Write Lightning is a blog from writer Deb Thompson.
Everyone is welcome here.
(Some links or topics may not be completely kid-appropriate.)

Wed, Mar 31 2004

Mob Mentality

I enjoy reading psychological "stuff" because it provides a springboard for developing plots and characterization. This morning, through a series of news-related links, I found myself reading through a paper from the Secret Service. Don't worry. I didn't hack into their computers. That wouldn't be my style. I just went to their site and browsed until I ran across a 17-page PDF file entitled Assessing Threats of Targeted Group Violence: Contributions from Social Psychology. The paper does a fairly good job of outlining the behavior of an individual in a group setting, and explores the methods by which a group can seduce, include, indoctrinate and reward individuals. It also outlines the methods by which a group can coerce, punish and even expel or eliminate resisting individuals who do not help to advance the goals of the group and who question the authority of the group or the group's leader(s).

The paper is designed to be used in connection with studying extremist or terrorist groups and individuals who might bring difficulty to our national security. But I just couldn't help but wonder if anyone ever bothers to apply these principles to the group that makes up the inner circle of people surrounding the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government. Right now I'm thinking specifically of the people questioning and testifying in the commission investigating the September 11 events. I see these same group dynamics being played out for and against several individuals involved in this whole process. I'm not saying any of them would become physically violent, but one can easily see the parallels in the way alliances are formed and broken, and the way pressure is put on first one, and then another, to make the final outcome be exactly what the group wants it to be. It makes certain things pretty predictable, and maybe even inevitable. I don't know if knowing that makes me feel any safer as an American.

posted at: 09:55 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Tue, Mar 30 2004

No Strength In Numbers Here

I spent the better part of the morning correcting (and then correcting again) some numbers I sent to some very nice people, who are just as busy as I am and who don't need to have me screwing up their day with number mix-ups. I can not understand how someone with decent intelligence has such a hard time with numbers. (It doesn't help that my vision is not topnotch, but this seems to be a brain thing and not just an eye thing.) I struggled with math in school, though I got extremely high marks in spelling and English and managed to consistently read at a high school level when in my earlier grades. When I would occasionally get the answer to a math problem in some weird way but could not use the accepted procedure and could not explain my methods to satisfy the teacher, my answer was judged incorrect, even if I got the correct answer faster than other students. Frustration leads to avoidance, as you know. So my math skills deteriorated even more after my brilliant attempts to "beat the system".

Further evidence of my inability to function in a balanced way includes the following: I enjoy drawing casual interior design layouts, and I love to look at maps, but if I go to a shopping mall and go into a store, when I come out of the store back into the mall, I can't remember which direction I was headed. I multi-task like crazy, but if I don't do certain tasks every single day, I forget how to do them. Phones are torture for me, and modern cell phones with soft buttons and multi-screen menus are the things nightmares are made of.

I read about Marge, and I wonder if I have this thing called Dyscalculia. I don't seem to have all the classic symptoms. I'm a great financial planner and saver, as long as I don't have to do any actual math in the process. I do see the "big picture" and was great at geography. I sight-read music well. I was so math-phobic that I never tried geometry, so I have no idea if that's a strength or a weakness for me. The list mentions tardiness, and I'm usually extra-early.

I loved learning (and still do), but it's torture for me to sit in a classroom. Are there any more of us out there? Maybe we have a mild form of dyscalculia or something.

If any of you reading this were among those who were involved in the whole number confusion from me earlier today, I sincerely apologize. To the rest of you, since you probably know someone a lot like me, please try to be good to that person. z=x+y may not equal much of anything to them, but I'll bet they calculate the value of your friendship as infinite.

posted at: 10:11 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Guilty Until Proven Otherwise

With a lift of the Stetson to Publicola, I was directed toward a news story that is now several days old. A New Jersey State Trooper named David Bogdan attempted to handle a situation that ended up with a vehicle's rightful occupants, also known as the good guys, in jail along with the guy who tried to steal the vehicle.

Please note that the thief, also known as the bad guy, took a vehicle that did not belong to him, plus endangered the life of the man in the back seat of said vehicle, virtually abducting the poor passenger. Excuse me, but if you woke up the same way this passenger did, would you think about it being a crime to get the thief (bad guy) out of your vehicle as fast as possible by any means, and maybe even be in self-protection mode enough to shoot at him if you had a gun available for self-protection? What was the abducted passenger supposed to do--tap on the thief's shoulder and politely ask him to please pull over and exit the vehicle? I'll be Officer Bogdan would not have done it politely either.

I'll bet those good guys (who were minding their own business when the bad guy wrecked their whole night) will have good and bad lawyers coming out of the woodwork to help them sue the suspenders off somebody. I'm hope Officer Bogdan meant no true disrespect to the good guys, and was being pressed to uphold some loony letter of the law, but I just can't think of anyone who will agree with his assessment that Mr. Garcia was wrong for disengaging the thief. (Remember the thief? You know--the bad guy?)

I knew that Cowboys and Indians had become a whole other game since some of us used to play as kids in the 1950s and 1960s. Now it looks like Cops and Robbers is a whole new game too. Who knew? The good guys are now arrested just like the bad guys. Another American legend bites the dust.

posted at: 06:38 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Mon, Mar 29 2004

Monday Madness

Monday is the toughest day for me to do blog entries, especially a Monday at the end of the month when I'm getting the Review ready for uploading. I've been catching a few news stories, but haven't read anything in depth to be able to comment intelligently, and I'd prefer to remain silent on issues if I haven't taken time to educate myself.

What I'll offer you instead are some links below to other blogs you may or may not have visited yet. It's always nice to see what everyone else has on their minds. I'm often impressed that some of the busiest people are the very ones who sit down and take time to blog. I haven't figured out if we're just in a busy mode and the momentum takes us on through blogging, or whether this is just one of the ways we center ourselves for a bit as we juggle the stream of incoming knowledge and pause to categorize it somewhere in the file drawer of our existence. Whichever it is, I like to think we are each one richer as a result of experiencing the electrical impulses of many active minds.

Mama Write

Stupid Security

Emphasis Added


posted at: 15:03 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Sun, Mar 28 2004

Not I, Said The (Several Decades Late) Navy

Thanks to Drew at FARK.com for the heads up on this story.

I have respect in general for our armed forces, but this is just wrong. Whoever it was from the Navy who had the plane stripped and left it in the swamp long ago should have thought of the plane's true worth long before this. Now that someone else has done the work and wants to restore the plane to working condition, people from the Navy show up like the greedy barnyard animals in the Little Red Hen. The U.S. Justice Department is tossing a lawsuit against this man. What a total waste of taxpayer money. I hope the man wins the suit and gets to keep and restore the plane. If you go to Google and type in "Lex Cralley" and "Princeton" (where he lives) you'll get his mailing address. Send him some moral (or even monetary) support if you like. The Navy officers/personnel and the U.S. Justice Department lawyers work for all of us. We all own that plane in a way. If I could vote on it, I'd vote that we let Lex do the restoration.

posted at: 09:57 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Sat, Mar 27 2004

Art For Goodness' Sake

The Elfin Ethicist pointed me to a commentary at Christianity Today, written by Kate Bowman. Religious people, and Christians in particular, have a way of thinking the right path in life is to run from one sacred place (whatever that means) to another. But if one is a Christian, one must acknowledge that the whole world was created to be a sacred place, and part of spiritual growth is learning to see the sacredness of life in the most unexpected moments and places.

It seems to me the mark of an insecure and immature individual to avoid everything except openly faith-related activities. It takes far more imagination and maturity (and courage) to see every new journey we take and every place we go with an eye toward looking for glimpsing God, and a heart toward finding ways to leave things a little better than we found them. If we approach an artist's work in this way, we also become a participant in expanding and uplifting the original work into a more powerful instrument than it could have ever been without our added value as an Christian observer. Seen this way, art that we might have thought of as secular becomes, not some forbidden fruit, but an imperative that makes the phrase "come and see" a witness of abundance, and a witness that is much more compelling and powerful than a stance of avoidance because we think something might look too evil. We sit in our comfortable sacred places and talk about Jesus, and think of ourselves as a step up from the artist who at least makes an attempt to emulate the Creator of the universe by daring to create art. We could learn a lot from the artist, and they from us. But that would mean opening ourselves up to what we perceive as evil. And we're afraid we won't be strong enough to handle it. So we sit in our perceived sacred places and discuss what we believe to be sacred things. We call ourselves creationists, and we imagine ourselves growing ever closer to the Creator. We cheer when the rest of the world makes fun of us and we tell ourselves we're suffering for the Lord's cause and that He told us things would be rough. So if we're ridiculed and even hated, we must be doing the right thing. Right? Right?

Or maybe we're just a bunch of selfish wimps. No wonder the atheists and agnostics make fun of us, and no wonder people aren't exactly beating the door down to get into our little sacred places and hobnob with us. We brag about the power of the Creator and then ignore the fact that what He wants us to do is reflect that power by being more like Him. We should be wild with enthusiasm about the fact that artists give us glimpses, large and small, of the True Creator. Better yet, maybe we should stop playing critic and try some art of our own.

posted at: 06:42 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry

Fri, Mar 26 2004

The Best Local Story This Week

A lot of missing-child reports don't turn out like this one. I watched news video of an interview with the man who actually found the little boy, and the guy had tears running down his cheeks when he tried to talk about it all. I have to say it was great fun watching him cry, and I'm sure most of us watched his interview through tears of our own.

posted at: 06:14 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Thu, Mar 25 2004

There Goes The Neighborhood

The story of the cross-burning reminds me that some things haven't changed a lot in certain minds. The fortunate difference between the one who did the burning and the one who was victimized is that the latter man preaches the power of the cross to save and not to condemn. It sounds as though the rest of the community realizes who the unsavory element among them really is, and hopefully they will rally behind the pastor and his family.

posted at: 06:48 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry

Wed, Mar 24 2004

Land Up For Grabs!

They're giving away land in Marquette, Kansas. It's a great idea, but you won't be seeing much of that in California any time soon. Marquette's whole city budget is $350,000. You'll need at least one dollar more than that to match the median price of one single-family home in Southern California (as of February). Our own Santa Cruz County median price would fill Marquette's budget for even longer than a year. Let's face it. Just paying "trailer trash" prices in the San Francisco Bay area would be enough to keep Marquette on the map for awhile. The trick would be getting Californians to trade our earthquake-prone dumps for a mansion in tornado alley. Any takers?

posted at: 09:45 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Addition to March 24 Posting

Forgive me. My previous post was not clear in the last paragraph. I intended to say that I hope Michael Newdow has placed the picture of his daughter in his mind and heart.

posted at: 08:48 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry

Will It Be Worth It?

A local local attorney will be with Michael Newdow present his case before the U.S. Supreme Court today. Newdow is the atheist man who raised such a ruckus in California when he decided that his little girl should not have to recite the pledge of allegiance in its current form, because the pledge includes the words "under God". Newdow has been preparing himself for this day for some time now.

I don't know anyone in the situation personally, but I can't help but feel empathy for the little girl. She never asked to be conceived, much less placed in this kind of fishbowl. If winning his case means he loses his daughter's love, I wonder if Newdow would still do what he's doing. The rest of us can give an opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court can give a ruling, amd the whole nation can debate for years about whether or not the phrase is an issue worthy of contention. Newdow may or may not be responsible for the ultimate outcome in schools across America. But he is at least half responsible for this child's presence in the world. He owes her his devotion and protection as a father. He could win his battle in the courts, but if his child never trusts him again, he's lost something much more precious. Newdow has worked in emergency rooms as a physician. I'm sure he's seen children come in with injuries and illness that were so severe that he couldn't save their lives. He must have felt completely powerless when young patients slipped away in spite of his best efforts. His own child is worth at least that much fervor. Is this case in her best interests as his daughter? We may not know until she grows up and makes heavy decisions of her own, including the decision of whether or not to have a relationship with this man.

One of the above-mentioned articles said that Michael Newdow had been lining up photos of the U.S. Supreme Court Justices and really looking at them in preparation for this battle. I hope he also placed that one important picture there--the one of the beautiful child he had the privilege of helping to create.

posted at: 08:31 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry

Tue, Mar 23 2004

Not That I'm Addicted

Some days I just need to know it's there for me, wherever I might go. I need to drown (or at least suffocate) my sorrows, or I need to hang-ten on a cheap thrill. I need to know I have sources and choices.

posted at: 10:18 | category: /Food | link to this entry

Mon, Mar 22 2004

A Rumor I Like For A Change

I didn't see the story, but someone said Variety was reporting that Brad Pitt might get some upcoming work playing Jesse James in a future movie project. I wonder if they'll do any filming in my old home state of Missouri, or perhaps even go to The Farm. I guess Brad Pitt may have already been there already. From what I hear, he lived in Missouri as a young guy. Maybe he's even been to Meramec Caverns, which is a local cave purported to have been a favorite hideout for Jesse and his associates. I suppose we'll be treated to more legend than history if (and when) they do make the film.

I love Westerns, both as stories in themselves, and as metaphors for that last gasp of the transitioning of America from a physical frontier into an industrial one. When I grew up, Missouri was very much a state where some individiuals still had a "swing vote" attitude toward "The North" and "The South". Maybe Brad Pitt saw some of that later when he did some growing up of his own in Missouri. I hope so. It will give him a nice bit of subtle social conflict to toss into his acting state-of-mind. I do hope this film isn't just a rumor. I'm already in the mood to see it.

posted at: 12:52 | category: /Arts and Entertainment | link to this entry

How Much Are Your Neighbors Donating?

I guess I had forgotten just how public one's campaign donations really are, and particularly now that we have the World Wide Web at our fingertips. Thanks to Alpha Patriot for the link to Fundrace, where you can do a Neighbor Search by putting in your street address and zip code. You'll get a list back of names and addresses of donors to various presidential hopefuls. They also list the amount of the donations.

posted at: 08:18 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Sun, Mar 21 2004

Gimme 5

It's almost time for the 5-planet show. Thanks to Metafilter for the reminder.

posted at: 09:29 | category: /Science | link to this entry

Fri, Mar 19 2004

Give Me Fever

Well, I guess I know just how not to use the Seven Dirty Words after the January entry at Yet Another Web Site used some of those words on Doug Ose and Lamar Smith for writing up H.R.3687. Wait a minute. I counted five single words and three compound uses of words. And what does the phrase "with other words or phrases" mean? For a couple of guys who wanted to clarify the word "profane", they didn't do a very good job of it.

I have a question. Very often we hear "god" used with one or more of these words. Due to the ongoing issues over the separation of church and state, has the word "god" been omitted from the list because it is considered a religious term, and therefore not under the jurisdiction of Congress and the FCC? I know folks who are a lot more offended by the phrase "goddamn" than they are by the word "damn".

Wait a minute. The word "damn" isn't on the list either. Oh, I guess that's a religious word too, isn't it? Maybe a word can be on the list if it's in the Bible, but refers to something not inherently religious. The word "piss" is used a time or two in the most widely accepted version of the Bible, but I suppose it's not a religious word. So does "profane" (for purposes of H.R. 3687) mean a word that is profane in the secular sense, but not in the religious sense? Isn't that kind of an oxymoron?

I have another question. Who decided that certain names for body parts are profane? Is it the names or the body parts that are profane? If it has to do with using non-scientific names for reproductive organs, why do they not make profane those terms such as "hooters" and "johnson"? Is it because those are cute nicknames that offend fewer people? And if it's the reproductive body parts themselves that are profane, why are there so many navels showing on TV? A navel is a body part we all have as an end result of reproduction, so to me, it's technically a reproductive organ. Why don't they ban "navel" or that other term we have for it? Let's ban "belly button".

Belly button. Belly Button. BELLY BUTTON!!!

That one's for you, Johnny Fever.

posted at: 09:46 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Thu, Mar 18 2004

Ermy And Stripe

I loved Weasel Words, shared by Stu Savory. We had difficulties along the same line when my husband attempted to use a live trap to catch gophers. It turns out that the size of trap we purchased would also accommodate a curious young skunk who'd been digging under the backyard fence. It seems that it's very easy to get a skunk to go into a trap. What's not so easy is getting them out. We were eventually instructed by wildlife experts to put a piece of damp burlap over the bulk of the cage and slide the door up and then step (way) back and let Stripe come out on his own. This worked well, and Stripe went right back under the fence and left. Hubby reset the trap. We had a basic repeat of the whole event, with Stripe waddling away more slowly this time. We decided to try one more time. We woke at 7 a.m. the next morning to that familiar scent that makes your nostrils sting for two days afterward. By the time hubby got his pants on and went out to take care of things, Stripe had gone to sleep in the trap and woke up and looked at us as though room service was late. After another careful application of burlap and tender release, hubby ended up burying stakes beneath the fence to prevent any more intrusions into the yard. About a week later we learned that a neighbor had caught our little intruder much the same way we had, and had loaded Stripe, trap and all, into his pickup for a release somewhere in the woods of Santa Cruz County. So Stripe's probably still wild and free, even though he seemed to have other ideas about the way skunks are meant to live.

posted at: 10:34 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Wed, Mar 17 2004

Fellow Blogger's Missionary Parents Made Ultimate Sacrifice

I just found the story of a Scott Elliott's parents' death over at California Yankee. I sent a note to Scott, and those of you reading this might want to do the same (if you haven't already). Scott has pictures of his mom and dad, who were missionaries, on his blog at Election Projection. (Scroll up on that page to get his email address)

posted at: 15:33 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry

Tommy, Me Boy, You Old Irish Tale-Spinner, You

I often enjoy checking out Big Stupid Tommy's blog entries, and while I don't believe for one minute that he's at all stupid, I'm thinking with a smile that maybe Tommy topped off his story with a bit o' blarney when he wrote about his St. Patrick's Day intruder.

posted at: 12:16 | category: /Playing | link to this entry

Interesting Cast Of Characters

On occasion I enjoy looking up the birthdays of the day and then imagining some of the birthday people all in one room, or all in one story. Today that group would include: actor Rob Lowe (1964), children's author (and illustrator) Kate Greenway (1846), mountain man Jim Bridger (1804), jazz legend Nat King Cole (1919), ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev (1938), actor Kurt Russell (1951), serial killer John Wayne Gacy Jr. (1942), and ballet dancer Tamara Geva (1908). I read a bit more about Tamara because I wasn't certain I knew exactly who she was. The brief description of her life sounds like a novel or movie all by itself. (Fellow blogger Anne is much more of a ballet expert than this writer.)

And tomorrow? How about Grover Cleveland (1837), Vanessa Williams (1963), John Updike (1932) and Charlie Pride (1938)? If each one played off the others in a single scene, what a tale one could conjure.

posted at: 09:47 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Tue, Mar 16 2004

Marcus Wesson And The Seventh-day Adventists And Why It Matters To Me

There continue to be news stories in which people say Marcus Wesson (who is accused of killing 9 members of his family in Fresno) is/was a Seventh-day Adventist. But I've gotten emails in which local Adventist department pastors are saying there is no record of Wesson ever having been an official member. The statements also mention that polygamy is not a part of Adventist doctrine and never has been. (Neither are incest and murder, though they didn't mention those specifically.)

We've certainly had our share of extremists in Adventism. Our unique blend of mainstream Protestant ethics and our tendency to focus attention on certain points seems to attract both sincere seekers and (to put it bluntly) raving maniacs. One such point of focus would be the fourth commandment. (Basically we'd just like that one to get equal time with the other nine, but humans being what they are, some folks get single-minded about these things.) There are other issues that tend to make the denomination a perfect place for mentally unstable individuals to wander in, have (or pretend to have) a come-to-Jesus experience, snatch up a few isolated Bible texts, and then go off and form their own skewed version of religion. The offshoot beliefs often become just a vehicle in which to further incubate a sick person's particular obsessions into full-blow madness. And whether we like to admit it or not, our denomination has had its share of difficulties in this area. Remember the Waco tragedy? This is one reason why I often tell folks I'm "sort of" an Adventist. There many degrees of Adventism. There are Adventists who play rock music and have snack cakes and espresso for breakfast. There are middle-of-the-road Adventists. There are Adventists who won't watch movies or eat their stew if they think someone tipped a bit of Burgundy into it. Some wouldn't make a move without consulting something we often refer to internally as the "red books", which are a number of writings by one Ellen G. White. White was a female pioneer of Adventism and is considered by many to have been inspired. And I don't mean that in the "muse" sense of inspired. I mean that in the "divine" sense of inspired. Well, a lot of people are probably actually inspired, and yet there is a tendency among certain church members (I would like to think it is a tiny minority) to treat every word of the writings of Ellen G. White as the equivalent of the Lord's P.S. to the Book of Revelation--as though He forgot a few details and needed to have them cleared up in modern times. My personal feeling is that we should be able to explain and practice our beliefs without resorting to the (often taken out of context) writings of White, because most people would never recognize her as an equal to biblical writers. And why should they?

I suppose this fellow Wesson may have visited a Seventh-day Adventist church in his life. He may have perceived himself as being aligned with some doctrines of the denomination. But if that's true, then he went down another dark path at some point. It does bother me that we usually hear about these straying people as part of some breaking news story. (sigh)

By the way, just to clear up a few other bits of confusion about Seventh-day Adventists--we do indeed hold our hands over our hearts and recite the pledge of allegiance. We do display the flag. We do believe in donating blood. (The denomination has hospitals of stellar reputation all over the planet.) We do believe in taking care of the whole person. The denomination also has a Religious Liberty department dedicated to preserving the legal rights of all individuals (of any religion) to practice their religious beliefs without fear of government reprisal.

Some say Seventh-day Adventism is a cult, but that has become rather a passe sort of remark. Those who sit down and take time to really anaylze the beliefs of this denomination will find it full of the same activities and mission work as that of most any other Protestant denomination. The church has some right-wing radicals, no doubt. But it's mostly full of really cool people who believe that religion is for the whole person and that the mind and body were never meant to be so separated into the term "body and soul". And this belief is reflected in the missions, ministry and worship in the Church. If you went to an Adventist church service, you probably wouldn't find it that much different from many other Protestant church services. Go and see for yourself what it's like. Just remember to go on Saturday instead of Sunday.

posted at: 09:02 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry

Mon, Mar 15 2004

We Didn't Start The Fire

I've tuned into Howard Stern's show (and watched TV broadcasts of it) from time to time over the years, and it's basically not something I crave a steady diet of, but there are things about Stern's work ethics that I respect, and I'm smart enough to know that the man is very, very, very good at what he does on the air--not necessarily in the details, but in considering the whole genre of shock radio, including open satire and free discussion of subjects that some of us might shy away from. I've been trying to catch up on the recent row over the monetary fines being levied because of certain words or depictions or whatever it is "they" seem to be saying Stern is guilty of. And I've read other reports that claim the accusation of Stern's use of bathroom humor and sexual discussion is a smoke screen for his real sin, which is that of publicly using shock radio to send a little shock and awe of opinion to the man currently sitting in the Oval Office. I don't know enough about the details behind the scenes to say for certain why this has suddenly become such an issue. I do know that Howard Stern has been broadcasting controversial content on the airwaves for a number of years. It isn't as though he went from sitting in a long robe and reading the Gospel of John on the air to suddenly doing a strip act. This is not new stuff, people. And where have all these "prairie dog" proponents of clean airwaves been while other TV and radio shows broadcasted openly sexual, violent or "strong language" content that could just as well be labeled as indecent as anything Howard Stern broadcasts?

Some say the Janet Jackson incident at the last Super Bowl was the catalyst for all the moves to hush Howard. But Stern hasn't taken his act to the Super Bowl or interrupted Sesame Street. His work has always been placed in specific markets at specific times when people know exactly what type of content they'll be listening to.

Is Stern suddenly violating the First Amendment in some new way I never knew about before? I went back and checked the First Amendment. Has it changed? Not that I could see. Well, what about that other thing we always hear, about yelling fire in a crowded theater? You know, we often misquote that passage? It does not say "yelling fire in a crowded theater". The quote actually reads "falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic".

Now, think about this for a moment. What possible thing could Howard Stern have done or said or shown all of a sudden that he's never done or said or shown before that resulted in something so indecent and offensive that it's now worthy of high fines and even removal of the show itself (in certain markets)? Is this a decency issue or a First Amendment issue? I'm still trying to figure this out. I'm not accusing the FCC of anything. I just want to know what the rules are, and why the rules only seem to apply at certain times to certain people after certain incidents that make it look very suspicious. I'm curious that way.

Bloggers, and that includes those of us who like our Bibles, are really not so different from Howard Stern in at least one respect. If we support demands to clean up public airwaves in a particular way at the expense of cornering our very own First Amendment rights we have no right to complain when someday our words or views that might conflict with some high official's views clash, and result in a crew of henchmen that come to take away our keyboards, our internet access and maybe even our particular favorite version of our beloved Bible because it might not be an interpretation of God that they approve of.

So can you shout fire all you want as long as The Powers That Be don't challenge you by saying it's a false fire? Is that it? Is that what they are accusing Howard Stern of doing? I don't know. I really don't. But if that is the issue, then we'd all better start shouting now, while we only smell a little smoke. If we wait for what we think is fire, it might be too late.

posted at: 11:30 | category: /Arts and Entertainment | link to this entry

Sun, Mar 14 2004

Go Ahead And Draw A Crowd

I'm busy with projects today, but I found a couple of sites spotlighting things that would be great for days when one wanted to show off and have some fun. If you'd really like to have that look of arms full of tattoos, but you don't want the permanency, or the pain, or the expense, how about some Sleeves? (Thanks to Idle Type for the link). Now, once you get your fancy arms on, you can grab a bowler or top hat and try some Tricks With Hats. And for the ultimate in showing off, how about twirling a cane that doubles as an umbrella?

posted at: 14:54 | category: /Playing | link to this entry

Fri, Mar 12 2004

A Little Offhand Friday Browsing Makes Me Sure

I'm sure it's occurred to some of the rest of you how much John Kerry resembles the look of the Kennedy clan. I have this strange feeling that part of his appeal is due to that resemblance. John F. Kennedy and John Forbes Kerry even share the same initials, and the two men met once years ago. I did find several more things I did not yet know about John Kerry in this article at Wikipedia.

(In spite of the insistence at several different sites that Shared Psychotic Disorder is a rare condition), I'm sure we encounter many incidences of this phenomenon in political parties, and particularly during pre-election campaigning.

I'm sure a reporter should have written that Steve Moore lay in a pool of blood on the ice March 8.

I'm sure Eric's wife (and my husband) will forgive me if I ask Eric of the The Fire Ant Gazette if last night was good for him.

posted at: 10:10 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Thu, Mar 11 2004

A One With A Whole Bunch Of Zeros Behind It

I see they have something new they can discuss over at the employees section of WalmartSucks.com. It seems someone in Georgia tried to pay for more than fifteen hundred dollars' worth of merchandise with store gift cards that had only a little more than two dollars of credit left on them. Of course, one might understand a lack of knowledge about the exact amount remaining on the cards. We'll stretch our imaginations that much. But then this woman offered to pay with a very special alternative that was not exactly legal tender. The lady claims to have gotten the bogus bill from her estranged husband. I'm betting we'll see her soon on either Divorce Court or Judge Judy.

As for Wal-Mart, I suppose their biggest headache was having to put back all the stuff that woman brought to the register. Then again, maybe the cops did them a favor and hauled it all away as evidence. I'm glad I wasn't shopping there that day. I always end up picking the slow check-out line, and this one sounds like it was a real show-stopper.

posted at: 10:33 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Wed, Mar 10 2004

Eat A Doughnut: Go To Jail

I guess Congress will want to create laws to keep us from being fat, now that we have the news about obesity rivaling tobacco as a cause of preventable death. This problem is not going to be legislated away, and it's going to be an even tougher battle than the one with drug and alcohol abuse. We can live without drinking alcohol or smoking. We have to have food to live. We can't just give it up completely. We can outlaw cigarettes or whiskey, but not food.

I grew up in a family where food was hospitality, comfort, relaxation and anger management. If you came into our home you would be offered something to eat no less than a dozen times. And if you kept saying no, there were remarks made about it later. My father had run a butcher shop and neighborhood market in St. Louis during the Second World War, and he made sure no one went hungry. His father before him had made sure people got access to food during the Great Depression. No child left the store without at least a piece of penny candy. For my ancestors, and many others, food means more than a way to quiet hunger pangs. Food was, and is, a symbol of survival and love to many people. It's going to be tough to beat that with formal laws.

I run across more people on "diets" than I've ever seen before, and yet as a nation, we all seem to be losing the battle with weight. I don't think most of us hate carrots and celery. We just want to know there is "more", and in America, we've come to believe that excess is the answer to life's problems--more money, more college degrees, more more possessions, more sex, and more food. We eat when we're having fun with our friends, we eat when we're depressed, we eat when we're angry, we eat when we're lonely, we eat when we win the game and we eat when we lose the game. The thing that takes us to the event of heart attack or the stroke may be food, but the issues are a lot bigger than cheeseburgers and chocolate doughnuts. The government site (made with your tax dollars) addressing the weight issue is Small Step. If all it took was a small step, we wouldn't be battling the issue in the first place.

posted at: 07:28 | category: /Health and Fitness | link to this entry

Mon, Mar 08 2004

Things That Have Names And Things That Don't

I've been educating myself with The Jargon Dictionary. I knew so few of these terms that I feel almost enlightened now. I've been trying to figure out if we have a word for the reverse of this type of jargon, in which the technical term is used to describe an everyday occurrence. For instance, I've heard the term "broken record" all my life, and the term is often used to describe someone who talks about the same issue over and over. Do we have a term for that type of usage?

And while I'm at it, does anyone have a word to describe what happens when you hold a piece of bread in your hand and take a bite of it with the intention of taking a tiny bite, but you end up instead with the big piece of bread hanging from your mouth and just a tiny piece still gripped by your fingers? (I'll bet the French have a word for it. They gave us "deja vu" and "je ne sais quoi".) This action isn't the same as "biting off more than you can chew", because your first focus is on the fact that the bit of food in your hand should be the larger portion.

And just in case you wondered what that spot between your upper lip and your nose is called, take a look at these pictures, which show measurements of the philtrum.

So why do we have palms and soles but only "tops of feet" and "backs of hands"?

posted at: 15:25 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Sun, Mar 07 2004

Getting A Leg Up In Business

I guess when the going gets tough, the tough turn to dummies. One woman went from the dot-com squeeze downstairs to her basement to start a recycled mannequin business. You can buy (or rent) a whole mannequin from her, or just get parts of one. She even has what you need for your very own leg lamp.

posted at: 17:15 | category: /Playing | link to this entry

Sat, Mar 06 2004

A High Calling Always Draws The Most Critics

Since I've already expressed some thoughts on Mel Gibson's recent film, and since I'm also (somewhat) a Seventh-day Adventist, I took notice when I saw this. If these things are in the Seventh-day Adventist's denominational Church Manual, as this particular man says in his open letter to fellow pastors, I guess I have missed the mark when it comes to being the kind of Adventist he would like to see. For one thing, I have always been creative and artistic and was invited into the denomination anyway. And I have always been friends with people in all walks of life. I don't rub elbows with just pastors and church organists and choir directors. I have other important people in my life who are mechanics, store clerks, artists and accountants. I have friends and loved ones who are nurses, actors, pilots and musicians. Many of them feel called to do the work they do. I wonder if that pastor would encourage us to shun the work of a mechanic or a cabinet-maker? Why is it more appropriate to criticize the work of those who work in film? People who work in entertainment and the arts are valuable parts of our existence. The Bible is full of art and drama and stories that remind us that each of us is given a different experience so that we can come together and learn from one another's experience. If this pastor wishes to single out artists as being bad for the rest of us, that is his choice. But, know this. He does not speak for me. And I know he does not speak for a lot of other Christians. He has his own experience, but he does not have mine. How could he know that there were people in the entertainment industry who saved my life and sanity when neither he nor any other pastor was there for me?

Life is drama, life is theatre, and life is a story to be told and retold by many voices again and again. This pastor had his say on the matter. Now I'm going to have mine. I challenge Seventh-day Adventist (and all spiritual) young people who feel a calling to arts and entertainment to use their talent to be the best they can be. It's easy to criticize and try to blackball the efforts of our fellow human beings. It's a far greater thing to step up and dare to create art of one's own. If you feel The Master Artist and Creator wants you to write (or paint or act or direct or sing), then do it, and do it with all your might. Your work may save someone else's life. And it may save your own.

posted at: 13:34 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry

Marriage: One Man, One Woman, One Government?

I've always been the type who can read material from the political (and religious) left, right, middle and everything between those and still end up with three unread, new thoughts to ponder before I make up my mind (which is also why I'll eventually get sent home from jury duty next week). Even parody and satire appeal to me because their stretch of the obvious forces me to confront my own beliefs and ethics. When someone makes fun of what I believe in, I need to look inside and find out why.

When ultra-conservative Christians use selected passages from the Bible and claim the verses have literal meaning (often in order to back their case for one or another pet doctrine), they are often willing to force others to live by their rules. Check out the list for a Biblical Marriage Amendment Proposal at Landover Baptist Church. You might laugh, you might shrug, or you might even get angry. But you can see their point.

The thing I always come back to is that society should make laws for the general welfare of the citizens. Leave the details of personal religious beliefs--as far as possible while still maintaining social order--to individual choice. When someone wants government to define individual religious behaviors they usually only want it for the single pet doctrine they have. They don't realize that once the government begins to make laws for one religious behavior someone else might demand the same thing--for an opposing religious behavior. That's why some of us work so hard to keep government out of private beliefs as far as reasonably possible. If you believe a certain thing is spiritual and is central to your life, no law the government sets up will make you change your belief. You don't need a civil law in order to follow what you already believe to be true and correct behavior. If your goal is to force your beliefs on others by way of government rules, you are walking a dangerous path, because you are setting a precendent whereby someone else in the same society may very well try to force their beliefs on you, using government laws. And if what they believe happens to be in the majority at that time, they might very well get what they want. And it will be partly your fault for fertilizing the process to begin with.

Ultimately, the marriage issue is one that will probably require two different arenas--expanding details to fit the current procedures. When people have a marriage ceremony now, they can have a spiritual one, but the minister (or whoever presides over the vows) still has to get them to sign that paper for the State. At some point I expect society to make more of a split between these two procedures in order to allow people to form civil unions that allow greater ease in sharing health benefits and making legal decisions. We already have differences in marriage and divorce law from state to state, but if you get married (or divorced) in one state, you are still considered married (or divorced) in another state. Once we have a Federal definition of who and what constitutes a marriage, will we then be given a similar amendment for divorce? And what then? You know it won't end with one amendment. How far are we willing to take this? And how many of our own religious beliefs are we willing to put on the line for the day when we are outvoted?

posted at: 09:27 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry

Fri, Mar 05 2004

Upping The Stakes

I believe it was the talented Bette Davis who told us that old age was not for sissies. I would apply that same adage to writing. This has been somewhat a fractured week for me, with much time spent away from the keyboard. To be true to the art of words, a writer must balance the solitary life in the chair with the life away from the chair. I've been thinking back this morning to the events of this week, both personal and political, and I know I will put special focus on events that caused me to mumble and fuss and quake in my slippers. There is so much beauty still in the world, but we all know that conflict is what makes us grow and firm up our own inner character. And a story isn't just a cast of characters. It has a character of its own in which conflict pulls us to ride the crest of words and pictures to some sort of resolution. If we're not changed in some way when we read, or listen to, or watch, a story, we feel flat and cheated. That means my job, as a writer, is to write something that is guaranteed to change the reader in some way. If I tell you that Joe needed to cross a river, and I stopped there, I wouldn't have much of a story, or much of a chance to get your attention, much less change you. But if I tell you that Joe was being chased by a vigilante posse with baying bloodhounds coming ever closer, and that he stood at banks before the rushing water looking at the shackles on his ankles and remembering that he nearly drowned at the age of five, then you and I both have a place to go and be changed. When Joe steps into that water he is facing a big battle with nature, plus facing old ghosts of past fears, and he's facing danger from angry human pursuers who don't care whether he is guilty or innocent. I've just done what we call "upping the stakes". In order to make you care what happens to Joe so you will be changed, I have to dredge up my own struggles and fears and ambitions and be willing to change too. Otherwise, I have no right to ask you to be changed. So I hope I can use this week's ups and downs to help me invite you to step into my stories, and into the current through Joe's eyes. We'll all be bound together in those shackles--Joe first, then me, and then you.

People who think writing is dull don't know what they're talking about. Real writers live a million lives and touch a million more. And writers change lives--one reader at a time.

posted at: 10:10 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Wed, Mar 03 2004

I Survived Super Tuesday

I don't have the T-shirt for it, but I just had an all-expense-paid one-day education in the California election process. We had no touch screen voting at our precinct. Voters used (very dark) purple marking pens to make their choices. In spite of the instructions printed in each voting booth some folks did not follow directions and marked their ballots with check marks or other "designs" that may or not be read properly in the count. Some people used a pencil to mark choices, which also will probably not be read properly. The pencil issue is a cloudy one, because if you vote here by absentee ballot you are clearly told to mark your ballot with a No. 2 pencil. Some voters asked us what to use for marking, which is a good idea if you are in doubt.

As a poll worker, I had to stay after the polls were closed and help put the ballots in order. They all have to be turned a certain way and then boxed and sealed (we each had to sign the seal) and everything is packaged and returned by the inspectors. We kept our little patriotic pins that we got for volunteering, but everything else (down to the unused stickers and adhesive tape) is returned by the inspectors.

I appreciated the Roving Inspector who came to check on us several times during the day. Her job was (partly) to help us do ours by checking to see that we had all the notices, signs and other material posted properly. She also brought us wonderful edible treats from local businesses, which was a complete surprise to me. And she made sure we had someone getting food for us. It was a great morale booster, because with all the hustle and bustle that goes on during an election day, poll workers stay relatively isolated for approximately 15 hours. Which brings me to the one discouraging part. I was told this morning that when my precinct's ballots were being returned to the official collection point, car radios were already broadcasting our governor's celebratory remarks on issues he belived to be passing. I realize that people like to know as soon as possible how things have gone, but it would please me no end if the politicians and those reporting figures would have the courtesy to wait. Those of us who worked all day yesterday to help citizens cast their votes could easily feel as though our precinct's votes did not matter--that the call had already been made.

All in all, I'm really glad I did this. If you're apathetic about voting, try at least once in your life to work at a polling place. You should see the look on the faces of people who come in and trust you to help them vote--and some are voting for their very first time. You will get a superb lift in spirit at having helped them to have their say, and you will be thankful we still have this freedom. I know there's a lot of "pork" and hot gas in politics. (I call it pork and beans.) But what if we all got woke up next Election Day and were told we would no longer be able to vote? Would that change your mind about having your say? Our freedom to vote helps keep a free America free.

posted at: 08:40 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Mon, Mar 01 2004

One-Day Threesome

Today I can give opinions about politicians. Tomorrow, as a poll worker, I'm supposed to remain as neutral as possible, and only labor to assist voters in following correct procedure as they cast their ballots. Tomorrow is Super Tuesday. I guess our California "modified closed" primary has a lot of people worried that the confusion will result in mistakes. Here's a clue: When you go to your polling place (at least in this precinct) tomorrow you may receive one of 11 (that's eleven) sets of ballots, depending on your party affiliation and/or crossover choices. A nonpartisan voter may choose to "crossover" to a Democratic, Republican or American Independent party ballot. But as this writer reminds us, one may not choose certain other parties at the last minute. As a poll worker, I'm supposed to assist you with that in this precinct. In the short class I took for this job, the very competent instructor ended up resorting to visual aids--funny hats and paper bags on heads--to help illustrate the complicated process. She did a great job, with the stacks of rules they give her to cover, but I came away with quite a few questions that I know I won't find answers for until I arrive at the polling place tomorrow and actually begin the job. Please note that the second article above mentions the fact that political parties really like this new "modified open" primary system. They went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to get it. They are giving you a come-on, fellow voters, like a league of street prostitutes hoping you'll tumble into their party's boudoir and get caught up in their particular array of toys. I believe it was a former U.S. President who suggested that politics, as the second-oldest profession, bears a close resemblance to the first.

Politicians are professionals at enticements, but do they end up playing the role of seducer who is really seeking to entrap, like some sting undercover worker? Do they see a voter as a desperate john, or maybe as someone to "catch", or rather as someone with whom they want to develop a caring relationship? You'll have to decide that for yourself. But I do ask you to consider that some of us working at polling places tomorrow will be virgins at this particular aspect of political intercourse. And we're just trying to do the right thing. Whatever you may think of politicians, when you come to us tomorrow, remember that it's the first time for some of us. Please, be gentle.

posted at: 08:22 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

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