a writer can recognize that they have biases and is willing to acknowledge them. My bias, then, related to my feelings about Parenti's book, is that, as I said, I don't like any analysis of history that reduce all causation to one single issue, such as class conflict. (Ouch! How many commas can I get into one sentence?) The world is a complicated place, motivations of the people who have shaped history are complicated, and to say that all of history comes down to any one aspect of all that is too simplistic for me.

Ah, well. It was an interesting book anyway, and Parenti has some interesting things to say. One of the most important things he writes about is the idea that "history", as it is viewed and taught in US public schools, is avoiding controversy and turning the student into a good citizen who does not question or criticize orthodox interpretations of How Things Should Be. This is not an original thesis, and has been explored by others, including Frances Fitzgerald in America Revised: History Schoolbooks in the Twentieth Century (Little, Brown: 1979) and James W. Loewen in Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (New Press: 1995). Both are very good books and do a better, more thorough job than Parenti does in looking at how US history is taught in US public schools. I recommend both books; in fact, I'm about to go back and re-read Loewen's book, and perhaps Fitzgerald's, as well.

Parenti, on the other hand, goes farther afield and his scattershot approach, while uncovering some interesting issues in history and historiography, is sometimes a bit difficult to follow and I would have liked it better if he had taken more time and care to tie all the threads here together into a more coherent whole. As it is, despite the valuable places he goes in the book, I was left wondering what his point was, aside from the fact that he advocates Marxist historical analysis.

Maybe that was he only point, in the end. He could have said that more clearly, rather than just tacking a one-page "afterward" to the last chapter, the one on psychopolitics, where he sort of just sticks his tongue out at orthodox history and historians and essentially proclaims that "My historical analysis can beat up your historical analysis."

Sunday, August 09, 2009

A weekend with no reading...

But there was a good reason...I was at a family reunion, and it was lovely.

I took books along, all three that I'm reading at the moment. And I think I read about three paragraphs last night before I went to bed, and I can't remember a thing I read, so I'll have to go back and read those paragraphs again.

The only bad part of the weekend was the traffic.

The reunion was in Folsom, which is about a three hour drive from here. And I expected the traffic to be bad on Friday. I didn't get on the road until 3:20 p.m., after having to wait for my rental car, which turned out to be worth it since I got to drive a brand new Chevy Malibu. It had all of 7 miles on in when they gave it to me. So, I hit Stockton right about at rush hour, but traffic was heavy the whole way up there. And, as I said, I was expecting that.

But I really didn't expect so much traffic when I started home at just before 2 p.m. I don't know. Maybe everyone else took off this weekend, and they were all going home just when I was. But, I've driven home from places on Sunday afternoons before, and the traffic today was worse than I remember it usually being on a Sunday.

Well, expect for the Sunday after Thanksgiving, coming home from LosCon in Los Angeles, I suppose. But that's a special case.

Still, the traffic was worth it to be able to spend the weekend with family I don't get to see very often. We spent a lot of time talking, comparing memories, sharing stories and genealogical information, and just laughing a lot. least I got a little bit of knitting done.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

In which knitting takes precedence over reading...

I didn't get to read anything at all yesterday, aside from research for work.

By the time I finished with work it was time to get lunch, and then I went to knit. I got home from knit night about 8:30 p.m. and sat down to watch television for a few minutes before doing some reading...and promptly fell asleep for the next two hours. Now, I'm good, but not good enough to read while sleeping.

Today could be the same. After work (which I should get to soon), I've got to go pay some bills, check on my car rental for the weekend, and probably do some laundry. There are probably some other things I'll need to do that I just can't remember right now.

Knit night was fun, though, so I don't regret throwing reading over to attend. My knitting group is a wonderful community...definitely not your grandmother's knitters. There were about 30 of us there last night (attendance was enhanced by the fact that it was Pineapple Pizza Night), and as far as I could tell, everyone had a marvelous time. I know I did.

Well, time for breakfast, and then work. Or breakfast while I work, more likely.

Monday, August 03, 2009

I get these scathingly brilliant ideas sometimes...

And I intend to write about them, but then I get distracted by Ravelry or Facebook or Twitter, and before I know it, I'm about to fall asleep or its time to go to bed even if I'm not sleepy.

But I'm getting better. I managed to tear myself away from Ravelry (if you knit, crochet, spin, or dye, you might want to go visit) after only 45 minutes or so, and here I am. It's all in the willpower.

Yeah. Right.

Anyway...I'm still in the middle of my...well, it isn't a love/hate relationship, so just call it a like/throw it across the room relationship with History as Mystery. So, I'm not really prepared to write about it yet, but while I was reading at dinner tonight (at Irene's, home of the world's best hamburger and fries), I got what I can only call a scathingly brilliant idea.

I'm in the middle of chapter 5, in which Parenti writes about history and historians in academia. He complains (rightfully, to an extent) about the trouble leftist historians have had in the past in getting and keeping university appointments and points out that conservative (I think he really means rightist) historians have not had this problem, which is probably more true than not. But it struck me that he probably wouldn't be complaining if it was, say, Newt Gingerich, who lost his teaching post because of his ideology.

To be perfectly honest, I don't think that personal ideology belongs in the classroom. I've run up against that, on both ends of the political and ideological spectrum, and it just bothers me. However, there is no way that teachers, especially in history and political science, are going to check their beliefs at the door, so there needs to be another way to deal with how students are taught history.

Bingo. Right in the middle of munching a French fry, my scathingly brilliant idea sprouted. Because there needs to be room for left, center, and right (not the loony right, but real conservatives...and yes there is a difference, a big difference) on the university campus, there also needs to be a way to neutralize that for students. So, my idea is that, for history majors at least, to take their survey courses in U.S. (here in the States) and world history three times...once from a conservative professor, once from a centrist or moderate professor, and once from a leftist professor. At the same time...all three US history courses at the same time, and all three world history courses at the same time, so that they get all three perspectives in a way that can allow the students to compare and contrast and, oh, make up their own minds which is the most useful and accurate. Rather than be at the mercy of whichever point of view from whichever professor they happen to get because that course section fit into their schedule.

Yeah. I know. No university would ever go for that. I still think it is a brilliant idea. And I'm going to go on thinking so, because I don't get scathingly brilliant ideas very often.

So. I need to finish reading this book...I'm about three-quarters of the way through it. And I need to finish the other two books I'm reading, as well. The goal is to have Parenti finished before I head out of town Friday to go to my family reunion, seeing as it's due back at the library Monday anyway. Then, I'll take one or both of the others, if I haven't already finished them, with me in case I find some time to read in the evenings. But I'd like to have the fluff book finished before the weekend, as well. We'll see.

So, how was your day?

Oh, and extra points to anyone who can tell me what movie the concept of the "scathingly brilliant idea" came from.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Getting back on an even keel...

One of the things I didn't get to do nearly enough of during the time I took care of my mother was reading. It wasn't so much a matter of time constraints as that it was difficult to get to the library, and while I own a good number of books, that didn't mean that I always really wanted to read the books that were on hand.

Anyway, I've been trying, in the past few months since my mother died, to get back into the habit of reading...and of finishing the books I start. I've always been bad about picking up a book and starting it and then never quite getting around to finishing. Part of that is the fact that I just won't finish a book that I don't like; I might be OCD about a lot of things, but that isn't one of them. And part of it is that when a book is due at the library, it has to go back even if you're not done with it. Since I depend so much on libraries for my reading material, that is often a factor.

But, I've determined that I'm going to read more books, and I'm going to try to finish more of the books I begin. And I'm going to write about reading. If I do that, maybe I'll be more conscientious (damn...spelled it right the first time; go me!) about finishing the books I start. It just wouldn't do to have to keep writing, started X book...didn't finish; started Y book...sat it down halfway through; started Z book...threw it across the room.

(Yes, I throw books across the room. I threw The Grapes of Wrath across the room in high school; and I've been throwing them ever since. I would have thrown Catcher in the Rye in eighth grade, but I hadn't quite gotten yet that just because it was assigned didn't mean that I had to actually finish the cursed thing.)

The fact that I haven't been finishing things, however, doesn't mean that I haven't been reading anything. I've started lots of books in the past few months. And I've either gotten bored, or gotten hold of something that is more interesting than what I was reading when I found it, or just forgot that I was reading it and had to take it back to the library. There were even one or two that were just unbearable.

Anyway...I'm in the middle of three books now. Well, four, but one was put down so long ago that I'm not counting it, and besides that one is a re-read, so it isn't quite as bad that I haven't finished it this time.

I'm reading a silly trifle, Dirty Sexy Knitting, by Christie Ridgway (New York: Berkeley Books, 2009). Basically a romance novel, and not my usual sort of reading, but it's fun...although it hasn't exactly scorched my eyeballs yet, as the fellow knitter down at Ancient Pathways (my local knitting shop) who brought it in to pass around said it would. Maybe I just read more, um, adventurous, things than she does.

On a more serious note, I'm reading History as Mystery, by Michael Parenti (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1999). This one is interesting, basically trying to make the case that most of history as we know it is a lie, or at least willful misdirection in order to make the powers that be look good. Parenti, a Ph.D. in history, has made some good points so far, but his is basically a Marxist interpretation of history, something I'm not that big a fan of...not because it's Marx, but because I've always found it kind of a simplistic way to look at history. There's lots of finger-pointing at those he does not agree with, without much of the same toward those he does agree with but who have done some of the same things that he criticizes. Still, as I said, he is making some points that probably need to be made if historiography is not going to degenerate (if it hasn't already) into a tug-of-war between ideologies. I'll be writing more about all of this once I've finished reading and thought about it all a bit. Which is one thing I like about this book...about any book...I love a book that makes me think about things, and that challenges me to confront my own biases and opinions.

The third book I'm reading is West of the West: Dreamers, Believers, Builders and Killers in the Golden State, by Mark Arax (New York: Public Affairs, 2009). This is a series of essays, some that have appeared in different form elsewhere, that grew out of Arax's work as a journalist and out of his own life. Very, very good so far. I read his first book, In the Name of My Father, which is a memoir about his family, growing up in Fresno, and dealing with the murder of his father when Arax was a teenager, when it was first published. Now, this past Saturday, he came and spoke to my Sisters in Crime group and so I had the chance to get this new book as well as a copy of his first book, which I will re-read soon.

Arax's talk Saturday was fabulous, by the way. It has me more motivated than I have been in a long time to get on with my writing. It's nice to hear the other writers who come speak to the group, but most of them are novelists and short story writers. Which is fine; I'm trying to learn how to write fiction. But I mostly write non-fiction, and I self-identify as a non-fiction writer rather than as a would-be novelist. So, it was good to hear from someone who does what I do, what I try to do. And I loved that he said that the objective of a non-fiction writer is not objectivity, which is impossible unless you are a robot, but fairness. This is something I've believed for a long time, and it was nice to hear that a writer as successful as he is agrees.

Well, it's late, and 7 a.m. comes very early. I just hope I can get to sleep; I slept 'til 10:30 Sunday morning, and then took a three-hour nap in the afternoon. Catching up was a good thing, but now I'm not sleepy although it's after midnight.

Oh, and I wanted to ask you...what are all of you reading right now?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Being of two minds...

I've always been intrigued with the concept of being of two minds about something.

That phrase always puts me in mind of having two separate brains inside my skull, with each trying to convince the other of its point of view. Arguing sometimes, of course, but usually finding some accommodation.

It's a silly, scary image, but it is a pretty good approximation of what goes on in my head when I'm feeling ambivalent about something. Which is probably more often that I really want to admit, but that's a different post.

The reason I'm bringing the whole subject up is that I'm feeling very ambivalent, very much in two minds, about a memorial service I am going to attend tomorrow evening. I feel like I need to go, but I really don't want to go.

As some of you might know, my mother died in December. It's been a bit over four months now, and I'm mostly doing pretty good with it. Well, I saw a Mother's Day display in Barnes & Noble the other night when I went in there, and that kind of ruined the good mood I had been in. Still, I'm carrying on, doing the things I need to do. Getting a life.

So, the hospice organization that was caring for my mother at the end of her life is having a memorial...or as they call it, a remembrance service, tomorrow evening in the chapel at the hospital that operates the hospice. We had a celebration of life for my mother a bit over a month after she passed (the delay had to do with the holidays and arranging a time when the most people could attend), and that was a good thing. That service was largely (not completely) devoid of religion, as my mother was not a religious person. She followed the church of "God knows my intentions, and as long as I'm a good person I don't need an institution to tell me what I'm supposed to be doing." There was a lot more laughter than there were tears at that service, as she would have wanted it. And we all got together afterward for a meal and more remembrances.

But somehow, I feel like I need to go to this service tomorrow night as well. More as a show of respect for my mother than anything else, even though it is the kind of thing she would never have attended. Which, knowing that, makes me not want to attend.

I don't know if my feelings about the whole thing are complicated, or just convoluted. It's very possible that none of this makes any sense at all. That I'm over-analyzing something that is really very simple and straightforward...go, deal with the feelings that it brings up, and go on with life.

It'll probably be fine. But I'm still worried about it a bit.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I thought computers were supposed to save time...

I finished work over an hour ago.

I was determined to get off the stupid computer as soon as I finished work today.

Yes, I know. A computer is an inanimate object and therefore cannot be stupid. Still, my computer is stupid. Very stupid, sometimes.

Anyway. Sorry for the digression. I learned Tangents 101 from the best of them.

I was going to finish work, get off the computer, have some lunch and then read for awhile.

But then I thought: "I'll just check Ravelry (the knitting site I frequent) one more time." Fine. Didn't take long. Oops. Got to look at Twitter just once more before I log off. That didn't take long either. OH. Bills have to be paid. That took awhile. Always does.

Then another thing came up, and another.

And now, here I am, writing a blog post. Complaining about how much of my time my computer sucks up. Because it's stupid.

No. It isn't stupid. I am.

I'm going to go read a book now. Really.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

What was that resolution I made...

Yes. I know. I wrote at the beginning of the year (which seems like a long, long time ago, by the way) that I was going to post here more than I did last year.

It seems, however, that that resolution has gone the way of most resolutions made around New Year's Day...I haven't posted very much at all in the past three and a half months.

Now, here are the excuses...I've been busy working. I've been busy knitting. I've been busy reading. I've been busy trying to get the novel I've been thinking about for years now started.

And all those excuses are the absolute truth. But none of that is any real reason not to post more often.

I mean, there's still plenty to complain about.

Starting with the weather. It's hot here today; in fact I've been thinking about closing the windows and turning on the air conditioner. In April. That is just pathetic and ridiculous. It isn't supposed to be hot enough for that until, oh, the beginning of May, at least.

Anyway, every time lately that I've sat down to write a post, I end up just blathering on. Kind of like I'm doing now. I think some of it, at least, has to do with my mother's passing at the end of last year. Her death, and the months leading up to it, just took so much out of me emotionally that I'm having to take some time to recharge my batteries before I can get really exercised about anything. I don't want to think about serious issues right now, much less deal with them at enough length to write about them.

I suppose this is not altogether surprising. One of the things they taught us in the grief support group I attended was that it takes between a year and two years to really process and "get over" the loss of someone close, to the extent that one ever really "gets over it" at all. It has just been four and a half months or so, and some of the emotions surrounding losing my mother are still pretty raw. On my way into Barnes and Noble the other night, just seeing a display about the upcoming Mother's Day upset me quite a bit. Much more than I had expected, although I should have suspected it considering that I still have issues about Father's Day, over thirty years after my father's passing. Which is probably silly, but he did pass just before Father's Day, which is probably part of all that.

At any rate, I should write more here. I'm going to try to write more here. It might get more personal for awhile than I've tended to make this blog in the past. But that's all right. It's probably good for me, in fact. One of the issues I've had my whole life revolves around a fear of opening myself up emotionally to others.

I guess we'll see what happens.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Yes, as a matter of fact, I am a Torchwood fan...

Yes. It has been awhile. But, I suppose it figures I'd come back with this quiz:

Which Torchwood Character Are You?
Your Result: Gwen Cooper

You most resemble the team's second-in-command and ex-police officer. Empathetic and stubborn, you tend to grab the bull by its horns and have difficulty admitting when you're wrong, though you always mean well. You are inconsistent in your relationships, wanting stability but also craving drama, and sometimes end up putting yourself first.

Captain Jack Harkness
Ianto Jones
Toshiko Sato
Owen Harper
Which Torchwood Character Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

I can live with this result, but I somehow thought I'd be Toshiko...or maybe the female version of Ianto.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Overheard on the TV...

You hear some of the strangest things on television.

Well, I don't know for sure about you. I certainly hear some odd statements on TV sometimes. Especially on the morning shows and on the cable news channels. And I don't even watch FOX Noise.

I tend to keep cable news channels on when I'm working in the mornings, since it is a good way to make sure I hear about breaking news (and, oh, Lord how I hate that phrase, especially after they still classify the news as "breaking" several hours after its first announcement...see today's story about A-Rod's use of performance-enhancing substances as a great example of this) that relates to my work so that I can incorporate it into my work. Most times, thought, the TV is just noise in the background.

But, every once in awhile I'll hear something that catches my ear and makes me sit up and say, "WTF?"

Earlier this morning, for example, I was listening to MSNBC. They were talking about the A-Rod thing and someone being interviewed asked anchor newsreader Contessa Brewer if she is a Yankees fan. Her reply was, "You have to be, if you live in New York City."

Huh? There's a law? I wonder how many people in NYC haven't gotten that memo?

As stupid as that statement was, I heard an even sillier one a couple of weeks ago. I wrote down the quote, it was so amazingly odd, but I didn't note where I heard it. I think it was on the Today show, but I'm not sure. Wherever it was, it was during a dieting segment and was from a person-on-the-street interview.

A woman said, in response to a question that I didn't hear, "As a woman, you always try to watch what you eat."

I wasn't aware that there was some genetic imperative that makes all woman obsessed with every morsel of food that enters our mouths. I know that the diet industry does its best to convince us of that, and they certainly seem to have reached success in the case if that woman. But, sheesh, just because I have two X chromosomes, does that mean that I am supposed to be obsessed with food?

Ah, well. It is a media-driven culture we have here, and conformity has always meant a lot to the American people. But still...

Does that Yankees' comment mean that I have to be a fan of the teams at the university across the street from where I live simply because I live here?

And, probably more important, will there be a quiz on win-loss records?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Oh, good grief...

Let it be noted that on Wednesday, January 21, 2009, President Barack Obama had to re-take his oath of office because John Roberts, the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, got tongue-tied during the original oath on January 20, Inauguration Day.

The administration said that the do-over was simply "out of an abundance of caution". I think it was out of flashback to the Bill Clinton presidency, when certain components of the right wing did everything they could, however ridiculous, to try to push Clinton out of the White House. Yes, we do remember the incessant bullying.

And let it not be said that no one thought the bungled oath might be used in that way. Chris Wallace, of FOX News (I'm trying to be nice here), was quoted as questioning whether Obama might not actually be president due to the fact that the words of the original oath were not said in exactly the right order, and that the issue could end up in court. Never mind that the president-elect becomes president at 12 noon EST on Inauguration Day, whether or not the oath has been administered.

This strikes me as just the stupidest thing, superstitious almost, or at least a manifestation of some sort of institutional Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Mr. Obama promised to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, or however the wording goes. That should be enough, without having to say every word, in order, like a grammar school memorization exercise.

But, you know what's going to happen? Someone, somewhere out there, is going to make a deal that the do-over did not involve a hand on a Bible.

Oh, and by the way, Chris're an idiot, a troublemaker, and a bully to even raise that question.

You can read the whole story on

Monday, January 12, 2009

Comfort reading...

It's been a tough few weeks for me, with my mother's passing and on top of that all the stuff that has to be taken care of in the wake of such an event. There are notifications to make, personal affairs to be taken care of, arrangements to be made. It is difficult when you're missing your loved one, but it falls to you to take care of the majority of these things and you don't really feel like doing any of it. You'd rather just go someplace warm and take a nap.

I've found that when I do have some spare time, I've gone back to an old standby behavior that I've used for years and years to cope with difficult times. I've been doing some comfort reading.

I suppose it is different for different people, but my version of comfort reading involves going back and reading old favorite books. It's very much like visiting old friends.

Right now, for example, I'm in the middle of reading The Longest Cave, by Roger W. Brucker and Richard A. Watson. It tells the true story of several decades of work leading to the connection of cave passages under Flint Ridge and Mammoth Cave Ridge in Kentucky into the longest surveyed cave in the world. I first read it shortly after it was published in 1976, and this is probably about the tenth time I've read it, although I couldn't say for sure because I've lost track of just how many times I've gone back to read it.

It's comfort reading for me for a couple of reasons.

First of all, I'm fascinated by caves. Have been ever since I visited Carlsbad Caverns, in New Mexico, when I was 12 or 13 years old on a summer vacation with my family. I guess some people get claustrophobic in caves, but I find being surrounded by all those rock walls kind of comforting.

But even beyond my interest in caves, the people that populate the pages of The Longest Cave just seem like good people to spend some time with. They come across generally as smart, interesting and ambitious (in a good way), and they understand the value of teamwork. Their appeal, further, doesn't fade with repeated readings.

That isn't my only go-to book when I need to do some comfort reading. Little Women is another book I turn to when I need to do some comfort reading. The mystery novels of Faye Kellerman and the Company novels, written by Kage Baker, also have served as comfort reading from time to time. Which one (or ones) of these I go to when I need some comfort reading varies depending on the situation. But they all work.

So...what is your favorite comfort reading? Or do you tend more toward comfort movies or comfort music?

Friday, January 02, 2009

It's too early in the year for this...

I sincerely hope that this is not an indication of how the year is going to go.

It was reported on CNN's website that a Muslim family of nine and a family friend who happened to be taking the same flight were taken off an AirTran flight in Washington, D.C. yesterday after some members of the family were heard discussing which seats on the plane were the safest. Apparently some passengers and the airline found this conversation "suspicious", even though CNN reports that no threatening words, such as "bomb" or "explosion" were used.

The FBI quickly cleared the family of any wrongdoing, according to the report, but while AirTran officials said that the family could fly the airline again, the airline apparently refused to rebook them yesterday and they had to buy tickets on another airline in order to reach their vacation destination of Orlando, Florida.

Both the father of the family and the family friend are attorneys; the friend is an attorney for the Library of Congress.

It frustrates me that this sort of thing is still going on here. Apparently, people who appear to be of certain ethnic backgrounds have to be careful of what they say for fear of being labeled terrorists, even when what they are talking about would not arouse any suspicion at all coming from individuals appearing to be from other ethnic backgrounds.

Which is just stupid. Terrorists don't "look like" any particular nationality or ethnic group. I mean, really, has everyone forgotten Timothy McVeigh, and what he did, already?

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year

I am, I hope, back on a more regular basis as the new year begins.

During the last half of 2008, it was difficult for me to concentrate on much of anything as well as to find time to write anything beyond for my work.

My mother's health began to deteriorate at a more rapid pace after she fell and broke a hip in mid-July and she passed away on 6 December 2008, so my mind and energies were elsewhere.

I still miss her terribly, but life does go on...something my mother taught me...and so I plan to be back and blogging much more often in 2009. I can't say that I'll have something to write about every day, but my plan is to be here at least two or three times a week and I hope to write even more often than that.

So, here's hoping that 2009 brings you all health and happiness and as much success as you can handle.

And better weather. It's past 11 a.m. here where I am, and while the fog has lifted so that I can actually see across the street, it is still hovering above the Valley, making it still dark and dreary and cold. Not saying that I'm looking forward to those 105 F degree days we will surely get this summer, but a little warmth would be nice.