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

Thu, Dec 21 2006

Telling an old story another way

Write Lightning posts will be minimal for the next few days as we move toward the heart of the holiday season. If you like a good story, imagine yourself as part of a circle of people seated near a December campfire on the open range. Tuck your heels a little closer to your tired old tailbone and pull your favorite blanket around your shoulders. Enjoy the warmth as you read a tale called The First Christmas Gift, in which bluegrass storyteller Chuck Larkin shows us how the act of giving something we cherish to someone who loves us unconditionally can create a string of miracles that goes on being told about for a very, very long time.

posted at: 07:15 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry

Wed, Dec 20 2006

Another cure for the common cold?

While we're courting our chances of catching a cold by bumping elbows with rushed shoppers, eating too many treats and tweaking our rest schedule to meet holiday season demands, we can take a little comfort in the idea that we might be able to help ward off at least some brushes with the common cold by simply choosing to adopt a more positive outlook. A tip of the holly-circled Stetson goes to Boing Boing for the link.

posted at: 08:50 | category: /Health and Fitness | link to this entry

Tue, Dec 19 2006

Forget the threat of McCarthyism. Newspaper industry's biggest hurdle may be its outdated self-image

I've been so busy with the season's activities that I missed, until now, all the activity going on with media in the Santa Barbara area. The Santa Barbara News-Press has apparently been going through a lot of changes and there have been lawsuits and responses to the lawsuits, plus a few response lawsuits to the responses. Forgive me. I know that sounds a bit convoluted. Perhaps Matt Kettmann's opinion piece (and responses) from The Santa Barbara Independent can begin to explain it better than I can. The Los Angeles Times has also reported on some of the controversy and so have other major news outlets.

I do wonder if some of this might backfire on the Santa Barbara News-Press management. As these types of stories begin to spread there are always strong reactions. And the world of journalism isn't quite the same now as it was when management was often made up of wealthy families that kept newspapers going for several of their own generations. Many papers now are run as corporate structures with much of the same expectations and complications that mimic other big business, particularly as more papers are acquired by large media. Readers don't just read the news and take it at face value so much anymore. Now they want the stories behind the story and they want the stories behind those who publish the story. Corporate scandals in other industries have caused the public to question anything that might come across as heavy-handed management, because that kind of attitude may be reflecting problems that readers fear will limit their access to a fair report of general news happenings. The curiosity of readers concerning publishing tycoons' as celebrities in their own right has given way to a demand for accountability from news management.

The comments are starting to come. For instance, one post at I'm Not One to Blog, But...includes comments on management demanding loyalty and one response refers to historical similarities—at least similarities that particular responder sees. (That is only one reference and may not necessarily reflect all views.)

We're moving into new waters for journalists, news management, unions, new middle-managment, readers and everyone else. The public just wants news workers to get on with it and present the news in a fair manner. But the more bitterness there is on the part of news workers and the more distracted they are with lawsuits and internal turmoil, the tougher it will be to get the news out in both a timely, and unbiased, manner. All the infighting, lawsuits and calls for loyalty create a danger of putting traditional news outlets behind, while new kinds of journalism such as blogging and podcasts are speedily filling in the gaps without having to worry about being held back by newsroom politics.

posted at: 07:50 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Mon, Dec 18 2006

The outtakes of love

MSNBC's Alan Boyle points us to some upcoming films and TV shows that present alternative views of a young Jesus. The thing I love about this time of year is this: Beneath the glitter and glow of decorations and presents, behind the religious schisms and denominational spats, aside from the political hissing and the physical wars in the Middle East and elsewhere, in spite of family disputes and horrific domestic violence and social manipulation in society, there is still a remarkable amount of yearning in each of us for love and connection with someone who will love and accept us. Even folks who declare themselves to be staunch atheists and who deny Jesus Christ as Saviour seek the best of the gifts Jesus offered when it comes to inner peace, acceptance and assurance of a place where love triumphs over evil. All these Jesus story embellishments and alternative chapters seem part of the miracle of the season to me. People from every walk of life seem willing this time of year to take a peek at the idea of someone who was born on this earth who dared to live and breathe true love and who worked constantly to lift up anyone who wanted to embrace even a tiny piece of the hope of having that kind of love. It's all right with me if we disagree a bit over the details. A tiny, seemingly helpless baby Jesus still managed to create a stir that has been powerful enough to touch lives in some way or another, right down through the ages.

posted at: 08:23 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry

Fri, Dec 15 2006

Holiday Lights

I've updated the listings on the U.S. Christmas Lights page, with new locations being added almost every day in December. The displays are bigger and better than ever this year, so load up the car with friends and go enjoy the holiday fun. Listings will be added and updated right through the season, so check back often on the site for new information. Listings include both public and residential light displays. Use the form on the site to tell me about any "can't miss" displays in your area.

posted at: 13:43 | category: /Arts and Entertainment | link to this entry

Syrup and scones may break their buns but school board jokes may hurt them

Yesterday The Monterey Herald carried the story about an elementary school in Panama City, Florida with a proposed name that has their local school board members snickering. But Breakfast Point Academy has a lot of directions it can go with a mascot. Rather than leaning toward the fluffy bread names they could certainly set themselves up as The Perks, The Espressos or The Cast Iron Skillets. They could be the Suns, The Daybreakers or even the Morning Stars.

Besides, we have plenty of professional sports teams with cute names like Saints, Cubs and Colts. Which school board member will tell some 306-pound linebacker that his team name is just too, too sweet?

And here's a hint for those school board member mockers, who apparently have very little imagination. As kids get close to pubescent awakenings and hear the name Trojans, do cut-and-dried board members really believe the kids' first thought is of mighty ancient warriers or of something else they carry around in their wallets to show off with? The kids might do some laughing of their own unless school board members bone up on youthful slang and branding.

Existing team names and mascots seem to run the gamut from wicked to wacky. There are plenty of schools with Lions, Panthers and Bulldogs, of course. But have you heard of The Poets from Whittier, California? Or The Black Squirrels in Haverford, Pennsylvania? There are Lady Blues, Koalas, Aggies, Anteaters and Banana Slugs, the last of which operates right here out of UCSC.

There probably are a few breakfast names the school board should steer clear of when approving team monickers. The Over Easies wouldn't work well because it suggest too many double entendres, plus sounds a bit too submissive as a fighting sports team concept. The OJs might be associated with sad memories of former sports heroes. The name Hot Cakes would be better suited to a college team's cheerleading squad. And there's a potential issue with every word in the name Hot Cross Buns. Maybe it would be less controversial for the school board to just pick an appropriate team name and then build their school's name around that.

posted at: 08:01 | category: /Playing | link to this entry

Thu, Dec 14 2006

Her hair in the soup just left a bad taste in my mouth

I just now had a chance to look over an article from the Restaurant Hospitality web site that talks about how to deal with dissatisfied dining guests. Their suggestions were probably perfect for many situations, but I would add one more idea to the mix, particularly for restaurants in the mid-to-upper-scale range in terms of price, food and service. If you have to deal with a dissatisfied customer, do it with as little disruption of service to other customers as is reasonably possible.

Several weeks ago we dined out at a favorite local restaurant in a lovely setting. We've been there countless times and have never had bad service or bad food. On this last occasion we were privy to a bit of upset at the table closest to us when one female diner complained about a salad. She wasn't loud or disruptive, but she was insistent that the restaurant had prepared the dish in a way that she was not used to and that it had affected her digestive system. We watched several people go to the table in an attempt to make things right. They comped her meal and also offered dessert, which she refused. Since we were seated so closely to her, it was impossible not to notice the attention and extra people running to and from her table while we waited for service at one point. When our server approached us and apologized for the wait, after the dissatisfied diner had gone, we asked whether everything was all right. We didn't scold her for passing us by as she (and the day manager and two other servers) strained to make things pleasant for the unhappy diner near us, but I realized that the whole thing had definitely affected our own dining experience.

The situation I'm speaking of was a bit extreme. I say that because even the female customer's dining companion grumbled at her at one point over her continued soft whining. I don't fault the restaurant staff at all for trying to appease the woman. But I would suggest that this sort of situation also be treated by staff as part of every other customers' dining experience. There comes a point where so much attention may be given to an unhappy customer that other, previously happy, customers notice they are being neglected in favor of staff fawning over a complainer. If this had been our first visit to that particular restaurant I think it might have negatively affected a decision to return there. There's something to be said for giving more attention to happy customers now and then, rather than sending in the troops to grease the squeaky wheel all the time. It's a good idea to have the manager stop by the non-complaining tables now and then, just to be sure everything is going well and that happy customers stay happy.

posted at: 08:31 | category: /Food | link to this entry

Wed, Dec 13 2006

Them's fightin' words

Tom Mangan (from the San Jose Mercury News) has begun a list of expressions he believes should not be used in news reporting. He believes the terms should be Banned for Life.

I had to smile at his hatred of the term "war chests". We teenage Baby Boomers used to believe that particular term was mostly a euphemism for the pin-up girls of World War II. I don't think we meant to make fun of those who served our country. We were simply trying to put the talk of WW2 propaganda and stories into perspective as we worried more about following the whole "duck and cover" procedure in the event of a nuclear attack. Today's young people make fun of the way we were taught to crouch beneath school desks. They aren't mocking us. They're using humor to put current danger into perspective. Certain expressions may be trite and overused in news and in everyday life, but they also reveal a rhythmic pattern that underscores the universal need for belonging and assurance.

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

Tue, Dec 12 2006

Wake-up chair

Some people think that writers are not prone to injury the way fire fighters and police officers are. It's true that we're rarely involved in high-speed chases and are seldom called upon to assist victims of structure fires from burning buildings. Rarely is a writer shot, though some folks might argue in favor of an open season on some of us. What we do tend to experience are chronic, ergonomic injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, lower-back pain and tendonitis.

However, it has come to my attention this morning that writers, and others, who purchased a particular desk and chair set may have placed themselves in a potentially perilous situation. This leads me to further musing about the issue of doing most of one's work seated precariously in a chair. My chair also happens to be armless. I've been known to fall asleep during my work and nearly fall out onto the floor, resulting in sudden awakening and an interjecting dose of fight-or-flight response that would send the average elephant into sub-orbit.

And so, I have a great solution for the folks who manufacture Model number NF913232. I would advise them to act quickly in order not to let this landmark experience become a class-action lawsuit. Instead of cowering under the desk (which I presume to be in better working order than the chair) from the office set, they should use this issue as market research for the very type of chair that sedentary writers really need. With a bit of tweaking, this chair could be equipped to allow us only a limited amount of that dozing, drooping posture before kicking in a mechanism that slammed us back into an upright position suitable for cranking out copy.

posted at: 07:14 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Mon, Dec 11 2006

Pointedly detailed church records

Can you imagine your church's members having to account for everything that happens at church, including those anonymous bills dropped into a collection plate? With computers being so prevalent these days, many churches keep their weekly bulletins online, so access to who did what at any given service would be a bit easier to keep track of. But who would keep track of information about exactly when services were held, who sang, who preached, who said the prayer(s) and what the demographics of the people were who attended each and every church gathering or function? You might think all this is a bit anal-retentive in nature and is from some science fiction novel. But it's all going on right now in Russian churches

posted at: 09:24 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry

Fri, Dec 08 2006

Access to EPA materials

Scientific research is costly and takes a lot of time. We've all been paying for a lot of it with our taxes. Benefits come back to us in the form of papers, focus groups, data collections and even public school reference materials. So when I hear that writers, scientists and the public in general is being denied the benefits of such research, I become a little concerned. The assurance that we can access Environmental Protection Agency materials online after brick-and-mortar libraries are closed is of little value when the limited number of reports available online are now being pulled from the EPA web site.

There are those who believe that our taxpayer money should not go to environmental concerns. That is at least a stance that deservers consideration. However, if we have already spent money on all this research, what is the point of limiting access to it, particularly when it comes to documents already online, where there is no need for personnel to maintain stacks of books and papers? Is this really a budgetary move or is there some deeper, more political message being given to writers, scientists and the American public in general? Without more information, I can't be sure. But I am worried about any move that threatens to limit taxpayer access to information and research we all paid for in the first place. It's a warning sign that something manipulative may be afoot.

posted at: 06:17 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Wed, Dec 06 2006

American pole dancing in spindly economic shape?

Pole dancing is one of those topics that either plays a major place in one's life or is practically never spoken of, all depending on one's social circle, professional associations and moral stance. For some strange reason I've suddenly been privy to four different pole dancing stories in the last week or so.

Not long ago I happened across an episode of Jerry Springer's show and found his audience members chanting for some guest to "Go on the pole". Their cry for a little action seemed more punitive than sensual so I ended up lingering on the channel just long enough to see some sad-faced, heavy-set fellow do a gimpy little pole dance in his mismatched women's lingerie. One older woman and one younger woman watched in disgust from the other side of the stage.

I'm wondering if perhaps pole dancing has run its course from first blush to last call with jaded American audiences. One area mountain restaurant featuring food servers who double as pole dancers may actually go out of business and is reported to be in arrears with the IRS. How could they have gone wrong with pole dancing? I thought this was the sort of thing that lecherous customers couldn't get enough of and would pay large sums of money to see in almost any setting. However, it seems that lately I'm hearing stories and descriptions of it all that sound more enfeebling than enticing.

Whenever this kind of thing starts to crop up in many different circles of convesation I start to think that there's a major shift in public opinion just around the bend. It may be that there's a new phase coming to the American sexual revolution. What happens then is anyone's guess. But after what I've been hearing lately I'm thinking that it won't be long until Jerry Springer fans start grumbling, "Get off the pole."

posted at: 09:30 | category: /Arts and Entertainment | link to this entry

Tue, Dec 05 2006

The real tarnish of gold

I've always heard the term ":filthy lucre" but I never knew there was such a thing as dirty gold. Acid lakes? Toxic waste in 300-foot-high piles? Cyanide? It doesn't sound very pretty at all, does it?

Cyanide sign at mine
(Photo courtesy of Earthworks)

posted at: 09:27 | category: /Health and Fitness | link to this entry

From home doodles to home design?

I've always had an odd side interest of designing floor plans for homes. I've never studied mechanical drawing or architecture on a formal basis, but I love taking a space and thinking about the best use of it, particularly when it comes to the challenge of designating areas while eliminating skinny halls that often waste space.

Home design software sounds like a great toy, but the cheaper versions have always seemed a bit clunky to me. Some of the higher end software has better bells and whistles, but tends to require math and AutoCad-type knowledge that makes for a steep learning curve to an off-the-cuff artsy type like me. And since I don't design houses for a living I've never really been able to justify paying much for something to use for idle doodling.

I end up going back to pencil, paper and ruler. At least I get to express creativity. But I know I could have more and get more done with the right tools. So, I find myself more than a little intriqued with the news that I may get the chance to doodling that home design right inside a browser fairly soon.

posted at: 07:40 | category: /Playing | link to this entry

Mon, Dec 04 2006

Military literally closing doors

A particular Homeland Security story this morning was rather funny at first glance, but is also full of subtle truths. It says a lot about Americans' willingness to put up with daily inconvenience in exchange for a false sense of security over something that doesn't really make us any more secure at all.

One of the problems with military and other government agencies trying to be secretive is that a sophisticated tactical maneuver can break something so commonly known or widely used that the military ends up inadvertently broadcasting its own secret before the maneuver is ever put into actual use. One other issue is that such a revelation gives those individuals with evil motives a few more new clues into how military operations tend to work. Sometimes the best way to hide is in plain sight. And sometimes the best way to be found out is to behave very secretively.

One other factor to consider is that Americans might panic and even riot in a true emergency situation if they had no prior knowledge of such radio frequencies disabling doors or other electronic devices they felt were vital to their survival.

And I respectfully disagree with those who assume that a government-used radio frequency interfering with garage door openers means that the owners of the affected garage door openers must be the ones to automatically alter their lifestyle in deference to the military. People who consistently choose to succumb to such things without thinking things through for the greater good could someday end up being just about as functional as those automatic door openers. Don't misunderstand me. We need our military. But military personel, like politicians, judges, and government intelligence personnel, work for taxpayers. They don't own us. We own them.

posted at: 06:37 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Fri, Dec 01 2006

RC car really cleans up

I grew up in a house with area rugs and hardwood floors, which I found to be a royal pain to take care of, so I avoid such combinations whenever possible. Our current dwelling has hardwood flooring, but we've covered it with plushy carpet that is soft and inviting. However, if I had a fleet of these sweepers zooming around the house I could almost become a convert.

posted at: 06:41 | category: /Miscellaneous | 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!