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

Tue, Oct 31 2006

Halloween love and beauty (oh, and let's not forget chocolate)

There seems to be a dating site for just about everyone. And I ran across one that seems like a fitting link for Halloween. If you like the whole goth/industrial look you can find like-minded individuals at GothicMatch.com.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so there must be Gothic Beauty out there too. And if that isn't enough beauty for you, check out the colorful Mexican sugar skulls to celebrate Day of the Dead.

But if you really want to see something beautiful that one might not usually think of as beautiful, take a look at the makeup work at When Gothic Eyes Are Moping. You'll be tempted to try it on someone you love, even if that someone is you.

Or perhaps not. Maybe this whole Goth thing is just too much for your sensibilities—even on Halloween. In that case you should just concentrate on getting your delicate hands on some candy, preferably chocolate. If you've given out all the milk chocolate-covered wafers and liquid cocoa-laden peanut butter cups by the time you read this, mix up an Ooey-Gooey Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding that supposedly tastes almost like a candy bar, once it's been drizzled with caramel sauce and topped off with whipped cream. But you'll have to mix it up and then bake it, so you may be in for an hour waiting time. If you just can't make it that long you could try making some Gooey Chocolate Yum Balls. You probably have all the ingredients on hand and you can enjoy them soon after mixing them up. After all—what's the point of having one night a year to pass out sugar if you end up looking gaunt and ghostly from depriving yourself of Halloween decadence. Go ahead. Lick the spoon. Forget all this Day of the Dead talk. Chocolate is for the living.

posted at: 12:34 | category: /Food | link to this entry

Mon, Oct 30 2006

Saving-habits better in Boston than Memphis?

I found an interesting list of the best (and worst) savers in larger cities. I was a bit surprised at how many metropolitan areas in the West and Northeast made it to the Top Ten for saving money, since the cost of living is higher in some of those areas. I wonder if the pressure to earn more just to keep up makes folks in these more likely to plan for rainy days?

posted at: 09:04 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Middle-class flight from the coast?

The Santa Cruz Sentinel carries an article this morning of Californians leaving the state for places like Bend Oregon. I know two of the people who were mentioned in the story and I know they hated to leave the Santa Cruz County area, in some ways. But they knew they could have more choices in life if they were not hampered by certain conditions here.

My concern is that, like the article mentions, people moving in droves to Oregon and other states may soon be presented with conditions more like conditions right here.

I talk to some folks who are a bit peeved that they sold their homes here and moved away while recent immigrants continue to flood into this area and are given preference on affordable housing. I don't work within that whole system, so I don't know very much about the screening process. I've been told that the hit developers appear to take on providing all this affordable housing comes back in the form of items such as higher property taxes for other homeowners and with state grants, which are also ultimately paid for by taxpayers. I've also heard of local situations in which developers were actually pressured, and granted an easier permit process, if they made housing units more dense on properties, in order to provide more living units that were labeled as affordable. What that might mean is that those peeved folks who moved away from here still got more house and more land. The new houses sale that are being built here now are mostly narrow, 2-3 story-high units on small lots with a planned park or two somewhere in the development. They are so close together that I would hesitate to truly classify them as single dwellings. If two neighbors reached out their side windows they could almost hold hands. I've lived in apartment complexes that had better spacing and privacy than that.

A few available large parcels in the county are being fought over by land sellers, developers, community groups, existing neighbors, politicians and area planners, the last of whom are under pressure from the state to provide more housing.

Why aren't local land issues being handled more locally? I once heard a man give a presentation that I thought might have sprung up from extremist fears, but I have since learned that there are interesting facts that give his presentation a lot more support. Rather than give you my own slant on it, I invite you to use a search engine to look up clusters of terms such as "United Nations", "land use", "sustainable" and "population distribution". Read from several sources and form your own opinions on the issue. You may eventually find yourself asking more questions about the local planning in your own area's development and use of land, whether you live in California or or some other state.

In areas like ours, where population is growing by leaps and bounds, I have to wonder why we have so many people crowding into the area and demanding cheaper housing while so many other people can't wait to cash out their homes and get out of here and then bunch up into new areas which are also about to explode with growth. There is something amiss about it all. Want to help me solve some of the mystery? Do some research.

posted at: 08:50 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Fri, Oct 27 2006

Where is Dennis?

Dennis Hastert has been on the hot seat lately regarding what/when he knew or didn't know about Tom Foley's interaction with former pages. In another, more local story that broke in the last few days, thieves have taken the Dennis the Menace statue that has been part of El Estero Park in Monterey, California for almost twenty years. Someone unbolted the statue from its pedestal and made off with it for unknown motives. If you've have any information on our beloved Dennis please call the tip line at 646-3840. If you have any information on that other Dennis I'm not sure who you should call. Even Mr. Hastert seems to have heard more than he ever wanted to hear about it all at this point and is hoping for a swift end to the whole matter.

posted at: 13:48 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Thu, Oct 26 2006

The highs we don't see

I haven't had any Cocaine to drink. I'm a bit puzzled over why there would be a ruckus over that particular beverage when I see children buy and consume caffeinated drinks all the time. I've seen junior high students in line at Starbucks order coffee drinks with 2 extra shots. Kids buy coffee at 7-11 all the time. And some of them are drinking alone, so I doubt they're all doing it to impress their friends. I admire the folks at 7-11 for being concerned, but I hope they will opt to be at least as diligent in caring about the amount of caffeine, sugar and other mood-altering substances that kids are actually buying and consuming on a daily basis. Just because it doesn't come in a red can decorated with a font that looks like lines of cocaine doesn't mean it's harmless.

posted at: 07:24 | category: /Health and Fitness | link to this entry

Wed, Oct 25 2006

To our health

Today is deadline day for the November issue of Deb's Monthly Review, so I'm concentrating on that task instead of writing extensive posts here. I did see a few health-related articles that I thought were interesting.

The short and sweet of what I read seems to be: Get off the phone, go take a hike and eat your veggetables. It takes decades of scientific research and billions of dollars to see these corellations, when many of our ancestors seem to have known about them all along. I suspect that the reason the same studies keep being done over and over is that each generation is hoping for a way to have their cake and eat it too. Many health remedies are simple. But simple rarely means easy. The rebel nature in us often finds it much more fun to punch simplicity in the face than to embrace its beauty.

posted at: 08:55 | category: /Health and Fitness | link to this entry

Tue, Oct 24 2006

Okay, I'm scared

It seems to me that Halloween has been shaping up to be a bit harder-edged than usual this year. The success of Johnny Depp films may have brought a certain flair to minds lately—or perhaps it's just the lopsided swashbuckling of politicians in these final weeks before an election. In any case, I hear that both pirate and princess costumes are flying off store shelves in record numbers.

One Chicago nightclub is drawing a few boos for its intentions to carry on with its 6th annual Pimp and Ho party.

If you plan to attend the popular Halloween party on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, beware. You will not be allowed to carry that pointy sword or plastic Uzi into the party area.

As is the case in Chapel Hill, Madison, Wisconsin law enforcement will be on the lookout for dangerous glass items, and if you try to bring any into the party on State Street on Halloween you could be subject to a hefty fine.

If you bought your kid that Mr. Potato Head pumpkin decorating kit from Target get rid of it. You may have purchased a choking hazard for small children. This particular bit of scary fun has been recalled.

More than one U.S. town has put sex offenders on notice this year, telling them not to hand out treats, turn on porch lights or even leave their houses this Halloween, except to go to work.

I never really thought about it before, but I suppose grown-ups should think carefully about the type of costume they put on when wearing it to work, particularly when they're chiropractors.

And the folks who help those with mental illnesses want to remind you that dressing up in a straitjacket may be seen as politically incorrect towards mental health patients.

The Red Cross has been reminding people to teach kids about what to do to move safely through the neighborhood and to show them how to drop and roll if their costume catches fire.

Have a great time, kids!

posted at: 16:02 | category: /Playing | link to this entry

Mon, Oct 23 2006

Californians: Are you registered to vote yet?

I found a really good site for those of you who need to read up on the California propositions up for vote this coming November 7. IGS Library Election 2006 Hot Topics is done in blog-style and is frequently updated.

If you need to register to vote on these issues you'd best hustle. Today is the deadline.

Sequoia Voting Systems has provided a brief online demo of the scanning machines we'll have available at polling places in Santa Cruz County. The demo doesn't explain every detail, such as the fact that there are 2 bins in the base of the scanner, and that a ballot with a write-in vote goes into a bin separate from other ballots. We'll also have a third bin on the back of the machine in which to place provisional ballots (and any ballots that cannot be scanned due to a power failure or similar issue).

Sequoia also provides an online demo of the touch-screen system. We aren't using the cards they speak of at this time in this county. Your signal to the election official that you wish to vote by touch screen will be a card about the size of a business card, which the election official will then mark and store in a special envelope. You'll also be able to vote provisionally with the touch screen system if you wish to do so.

Election officials have a lot of new details to take care of this time. I hope everyone will be patient and understanding. We take an oath to serve honestly and we'll do our best to help you make your choices as comfortably and with as much privacy and dignity as possible.

posted at: 08:33 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Fri, Oct 20 2006

Compensation and blogs

I have to admit that I had never heard of PayPerPost until Buzzmachine's Jeff Jarvis wrote about it. I don't know a lot about the site in question, but I thought it was interesting that Jason Calcanis named a few specific blog personalities he'd like to hear comments from. (At first it sounds like he's calling for a clique response, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and suppose he has merely read and respected those folks' opinions before and isn't intending to exclude the opinions of those who might not be on his preceived A List.)

Some blog owners have published statements claiming their independence of opinion and reviews on their blogs. I've resisted doing that, partly because this is a gray area to me. I'm a writer by nature and I sometimes, but not always, make money from what I write. I don't get paid to write blog entries, but a blog presented by a writer could easily be pointed to by some folks as a marketing or public relations tool. I would be lying if I said that I never wrote anything on a blog with the hope of sparking interest in a paying writing job. I also do a wee bit of that affiliate marketing thing, as you will note by some of the links over on the right side of this page. I do include those kinds of links in an occasional blog post, though it isn't the majority of focus you'll find here. I've just never been comfortable declaring my status as an independent voice of opinion because of all the little nuances that go with the work of writing. While I'm not doing this blog for profit I'm not adverse to the idea that it could generate income—directly or indirectly.

What I don't do is take direct payment from any entity, business or organization for saying this or that on this blog. If I happen to review a product or service in a post it's because I've either had personal experience with it or have my own curiosity about it. If someone were to send me anything to review or send me to a site to review and I ended up writing a post about it, I'd plainly say so in my post. If I use an affiliate link to point to a product and comment on it I hope readers will look at the status line at the bottom of their browser as they wave over the link and will see that I am definitely encouraging them to go to the affiliate's site and have a closer look. For instance, a post I did on slow cookers includes a commercial link showcasing a product I own and use regularly. No deception is intended and I don't get paid to tell you the product is a good one, but if you were to click through and purchase one of your own, then yes—I would get a sort of kickback, if you want to call it that.

I doubt we'll be able to eliminate the commerical aspect of blogs any time soon. Tho most one can hope for is that those who make money from blogs will be as straightforward and honest as possible in their writing. I hope that goes for people on the A List (whatever that means) and also for everyone else.

posted at: 12:57 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Thu, Oct 19 2006

I love the sound of tack hammers in the morning

As I listen to the sound of carpet installers pounding tacking strips into place inside the new room addition on the other side of our house I'm reminded that a lot of people are facing tough times with their dwellings right now. In an increasingly chilly housing market many California home owners hoping to sell their residences have opted to pull their homes off the market in lieu of dropping their asking prices any further. (You may need to register to read that last linked story.)

Declining prices aren't the only problem homeowners face. There seems to be at least one new report a day of an increase in foreclosure proceedings in California and other states, including Nevada and Michigan. Colorado has started its own foreclosure prevention hotline to help frantic owners cope with the financial pressure they feel in the face of foreclosure. Foreclosure numbers in Florida, including the Palm Beach County area, have continued to rise through this past September. Other states are also seeing an increase of nervous owners who are trying to stay on top of payments and feeling forced, in some cases, to sell their home as quickly as possible in order to avoid foreclosure. And many of them are selling for little profit, or even at a loss, so they can just get out from under debt.

The pounding of tack hammers may be an assault to the ears at first thought, but I think I'll choose to call it a fortunate, happy sound when I consider the real estate hardships some homeowners are dealing with right now.

posted at: 10:36 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Wed, Oct 18 2006

Flashing lights at crosswalks

The nearby city of Salinas is installing crosswalks with flashing lights in some locations. You can see one type of crosswalk lights installation here. I saw a different type of lighting, similar to the lighting pictured here, in the city of San Luis Obispo. Many studies seem to indicate that the lighting increases visibility of pedestrians on the part of drivers.

People have a bad habit of just stopping their car in the left of two lanes, waiting to turn onto a side street, without using their turn indicator. A driver just pulling up in the rightmost lane might assume the driver in the left lane is planning to turn left and is neglecting to use a turn indicator, when in fact, the driver in the left lane may be stopped for a crossing pedestrian who is not visible to the driver in the right lane because the stopped vehicle in the left lane is blocking his or her line of sight. If there were lights flashing at pavement level as a pedestrian entered the crosswalk and the lights continued to flash the whole time the pedestrian moved across the roadway it would be a clear signal to the driver in the right lane to prepare to stop. It costs more money than plain striping, but it makes great sense and could save lives.

posted at: 07:50 | category: /Health and Fitness | link to this entry

Tue, Oct 17 2006

How big was it? Bigger than that

It's just a little thing, but Infoplease's labeling of the 1989 earthquake as a San Franciso event is a bit too SF-centric. The quake was actually centered in Nisene Marks State Park and did damage in many areas other than San Francisco. It's true that most people watching the aftermath on the news that evening saw reporters standing in front of collapsed, burning buildings in the San Francisco Marina district or beneath the Cypress freeway section that gave way and led to frantic rescue efforts. But downtown Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Moss Landing and other towns also suffered major losses. Many of the structures that failed were "unreinforced masonry", a term that was to haunt our local daily news for months afterward. Many of the big-city structures that failed were built on badly chosen land that simply liquified during moderate-to-severe shaking. If any large city wants to brag that the earthquake was theirs, let them—as long as they also admit that their bad building practices contributed greatly to their city's famed damage and death totals.

No matter who gets to claim the quake as it's own, a lot of lessons were learned by all when it came to rebuilding. We didn't have a large number of brick structures even before October 17. But those of you who visit from other areas of the country, where brick buildings are extremely popular, will definitely notice an extreme lack of bricks here, except those used in very low facades. Those red brick structures with tall columns may look magnificent as one drives past them in other parts of the U.S. Some reach 2 or more stories and dot the landscape like jewels in parts of the Midwest, South and Northeast. Many brick buildings line downtown areas across our country and hold historical records and memories that seem to add a strength to their magnificence. But trying to ride out a strong earthquake in or near one of those buildings will make a person think twice about what strong or magnificent construction really is.

posted at: 08:21 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Mon, Oct 16 2006

Approaching disaster proactively

My heart went out to folks in Hawaii this weekend when I heard about the earthquake they experienced. A 6.6 earthquake can produce some nasty aftershocks and that feeling of rolling for quite a long time, partly because of the body's reaction to the trauma.

Tomorrow will be the 17th anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta quake in our own area. I still recall feeling the need to keep a bottle of water, some sturdy shoes and a well-packed purse or bag nearby at all times for the first few weeks following the main event. I felt silly at being reassured by such small things, but psychologists in the area reminded us to do whatever little things we needed to do in order to get through the "buck fever" portion of the whole ordeal.

It does get better after awhile. And you learn to use the momentum of the adrenalin to make a list to better prepare your home, vehicle and workplace for any future events. One can't plan for every scenario, but having even a few items on hand to help you through the first 2-3 days will give you a sense of empowerment and may put you in a position to better help others who have been injured or displaced by circumstances beyond their control. Staying in shape and taking care of one's health could allow each of us to be better prepared in situations when it might take hours, days or even weeks for the first firefighter or paramedic to show up and rescue people. You may not know how to set broken bones but if you are able-bodied (and are uninjured from the disaster) you may be invaluable in helping to clear debris so that professional responders can get through to assist those in need.

Anyone can get into the practice of doing little things: Keep water, snacks for energy, sturdy work gloves, some dust masks, antiseptic, clean rags or bandages, strong rope and a small pry bar (and/or other simple tools) packed in a duffle bag that can be kept in a vehicle or tucked into a corner at work. And the holidays are coming. Put similar kits together and give them to loved ones.

Many disasters don't come with a specific warning. But we know they will come. We could be with loved ones, co-workers, neighbors or even strangers during a crisis. Taking care of one's self first isn't selfish in this sense. It's simply practicing the Golden Rule by being as healthy and prepared as we can so that we can assist others in any given situation.

posted at: 08:45 | category: /Health and Fitness | link to this entry

Fri, Oct 13 2006

(Anything) pink for the cause?

Breast cancer is a serious thing. Breast cancer research is a serious thing and it costs some serious dollars. People raise money for the research in some interesting ways. Did you know there was a Blogger Boobie-Thon? Or that Monte Barrett got into the ring wearing pink boxing gloves? One man is trying to persuade folks to turn their web sites Pink for October.

Not everyone is happy about the whole buy pink focus. After all, it's tough to know where your donation actually goes with fundraising campaigns that are often sponsored by commercial interests. I remember when the whole reminder bracelet campaign started after Lance Armstrong's battle with testicular cancer. Since that time, there has become a fundraising bracelet for more causes than seems possible. A successful fundraising idea is invariably borrowed and copied and mimicked until people are so fatigued by it that they run to find the next novelty.

There's also the danger that a fundraising gimmick will be associated with someone whose character comes into question at a later date. Even a mostly-respected celebrity can inadvertently send mixed messages to people who might otherwise plunk down a donation for a trinket. A painful personal experience can send people running in the opposite direction. I knew of one woman whose husband decided to leave the family for more freedom just as their third child was born and not long after the yellow bracelets came out. The woman associated Lance Armstrong, not with cancer recovery, but with having chosen to give up on his marriage while showing relentless dedication in other areas of life. She refused to support the bracelet idea and even refused to buy a bracelet in support of any other cause. Her reaction may have been extreme, but it does point out the pitfalls of a seemingly well-intentioned fundraising gimmick.

I'm rather fond of the work of Dr. John McDougall, who advocates a common sense, quality-of-life approach to breast cancer, in both prevention and treatment. The pharmaceutical companies and related industries aren't terribly fond of Dr. McDougall, but he has a way of helping at least some people anyway. I wish everyone would at least consider giving his approach a serious look.

I really hope that the pale pink of breast cancer products is only a pale memory someday as people do what they can to eradicate this awful disease.

posted at: 12:43 | category: /Health and Fitness | link to this entry

Thu, Oct 12 2006

And here's the poop

Santa Cruz County and Monterey County, both increasingly encroached on by suburban blight, still sport an impressive agricultural landscape, including an amazing number of organic farms. Heated discussions involving fertilizer, irrigation techniques and disease-resistant plants liven the local political landscape right alongside school board budgets and pothole remediation.

Apples, herbs, brussels sprouts, artichokes, strawberries and other fresh produce are our local stars. There are fewer large-scale beef and dairy ranches here. Most of those are further inland. But when that dust-devil topic of e-coli took a mad twirl through here recently it managed to plop a lot of cow dung.

I Heart Farms has more on how an especially nasty strain of e-coli might actually have been nicely cultivated by the very careful cattle ranching practices we've come to think of as safer, cleaner and more productive than the old ways.

posted at: 08:20 | category: /Food | link to this entry

Wed, Oct 11 2006


After all the horror stories I've heard about food safety in Mexico, there's something more than a teeny bit ironic about the news that Mexico has banned U.S. lettuce.

posted at: 10:28 | category: /Food | link to this entry

Tue, Oct 10 2006

There isn't much private in public or anywhere else these days

We've all heard really wild conversations in an office or other place of business. But now we should be careful. There are people willing to report what they Overhead in the Office.

Repeating office gossip has its down side, particularly when people aren't careful about what they say and how loudly they say it. I've heard people talking on their cell phones in public places who apparently gave no thought to the fact that they were discussing company issues that may have been better left behind office doors. Some employees will sit in a restaurant (and rant in the company of other diners) and rattle off names, times and places and forget that they may go, or at least try to go, to a new job down the line. You never know who could be sitting nearby, and as loudly as some folks speak, a listener wouldn't have to strain to hear a lot of things.

If I was a potential employer hearing this sort of conversation in a public place I would think twice before hiring someone with such a loose tongue. You may think you're in too large a city for the things you say to get you into trouble, but everyone you know, knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows you. If you wouldn't say it for all the world to hear, maybe you shouldn't say it at a restaurant, on a cell phone, on voice mail or in email or instant messages. The truth is that none of these instances offers us very much privacy.

Aside from the whole principle of the Golden Rule there is a very practical side to all this. When we feel compelled to speak of certain things we need to remember that it could lead to our own downfall if we elect to take verbal behind-the-back shots at people who aren't there looking into our eyes at that moment.

It isn't only office gossip that can get you into trouble. Your general attitude and treatment of other people on the job can come back to bite you years later. Someone I know was able to block the hiring of a potential manager when he was asked about their character because he had worked in the person's department at a previous company. He simply told the one doing the hiring that if they chose to hire the potential manager he would quit. The potential manager's treatment of other people had followed him in the worst way, and the working world is a much smaller world than one might think. That woman or man you make fun of or rudely confront all the time may choose to stop you from doing so at another place in another time.

I haven't said much about the current madness concerning the matter of Representative Mark Foley's communication with young pages. This is mainly due to the fact that I haven't taken time to catch up on the details of this issue. I do however, have a general opinion on the matter of elected officials using taxpayer money to have sexual escapades—or any other kind of escapade (or covering up such an escapade, if that happens). When a hotel manager, a horse trainer or a taxi driver has an escapade it may be a moral issue. However, it probably isn't my place to point out their bad behavior unless I've been personally affected by it. But when a teacher, a military officer or an elected politician chooses to have an escapade it's definitely appropriate to make statements about it, because these individuals make their wages off taxpayer money. They have an obligation to respect that fact and to conduct themselves accordingly. If that's a problem, they should confront their own misuse of taxpayer money and then go to work in the private sector.

posted at: 11:33 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Flickr, not Flicker

My apoligies to the folks at Flickr, whose name I inadvertently misspelled in yesterday's post. There are some days when having an inner child act as a spell checker is a huge hindrance.

posted at: 11:32 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Mon, Oct 09 2006

Fri, Oct 06 2006

Hell, no, they won't go (to Limbo, that is)

This week there was news that Pope Benedict XVI and other Roman Catholic clergy have been looking into abolishing the teaching of limbo for babies who have not been baptized. Get Religion posted an entry yesterday that drew some pointed comments. The post also points to other posts on other blogs, which also drew pointed comments. Emotions are going to run hot and heavy for some on this topic. The rest of you may be baffled, or even bored, by the discussion.

Like one particular commenter who spoke to the Get Religion post, I was taught as a child that Limbo was no theory, but was instead part of the Roman Catholic package of beliefs. (I was also taught that babies should be baptized as soon as possible, that "Jesus Loves Me" was a "Protestant" song that I was forbidden to sing in the Catholic School play yard and—that the Pope, whoever he might be at the time, came embued with some sort of infallibility that the rest of us could not possibly fathom and should not question.)

My elementary teachers were all from the order of School Sisters of Notre Dame. They wore black and white habits, carried large black rosaries, wore wedding bands as a symbol of their vows to Christ and rarely spoke very much of their earthly families or origins. Whenever we got new rosaries as a gift we were told that they were just beads and had no real power until they were blessed by the priest. We were taught, in addition to the doctrine of Limbo, that Hell was a place of eternal torment that already exists. So when loved ones died I was really, really hoping they had not gone to Hell. We were also told that our loved ones in Heaven could look down on us and watch over us. (That last idea was never comforting to me, because I could imgaine our departed loved ones watching our trials and tribulations (and big mistakes) here. How could anyone be happy in Heaven if they had to watch their grandchildren or other loved ones struggle with illness, crime and pain here on Earth? At some point later on it did occur to me that if the only way to end all this misery here in life was to die and be one of those admitted immediately to Heaven, the rest of us were real suckers to keep trying to make good here by living long lives. (Of course, suicide was a mortal sin from which you would probably never have time to repent or complete penance, so that option was out.

We were taught that you had to go to confession if you thought you had sinned. We took lessons to learn how to go to confession while we were still very young and didn't even really know what it meant. The confessional was a dark little booth with curtains where you knelt alone in one compartment while the priest stayed in another little compartment. He would slide a little door open when he was ready for you and there was a screen still between your compartment and his. He placed a folded, white handkerchief up to his face and looked somewhat away from you as you whispered your evil deeds to him. He prayed for you and gave you some prayers to say as penance. When it was over he slid the little door shut. It was not comforting to me. It was as frightening as any foreshadowing scene of any horror film I've ever watched.

And let's not forget Purgatory. There were degrees of sin. If you somehow had done enough penance for your venial sins, but mortal sin was still soiling you at the time of your death, you could be sent to Purgatory, where you might suffer for a little while before being allowed entrance into Heaven. It was therefore extrememly important, if you wanted immediate access to Heaven, that you confess every sin and get all that penance out of the way in this life so that you could avoid being punished forever in Hell or even temporarily in Purgatory. So you worried that you would forget to confess something and get hit by a car without being in a state of grace. And there was so much pressure to go to the confessional that, some of us at least, made things up so that we would measure up. Then we worried that we had told a lie and would be tossed into Hell and tortured by God anyway, for making up sins. (Want to know why the phrase "damned if you do and damned if you don't" is so powerful? Ask any ex-Catholic.)

All this (and much more) was being taught to children then. When you're 6 or 8 or even 11 years old and you've been taught to respect adult authority, particularly adult religious authority, it takes awhile to allow yourself the intellectual and emotional freedom to reason that all things are not as they seem at first. You've been spiritually indoctrinated by adults during the years when your own value systems are developing and your ability to deal with abstract principles is not yet mature.

I don't mean to insult anyone who is devout in their Roman Catholic beliefs. Your experience may be very different from mine. But for me, growing up in that era, the whole situation was too close to being like the things I've heard since then about cult mind control tactics.

So, if any of you reading this wonder what all the fuss is about because you never even knew what Limbo was, consider yourselves very blessed. And please have a wee bit of patience for those of us who may be getting old buttons pushed right now over all this talk about Roman Catholic clergy tossing out things that were taught to at least some of us children as being just as solid and indisputable as the rules governing math or English grammar.

posted at: 09:53 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry

Thu, Oct 05 2006

California greens

The headline reads "FBI Raids two California firms in spinach probe". I can recall when such a headline would have been followed by news of marijuana rather than spinach.

posted at: 11:26 | category: /Health and Fitness | link to this entry

Wed, Oct 04 2006

Breast-fed babies and I.Q.

It's probably a good thing that a recent study returned results showing that breast-fed children do not necessarily show higher intelligence. If things had gone the other way we'd be seeing a rash of web sites similar to the voting sites that proclaim "hot or not". In this case they'd be asking people to vote on photos as "breast-fed or not breast-fed". We'd have people being asked about their earliest source of nourishment on their job and college applications. Formerly formula-fed children would be taunted by bullies on the playground. Bottle-fed CEO candidates with stellar job histories would be hauled before boards of directors and then cast aside in favor of someone who claimed that no baby bottle liquids ever passed through his or her lips. Public breast feeding, already a controversial issue, would be the subject of debate on both U.S. House and Senate floors for more hours than campaign finance reform, tax cuts for the wealthy and the war on terror combined. We'd have breast milk rings smuggling the precious white liquid across every border on the planet with black market figures rivaling those of the U.S. trade deficit with China.

Of course, it doesn't take a breast-fed rocket scientist to know that we'll be hit with another study any minute now—one touting empirical evidence contrary to this study's results. In the meantime it's comforting for those of us who were nourished otherwise to hear that, for the moment, it seems that breast feeding has not been proven a sure (pardon the pun) formula for success.

posted at: 13:01 | category: /Health and Fitness | link to this entry

Tue, Oct 03 2006

When rainy day saving becomes rainy day spending

I've been noticing in acquaintances a lot of vacationing and a lot of buying of home accessories and other items in the past few months. I've been wondering why people are spending so freely when the economy seemed bleak not so long ago. One article from Real Estate Journal may explain at least some of the loose change jumping out of pockets.

I hadn't realized that so many people who cashed out equity in their rising home values had used the money to pay past debts. Between hearing about that and hearing that people are still spending freely as home prices pull back and mortgage rates creep upward, I'm a little concerned that many people are continuing to live beyond their means. It's a big gamble, given the wide swings we've seen in employment and other economic data the last decade or two. And these swings seem to be coming closer and closer together, which is giving big spenders less time to pay off all that accumulated debt during economic upturns.

Legislators can focus on banning online gambling and pat themselves on the back for that if they wish. I still think the great majority of real gambling is happening among middle-income taxpayers who are living on credit cards and who are trying to push loan payments and higher mortgage interest off into what they hope is a distant and bountiful future.

posted at: 14:30 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Mon, Oct 02 2006

Liberal left, religious right, defensive wrong?

We're used to hearing leaders say they're in trouble for doing the right thing, but now we have William J. Murray, president of the Religious Freedom Action Coalition, openly announcing his wrongdoing, in a Reuters new story:

I actually believe that what I'm doing with this is wrong, but I'm doing it in a defensive nature. Somebody has to defend the conservative churches and the only way to protect them is to attack the liberal churches.

Mr. Murray's web site, Rat Out A Church, calls individuals to fight political efforts that would keep conservative church pastors from using the pulpit to back political candidates who mirror the conservative views of the particular church. Mr. Murray's web site seems to be encouraging people to blow the whistle on what they believe to be liberal churches backing political candidates.

This whole tit-for-tat operation could be pushing all nonprofit organizations into a showdown with the IRS, which will probably result in the definition of a nonprofit organization being altered to hinder most, if not all, nonprofit organizations. Forget robbing Peter to pay Paul. Mr. Murray may manage to defrock Peter, draw first blood against Paul, send churches and other nonprofits to the poorhouse and anger left-wing and right-wing politicians alike. Mr. Murray says he believes that what he's doing is wrong. For that, taxpayers everywhere must certainly give him credit in his remarkable ability to state the obvious.

posted at: 08:26 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

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Stealin' copy is as bad as horse-thievin'
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