Monday, July 18, 2011

Borders: all but gone...

Borders is going to bankruptcy court Thursday to ask permission to liquidate and close its stores. If this permission is granted, the liquidation sales could start as early as Friday and all its stores will likely be closed by the end of September. It has already closed a third of its stores and was working to get out of bankruptcy, but that isn't going to happen now.

It's sad to see any bookstore close, ever. I love the Internet, but I still prefer my books physical and in my hands. I'm old-fashioned, I guess. And I don't really like even buying actual books on-line, because I don't really like buying anything online. I like to be able to see what I'm buying before I pay for it. Again, old-fashioned. What do you want? I was born in 1956. You know, back when dinosaurs walked the earth.

That said, however, I'm not as sad to see Borders going. I never liked Borders much. The stores I've been in have never been organized very well, have not always had what I was looking for, and often had uninformed and unhelpful employees.

This was not universally the case, I have to say. I was in one Borders store in Southern California a couple of years ago and was looking for a particular book that was just out in paperback. After looking in all the sections where the book, which was Zoe's Tale, by John Scalzi, could have been and not finding, I asked an employee about it. He looked in all the places I had looked, just to see if I had missed it, but it wasn't there. And then he said he thought he might have seen the boxes still in back and unpacked. He disappeared and then returned a few minutes later with a copy of the book for me.

Still, I had more bad than good experiences in Borders, including one time asking an employee in my local store here in Fresno where the anthropology section was, and being asked in return, "What's anthropology?" I finally found the section on my own, but it would have been helpful to have a magnifying glass. The section was that small.

So, I guess it's goodbye to Borders. I'll continue to shop across the street at Barnes and Noble, where the selection is better and the employees much more knowledgeable and helpful. And where the sales are much much better. Now, if they'd just get their comfy chairs back.

I'll be cross-posting this over at my poor, neglected books and reading blog Reading With [an] Attitude at some point this evening.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The disaster that didn't happen...

Carmageddon...catchy name. And, it turns out, a non-event.

Reports out of Los Angeles say that officials started re-opening the 405 freeway around noon on Sunday, long before the Monday morning goal, with the possibility that it will be fully open by 3 p.m.

I wondered what that noise coming from the south was awhile ago; it was clearly the collective sigh of millions of commuters who have to take the L.A. freeways to work tomorrow morning.

I have to say that I'm proud of my home region. This weekend was a huge opportunity for the inhabitants of the Los Angeles area to live down to the stereotypes they are so often pinned with: selfish, self-absorbed, pursuing their own pleasure and comfort without thought for anyone else.

Instead, they proved what I've known all along, having grown up in Southern California: people there are just like everyone else. They pitch in and help when the need arises, as it did this weekend.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

I really don't understand some people...

I need someone to explain this to me, because I just don't get it.

In the wake of the Casey Anthony verdict, from what I've been reading, people have been sending death threats to the jurors who found her not guilty of killing her daughter.

Death threats.

Really? For doing their job?

I get not agreeing with the verdict. It was unexpected, to say the least. Much of the evidence that made it into the media seemed to indicate that she was culpable in some way for her daughter's death, even if the actual death of the child had been accidental. Certainly, she had already long since been convicted in the media, by the media. And, goodness knows, the sudden and appaarently violent death of a child is upsetting.

So, yeah. I get disagreeing with the verdict. I even sort of get being upset about it, especially in light of the frenzy whipped up about the case by certain members of the punditry. I won't mention any names, since some of those people seem to take exception to being criticized for their broadcasts, but most of you probably know who I'm talking about.

But, really.

The jury was simply doing its job, which was to weigh the evidence and decide whether or not the prosecution had proved its case against Casey Anthony beyond a reasonable doubt. Because that's how it works in the United States judicial system. The prosecution has to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant commited whatever crime he or she is accused of.

I understand that there is a sizeable portion of the population that has a problem with this system. Nevertheless, that is the way the legal system in the United States works. I think this is a good thing. The government has many resources to assemble evidence that a person is guilty. Many times, the defendant has no resources at all, excpet an overworked and over-tired public defender. That is not an equal playing field. And sometimes people are not guilty. Not saying that is the case in the Anthony trial; I don't have a clue. I didn't hear all the evidence presented in court. The jury did.

Anyway...the jury's job in a criminal case is to listen to the evidence presented by both sides and decide whether or not the prosecution has proved that the accused committed the crime he or she is charged with. The level of proof is "beyond a reasonable doubt", not "without a doubt". But not, "well it seems like he or she might have done it", either.

From all the accounts I've heard and read, the jurors in the Anthony case felt that the prosecutors did not prove beyond reasonable doubt that she killed her daughter. I saw a couple of interviews with jurors in which it really sounded like they wanted to convict her, at least of manslaughter. But under the rules they had to operate under, they could not.

Which brings us to the question I want answered: What makes someone threaten to kill someone for doing his or her job while following rules that they did not have any hand in making? I mean, really...threaten to kill them?

Yeah. I don't get that at all. I disagree with a lot of things people do and say, a lot of the time. But I've never threatened anyone of any of those disagreements. I've never even thought about it.

I'm really hoping right now that this does not make me the abnormal one.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Cue the jokes about popping some popcorn and sitting back to see what happens.

No, seriously. Am I the only one who thinks that the hysteria over the closing this weekend of the stretch of the 405 freeway between the 101 and the 10 through Sepulveda Pass is just a little overblown?

Now, before you tell me that I don't understand because I'm not in Southern California, let me say this: I grew up in Southern California. I learned to drive on the freeways in L.A. I know how much Southern Californians love their cars and depend on them. Really. I know all that. And I know how common it is to hop in the car and drive across the county to go to dinner or to Disneyland or just to take a drive. I'm sure that still goes on, even with the soaring price of gasoline.

I'm not sure, however, why it seems so difficult for people who don't have to work to just stay in their neighborhoods for the weekend. Shop in a local store. Eat in a local restaurant. Play in a local park. It's not that hard.

Or is it all the media? Are the people fine with this, calm about it, ready to have a relaxing weekend at home? I suspect that's a lot of it, but i worry about the lookyloos, people who are hearing all this hype and will feel compelled to go out looking for the traffic jams and end up creating them. I know people like that, and I know that there are people like that in Southern California. Maybe more than the usual number. Goodness knows, it's kind of a regional passtime to be Where It's Happening

There are some people I feel sorry for. At the top of the list is people who planned their vacation in L.A. before carmageddon started getting so much time in the media and who couldn't cancel either because they coudn't get another time off from work or they'd already paid for tickets and lodging and couldn't get their money back. Especially the ones who have never been to Southern California.

The other folks I feel sorry for are the ones who have to get to LAX during the weekend, either because they are traveling themselves or because they are picking up or dropping someone off at the airport. Offhand, I can't think of a way to get to LAX without driving on the 405 or intersecting it. Getting into the airport isn't always horrible, but it can be and I suspect it will be this weekend.

I hope it all turns out well. It isn't as if there haven't been freeway closures in Los Angeles before. Parts of the 5 at the 14, the 10 and the 118 were all closed for various periods of time (but definitely longer than a weekend) in the aftermath of the Northridge Earthquake in 1994. That wasn't the first closure of the interchange of the 5 and the 14; it collapsed first in the 1971 Sylmar quake.

All in all, as much as I love Southern California, I'm glad I'll be watching this one from a safe distance. Fresno is a safe distance, right? But I'll be honest. I'll be checking the news from time to time, just to check on the number of Sig Alerts issued during the weekend.

Don't know what a Sig Alert is? Go look it up.

And yes, I deliberately didn't leave a link. Do you want me to do all your work for you?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

In which I demonstrate one of the reasons for the name of this blog...

I'm trying to write a book. It's non-fiction, so there is a certain amount of research involved. The conventional wisdom is that at some point you need to stop researching and start writing. I'm getting better at that. Well, I'm getting better at writing as I research, which is a start, I suppose.

Anyway, I had to run some errands day before yesterday, and while I was out I needed to have lunch. I had suspected that this might end up being the case, so I took a book along, one that I'm reading, or re-reading, actually, as research. And so as I ate (a pizza, Canadian bacon and pineapple; it was very good), I read.

Well, I tried to read. You see, when I'm reading something really interesting, I tend to read a little and then think a lot about what I've read. I often make marginal notes, and make notes in my current writer's notebook besides. And sometimes, I indulge in a bit of Tangents 101. Which means I read three or four pages and ended up with four pages of my notebook filled with notes that really have very little to do with what I'm writing about. Or, at least, they demonstrate the John Muir saying about how everything in the universe is connected to everything else.

Sometimes the connection is very tenuous. Other times it is clearly identifiable but no especially relevant to what I'm supposed to be doing.

The book in question is Kenneth Miller's Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution (Perennial, 1999). It's a really good book which, as I indicated above, I've read before. A couple of times. I'm reading it this time because I'm writing about anthropology, and evolution is a key concept within the field, especially within biological anthropology. So, it is on-topic in a number of ways. In other ways, not so much.

Today's problem was that I got to page 38, and Miller was writing about the origins and early evolution of life. Specifically, he was discussing the long period of time between the time of the first, prokaryotic cells (cells without nuclei), and the appearance of eukaryotic cells (those are cells that have nuclei), and the long period thereafter between those cells and the appearance of the first multi-celled organisms. Now, all of this is a subject of infinite fascination for me. And so I made some notes about how much I'm interested in this, in beginnings of all kinds. Who knows, I might want to write about it at some point.

Somehow, from the beginnings of life I ended up at the beginning of the universe, and how difficult a subject that is for me for various philosophical reasons. Difficult, but also fascinating. I also ended up at how questions of the beginning of the universe and of life are subjects that tread all over both science and religion.

But that isn't all.

Miller also gets into, on the same page, the questions science has concerning whether or not the earliest multi-cellular organisms there is evidence of (from Australia, in the Ediacaran Hills, he says, although there has probably been further research since he wrote in 1999) are or are not directly related to organisms alive today, or whether all life on earth today is descended from other organisms that came into being separately, somewhere else. This is another idea that really tickles my imagination, and I spent some time on that as well.

Yeah. I was in the restaurant for a full hour after I had finished eating, playing around with these ideas. Didn't really make any progress in the research toward what I'm trying to write. Made myself want to go off and read about the origin of life and the origin of the universe and the geological history of the Earth

All of which also goes to explain why it takes me so long to read a book sometimes.