Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone.

In some parts of the world, it has already been 2011 for awhile. Here in California, we've still got a bit over seven hours until another year hits the history books for good.

I'm staying in and hiding from all the partiers myself. If you've yet to go out and greet the New Year at a party, have fun and be safe. And if you've already been out and the celebration is over, I hope you had fun and that the New Year holds only wonderful things for you.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

I've been busy...

I tend to get restless during the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. It's a week that tends to make me feel like I'm sitting, holding my breath and waitin for something to happen. It is not my favorite week of the year.

Well, this year I put some of that restless energy to work and started a brand new blog. It isn't meant to take the place of this one, mind you. It's just that I've noticed that recently I've been posting a lot of book reviews here, and I've been reading a lot more again. So, the new blog, which is called Reading With (an) Attitude, is now up and running, which means that I can get back to the various and sundry things I write about over here from time to time.

If you've a mind to, click on the title of the new blog in the paragraph above or click here, and come over and see what I've been up to.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry, Happy, Joyful, Wonderful, Excellent Holidays...

Merry Christmas, everyone.

The presents are open, dinner is in the oven, the (visitng) dog keeps coming by for tummy rubs, and I got to sleep in until 10:30 this morning. The latter is a good thing, since all of us adults in the house were up until 4 in the morning playing cards.

I hope all of your holidays, whichever ones you celebrate, have been and continue to be safe and jolly and full of love and laughter.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

It isn't necessarily true that two heads are better than one...

Do you remember when, a little while ago, I wrote about how an auction house in Los Angeles is in the process of selling Lee Harvey Oswald’s original casket and then asked why anyone would buy the thing?

Well, that seems positively normal compared to a Reuters report I read on Yahoo! News today.

It seems that researchers have found the embalmed head of King Henri IV of France. It was probably, says the article, lost during the French Revolution, when being dead was not a guarantee of being left alone by the revolutionaries if you were an aristocrat. It seem that the graves of French royalty were broken into in 1793, and the remains were desecrated and scattered, with few of the pieces ever recovered.

The head has been radiocarbon dated to around the time of Henri’s death by assassination, but its features also are said to match the known characteristics of his appearance as well as his appearance in portraits.

As someone interested in history, I find this fascinating. The article points out that the head will be reburied next year in the cathedral where it was presumably stolen from. This is as it should be.


There is one thing in the story that really makes me wonder what some people are thinking. Regarding the whereabouts of the head for all these years, the article says, at one point, that the head had been “passed down over the centuries by private collectors”.

Really? Who collects heads? I can’t be the only one who can’t quite get my head (excuse the pun, it is entirely intended) around the idea that people kept a human head as a collector’s item.

Then again, there are persistent stories that someone has Napoleon’s penis out there somewhere. So, who knows.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Book Review: "Blowing My Cover", by Lindsay Moran

Near the end of her memoir, Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2005), Lindsay Moran describes what the CIA does as “A little boys’ game that men continue to play as adults”, and then writes: “The CIA was, and still is, made up of men who are loath to give up playing their game.”

These were her thoughts near the end of her CIA career, which lasted only a few years, in the wake of 9/11 and as she tried to figure out why the United States didn’t know that the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. were coming. They were somber reflections for a somber time, and were part of what led her to resign as a CIA case officer after working in Eastern Europe for several years.

They were appropriate thoughts assessing a career that she had never been completely convinced that she should enter. After filling out her first application to work at the spy agency, she decided not to sent it in and only actually submitted an application a few years later. Even as she was undergoing training to be a case officer - those are the folks who work in other countries and attempt to recruit the real “CIA agents”, what they call assets, who they then encourage to discover and sell their own nation’s secrets, sometimes for a lot of money. She questioned, she says, why she should ask someone else to do something, betray their own country, that she was not willing to do herself. She doubted what she would be doing seriously enough that she discussed with her agency mentor the possibility for working for the agency in another capacity.

But if you expect to find only deep, soul-searching contemplation in Moran’s book, you’ll be disappointed or surprised, depending on your disposition, to find that Moran’s memoir has its share of comic moments, especially as she describes the long course of training she and her cohorts endured on their way to being spies. She spends more than half the book on the training period, which lasted over a year. For example, did you know that CIA trainees hold practice cocktail parties, where they try to recruit their instructors as spies. They also learn extreme driving, how to know when they’re being followed, and cross-country path finding, among many other skills. All of which make more sense to me than cocktail party practice, to be honest.

There were also things in the book that, quite frankly bothered me. One was the confirmation of the idea I’ve had for a long time that at least a certain segment of the CIA community seem to see their activities as a game, something that makes me uncomfortable when you consider that this “game” of theirs sometimes costs real people their lives. And then there the story she told about one of the assets she tried to recruit near the end of her time in Eastern Europe, an individual who had previously been friends with some folks that most likely had ties to al Qaeda. After the 9/11 attacks, she thought it would be helpful to get information from people who knew terrorists and might be able to report on their activities.

In the instance, however, headquarters refused her request and ordered her to cut off contact with the individual she was trying to recruit because he “may at one time have had terrorist ties.” As she asked a colleague, “And how are we going to find anything out if we avoid all the people with terrorist ties?” Which was exactly what I was thinking as I read that her request had been denied. Perhaps if the CIA really didn’t have any intelligence pointing to the attacks, that was the problem. Certainly, she had a point considering some of the people her superiors at the CIA wanted her to keep a relationship with, who clearly didn’t know anything of value and stood little chance of learning such information.

To be honest, I picked Moran’s book up off the shelf at the library primarily because the title interested me. That is, in fact, the way I’ve found some of the best books I’ve ever read. I didn’t really expect much of it, but found that it is compulsively readable. Moran is a good writer and balances the serious and comic aspects of her experience well. It probably isn’t a book that I would be inclined to re-read, but I’m glad I read it.


You know, I haven't meant to turn this into a book review site, and I don't intend to now. But I've been reading some good books lately and feel like sharing. I hope you all don't mind. I'm just glad that I've finally started finding books again that I'm interested in reading. For several months, I went through a period in which I started more books than I can recall and couldn't think of a good reason to finish any of them. Fortunately, I don't feel the need to finish a book I don't like just because I've started reading it.

My question to you is, do you feel free to put a book that you aren't enjoying down? Or do you feel obligated to finish a book once you start it?

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Book Review: "Laurel Canyon", by Michael Walker

I’ve been trying for several days to write a review of Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood (Faber and Faber, 2006), by Michael Walker, but nothing I’ve written has been anything I’ve wanted to put out into cyberspace for all of you to read. I think I’ve finally figured out why this is so: I haven’t been able to decide whether I liked it or not.

I think I finally have the answer. I mostly liked it, but I think that Walker came to some conclusions about why the Laurel Canyon neighborhood went from singer/songwriter heaven to infamy of a sort that are glib but way too simplistic. Basically, he blames Charlie Manson and the switch in drugs of choice from marijuana and LSD to cocaine. And I’m sure that both those factors had something to do with why the area transformed from a hippie-nirvana party central that was essentially open to all comers to something else entirely. But there were other factors, as well, some of them sociopolitical, some cultural, and some personal, starting with the fact that many of the artists who lived in the area in the sixties and early seventies got ambitious, then got rich, and then moved out for higher-rent areas of Los Angeles, literally and figuratively.

This isn’t the first book I’ve read about Laurel Canyon and its central role in the Los Angeles music scene in the 1960s and early 1970s. It is a place that fascinates me, and not only because I’m a fan of so much of the music that came out of that time and place. I’m also interested in it because all that happened just 35 miles (less, after my family moved from Ventura County to L.A. County) from my doorstep, without my ever realizing it. I have always been attracted to the concept of how things of note can happen so close to a place I know and yet be completely unknown to me as they are happening. That is probably exacerbated by the fact that I grew up in Southern California, where lots of things of note, good and bad, seem to go on.

One of the things Walker does well in his book is to convey a sense of the geography of Laurel Canyon, probably because he lives there himself, and that it was, surprisingly, a neighborhood in the old-fashioned sense of the word, where pretty much everyone knew everyone and managed to remain on more or less friendly terms. In that place and at that time (late ‘60s/early ‘70s), the sometimes mythical idea that the creative and the famous know each other, hang out together, and are friends, wasn’t quite so much a myth. Walker tells stories such as the one about how David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Stephen Stills became Crosby, Stills and Nash because Cass Elliot brought them together because she knew them all from the Canyon.

That is the level at which I liked Walker’s book. He tells good, interesting stories that are reasonably accurate when compared with what I’ve read and heard elsewhere about the Canyon. I think my favorite story is the one about how Jim Morrison was horrible and rude (he was apparently already drunk) to a waitress at one of bars near the Canyon that was frequented by the area’s musical community. She had had enough, and came close to beating the crap out of him with her tray. She stopped herself from hitting him only because she saw what she described as “terror” in his eyes. He demanded that she be fired and she was. However, six months later she got a call from him at her new job. It turned out that he had been looking for her all that time to apologize to her for what he had done. She read him the riot act about the crap that he had been up to, and then, apparently, they became friends. Which makes a certain amount of sense in light of other things I’ve read about Morrison.

The thing that I don’t like so much about Walker’s book, though, is the way he tries to explain how those years of sex, peace, drugs, and rock and roll in Laurel Canyon fell apart. As I said, he blamed it - after a stop at a comparison between Woodstock and the Altamont Speedway free concert by the Rolling Stones and others (some of them residents of Laurel Canyon), and how those two events a few months and a continent apart symbolized the end of the sixties and the beginning of a more violent and cynical time - on the murders ordered by Charlie Manson and on the change in the drug of choice among those in the music industry, which introduced the cocaine trade into the Canyon, culminating in bloody and violent murder on Wonderland Avenue in the Canyon (which event itself has been chronicled on film).

I’m sure that those factors had an effect on the changes that came to Laurel Canyon. I know, for example, that the level of paranoia in the wake of the murders of Sharon Tate and others by Charlie Manson’s followers went way up in Southern California. It did in my neighborhood, only a few miles from the Spahn Ranch, where Charlie and his minions were living at the time of the murders. Considering the fact that Charlie was at some of those parties in Laurel Canyon as part of his efforts to secure a recording contract, I can imagine that the revelation of who had committed the murders ratcheted tensions up there, as well, as it became harder to know who to trust and who to be suspicious of.

I leave it to you to decide whether Laurel Canyon is worth a read. If you are at all interested in the Los Angeles music scene in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, I would recommend it as worth the time it took to read the book. If you are looking for a sociological analysis of that time and place, the book is probably not as valuable. While Walker makes a bit of a point of the fact that he lives in Laurel Canyon, he also admits that he didn’t move there until the early 1990s, long after most of the events in the book took place.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

You said you're going to buy what?!?

File this under, “People mystify me sometimes”.

I came across a brief news story on Yahoo!News today (which I won’t bother to link because their links are sometimes very transitory) which explains that Lee Harvey Oswald’s original coffin is about to be auctioned by an auction house in Los Angeles. Bids are already underway, and are now at $1000 for the plain pine casket.

The coffin became available when Oswald, the assassin of President John F. Kennedy, was exhumed in 1981 in order to put to rest a rumor that a look-alike was buried in his place after he was shot by Jack Ruby just two days after JFK’s killing. When Oswald was reburied after testing apparently showed that it really was his body, and not that of an imposter or a look-alike, a new coffin was used.

A representative of the auction house said that the coffin, which was underground for about 18 years, is in “worn condition” and not all in one piece, but that “it would be easy to restore.”

Cool. I guess.

But I really wish someone would explain to me just what kind of a person would buy a used coffin? I understand the historical significance and all. I really do. But the idea of buying a coffin in which a body…any body…had been in for nearly two decades is really beyond my comprehension.

I do understand that there are people who put great value on anything someone famous…or infamous, as in Oswald’s case…owned or had contact with. But a coffin. That someone was buried in. No. Just, no.

If you disagree, I’d really like to hear from you about why you think something like that would be on anyone’s to-buy list. What would you do with it? Turn it into a coffee table? Use it as a hope chest? Sleep in it? I suppose a museum might buy it and display it as an historical curiosity, but I tend to doubt that will happen.

As an afterward, and along these lines, if you’re interested in a meditation on the idea of items that have been possessed by famous people or that were involved in historical events gain extra value just by virtue of having those connections, you might be interested in reading The Man in the High Castle, a science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick. There are some interesting thoughts about this idea that come up in the course of the story.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tis the season...movies and more movies

I apparently spent part of the past week contributing to the success of the two biggest money-making films of the weekend. Which means either that my tastes have gotten way more mainstream lately, or that my sometimes quirky taste in movies is spreading.

Although, it truth, I didn’t choose either movie, relying on friends to make the choices. As it turns out, both choices were very, very good.

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we went to see the newest Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I’ve seen the previous films in the series, but I’m not nearly as big a fan as the friends I went to the movie with, and this is the first of the films I’ve seen in a theater since the first one came out several years ago. I went in expecting to like the film, but not to like it as much as I did.

The main actors are growing into adults, and into really good performers. The effects were very nice, and the story was involving (with the exception of the first of J. Rowling’s novels, I have not yet read the books, so I did not go in knowing already what was going to happen). I think the franchise went in the right direction with this film after a couple of missteps with earlier episodes. While the subject matter in the films keeps getting darker and darker, for example, the photography in this most recent film is significantly lighter than in the previous one, which was so dark sometimes that there was nearly nothing visible on-screen. I don’t like films that I can’t actually see. There were also more outdoor scenes in this film, which (possible spoiler alert, but only for those who don‘t know much of anything about the films) has Harry, Ron and Hermione on the run from You-Know-Who, which helped with the lighting issue. And even in the indoor scenes, the film seemed considerably more open than the previous films, which took place largely at Hogwarts School.

Then, on Thanksgiving Day, some of us went to see Tangled. Tangled is a Disney animated film (according to a card at the beginning of the film, the 50th animated film from the studio), targeted squarely at a younger audience, that retells the story of Rapunzel with some significant twists. Those of us who went to see the film ranged in age from 30 to 54, much older than the intended audience. But you know what? We all liked the film a lot. For one thing, it continues the new tradition of Disney heroines who find their power rather than just being traditionally submissive women. That is all to the good. Yes, there is a love story, and a fairly syrupy ending that will not, in the end, leave the kiddies traumatized…although Mother Gothel, the character who has locked Rapunzel in her tower, is farily scary, and I expect her to take her place in the pantheon of Disney villains. Still in all, Rapunzel does not have to sell out her newfound power and confidence in order to get her happy ending.

A very good indication of how good Tangled is, is the fact that in an audience made up largely of kids below the age of ten, there was no talking, no running about. There were essentially none of the usual signs that there were a lot of children in the theater. The film held their attention for the entire 92 minute running time of the film, a significant achievement in a time when kids’ attention spans seem to get shorter and shorter with each passing year.

Just a word about the animation in Tangled: This is not traditional Disney animation. I expected that to bother me, because I love traditional animation. Instead, this animation is in a sort of 3-D, in that it rounds characters and landscape out rather than being a series of moving flat drawings. But it isn’t the kind of 3-D that throws things out of the screen at the audience, nor does it require any kind of glasses to view correctly. And it works quite nicely. Although I really wouldn’t like to see Disney abandon traditional animation completely.

Anyway, for those of you who are interested in such things, the preliminary reports for the weekend box office at US theatres reports that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came in in first place, earning an estimated $50.3 million dollars over the weekend, while Tangled came in a close second at $49.1 million. In third place, another animated film, Megamind, took in an estimated $12.9 million. Cher’s new film, Burlesque, came fourth with estimated earnings of $11.8 million, and Unstoppable (about which I know absolutely nothing), made around $11.75 million.

In sixth through tenth place, Love & Other Drugs made $9.9 million, Faster took in around $8.7 million, Due Date made $7.3 million, The Next Three Days took in $4.8 million, and Morning Glory made an estimated $4 million.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My weird edition, including mishies and Christmas carols

It’s been kind of a weird week around here.

First, I haven’t been feeling completely up to par. Nothing serious, I think, just a combination of lingering allergies, the change in the weather, and my internal clock trying to catch up to the time change.

Maybe the weirdest thing that happened during the week was having the Mormon missionaries come knocking on my door at 7:30 (pretty much on the dot) the other night. First of all, what are they doing knocking on people’s doors after dark? Where I come from, that’s kind of rude. And then they seemed to be bothered by the fact that I didn’t just open the door wide at their knock, but left it closed and asked who was there. I don’t live in the worst neighborhood in town, but it isn’t exactly the best, either.

When they answered that it was the missionaries. Not, I might add, what kind of missionaries, just “The Missionaries”. I don’t live in the Corridor (that would be the Mormon Corridor of Utah, Idaho and parts of Arizona, for my non-Mormon readers), and so I thought that more of an explanation might have been in order.

Of course, when I answered (still before opening the door) that I wasn’t interested, that didn’t stop them for even a second. The conversation through the door continued and I said I wasn’t interested several more time before they revealed that they had my name. Yes, folks, they had tracked me down. I moved house in February and didn’t let anyone Mormon know where I was going, hoping they’d just leave me alone. But I received a letter from Salt Lake City a couple of months ago asking me if I was who I am, so that they could direct my records accordingly.

I didn’t answer the letter, hoping they’d take that hint. But they apparently sent my records along to the ward (congregation) that goes along with the address they had for me. Because, you know, Mormons can’t just go to any Mormon church they’d like to. They must attend the one they are assigned based on their residence.

Anyway, when I heard that they had my name, I did open the door. Just a crack. Just so they could see my face when I told them, once again, that I wasn’t interested. I expanded that to explain that I had long ago asked for no contact from the church, that I was no longer a member. Not exactly true, from their point of view, since I haven’t ever sent a letter in asking for my name to be removed from the church’s membership rolls. But it’s close enough, since I don’t believe that I have to ask them for their permission to quit. I quit, I’m out, and they don’t have anything to say about it. That is the way most Christian religious organizations work, anyway.

Well, they explained, the bishop (leader of the ward) had sent them out to check to see if I really didn’t want to be contacted. Which made me roll my eyes, because by that time I was wondering what part of “no contact” they didn’t understand. I assured them that I did not want any contact from the church, at which point they asked me if I was “all right” and if there was anything they could do for me. I was very polite and didn’t scream “Yes. Leave me the hell alone.” I said, no, I was fine, that I didn’t need anything, and that I really, really, really mean by “no contact” that I don’t want any contact from the church.

I guess I kind of made the missionary closest to the door angry at me when I would not shake his hand as they were leaving. Which kind of almost made me feel bad for them. They were actually quite polite, and I don’t blame them, really, for coming to my door. They were just doing what they were told to do. But still, no contact means no contact. It doesn’t mean, keep asking every few months if I really mean it. If I were ever to change my mind, which will happen only when pigs grow wings and fly off into the sunset and when the sun rises in the west and sets in the north, I know how to find a church.

I guess I’m going to have to finish that letter and send it off to Salt Lake after all. Just to make the bean counters happy.

The good news about all of this is that, when the next weird thing happened, it didn’t seem so very weird at all. That was when my roommate and I were going out the door on Friday night to take some DVDs back to the Red Box and make a Taco Bell run, only to discover that the gentleman who lives in the front apartment, along with his son, were putting up their Christmas lights. The first hint I had, as I was out the door last, was hearing my roommate say something about, “…because Santa Claus hasn’t gone by Macy’s yet.” When I got out there, the lights were mostly up and already on, in all their glory.

They’re pretty lights, really. But it isn’t Thanksgiving yet. I don’t do Christmas until the Thanksgiving turkey is consumed and there is no more pumpkin pie and whipped topping left.

Which begs the question: Why, at our SCA Barony’s pre-Thanksgiving feast last night (which was very, very good, by the way, and did not involve turkey at all), I didn’t mind when the host and hostess’s little boy started asking for Christmas songs, and some of us sang a few.


Saturday, November 06, 2010

Review: "The First Human", by Ann Gibbons

The First Human, by Ann Gibbons (Doubleday, 2006; 306 pages) is a well-written, interesting review of the race (and, make no mistake, that’s how some of the participants regard it) to find evidence of the last common ancestor between humans and apes.

Gibbons outlines the march forward in time and backward in history from early discoveries of fossils of various human ancestors by pioneers like Louis S.B. Leakey and his wife, Mary in Olduvai Gorge; Eugene Dubois in Indonesia; Davidson Black in China and Raymond Dart and Robert Broom in South Africa to more recent discoveries that go back further in time by Richard Leakey and his wife, Meave (Louis and Mary’s son and daughter-in-law); Donald Johanson, Tim White and many others.

But Gibbons doesn’t just talk about the fossils. She also explores the personalities of the (mostly) men who look for the fossils, the arguments they get into over the interpretations of their finds and, sometimes, even the tactics some of them have stooped to, to make sure they and not their competitors get access to the best sites and the oldest fossils. She also looks at the controversial subject of determining the pace and direction of human evolution using DNA markers instead of, or in concert with, the fossils.

For someone like myself, who is fascinated by the history of paleoanthropology as well as the information that the study of human and prehuman fossils reveals, this book is a must-read by the head writer on human evolution for the journal Science. She has access to the people who have participated in the search for and study of the fossils, and she interviewed pretty much every actor in the drama who is still living. She tells the story of the past few decades of research with frankness but without an overabundance of finger-pointing, in a manner that is readable for those who already know something about paleoanthropology and for those who don’t know anything about the subject.

Gibbons’ book proves that while the fossils that have been found and studied might be dry and dead, the information they carry and the people who search for and analyze them are anything but.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


It's Election Day in the United States.

If you've voted already, congratulations. You have your license to complain until the next election.

If you haven't voted yet, go do it.

It doesn't matter who you vote for, or whether or not you support the same candidates and issues I do. What does matter, if you are eligible to vote, that you go out there and be a good citizen and exercise the franchise.

That is all. :D

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In which I become delusional and expect the news to actually be news

You know, I was brought up to believe that keeping up with the news is a person’s responsibility, because you can’t be a good citizen if you aren’t an informed citizen. And I do believe that.

However (bet you knew there was going to be a “however” coming up), it has gotten to the point where I can hardly stand to read or watch the news these days.

Part of that has to do with what passes for news in the 21st century. Half of it seems to consist of items about so-called celebrities, half of whom I’ve never heard of and all of which is none of my damn business, or the scare story of the day over either terrorism or how unhealthy this or that thing is for me. And another part of it has to do with the fact that most political “news” consists of partisan pundits (on all sides) trying to pass off their own beliefs as actual truth.

I must be getting old, because I remember when personal opinion used to be labeled as such in broadcast news. I used to hate George Putnam’s right wing commentaries on the old channel 11 news in Los Angeles when I was growing up. But at least he kept it out of hard news stories he was reading and called his op-ed pieces “One Reporter’s Opinion”.

It irritates the crap out of me that news readers, especially, seem to think their audience needs to be told how to feel about each story, and I’ve nearly given up on television news. I really don’t need to be told that every traffic accident and other mishap is “tragic”. I’m thinking we need to ban that word from hard news for awhile. That, and the chat between news stories, where the news readers share how they feel about a story. I don’t care that Nancy Newsgirl thinks that Paris Hilton (for example) is a slut or that Rob Reporter thinks that the husband did it or that Steve Sportscaster seems to need to share with me that he believes the reports of this or that athlete’s misbehavior.

What I want to know is, whatever happened to “who, what, when, where, why, and how”. Back when I was taking journalism classes and working on the student newspaper in college, we were taught that the lead of any news story, be it in print or broadcast media, needed to include what happened to whom, when and where, and why and how it happened. I hardly ever see that in broadcast news any more, and less and less often in written news stories. It seems like nearly every story, even hard news items, have been turned into feature stories that go through some long, supposedly artistic introduction before we find out what actually happened.

In my work now, writing finance news for several internet outlets, I really try to stick to the facts and to put the essential information in the lead. I probably don’t always succeed, but at least I make the attempt. It seems like fewer and fewer news writers even try any more.

I don’t suppose I will ever completely give up reading the news. It would be too much against my nature and upbringing. But I don’t have to like the state of reporting, and it is likely that I will continue to complain about how sloppy and unprofessional journalism has become in the twenty-first century.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Strange doings...and I don't just mean that I actually posted

Weird things happen sometimes.

That doesn’t mean that they mean anything. It just means that we live in a universe where the odd sometimes occurs.

One of those odd things happened to me today. I assign it no special importance, other than the fact that the coincidences involved got my attention, probably because I’ve always been interested in coincidence. Part of that is probably that I am a writer, and constantly aware when working on anything fictional that readers will only accept so much coincidence. Beyond that, they’ll laugh at the novel or story, or maybe throw the book across the room. Certainly, I’ve done both in my many years as a reader.

Anyway, today’s coincidences happened because I was waiting for some information to become available so that I could do my work for the day. Because I work on the internet, when I have down time in the middle of my work day, I tend to sit and surf the ‘net. Today, specifically, the adventure started when I decided to go over and take a look at Paul Cornell’s blog. I recommend his blog highly, by the way. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Cornell briefly earlier this year at Gallifrey One (that’s a Doctor Who convention, for the uninitiated). He seems a very nice man, and he is a very, very good writer.

One of the things I read on Mr. Cornell’s blog today was that he will be attending the Fortean Times Unconvention next month in London. This spurred what was to be a quick visit to the Fortean Times website, which I had not visited in years. The site is dedicated to the sorts of unusual things that Charles Fort studied in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, all sorts of mysteries and anomalous phenomenon and conspiracies. Things that I have had more than a passing interest in ever since I was a child; things I don’t necessarily believe or believe in, but that I am hesitant to always dismiss out of hand, either.

I looked through the site quickly, clicking on a couple of short items that were of minor interest before seeing a feature headline, “Hollywood Hitmen”, that piqued my interest mostly because I grew up in Southern California. I didn’t mean to spend much time with it; I had to get back to work.

It was a mildly interesting story about a screenwriter who disappeared while driving across the Southern California desert late one night in 1997. The authorities called it an accident, but his family and friends weren’t so sure, and the circumstances surrounding the discovery of his car and skeletal remains about a year later did nothing to contradict their feeling that he had been murdered.

None of the this, however, is really relevant to the experience I had with the story today. What is relevant is that as I scanned the story and the photos that accompanied it, two things jumped out at me. First, one of the photos, of a Denny’s restaurant, looked awfully familiar to me. This turned out to be because it is the Denny’s in Mojave, California, a regular stop when I’m taking the “back way” to and from Southern California rather than putting up with all the traffic on I-5.

The second thing that jumped out at me was a reference to Rocketdyne’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory, also in Southern California, and to the partial nuclear meltdown that occurred there in 1959. I grew up in sight of the field lab, where among other things tests were made on the rocket engines that took the Apollo rockets, and the astronauts, to the moon.. I was also at home, at the age of nearly three, the night in July of 1959, when an experimental nuclear reactor melted down and released many times more radiation than the meltdown at Three Mile Island a couple of decades later. My house was in the direct line of sight of the facility, and just a couple of miles away as the crow flies. I’ve written about that incident before in this blog, on October 5, 2006 to be precise.

Here is where the whole coincidence thing comes in. What are the odds that I would visit a website for the first time in several years, and find that the one headline story that I chose to click on to read, without there being any indication that there could possibly be anything that I could so directly relate to might be there, happened to contain two separate references to places and/or events that I have personal experience with?

As I said at the beginning of this post, I don’t assign any cosmic significance to any of this. I just find it curious that events unfolded as they did, and even more curious that the story that contained the two coincidental references appeared on a website devoted to the strange and the unusual. Certainly, curious enough to write about it after not having written anything here for months.

Like I said, no cosmic importance at all.

Except that I really wanted to tell someone about this, and maybe the universe was giving me a kick in the pants to get my butt over here and start posting again.

Monday, April 12, 2010

New species' skull could have remnant brain tissue inside...

Yes, I am an anthropology geek. Why do you ask?

I found this story, and just had to pass it along.

EDITED TO ADD: The Yahoo link at the beginning of this post will take you to an index page, not the article in question, but it will get you to the article eventually so I'll leave it in the post. The Livescience link at the end of this post will get you directly to the original article.

A skull belonging to a newly-announced possible ancestor to humans, Australopithecus sediba, which was just revealed last week, could have a shrunken remnant of its brain inside, according to this story on Yahoo! News.

Still inside most if its stone matrix, the skull was X-rayed at a facility in France, using a machine called a synchroton that generates much more detailed images than those of conventional X-ray machines. The scans indicated that the skull might contain a remnant of its brain as well as something that could be fossilzed insect eggs. However, even if the object seen is a brain fragment, those studying the brain say they would not likely be able to determine its original structure.

Scientists studying the skull hope to also use its teeth to determine its chronological age. If they can do that, they can compare it to the remains' developmental level, which is about that of a modern 13-year-old, to tell whether the species was still developing like other australopithecines did, or if it had started to trend toward developmental rates of members of the genus Homo.

Besides the skull, fragments amounting to about 40 percent of a body were found, which will help determine how the species got around.

The skull containing the possible brain remains is a male, but another skull of the species has been identified as that of an adult female.

These kinds of finds fascinate me. Each skull or fragment of bone found by paleoanthropologists...or by the children of these scientists, which was the case with this skull, according to the article...presents the possibility of being able to learn just a little bit more about how we developed as a species and about who our ancestors really were. It is a complicated story, but every little piece of the puzzle adds more knowledge to build on to make it more complete.

You can find the original article on Livescience.

I'm writing...just not here that often right now...

I just thought I'd drop by to say that, no, I haven't abandoned writing since John's creativity experiment wrapped up.

But I have been working on a novel that I'd been think about and playing around with for years but never actually got around to working on more than sporadically. I've hooked up with a writing group on Ravelry and this month there's a challenge going on. I committed to writing 25,000 words this month and am already at 16,765 words. Maybe I set my goal a little low, but I think it's more about getting in the habit of working every day, whether I feel like it or not. Whether I feel inspired or not. From that perspective, the whole thing is working out marvelously.

At any rate, I'm around, I'm writing regularly, and I'm feeling good about that.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Creativity Experiment, Day Seven: Haiku

Today is the seventh and last day is the of John Remy's creativity experiment, which he has been hosting over at Mind on Fire.

The card of the day, this time chosen by John's daugheter, Catgirl, is the Six of Pentacles. I don't ususally write haiku; the form has driven me to distraction ever since I was introduced to it in elementary school. However, after considering the Six of Pentacles and its attributes, this came to mind almost immediately. Probably has something to do with some of the events in my own life over the past few years.

And so, my very small contribution on the final day of an amazing learning and creative experience:

Knowing when to give
or admit the need to take
is art of balance.

And finally, thanks to you, John, for imagining that we all could do this.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Creativity Experiment, Day Six: Commonalities

Today is the next to the last day of John Remy's Creativity Experiment. If this is your first exposure to it, pop on over to Mind on Fire and see what's going on.

Today's Tarot card is the Two of Cups, and after thinking about some of the possible implications of this card, some lyrics from Sting's first solo recording, "The Dream of the Blue Turtles", drifted into my mind.

The result is this essay:

We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us, me, and you
Is if the Russians love their children too
----Sting, “Russians” 1985

These lyrics from the song “Russians” might seem anachronistic listeners who were born after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s.

On the contrary, the sentiment they carry are just as essential today as they were when they were written in 1985, back before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

To someone like me, who remembers the Russian Missile Crisis, in 1962, who remembers the “duck and cover” drills in elementary school, and who lived with the fear that “the Russkies” could up and decide to drop the bomb at any time well into adolescence, and who now looks at today’s world from not-so-comfortable middle age, they couldn’t be more applicable today.

Oh, you’d have to change the lyrics a little. You’d want to sing about Moslems, or Christians. You’d want to mention Republicans, or Democrats. You might even name theists and atheists, evolutionists or creationists, pro-lifers or pro-choicers, depending on which political, religious or social issue is getting the most acrimonious press on any particular day.

But the point the song would make is the same, no matter who is named in the lyrics…we have to assume that our neighbors are more like us than different from us, or we are in deep, deep trouble.

On the face of it, I’m sure many people would say, “But we know that Christians love their children,” that Moslems do; that atheists love their children, that creationists do, that evolutionists do. But, truthfully, to hear some of the rhetoric that gets mainstream media time these days, I wonder if it really registers with the most vocal segments of many of those advocating on different sides of the arguments that those who oppose them really do love their children. That they really are human just like them.

There is no question, at least from where I’m sitting, that there is some major-league demonizing going on out there today, just as there was during the Cold War. I’ve heard, and not just on television or on the radio or the internet, suggest that saying Muslims and Christians, or Iranians and Americans, or atheists and Christians or Muslims have things in common and are not natural enemies is tantamount to sympathizing with terrorism. This is an incredibly dangerous position to take, just as it was incredibly dangerous during the cold war when the assumption of many was that the only thing in the minds of all Russians was the destruction the West.

If we could all just generally admit that our neighbors, locally and globally, no matter any of our differences, are much more like us than different from us, I would feel much more positive about the direction our global culture is going.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Creativity Experiment, Day Five: Anxiety

Today's Tarot card in John Remy's creativity experiment is the Nine of Swords.

It isn't a happy card, in contrast to the nice day I've had. On the other hand, some of the less-than-positive aspects of the day's card have manifested themselves in my day precisely because I haven't been able to participate in today's installment of the experiment as fully as I would have liked.

And so, just a little reflection on how even a good day can hold anxiety and guilt:

It’s amazing, the things that make me anxious.

Today, it has been not having the time to get around to doing something really creative for today’s installment of John's creativity experiment.

It was a nice day, which I spent helping a friend move and and then, with my roommate, having guests for dinner. Still, all day long, chittering at the back of my mind was anxiety surrounding the possibility that I wouldn’t have the time or energy to properly fulfill the commitment I've made to participating in the experiment this week.

And sure enough, here I am at the end of the day, friend moved and guests on their way home, trying to think through some of the ideas that I thought about in considering the card of the day while I was guarding cars while they were being loaded to move Jen's belongings from her old place to her new apartment and while I was helping sort her yarn into storage bins once we got everything moved in at the new place.

I had some interesting thoughts and some interesting ideas about how to write about them, especially about the aspect of the Nine of Swords that touch on worrying and anxiety. Goodness knows, with my OCD, I've got plenty of first-hand expereience obsessing on things and working myself up into anxiety attacks over them. But none of the things I’ve tried to put together this evening around those ideas has worked out.

I probably shouldn’t feel badly about it at all. I fulfilled a commitment to a friend, I had fun during the day, and I’m tired enough that I’ll probably sleep very well tonight. But what I really feel, deep down, is that I’ve let myself down by not rising to the challenge of John’s experiment today, and that I’ve let the other participants down by not participating fully myself today.

I should feel relaxed after the nice day I’ve had, and instead I’m sitting here feeling that I could have and should have done better, and feeling guilty and anxious because I didn't.

Which is, perhaps appropriately enough, entirely in the spirit of the Nine of Swords.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Creativity Experiment, Day 4: "The Devil Drives at Night"

Okay, it's day number four of John Remy's Creativity Experiment over at Mind on Fire, and today's Tarot card is The Devil.

I don't know why it seemed so difficult to come up with something for today's card. Maybe it was just that it was Saturday and I was out of my regular weekday routine. Anyway, I finally did find inspiration and wrote the short story that follows.

I'll call it "The Devil Drives at Night".

It was one of those weird late-night conversations you can only find when you’re twenty and living in a dorm and it’s Friday night and there’s been too much drinking going on.

We all thought we were being so deep and philosophical and daring, talking about how we didn’t believe in God and how nothing really means anything, and what would it matter if it did, since we were all destined to be tiny little cogs in the capitalist machine.

I suppose we all meant it, although I was more agnostic than atheist even then, and I was beginning to come to the realization that even if there was no God, that didn’t necessarily mean that there was no meaning. I figured that I could make up my own and that would be as good as meaning being imposed on me.

Regular little rebel, I was.

As the night wore on and more wine and beer were consumed, we seemed to become more serious and more somber, and the talk turned from the cosmic to the personal. One talked about seeing another girl walk out in front of a car and get thrown fifty feet in traffic when they were both eight years old. Another said he’d been abused by his mother all his life until he was taken away from her when he was ten.

Yet another told about being stranded with his family in the snow in Oregon for several days when they’d taken a wrong turn and gotten stuck by the side of a road. His dad had tried to walk for help, but come back with frostbitten feet and hands. The searchers finally found them, only about an hour before the authorities were planning on calling off the search. If they’d been left out there for another night, they all probably would have died, and as it was, his father had lost both feet and several fingers.

The stories went on like this for most of an hour, getting more and more elaborate, before one girl, slight, shy, with long brown hair and a slight lisp made worse by the beers she‘d had, cleared her throat and said: “You all make me feel so guilty. I’ve never seen anyone die, I was never abused when I was a kid, and my family all gets along really well.

“And I know all of you said you don’t believe in God. Truth is, I don’t think I do, either. But I do believe in the Devil.”

A couple of the others started giggling at that, but others hushed them. I might have been because they wanted to let the girl have her say, but it also might have been because they were sure that she was going to give them something better than just that statement to laugh at.

“I’m sorry, I do,” she continued.

“And you have evidence of this?” That was Randall, who earlier had been explaining that he didn’t believe in anything he couldn’t see, touch, feel and smell.”

“Well…Kind of,” the girl, whose name no one could remember, stammered. “I saw him once.”

That brought another laugh, but it was a little more nervous than the first one had been.

“All that is,” Randall said, becoming louder as he saw a chance to humiliate the girl, “is anecdotal evidence. Unless, of course, you have a photo of him, with the negative, so that it can be tested for tinkering in the lab.”

The girl’s voice became a little louder as well, and the expression on her face shifted from timidity to determination.

“I know it’s anecdotal. I know I can’t prove to you that I saw him. But Shelley can’t prove she saw her friend get hit by the car, either, but none of you have questioned that.”

“It hardly the same thing,” Randall said. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. We know people get hit by cars sometimes; it isn’t out of the question that,” he hesitated as he tried to recall the name. “That Shelley might have seen one of those instances. But when you claim that you saw the Devil, which is a fictional construct, you have to produce concrete evidence or no one is going to believe you.”

The girl said, “I don’t care if you believe me or not. I’m just saying, I saw the devil, and I believe he exists because of that experience.”

“Okay, I’ll bite,” Sarah said. Sarah winked at Randall as she said it. “How did you happen to see the Devil, and where were you, and what was he doing?”

The girl sighed and shook her head. She looked like she knew she was walking into a trap but couldn’t quite help herself or bring herself to backpedal from her statements.

“It was on my twelfth birthday,” she said. “My parents had taken me to San Diego to the zoo, and we were headed back home. It was late, probably close to midnight, and we were on the freeway, the 405, northbound in Sepulveda Pass. My sister, who was in the back seat with me, and my mom in the front seat, were both asleep. My dad was driving. I was still wide awake, watching the cars around us.

“Traffic was heavy even though it was so late because there had been a huge wreck on the transition to the Ventura Freeway. Cars were backed up for miles. One lane would be able to go ahead a little, then it would stop and another lane would progress.

“At one point, a car pulled up beside us, and the driver’s window was right next to mine…”

“Did he have horns and a pointy goatee?” someone said.

“No, he was clean-shaven,” the girl said. “But his eyes glowed red. His whole face had a red cast to it. He turned and looked at me and I felt like he could see right through me. And he didn’t have horns, exactly, but where you might expect them to be, there were little scars.”

“And you could see this in the dark?” Another skeptical voice.

“Well, it wasn’t dark in his car. The interior kind of glowed red, like it had neon lights on inside or something. He had this look on his face, too, like he was thinking at me that I knew who he was and that I should be afraid of him.”

“And so what happened?” Sarah said. “Were there flames and car wrecks all around and general destruction?”

The girl telling the story rolled her eyes. “The lane he was in started moving again and he got ahead of us.”

“That’s all?” Randall said. “You have to come up with a better story than that.”

The girl shrugged. “That’s what happened. You don’t believe me, and that’s okay. But that’s exactly what happened.”

The conversation continued. There were more stories told, some of them pretty horrific.

I noticed that the girl who had claimed to have seen the devil got up and started to wander off a little while after she had told her story. I got up and followed her up the stairs.

When I caught up with her, I asked her, “Why did you do that?”

“What?” she said. “Talk about seeing the Devil?

I nodded.

“I don’t know. Nobody ever believes me. But it happened. I could take you out there right now and show you exactly where on the freeway it happened. If I ever saw him again, I could point him out. And I really believe he was the Devil. But I don’t know why I ever bother to say anything. Even my dad didn’t believe me when I told him, that night after we got home.”

She stopped and thought for a minute. “Maybe I just hope that someday I’ll find someone else who has seen him.”

“Oh,” I said. “Maybe. Well, good luck with that.”

And I walked away, feeling kind of sorry for her. Because I was fairly sure she wouldn’t ever find anyone willing to believe her.

Or at least willing to admit to anyone, even to her, that they’d seen him, too.

How did I know?

I knew because I knew her for the rest of college. Became good friends with her, in fact. But I never, ever told her that I’d seen the same man, also late one night and also in the car with my parents. Only I had been six years old, and it had been on the Hollywood Freeway, just as we were passing the Capital Records Building.

I have never told anyone. Not even my dad, who was also driving the night I saw the Devil.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Creativity Experiiment, Day 3: "The Multitasker"

It's day three of John Remy's creativity experiment over at Mind on Fire.

Today's choice from the Tarot deck is the Two of Pentacles. An interesting prompt. I didn't flash on anything immediately from the image (which you can see at John's blog; I'm still a bit technology impaired when it comes to things like images), but when I clicked over to read the summary of meanings that can attach to the card, it hit me immediately.

And so, "The Multitasker":

Chaos abounds
Chores must be done
Challenges ruin a plan
Crises hit the fan
(with accompanying shit)

Hair is torn
Garments are rent
Lunches are lost
Cookies are tossed
(in panic and in fear)

A typical day in the office

But amid the maelstrom
A calm and steady hand
Fends off the boss
Sometimes with a cross
(and garlic…oh! the gossip)

Answers questions
Massages egos
Juggles tasks
Sometimes hides flasks
(so something gets accomplished)

Some hate her
Some love her
But she is called by all
In the boardroom and in the hall
(The Multitasker)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Creativity Experiment, Day 2: A Reflection

Today's Tarot card is The Hermit. You can click over to Mind on Fire to see John picking the card of the day, and for an explanation of just what we're doing this week as part of his experiment in creativity.

This is my day's contribution to the experiment:

What’s so wrong with being alone?

I enjoyed being alone when I was a child. Was it a function of having been an only child? I don’t know.

Sometimes, with half the neighborhood kids playing on my front lawn, I would sneak off inside for the solitude of my room and a book.

No reflection on the kids I knew (or, maybe it is), I really preferred being alone. I spent a lot of time plotting and planning how I could manage to live my adult life without having anyone else around. Ever.

Some people thought I was a strange child. Maybe I was.

Then I became the adult I’d wondered about when I was growing up.

I still preferred being alone.

But, I found, it is a lot more difficult to be alone when you’re an adult. You’ve got to earn a living. You’re expected to have “relationships” (yes, the quotation marks indicate that I still find that concept rather fraught at times), intimate and otherwise.

Additionally, if you’re alone too much others start to be, well, suspicious.

How many people comment about the serial killer next door, “He was always so quiet. Kept himself to himself.”

I did grow to enjoy the company of others. I spent less and less time alone, and mostly didn’t regret it. There was school and work and nights out with friends. But there were still those times when I Just. Needed. To. Be. Alone.

When my mother’s health began to decline and I had to take care of her, there was no such thing as being alone anymore. Going to the mailbox or walking out to the laundry room for five minutes was as close as I got to solitude.

That went on for close to five years.

And then Mom was gone, first into care and then into wherever we go when this life is over.

I discovered that I had forgotten how to be alone.

For awhile, I spent most of my time trying to be with others. With friends. Knitting at the local shop. If nothing else, sitting in a restaurant, writing or reading a book. Just so there were other people around.

Slowly, I’m learning how to be alone again, rediscovering the joys of quiet. Solitude. Time to just sit and think.

To just be.

I still greatly enjoy time with my friends. But, on the other hand, what’s so wrong with being alone?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Creativity Experiment, Day 1: "The Knights in the Park"

I'm participating in John Remy's latest experiment in creativity, over at his blog, Mind on Fire.

Every day for the next week, he will pick a Tarot card at random, and everyone who is participating will create something spurred by that card, and post it.

Today's card is the Knight of Swords, and this is what jumped out of my mind in response to that imagery, a short story, just a couple of scenes, really, that has nothing to do with Tarot at all, but was nevertheless the first thing I thought of on seeing the day's prompt. It is a first draft, but that seems appropriate for this sort of on-the-run experiment.

So, without further comment: "The Knights in the Park":

“Mom!” Katie came tearing through the house, yelling at the top of her lungs. “Mom! I just came by the park, and there’s a bunch of guys out there in armor.”

“Yes, dear,” Mom said as Katie flew by her and into the kitchen. She was used to Katie’s flights of fantasy, and had long since started ignoring them. “It’s probably those knuckleheads in the SCA, practicing. You know how they like to beat each other with sticks.”

“No, Mom,” Katie said, banging shut the refrigerator door, water bottle in hand. “They didn’t have sticks. They had real swords. And spears.”

Mom sighed. “The SCA doesn’t use real swords, Katherine Marie. You’ve seen Mr. Smith’s swords. They’re made out of rattan.”

Katie sighed back, much more dramatically than her mother had.

“I told you, they’re real swords. I know, ‘cause one of them had stabbed another one, and the one that was stabbed was bleeding all over the place. It was gross.”

Back in the living room, Katie paused to drink.

“I asked if they needed me to call an ambulance, but they acted like they didn’t understand me. They were speaking some other language.”

“You need to stay away from Mr. Smith and his friends when they’re practicing,” Mom said. “Those helmets they wear restrict their vision, and one of them might hit you accidentally.”

“But the guy was bleeding, Mom. And moaning, and cussing I think. I couldn’t understand him, but it sounded like Dad does when he cusses.”

Mom looked up at her daughter for the first time since she had come inside.

“You’re a mess, Katie. Go wash up and change clothes. I’ve got to go to the grocery store when I finish folding this laundry, and I want you to go with me.”

“I hate going to the store, Mom,” Katie whined.

“Katie….”, Mom said, a warning tone in her voice.

Katie turned to go, and as she went down the hall she called back, “And there were horses too, Mom. And the horses had armor on, too.”

Mom stopped folding for a minute. Horses? The group that practices in the park never had horses. She shook her head, then went back to her folding.

Twenty minutes later, Katie and her mom were in the car, backing out of the driveway.

“Go the other way,” Katie said when her mom started to turn the car left out of the driveway. “I want to drive by the park and see if they knights and the horses are still there.”

“There are no knights in the part. And there are no horses. Horses are not allowed in the park.”

Mom was about to say no, when she decided that showing Katie that there were no knights, and no horses, in the park might make her daughter think twice before making up these stories. So, she drove back into the driveway and then backed out the other direction and headed toward the park.

Just as Mom suspected, there was no one in the park except for a few kids in the skateboard park.

Except, as the turned the corner and could see past the concrete of the skateboard area, there was a glint of sunlight off metal. As she drove further and could see more, there was a group of men in armor, some with helmets on and some with helmets dangling from gloved hands.

And there were two horses, held by the reins by a boy in a tunic, just beyond the knot of men, who seemed to be gathered around something, or someone, on the ground.

Maybe I should go take a look, see if someone needs help, Mom thought as she pulled up to the curb. She shut off the car, told Katie to stay put, and started across the street.

But, as Katie’s mom stepped up onto the sidewalk on the park side of the street, the gathering of men and the younger man and horses seemed to just dissolve away. One moment they seemed as solid as the sidewalks she was standing on. The next moment they were all transparent; she could see them, but she could see the lawn and trees beyond them, as well. And then, in another moment, they were just…gone.

Katie’s mom stopped still, looked all around her, to see where the group had gone. But they were nowhere in sight.

After a moment, she turned and went back to the car.

“Did you see that, Mom?” Katie said. “They were there, and then they just vanished. That was so cool.”

“Things…people…do not just vanish, Katie,” Mom said. “That’s impossible. It violates every known law of physics.”

Mom paused, sighed yet again. “Yes. I saw that.”

And then she turned and looked at Kate. “And if you breathe a word of this to anyone, you will be grounded until you are ninety years old. Do you hear me?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Katie said.

“And I mean no one. Not Dad, not your teachers. Nobody.”

Katie caught the slight edge of hysteria in her mother’s voice and knew that this was one thing she really shouldn’t talk about.

“Yes, ma’am,” Katie repeated. “But we really did see it, didn’t we?”

Mom nodded her head, started the car, and continued to the grocery store.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I really hate spring...

Yes, I know. Spring isn't here yet. But Daylight Savings Time is, and that's enough for me.

In truth, I was glad to see DST come this year. Usually, I like it when it gets dark early, but for some reason it started bothering me this year. So, I'm okay with it getting dark an hour later all of a sudden. I probably won't still like it when it isn't full dark until nine o'clock at night, but this is now.

No, my problem with Spring is that there are plants and trees blossoming. For me, that means that allergy season has shifted into high gear. It means sinus pressure and post-nasal drip, sore throats and sneezing. It's bad enough that people look at me like I've got the plague; sometimes it gets so bad that I feel like I've got the plague.

Like today. My sinuses were bothering me before I ever went outside. Then, after I was finished working, I had to go out to the grocery store to get a few things. Now I'm back, and I feel very much like someone is dragging a piece of barbed wire back and forth inside my sinuses.

Which is probably too much information for most of you. Sorry. We tell the truth here.

Anyway, I'd love to just go back to bed and take a long nap. Like maybe through tomorrow morning. But I won't. It's knit night. I'll go commiserate with my knitting friends who have allergies even worse than I do. It won't make the allergies better. But sometimes, a little bitch and moan time is good for the psyche.

Which brings me to the key question: Why am I allergic to so many things now? I never had any allergies until I moved to this valley. None. Nada. I could eat anything I wanted. With the exception of maybe once a year, for a day or two, my sinuses never caused me any trouble.

Now...well, that's a different story. Here in the most productive agricultural county in the entire nation, I'm allergic to at least half the things grown here. I just don't understand how that works.

Monday, March 08, 2010

What qualified this man to say this?

According to an article on Huffington Post yesterday, Tom Delay thinks that giving people unemployment benefits makes them lazy, no-accounts who just sit home and collect government money, not bothering to look for a job until just before their benefits run out.

Delay’s remarks came on one of the talking-heads Sunday shows on CNN, in defense of Senator Jim Bunning (Republican, of Kentucky) and his fillibuster blocking a vote on extended benefits for the jobless. Answering a question from the host of the show, Candy Crowley, in which she asked, “People are unemployed because they want to be?”, Delay said, “Well, it’s the truth, and people in the real world know it.”

Um. By what stretch of the imagination does Delay think he knows anything about the real world? Does he not know that most people who are unemployed do not qualify for benefits anyway. Those who were working part-time, in temporary jobs, or who are self-employed (that would include me) are not eligible. Additionally, you can’t just quit your job and receive jobless benefits; you have to be unemployed through no fault of your own.

Well, I guess you have to consider the source. Delay is, after all, under indictment on felony conspiracy charges involving campaign contributions, had to resign from his Senate seat due to the indictment, was tangled up with lobbyists for most of his political career, has promoted “birther” conspiracy beliefs which hold that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and is thus not legally eligible to be president, and believes that evolution should not be taught in the nation’s public schools because doing so leads to events like the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado in 1999.

I don’t even know what else to say. Delay has given every appearance of being a crooked politician with some fairly out-there views (not necessarily on the evolution issue, as lots of people believe pretty much the same thing he does; but the “birthers” are just plain loony). But he feels qualified to go around saying that people are unemployed because they want to be, and he expects us to all just accept his word on that.

Sorry. I don’t think so.

Yet another sabbatical from posting...

Um-hum. Yeah. It has been a long time since I've posted here.

But, no, you haven't gotten rid of me yet. It's just that I spent most of January worrying about various issues, while most of February was spent in the process of moving house (well, apartment).

I could not believe the amount of crap that one can accumulate in a one-bedroom apartment and that you don't even see until you start packing to move. I think I threw out as much or more junk than I acutally moved. And the time spent shredding old mail so as to avoid identity-theft. Can someone please tell me why places have to print account numbers on every single page of mailings? It is absolutely insane.

Also, I celebrated the move by going to Gallifrey One in Los Angeles. For those of you who don't know, Gally is a Doctor Who convention...yes, we've established before that I'm a geek...held annually at the airport Marriott in L.A. Lots of fun, loads of insanity, and a good way to get rid of a lot of stress.

Now, I'm just concentrating on work and finding more work. The former is going as well as can be expected in a time of recession (no, it isn't over yet, no matter what the talking heads on the news stations say), and the latter is, well, dismal.

I guess we will see how much more time I have to post here. Maybe if I'd start reading the news again (I've been avoiding it; too depressing), I'd find stuff that riles me up enough to post.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Neener, neener, neener...or, another archaeological paradigm bites the dust...

I have to say that this news made me do a little happy dance, sitting here in my office chair.

Sphere is reporting that the British archaeological journal Antiquity has published a paper outlining evidence showing that a large-scale, monument-building pre-Columbian civilization did indeed exist in the Amazon basin, possibly dating back to around AD 800. This directly contradicts the prevailing paradigm that the Amazon basin was never capable of supporting more than small bands of people and certainly not a settlement that housed upwards of 60,000 people, which is what the authors of the Antiquity paper claim, adding that they have so far uncovered only around 10 percent of the existing remains of the city.

The find vindicates the beliefs of Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who vanished in the area of the find in 1925, along with one of his sons and another gentleman while searching for the remains of the "lost city" he thought he had evidence for.

Last year, I read The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, by David Grann, which tells about Fawcett's obsession, the obsession of later explorers to find out what happened to the disappeared Englishman and his party, and the search by a few archaeologists to overturn the reigning paradigm and find evidence that the Amazon was, indeed, the home of a large-scale vanished civilization. The news of this new find only makes me more enthusiastic about my recommendation of this very good book, as well as of a book I reviewed in this blog back in 2007, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles C. Mann, which also spent some time looking at the existing paradigm and newer ideas of who might have lived in the Amazon basin in the past and how large their settlements might have been.

If I haven't said it before, or haven't said it emphatically enough, go find Brann's book, and Mann's, and read them.

Unfortunately, part of this story is not good. The road to this new discovery was opened only because of extensive clear-cutting of the Amazon forest. Nothing is perfect, I suppose, but I really wish that these new remains could have been found without so much destruction having been done to the enviroment of the Amazon basin.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

A year of reading...

I thought I'd post the list of books I read in 2009.

I'm not especially happy with it. I had hoped to read 52 books during the year, one a week. As you will see, I didn't even make quite half that.

It isn't that I didn't read a lot last year, but more that most of what I read was not in the form of books. I read a lot for work; none of that made it onto the list. I also read quite a bit of other stuff on the, articles, even some fan fiction (some of it horrendous, but some of it very good). Again, there is no place on the list for any of those.

But...I did manage to read 24 books. Sitting in the restaurant tonight, reading after I finished eating, I got into a conversation with one of the waitstaff. She seemed to think that 24 books in a year is a lot. But one year, quite a few years ago, I read 100 books in a year. I know people who regularly read even more than that.

The list:

Finished, January:
1 *Censoring Science, by Mark Bowen
2 Darkly Dreaming Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay
3 *The Longest Cave, by Roger Brucker and Richard Watson (re-read)
4 Dearly Devoted Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay (warning: the "ick factor" very high in this book)
5 Wives and Sisters, by Natalie R. Collins
6 The Twilight Streets, by Gary Russell
7 Torchwood: SkyPoint, by Phil Ford
8 Slow Decay, by Andy Lane
9 Something in the Water, by Trevor Baxendale
10 The Aztec Heresy, by Paul Christopher
11 Rainbow Drive, by Roderick Thorp
12 Trace Memory, by David Llewellyn
13 The Last Colony, by John Scalzi
14 Joplin’s Ghost, by Tananarive Due
15 *From Housewife to Heretic, by Sonia Johnson (re-read)
16 *History as Mystery, by Michael Parenti
17 *West of the West: Dreamers, Believers, Builders and Killers in the Golden State, by Mark Arax
18 Devil Bones, by Kathy Reichs
19 Amazon Ink, by Lori Devoti
20 CSI: Sin City, by Max Allan Collins
21 *Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit, by Matt McCarthy
22 *A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America, by Michael Barkun
23 *The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, by David Grann
24 The Lincoln Lawyer, by Michael Connelly

The starred titles are non-fiction. I'm a little disappointed that there are only eight of those out of the 24 books I read, just a third of the total. Especially since, of the others, nine books have some relation to television shows, another third plus one. Not that those were all bad, trashy novels; some of them were quite good.

One out of those nine books related to series television, I should note, is only related to it's show ("Bones") because the lead character of both have the same name and the show is "based on" the series of mysteries. In another case, the "Dexter" books, one is the basis of the show's first season, which stuck very close to the novel, while the other is the basis of the second season, but the two diverge greatly. Another five are related to the British science-fiction series "Torchwood". Those are actually my favorites in this category, despite a slight variation in quality, simply because I like the show so much.

The books I read this year that I would recommend most highly are, among the non-fiction, West of the West, by Mark Arax and The Lost City of Z by David Grann. Both were fascinating, spectacular books.

And, of course, The Longest Cave, by Roger Brucker and Richard Watson, simply because it is my favorite book in the world. I've read it more times than I can count; it's my go-to book when I'm not happy with the world and want to be cheered up. That the book is about cave exploration may well say something about me, but I'm not sure what that might be.

Among the fiction, I would most recommend The Lincoln Lawyer, by Michael Connelly. Then again, I would recommend anything of his that I've read. Also, Joplin's Ghost, by Tannarive Due, is a remarkable book that blends two different cultural movements from two different generations which might not really be all that different at all. Rainbow Drive, by Roderick Thorp, is also a good mystery, enhanced by the fact that it was written before the advent of a cell phone in every pocket, providing a pocket lesson in how much that one technological advance has changed our culture.

Other than that, I'm not going to tell you too much about any of these books. I've written about a few of them here before, but aside from that I want you to go out and seek them out for yourselves, and I don't want you to think you know enough abaout them that you'll say that you might not be interested in them. I want them to be surprises to you.

I think some of them will be good surprises.

My goal for this year, by the way, is to read 40 books. I really, secretly, hope I can reach the book a week goal I set last year, but I thought it might be a good idea to scale back expectations just a bit.