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

Fri, Jun 30 2006

Watsonville keeps tight grip on airport but may be getting hand slapped

Grand juries often gain a reputation for sounding ominous while getting very little practical work done. But the grand jury in Santa Cruz County has at least sounded a bit of an alarm concerning Watsonville City Council's plans to change the designation of the Watsonville Municipal Airport's second runway to one of low activity—a designation which just happens to be in their favor as they push for city development into unincorporated areas of the county.

posted at: 11:03 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Thu, Jun 29 2006

Curling up with a good computer

Humanized is a company trying to make reading things online much more friendly and much easier on the eyes. A grateful tip of the Stetson goes to Michael over at Orange Crate Art for the link.

posted at: 12:27 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Wed, Jun 28 2006

Picking up voices

Waiter Rant has a great post on using your cell phone in public. I felt a personal memory come forward when he made the comment about people looking a bit schizophrenic when they use their wireless headsets. We had a man who behaved like that in the small town where I grew up. He had no headset. He walked all over town, talking and waving his arms, moving away from other people and yelling when they got close to him. When we questioned our parents about his behavior they would shush us and tell us he'd been "shell-shocked in the war" and not to stare. I never imagined that more than 40 years later so many people would be behaving just like him because of technological advances. My weird imagination can't help but wonder if that man knew something no else knew about the future of communication.

posted at: 12:38 | category: /Science | link to this entry

Tue, Jun 27 2006

Santa Rosa Island as a hunting ground for veterans?

Would you like your tax dollars to fund a hunting area for veterans on an island that is part of Channel Islands National Park? Republican Representative Duncan Hunter from San Diego would like that to happen. I'm in the process of letting my feelings be known to the National Park Service and to various other agencies and legislators.

I once supported the charitable activities of Paralyzed Veterans of America, whose officials seem to be in favor of the hunting, at least according to the article I've linked to in the previous paragraph. That organization will receive no further support from me.

I believe this is an inappropriate use of taxpayer money. Whether you agree with me or have other feelings, please take time to learn about this issue from several sources and then make your feelings known to appropriate individuals and agencies.

posted at: 09:19 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Mon, Jun 26 2006

War, Treason and the Press

I do not always agree with Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter's stance on issues, but I did happily note his recommendation to proceed with caution when throwing out talk about prosecuting newspapers. If Representative King wishes to go after newspapers for their reporting, he can certainly begin a push to do so. But his actions may also serve to make Americans more curious than ever about why the federal government's monitoring of communications was done on such a level that would cause Senator King to suddenly make news stories a Homeland Security issue. Calling into question the freedom of the Press may make Representative King feel good, but most of us get very nervous when politicians start trying to use real or perceived power to lessen any of the basic freedoms set forth in the Bill of Rights. And whenever one hears noises that one freedom from the Bill of Rights seems to be at odds with another freedom in that same Bill of Rights, it might be prudent to remember that the original writers of our Constitution wanted to use broad language that would give assurance that future generations of Americans would retain enough rights so that they need never fear our country's political leadership could become tyrants.

On the very serious issue that printing leaks might be considered treason during time of war, I might need to review my history. As I recall, no formal declaration of war has been made against anyone in this particular instance. I believe we have formally declared war as a nation on less than a dozen occasions. If by "war" we mean conflict or military action against any other nation or any group of people, I would become a bit nervous. We're always in some kind of conflict as a nation. If a conflict with any group—al Qaeda, communists, dog trainers, Southern Baptists—can be considered a state of war, we are in danger of having our government give itself license to prosecute the press or any other dissenting group at any time, as traitors. Somehow, I doubt very much that the writers of the Bill of Rights intended to open the door to such tyranny against the people.

I'd much rather err on the side of freedom than the side of tyranny. The alternative is an eventual end to the Bill of Rights altogether.

posted at: 14:42 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Fri, Jun 23 2006

Friday Finishes

It's been a strange week, in which my best efforts to wrap up the July edition of Deb's Monthly Review have not yet paid off. I'm getting close, but I had to drop everything and get into the middle of an unrelated, but very important, research project that began because of something I did that rippled out to one group and then another and then another, larger group. No man is an island. Neither, apparently, is a female editor during Crunch Week.

Then I went and read the story about the superstitions of coach Ricardo La Volpe. One man's beliefs can affect a lot of other people when it comes to team sports and international competition. I would say with fair certainty that no coach can be an island.

The Motley Food carried an article that referenced a story about a man in Montclair, California who dug a 60-foot-deep hole after finding gold dust near his patio. He's 63 years old. I wonder what vitamins he's taking. And I wonder why authorities stopped him. Maybe they thought he would fall. But he was already 60 feet down and doing all right, from what I understand. I suppose sometimes it doesn't matter how deeply one is willing to dig for treasure, if others don't see the merit in it. Apparently, no gold digger is an island.

A piece originally from the LA Times talks about people and groups of people who are trying to hasten the end of the world by preparing temple cornerstones or breeding perfect red heifers. I don't know quite what wisdom I can gain from this article, other than to be sure I read spiritual things while considering symbolism and literalism in equal portions. It would seem that no eschatologist is an island.

And then I visited Fire Ant Gazette and found that Eric had done one of his Fire Ant Theatre readings of lyrics from a Texas blues song. The blues are one of my favorite genres of music, and as I listened to Eric read about bulls and blues I let all the other crazy things blend into the background. I remembered that most of the craziness we think we see in life has nothing to do with what gets dealt to one individual or another at any given time. It's only when we compare what happens to us with what happens to others around us that we begin to build a case for what's crazy. Of course, any good blues song lets us vent about life's craziness and then throws that whole "no man is an island" thing right in our faces and leaves us feeling pretty good about still being around to sing about our troubles. I do believe the good Lord Himself must have invented the blues for us. He must have known it would be a great way for us to gain some perspective on hazy Friday afternoons.

posted at: 14:17 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Thu, Jun 22 2006

Heat, fog, and wind play all around us as summer comes in

The temperatures have been all over the place lately, even as we approached the official start of summer this week. The backyard thermometer rose into the 80s yesterday around noon, but then fell as a breeze brought in afternoon wind. We're cooler today than yesterday, but if we went over the &aquot;next set" of hills inland we'd be experiencing temperatures twenty degrees hotter than we have here. Summer on the Central Coast is usually within a predictable range. But things can bounce all over within that range, on a day-to-day basis.

posted at: 12:27 | category: /Science | link to this entry

Wed, Jun 21 2006

The face is familiar, but not the car

With all the supposed Elvis sightings over the last few decades, I wonder. Would we even recognize Elvis if we saw him? Try this face recognition test. (There are two types.)

Apparently, the inability to recognize faces well is called prosopagnosia, and often, but not always, follows something such as a stroke or brain injury.

Actually, I do very well with human face recognition. What I have trouble recognizing are most cars. I can recognize something as obvious as a Hummer or a Volkswagon, but as a general rule I find it difficult seeing things such as tail light shape and windshield slope and easily putting those into the context of any particular make and model. I wonder if there's a test, or even a name, for that sort of thing. And I wonder if it's a deficiency that can be overcome if one has sufficient motivation to do so.

posted at: 12:29 | category: /Health and Fitness | link to this entry

Tue, Jun 20 2006

Mow your own labyrinth

I know someone who has an affinity for the spiritual properties of labyrinths. She would probably love walking in this one.

posted at: 10:20 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry

Profanity in fiction: real and invented

Boing Boing recently pointed to Wikipedia's list of fictional expletives. The list is of great interest to me because I have often written things in which I wanted to show a character expressing anger, frustration or coarseness, without using commonly-known words of profanity. I learned in my own youth that the careful application of an occasional swear word in real life can evoke a response of shock. It can also serve as a sort of bonding ritual between people when they share the same social status. A superior in rank or an authority figure will sometimes lower their voice, lean in toward a subordinate, and use a phrase containing profanity in order to prove to a subordinate that he or she is on the inside track— or to prove to the subordinate that the superior is actually just one of the gang. The sudden use of coarse language where none was present prior to that moment often signals some sort of a wish for a change in perception on the part of the person listening to the profanity. A person who swears all the time is looked at much differently than someone who uses one or two profane words in their whole lifetime.

Since profanity has a definite place in real life, it's not surprising that it should also serve a purpose in the world of fiction. The problem is that most writers would like to think of their work of fiction to be an enduring piece. The dynamic nature of language makes it difficult to serve up a fictional story that gives a sense of its setting while keeping the story relevant to readers of future generations. Certain themes exist in all cultures: loyalty, betrayal, revenge (and others) will feel familiar to almost any reader at any time. What changes are the plot details, the narrative style, the characters and the dialogue of the characters.

Imagine a wealthy, elderly, Victorian grandmother at a formal table asking, "Shall I ring Millie to bring us some of that lovely tea?" You wouldn't be at all surprised by her choice of words. But now put a dust-laden, young, male ranch hand in her place and let him utter those same words. If you can imagine him saying it at all, it's likely that you'll think that he's doing some irreverant mocking of the aforementioned grandmother. (There are, of course, other reasons why he might adopt a more formal tone, such as having been working "undercover" as a ranch hand and then suddenly revealing himself as a professor who has come to study life on the ranch. But that's a plot detail, and it would also be explained in other details within the story.)

Some of us write in the hope that young people will want to read our stories. We might not wish to fill the dialogue with language that would offend children, parents, teachers or—let's face it—editors and censors.

And then there's the whole idea of contrasts in the telling of a tale. If everyone in a story uses profanity freely, that tells you something about either the writer, the narrator, the characters or the time period in which the story is set (or the time period in which it was written). If most of the characters are frightened little children who have been kidnapped and you want to show that a scary villain is really mean, you might get away with having the villain give out one big "Be quiet, you little pups!", particularly if you're writing the story for children to read. On the other hand, if you're penning a suspense novel and you have an international terrorist holding a bank president and an FBI agent at gunpoint in your tale, you're probably going to have the terrorist character say something a lot more disgusting and socially profane.

For these and other reasons, making up profane words and phrases is probably a useful skill for almost any writer to develop. It's a great way of supplementing the less direct style I sometimes resort to—which is also fun, and which goes something like this:

"Beckham spent ten minutes making rude remarks about Farley's paternal lineage, Farley's mother's good name, and Farley's little sister's reputation in six adjacent counties of southern Kentucky."

posted at: 09:38 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Mon, Jun 19 2006

Hollister Independence Rally needs a rally of its own

Every year around the 4th of July we see a lot more motorcyles in the area than we do the rest of the year. Most of them are going to, or coming from, the big annual rally in Hollister, California. But last year state law enforcement apparently got tired of footing the bill for security and, from what I understand, handed the city of Hollister a bill for more than a quarter of a million dollars.

What's amusing to me is the tiff between Curtis Hill, who is the sheriff in San Benito County, and Robert Scattini, who is Hollister's mayor. Sheriff Hill loathes the rally while Mayor Scattini, a biker of sorts himself, supports the rally.

Bikers are as diverse a crowd as any other special-interest group. Aside from having a certain criminal faction that is also present among white collar executives, bikers include the likes of doctors, accountants, teachers, civil engineers, clergy and off-duty law enforcement officers. They gather to ride for a variety of reasons, including raising awareness (and funds) for environmental and medical research. They often rally in support of American troops. Many of them have themselves served in our country's military ranks. They are moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers.

Maybe no one in San Benito County ever sat down and planned to draw motorcyle enthusiasts in an annual rally, but it happened anyway. It may be that the city and county will have to call in state law enforcement this year to boost security when the bikers come to town this year. If they don't sanction the event, perhaps they won't get a bill from the state. If the state sends in help, my tax dollars go toward their costs too. And I'd rather see the money spent there than on some bureaucrat's photo opportunity with the Cause of the Month in order to boost their chances in the next election. Of course, all this could be somewhat of a publicity stunt, because next year would be the 50th anniversary of the big rally. And sheriffs and mayors are after all, politicians too. Killing the whole gathering one year before the 50th anniversary seems not only mean-spirited, but right in the vein of one of the Old West's most-widely quoted phrases, "Them's fightin' words."

I have a suggestion. Why not have some fun with the disagreement between Sheriff Hill and Mayor Scattini? Create a sort of skills contest that pits one man against the other and let bikers (and other spectators) pay to see the fun. Both men would donate their time to the cause, gain a lot of good will for themselves and their respective departments, and the tensions would be eased with a lot of good old-fashioned laughter and taking sides to cheer. The rivalry between the two politicians would put them both in the spotlight for a day too.

People who might not venture near town to see a bunch of bikers would certainly fall all over themselves to make the trip to see Sheriff Hill and Mayor Scattini duke it out, figuratively speaking, in a contest of wit and skill. This mock battle might even take on implications of a future annual event in itself. Hollister could put itself on the map in a whole new way.

posted at: 08:39 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Fri, Jun 16 2006

Bissell to the rescue

Blog posts have been delayed today, due to a major spill on the West Coast. It was not oil. It was this writer's completely full coffee mug, which thankfully did not soak the keyboard, the computer insides or any important papers. What it did do was hit the chair mat and splatter the chair, the wall, and the deep-pile, light-colored carpeting. I've kept my trusty little Bissell 1425 Little Green Machine ProHeat Turbobrush Compact Multi-Purpose Cleaner working hard to remove the liquid and discoloration from the carpet. I only use the machine once in awhile, but it's been worth every penny when a major spill needs to be taken care of before it has a chance to ruin something. Whether you're a writer or not, if you're going to have kids, pets or off-white carpet in the home office, you owe it to yourself to keep the right tools around for emergencies.

posted at: 14:44 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Thu, Jun 15 2006

Pier 1 sales reports don't surprise some of us

The last time I went into a Pier 1 store I nearly had to go outside and look at the sign again to be doubly certain I was in the right place. They had changed their look completely. I hated it. I missed the old merchandise—earthy candles and holders that could be dressed up or down for any occasion, baskets and wicker end tables...it was all gone and replaced with things I could find in any number of other stores. I'm not the only one who noticed. I unwittingly sent a couple of friends to Pier 1 to look for some items and they told me there was nothing like that at the store anymore. And they were right.

In spite of their seeming wish to remodel, restock and be like every other nook in the mall and compete with the big box chain stores, their sales reports seem to be down. Well, what can I say? I'm not shopping there any more. And I know quite a few other people who have abandoned them too.

I'm finding more and more that the internet, or upscale arts and crafts studios, brings more of what I need and like for a home. The truth is that many of us are tired of the mass-produced junk that many people buy so they can fit in with all the other upwardly mobile folks in the neighborhood. I'm voting with my pocketbook. If you don't like the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses game, you might think of doing the same. We might all pay a bit more, but we'll send a message to at least a few retailers.

posted at: 12:25 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Wed, Jun 14 2006

Marshall to play bounty hunter?

I was a loyal viewer of the TV series "Have Gun Will Travel", so with the news that rapper Eminem will play a modern version of Paladin, I'm clenching my teeth a bit. The original series was a Western. It may have been a Western of its time, but it was a Western. Making a modern film version with a mere glance at the old concept, while freely using the same title, seems a bit cheesy to those of us who watched Richard Boone's character set people straight.

The idea of including rap music does nothing to sway me in this project's favor. I'm wishing they would just leave that title out completely. In fact, there's still time for them to change their minds. Why try to cheat moviegoers by cashing in on a title they're only planning to trash in terms of the time period and setting?

They could at least make it a time travel film. "Have Gun Will Travel" any place, any time period. Now, that might actually be fun to watch--but only with a good soundtrack that doesn't come across like a feature-length rap music video.

I'm really trying to keep an open mind. They're not making it easy.

posted at: 08:54 | category: /Arts and Entertainment | link to this entry

Tue, Jun 13 2006

Soda Snob

I'm not sure this is worthy of a blog post, but the topic has come up a lot lately, so here it is. I've been in some casual restaurants, and a few not so casual, that were wonderful in all aspects, except one. When I order a soda they bring me a can of it with a glass of ice. I love ice in my beverages, but the can presentation bothers me, for some reason. Fountain soda isn't always a better choice in terms of flavor, but if I wanted to crack open a can of something I could have brought one from home or put some money in a vending machine on my way into the restaurant.

Aside from the lack of customer service I associate with a can plunked down on the table, the metal can itself is a problem for me. When I buy soda for home consumption I never choose cans. It might be my imagination, but I always feel as though I'm picking up a metallic taste from those things.

The can presentation doesn't seem to be limited to Amercian diners. I've gotten canned sodas in Japanese restaurants, in family-owned Mexican places and in cozy little Italian spots. Maybe it doesn't bother the rest of you one bit, but I see it as a big black mark against an otherwise ideal place to get a meal. In fact, I've begun asking the servers if the soda they're about to bring me will be in a can. If they say it will, I decline and I give them my reasons for doing so and I order water with lemon. It may be overly-chlorinated water from a tap, but at least they haven't ever brought it to me in a can.

posted at: 08:47 | category: /Food | link to this entry

Mon, Jun 12 2006

MySpace: Beware the fine print?

It seems that a bit of discussion is in order concerning creative works that are placed on the MySpace site.

posted at: 14:14 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Fri, Jun 09 2006

Judge tells juror how he really feels

A judge in Monterey County apparently felt the need to express leftover feelings to at least one juror, following a murder trial in which the jury deliberations ended in deadlock.

It's apparently a fairly common practice for judges to thank jurors after they have served. But I'm thinking that perhaps this particular letter would have sounded a bit more professional if Judge Moody had opted to omit that middle paragraph. He's entitled to have personal feelings about the case, of course, but expressing those feelings to jurors, particularly when he could have the potential for having the case before him again with a whole new panel of jurors, does not help him look as though he is making a good attempt at impartiality.

The article mentions a spokesperson for the California Judicial Council saying that there is a general recommendation for judges to send a letter of thanks to jurors who have served in their courtroom. And I see on the Council web site that they invite correspondence. I'm thinking that it might be a good idea to write and suggest that they revisit this particular recommendation in order to add some guidelines for judges to consider when writing to jurors, to keep things ethical and above-board.

posted at: 10:43 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Thu, Jun 08 2006

Zarqawi's death

The big news story today seems to be the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. While some might see it as a victory, the truth is that many of his supporters will treat Zarqawi's death as his grand passing into martyrdom. If there was less unrest in Iraq we might hope that this would be a major blow to future Al Qaeda rule, but with things still in a fairly chaotic state there we would be unwise to assume that order will suddenly come.

What might be useful is that a certain amount of reorganization will be necessary in order for an Al Qaeda agenda to continue. That means people will have to move around physically and it might give military forces a chance to observe any unusual activity. That could lead to a chance to halt the moves of future "wannabe" terrorist leaders.

President Bush used the word "justice" when delivering the news of Zarqawi's killing. I know what he probably meant in terms of an end to one man's rampage, but the truth is that there really is no actual justice for us to hold up when a man who had potential to do great things for the world dedicated his entire life to violence and then came to a violent end of his own. Irony isn't necessarily justice.

posted at: 15:34 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Wed, Jun 07 2006

Health homework

Aside from whatever personal moral position I might take on women's health and reproductive issues, an online article from "Glamour" confirms my notion that each of us should think of physicians as only one of the many resources available to us in the care of our minds and bodies. And we each need to take time to check into studies and reports with an eye toward original sources (and any associated agendas) of those disseminating the information we use to make choices in both day-to-day and emergency health issues.

posted at: 10:10 | category: /Health and Fitness | link to this entry

Each vote matters

My day working at a polling place yesterday was a long, satisfying day, though it would have been great to have a higher voter participation. Many times people don't make the effort to vote in primary elections unless there is a local hot-button issue that they believe affects them on a more personal level. What I would suggest to voters is to remember that many national issues grew from local issues, and that every national or state candidate began their political life in one or more "local" communities. Our local voting interests may often seem to be disconnected from state or national ones, but all candidates and ballot measures can have impacts that will either trickle down to the local community or work their way up to a potentially worldwide political arena.

posted at: 09:56 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Tue, Jun 06 2006

The election of the beast?

It's very early on Primary Election Day. I'm getting ready to go help voters have their say at our precinct today. Everyone kept reminding me yesterday that today's date is 6-6-06, but most of them did say it with a smile. The fact that &qupt;The Omen" opens today probably had more to do with the date than the fact that the opening falls on an election day.

posted at: 04:55 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Mon, Jun 05 2006

Violence highly recommended, in this case

A friend sent me a pointer to a story from Red Tape Chronicles that tells the tale of Hank Gerbus and the hard drive that was replaced by Best Buy.

Someone near and dear to me once volunteered at a place that recycled old computers. They routinely erased information in front of wise individual donors. But some folks drove up, dropped off a machine and drove off. I have to say that the volunteers did find instances where people, and even companies, donated computers with personal information still stored on the drives, including like Social Security Numbers and bank account numbers. The volunteers tried to make sure no one would ever be able to access that information again. A hammer-whack to the drive plates is good insurance if you don't want someone being tempted to grab your hard drive from a bin and sell it at some flea market.

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

Fri, Jun 02 2006

Is a vote for kids a vote for a governor?

It would seem that the campaigning in California is not only expensive, but pimpled with workarounds that allow candidates to use contributions to ballot measures to further their own careers.

Detailed closing of loopholes doesn't seem to cut down on the use of political contributions in questionable ways, but it does at least provide a detailed trail to follow. The larger the number of intentional actions taken by politicians to cover their tracks, the easier it will be to bring out an itemized list and show a firm history of unethical moves on the part of those campaigning for office with a decided intent to deceive voters.

posted at: 10:46 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Thu, Jun 01 2006

California's campaign millions

Campaign spending by major public office hopefuls in California is being reported in terms of millions of dollars. It's sad to think that state and federal positions are, for all practical purposes, attainable only by the wealthiest Americans. And even with that in mind, most politicians who make it into office spend more time and money just raising funds for more campaigning. It's ironic. In addition to print, radio, and TV spots, politicians can now take advantage of the internet, cell phone technology and other media. It should be easier, and cheaper than ever, to get one's point across. But as the number of ways to campaign grows, the competition to establish a presence in each one of those areas seems to push the cost of campaigning to new heights.

posted at: 11:35 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

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Stealin' copy is as bad as horse-thievin'
and cattle rustlin'! Lightning may strike
such varmints when they least expect it!