Write Lightning is a blog from writer Deb Thompson.
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Thu, Nov 30 2006

It seems taxpayers can't catch a break in this one

So now, let me get this straight: The U.S. Army got scammed, which means all taxpayers got scammed. Now taxpayers have to pay for the prosecution case against Douglas Atwell and Wayne Silbersack, who are accused in the matter of scamming the U.S. Army. The two men have already pled guilty, from what I understand. If they're sentenced to prison time, taxpayers will have to pay for their room and board. (The same goes for anyone else convicted in the matter.)

It's bad enough paying for government waste, but when people set out to defraud fellow taxpayers, it's doubly depressing. Rather than tossing these folks into a penitentiary it would make much more sense to have them work off not only the cost of the items they used in the scam, but the cost of the case against them and the cost of their own incarceration. The money they earn should be returned to taxpayers. Of course, all the paperwork for that particular resolution would cost an awful lot of money, no doubt to be paid for by the taxpayers.

posted at: 11:40 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry



Wed, Nov 29 2006

Abaya adornment

If it's covering they want, it's covering they'll get. I'd been expecting something like Goth abayas to hit the fashion scene at some point, but gold silk, beads and soft chiffon make a sassy statement that will probably affect mainstream apparel sales in years to come. They're regal and beautiful garments and will no doubt make over-controlling religious types squirm as they try to deal with their loss of control over something which they never really had the ability to control anyway.

posted at: 07:35 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry



Look, up in the sky! It's a...Crowned Crane?

My spouse spotted a Great Blue Heron one morning on his way to work. But I don't think he's ever spotted an East African Grey Crowned Crane. The greater Bay Area is full of wetlands habitat, but the community of Los Altos Hills (on the peninsula between San Jose and San Francisco) is known for having some high-priced real estate, even by California standards. Maybe the bird just hoped to rub knees with some upscale neighbors.

posted at: 07:17 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry



Tue, Nov 28 2006

December festivals and lights

This is a fill-in blog entry, designed to get me away from the computer as quickly as possible. Last night I uploaded the December 2006 issue of Deb's Monthly Revew and put up a somewhat raw version of the U.S. Christmas Light display listings page. I'm still verifying a lot of entries and will add more soon. I used to incorporate the holiday lights list into each December issue of the Review, but decided to make it a separate page that folks can link to if they have their own Christmas page of links. I hesitated to put the site up before it was pristine in appearance, but finally realized that some information was better than none. If anyone finds any great light displays while driving around this year there's a form on the site to pass the information along to me.

Now I'm off to prepare music for a chorus concert, find some cookie recipes, decorate a "Guess the Number of Candies in the Jar" guessing box for an upcoming holiday party and give my right upper arm a rest from the repetitive motion of using a computer mouse. That last one is as good an excuse as any to take the rest of the day off.

posted at: 08:45 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry



Mon, Nov 27 2006

How to get to know your own home town

Jean Fortenbery's cookbook library in Watsonville is a great example of small town local treasures we all miss in our haste to see the rest of the world. I have learned that when you move to, or travel to, a new town, you can learn most about the region by getting acquainted with the older citizens of the area. You should also get to know the local librarians, those who write for the local papers, the secretary of the historical society or genealogical society, long-time members of local service organizations and area restaurants food servers. That last group may sound like an odd source, but they help so many hungry people find comfort that they're often privy to bits of inside information the average person would never think of looking for. I would add one more group to the list—telephone and power company repair people. They go everywhere in their work, and I mean—everywhere. The information you glean from these folks is wonderful for writing projects, but it's also a great way to get better acquainted with local history and the people who make that history.

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



Fri, Nov 24 2006

Thanksgiving: Societal rituals gone mad

I hope everyone had a reasonable Thanksgiving Day. Our local police scanners were full of domestic dispute calls and strange high speed pursuits, and after some of the things I heard about I'm thinking that spending the holiday with some families should include full riot gear and a well-planned escape route. I love the idea of Thanksgiving itself, but the holiday has never been one of my favorites. The pressures seem to bring out the worst in a lot of people, though all that is blessedly balanced out with volunteerism and generosity on the part of many.

Now we're in the midst of Black Friday. As with Thanksgiving dinner, shopping today should probably include full riot gear and a well-planned escape route. My spouse and I are both working, which has actually been rather comforting to look forward to when one considers certain mercenary alternatives. Some years I decided I finally wanted to experience the Friday-after-Thanksgiving sales, so I roamed a crowded mall and did fairly well until it was time for Santa to arrive. We all made way for the mini-parade to pass, and just when I thought it was safe to step from the shelter of a shop doorway I was nearly mowed down by at least 30 women running past me, all pushing children in those spindly, foldable strollers that could double as umbrellas (or weapons) if brandished overhead. Some of the children were actually gripping the sides of their little vehicles in fear of being tipped out onto the floor and trampled. I froze in place until the mad dash was over, then looked both ways and walked to the opposite end of the mall. Santa and his helpers weren't so lucky. I looked back to see them corraled in the mall's central gazebo, surrounded like wounded buffalo on a high plains evening, with a ring of hungry eyes watching and waiting. I hope Santa made a potty stop before he seated himself, because those women were not about to let him leave until he held their children and they got that souvenir photo.

Thanksgiving week is just plain scary—unless you happen to like leftovers.

posted at: 11:26 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry



Wed, Nov 22 2006

Not-so-tasty spam links

If sites include lots of links that go to sites not related to their own site's content, should it be considered spam? Some search engines and large list services might be treating them that way.

I suppose all's fair in love and search engine tactics, but the sites I wish would get lower ranking are those I call "circular sites", where you click on a link and all it does is take you to another list of similar links within its own site. If you click on one of those you get another list. There's no real content on the whole site, and until you figure that out, you spend lots of time at their site and give them lots of clicks and attention without getting any real value at all for your time. Those should be considered the lowest of the low on a search engine list, in my opinion.

posted at: 08:25 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry



Tue, Nov 21 2006

Are doing good and money at odds with one another?

Money may not make us evil, but the very sight of money may be able to affect our overall pattern of thinking and our general performance in life.

If this whole subliminal money thing affects people so much in every task, it presents an interesting situation for charitable organizations, whose goals often include recruiting volunteers, but also soliciting donations and goods. The thought of using money needs to be tied to the thought of doing good in this case. The aforementioned study suggests that at least some people are not very good at focusing on both those things at once. Maybe organizations need to develop two different types of soliciting techniques when it comes to keeping their work alive—one track focusing on recruiting volunteers who give time on tasks and another track focusing on bringing in donations of money and goods. And they might do best by using separate types of personalities to handle each of those tracks.

posted at: 07:53 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry



Fri, Nov 17 2006

Department of Homeland Security: Riding the wave?

Crescent City residents must be breathing a second round of sighs of relief after the relatively small tsunami actually did roll in on them this week. I know it's not the first time the town's rounded harbor has experienced such a phenomenon. What did surprise me was the many hours it took for the water to actually make that surge into the harbor area. It's wonderful that we've heard of no injuries. The damage is estimated below a million dollars, and after the natural disasters we've seen in recent years, that's not a daunting figure at all.

The whole incident does seem to have prompted urgency in spending Homeland Security tax dollars to get those warning systems into place for future events. I do hope Homeland Security will take more care with this spending than they did when opting to shelter Katrina evacuees on cruise ships at a cost of three-hundred dollars per person, per night. That particular kind of mismanagement drew a comment or two after a U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform report (pdf) was released earlier this year.

posted at: 07:22 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry



Thu, Nov 16 2006

Walls

Cardinal Renato Martino seems to have stirred the pot again with his negative remarks on a planned security wall at the U.S. border with Mexico. This isn't the first time he's caused heated discussions with his words, but he does come risk coming across as arrogant when he speaks about a situation he doesn't have to deal with personally on a daily basis.

Mexico has so many people risking their very lives to get out that at least a few people in power in Mexico must be getting benefit from all that activity or else Mexican officials would have done something drastic to keep people in Mexico long before this. It's something to consider before making blanket statements about what the U.S. should and should not do on its own side of the border.

A lot of things went through my mind as I read of Renato Martino's comments. I realize that he's the sort of fellow who makes a surface statement about peace and love and then stands back and smiles innocently while he watches the fur fly between the folks he incited to riot. But I still had a certain satisfaction while reading the reactions to his comments at Lucianne.com.

Maybe Cardinal Martino is sensitive to the idea of walls because Italy and the Vatican City have so many of their own. Most of us pass freely from place to place in the U.S., with merely a roadside sign that reminds us we're leaving one state and another sign welcoming us as we enter another state. We even have Welcome Centers and rest stops set up for travelers within our borders. There is no wall around Kentucky or Wisconsin.

California does have its check points, but that's basically an attempt to maintain the integrity of the beautiful produce we grow here for the rest of the world to enjoy. Those tricky little fruit flies and diseases could come in with tourists or even returning Californians and could put a crimp in our economy and food chain that could take many years to recover from. It's for the benefit of everyone that we take measures to keep the evil out while we make this a better place for everyone who lives, works and visits here—including Mexican immigrants who come here and work in the fields and orchards. A well-constructed wall would actually assure their continued employment in agriculture in California.

Literature, including religious literature, is full of walls as metaphors. The only thing a wall really does is to change the scenery of those on either side of it. And if all a person wants to do is see what's on the other side of a wall there are certainly many legitimate ways to do that. The same is true for those who want to travel to the other side of the wall. Most walls go up as tangible signs of shifts in societal attitudes. The same seems to be true of walls that are taken down. I'm just musing here, but perhaps Cardinal Martino is not as upset with the social and physical walls the U.S. might be putting up as he is with the ones in his own country that could be coming down.

posted at: 08:19 | category: /Politics | link to this entry



Wed, Nov 15 2006

November 15 birthday soup

A few well-known people born on November 15:
Howard Baker
Petula Clark
Kevin Eubanks
Georgia O'Keefe
Randall Poffo (AKA Randy Savage)
Ellen Tauscher
Joseph Wapner

By the way—if you're ever looking for a great start for a story, motley gaggles of improbable birthday twins make for wonderful plot and character possibilities.

posted at: 09:23 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry



Tue, Nov 14 2006

They're back

My eyes are crossed from working on graphics all day, so instead of writing a lengthy post I'll just point you to a local article that welcomes our yearly area hosting of Monarch butterflies.

posted at: 16:49 | category: /Science | link to this entry



Mon, Nov 13 2006

Is the brain even smarter than we can ever imagine?

BibliOdyssey has an intriguing post with some examples of Alesha Sivartha's brain maps from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Sivartha's odd mix of (among other things) spirituality, anatomy, mathematics and sociology seems typical of Victorian era thinkers. These people seemed to be always attempting to reconcile religion with science by presenting the human form as a sort of key to a puzzle that, once solved, would unlock the mysteries of the universe and explain how good and evil can be allowed to exist and mingle on the same planet.

The trouble with their admirable, if misguided, study is that human physiology, like human spirituality, is not only a map, but a journey. We were taught as young students that a good dictionary definition does not use its own word to describe itself. I suspect that this holds true for humans as well. We aren't the author of our own making, so our feeble attempts to precisely map our physical and spiritual condition will always come up at least a wee bit short in the big scheme of things.

posted at: 09:25 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry



Keyboard as object lesson

I often end up eating in front of the computer while I'm working, though I try to avoid food coming in contact with the mechanical workings of any computer equipment. I dropped a small bagel crumb onto the keyboard the other morning and it lodged between keys in such a way that I didn't want to dig at it for fear of pushing it further inside. So I ended up picking up the keyboard and turning it upside down for a few gentle shakes over the desk. I was surprised and embarrassed to see the amount of leftover crumbs and lint that lay in a weird little pattern atop the desk. It made me think of how most of us need a good shaking ourselves once in awhile, just to see what dust bunnies and leftover crumbs have gotten lodged inside while we thought we were pretty clean and free of crud.

posted at: 07:55 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry



Fri, Nov 10 2006

The fear of farting in church is only the beginning

Fellow blogger Tommy is hard at work on his NanoWriMo project. His writing style is so different from mine, but he's so good at what he does that it makes his writing that much more appealing to me. He's never afraid to touch, and even shine a light on, those icky essentials of life that invade us all in the midst of the most sacred rituals of polite society and remind us of our mortality and our need to feel like we're alive and part of something bigger in our individual suffering. He made me squirm uncomfortably and laugh and feel sorry for the kid who farted in church, all at the same time. I can't wait to find out how he tells us what happens next.

posted at: 07:46 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry



Thu, Nov 09 2006

Would that be brewin' or bruin?

I've made the same sort of typo a few times, so I suppose it's a bit petty to point out someone else's slip of the finger, but after already being intrigued about local green beer delivery I did a real double-take and then smiled when I read the body of this post in AutoblogGreen. The blog does have useful information, so do take time to look around.

posted at: 10:29 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry



49ers giving notice?

The local news has been so full of (A) election results and (B) the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, that I nearly missed an important development in the area of sports. The San Francisco 49ers may end up with a new home in Santa Clara. I suppose we all wish they would come to our particular town. But it would be especially wonderful, if impractical, for them to come here to our little burg. After all, wouldn't it be fun for the NFL to have a team called the Freedom 49ers?

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



Wed, Nov 08 2006

Voting: The day after

After what I've read today, I think our particular polling place in Santa Cruz County did very well with its first use of both a paper ballot scanner and a touch screen voting machine. Voters did well, for the most part, with the new marking system of completing an arrow. We had a lot of absentee ballots brought in, which is typical for our precinct. What is not as typical were the high number of provisional ballots, and many of those were due to voters in some districts having been sent a mail-in ballot. Some did not know to mail the ballot, some lost or tossed their ballot by mistake and some were just opposed to that process altogether and opted instead to come in and vote in person.

We had quite a few who bravely chose to vote by touch screen for the first time and most needed very little additional help to navigate the screens. Some were a bit confused by the first printing on the paper printer and thought they were finished. We had to let them know that their ballot was not yet cast until they reviewed their choices and touched the button to actually cast their ballot. The paper printer then finishes by politely advancing to a blank sheet so that the next voter cannot see what the previous voter's choices were.

We had one minor calibration issue with the touch screen machine, but a visit from a cool-headed tech rover took care of that nicely. Our regular rover was so busy that we only had one visit from her, but we knew she'd be busy because of so many county precincts using electronic voting for the first time this round.

We were working in a new space this time, a room which happened to be an elementary school library. It was a great eye candy with all the books and seasonal decorations, but it was terribly, horribly enticing for the little children who came in with parents who were busy casting votes. If we use that particular space again we'll have to find a way to block off all those shelves of books to keep them from being so tempting for bored kids who are waiting.

I arrived at 6am and left about 9:30pm, but those who had to take the voting materials to the checkpoint had another whole hour of travel and waiting to go. It's was a long day, but it's very satisfying to see people make their voices heard. Now we'll see what the majority choices bring.

posted at: 11:52 | category: /Politics | link to this entry



Tue, Nov 07 2006

Busy on Election Day

I'll be working at a polling place today, so enjoy some of the fine blogs listed over on the right. Have fun making your preferences known at the polls!

posted at: 05:48 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry



Mon, Nov 06 2006

Does that come with breakfast?

Carmel Valley Ranch may have found an interesting way to generate new income. If one buys one of the units in the proposed condo-ization I have a question. Can unit owners, as well as guests, order room service? That could make it the perfect second (or even first) home.

posted at: 09:34 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry



Fri, Nov 03 2006

Videos to take us into the weekend

It's been a full week. And now the push is on to go back over voting machine manual details and ready myself for November 7. I loved having a diversion or two this morning and so am passing the diversion on to the rest of you:

Bunny Letter Opener
That dog made what noise?
Living on the edge

posted at: 12:55 | category: /Playing | link to this entry



Thu, Nov 02 2006

Airport Security: The Game

Going to the airport used to be fun. Now we're told when to take our shoes off, what we can drink and where to stand to be pawed by people we could have arrested for assault and battery if they advanced upon us in that fashion in any other setting. I suppose the only way to have fun with it now is to pretend we're role playing in some real-time game and that this is all part of how we earn points to advance to the next level.

I wonder how long it will take for some bureaucratic type to figure out a way to charge passengers for this fanatic screening and to tell us that there will be a surcharge for every extra minute of time spent on those of us who take longer than average to screen. Maybe they'll earn double points for their next level of play while they do that.

I suppose whoever hands out the points would have to figure out how many Chris Soghoian should get for making a fake boarding pass and documenting the facts. And how many points would Congressman Ed Markey get for calling for Mr. Soghoian's arrest? Would he have to forfeit his points for changing his mind about an arrest being appropriate? The FBI would surely have racked up serious points for its part in raiding Mr. Sighoian's home. Lawyers will be heavy role-players in this game. Their points may hinge on their ability to keep the level of tension high. Politicians may earn extra points for passing new laws that infringe on the rights of other players. Other players must also give up points as taxes so that politicians may continue to travel freely and campaign on other players' time and money. After all, this is role-playing based on real world issues—not some fantasy.

How many points would screeners at Newark International forfeit for doing so poorly on recent security tests? Meanwhile, a super-duper bomb-sniffing "puffer" sits idly at St. Louis Lambert International. Should they forfeit a few points for just putting the thing into storage? And isn't "bomb-sniffing puffer" an oxymoron?

posted at: 08:54 | category: /Playing | link to this entry



Wed, Nov 01 2006

Physical barriers to spiritual places?

Does the idea of forcing posture to enforce deference to a deity create actual reverence? Architectures of Control has a post on this issue, complete with pictures of a very steep set of exterior steps. Mention is made of buildings where those entering are forced to bend or stoop in low doorways in order to gain admittance to the structure's interior.

If deliberate, such building techniques are certainly more subtle than having a soldier smack one on the shoulder with the flat of a sword and yell to bow down, the way we often see it handled in movies and on TV. But the psychological effect could still be there.

People who meditate sometimes recommend a particular physical posture that would cause me to experience pain and numbness in one particular nerve I have trouble with to the point that I would probably experience something directly opposed to the idea of nirvana. But I do believe meditation has great value as a technique with which to calm and center one's thoughts in the busy world we inhabit. It can help free us from certain notions that hold us back in material ways. I just have to find a posture that will allow me to focus without injuring myself. After all, one should be able to experience at least some spiritual progression in any situation if it's a genuine path to good.

I know people who stay home from traditional Christian churches because of all the standing, sitting and kneeling that goes on during the course of a worship service. They feel like less than full participants because they cannot do church gymnastics. People who stand, sit and kneel without difficulty tell them to come anyway and not worry about it. But they do. I've taken visitors to church who were worried about when to sit and when to stand. One young woman once came in and sat near me. She had dashed in on a busy morning to hear a mutual friend sing for the service. When I spoke to her she asked me if I'd been there before. I had. She asked me to clue her in when it was time to stand or kneel so she wouldn't "look dumb". I thought about that for a long time afterward.

I've often stayed seated during the formal morning church worship prayer when I happen to be beside a person who could not physically kneel, so that they weren't left alone in their posture. I'm always torn at those moments. It could be that the person who is unable to kneel at that moment is happy to just be there. But I always wonder. Is it more important for me to kneel whenever physically able? Is a group worship service more powerful as a personal act between me and the Lord I worship without considering anyone else's physical posture? Is it my place to use everything at my disposal, including my body language, to give worship? Or is it more important that I enter this type of group experience with an attitude toward doing all I can to help fellow worshippers also feel comfortable?

Are traditional church services designed for worship as a group? If so, why do we have group physical rituals that create invisible barriers? We often end up with a service that is easiest for those who are most physically comfortable and most able to complete all the surface movements. If the point is to worship together, I wonder how we could offer more inclusive techniques that make as many people in the congregation or group be a part of that worship as possible? The steps in those pictures are daunting. But I'm concerned that sometimes we set up invisible, but just as steep, sets of steps that have a way of further excluding those who might already be feeling a bit like outsiders.

Can posture pre-empt one's worldly state of mind?

posted at: 08:25 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry



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It is not always by plugging away at a difficulty and sticking to it that one overcomes it; often it is by working on the one next to it. Some things and some people have to be approached obliquely, at an angle.
--Andre Gide
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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!