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

Fri, Mar 30 2007

26 years ago

I was reminded that today is the anniversary of the 1981 assassination attempt on the life of President Ronald Reagan. John Hinckley Jr. has been living at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, but the Washington Times reported earlier this week that Mr. Hinckley has enjoyed a bit of increased freedom recently. And now he is seeking permission to venture out without the currently required two-week notice.

Sarah Brady, whose husband Jim Brady was also wounded in that shooting, called today for legislation that would help restrict gun sales to those who are involved in illegal trafficking. There is a waiting period now for purchasing firearms, but I don't know if that would have helped prevent the March 1981 shootings. Mr. Hinckley had apparently owned guns for at least several months prior to the assassination attempt.

The subsequent trial of John Hinckley Jr., and his acquittal, accomplished something a lot more far-reaching than gun control. It shocked and enraged those who felt a sense of injustice and caused public opinion and lawmaker policy to turn against using the insanity defense so often in the trials of those accused of violence against others.

I can understand the worry of those who plea for guns to be kept away from criminals. It might make them feel better to think there could be some sort of ban on dangerous objects. But where do we draw the line? Part of maintaining a free society means embracing standards that err on the side of too much freedom rather than on the side of too little. A background check for those purchasing a firearm seems a fair path to me. But frightened people who want to ban private gun ownership from all law-abiding citizens frighten me a lot more than guns do.

posted at: 14:34 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Thu, Mar 29 2007

Doughnut joke gone wrong

The article I pointed to in the entry I posted yesterday shows a trend toward employers researching a potential employee's web presence before choosing to hire them. But maybe the article wasn't quite quick enough for the folks who hired someone to enhance their city's web presence. The man they gave the job to left a rather unprofessional-sounding message for any visitors who happened to click on at least one site link. He can't even blame it on April Fools Day, because that hasn't come along yet. I've heard of having egg on one's face, but in this particular case it seems that glaze would fit the expression better.

posted at: 12:47 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Wed, Mar 28 2007

Can a web presence make or break your chances for a job?

I enjoyed reading an online article from ZDNet News that talked about the fact that one's web presence can have an affect on potential employers. What I'm wondering about now is what happens when one doesn't maintain much of a web presence at all. A lot of Americans, particularly older ones, spend very little time in online activities such as blogging or posting videos. If an employer hit a virtual dead end when searching online for a potential employee's activities, would the employer be quick to drop the person as a candidate, even though work history, interviews and references returned positive information? I suppose it could depend on the nature of the job's requirements. But I'm guessing that any employer who spends extensive time researching a candidate's online presence is probably expecting them to actually have an online presence. Finding none could cast a shadow on one's chances for hiring or advancement.

posted at: 08:55 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Tue, Mar 27 2007

Kitty on the keys

One of the newsletters I get via email had a pointer to a discussion about a cat who appeared to be making some interesting changes to her owner's iBook. The thought of a million monkeys typing to produce Shakespearean literature pales in comparison to the supposed manipulations of a lone feline in her twilight years.

posted at: 06:47 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Mon, Mar 26 2007

Slaves and other secrets

If the figures mentioned in the ABC News story on human trafficking are accurate, we have a lot to be concerned about. Since it takes so long to find some of these victims, I would guess that the numbers of them are probably even higher than have been reported. Can you imagine seeing your newspaper delivered by someone who looked bruised and battered? Nelson Williams is a real hero for having alerted police to Emily Nicely's injuries.

The family members the young woman was staying with has been brought in for investigation and charges, but only time will tell whether they are convicted of wrongdoing. I wondered if neighbors had't noticed anything odd about the family. Let's face it. We've all had those times when we heard strange noises or shouting coming from residences near us. It can be tough to know when it's just a bit of tension release and when it's something a whole lot more sinister.

Homes that are too quiet can be troublesome too. I once lived in an apartment complex where a young mother was leaving to go to work alone every day, when we all knew she had a young son living with her. Our apartment manager asked the local police to do a welfare check on the boy and it took a very, very long time for the officer to talk the little boy into opening the door. If the officer had made only a casual check he would never have found out that the little guy had been alone all day and had probably been alone every day, all summer long. I wonder how many of us sometimes see things that don't look quite right and then look the other way for fear of being a snoop. But there's a big difference between being a habitual busybody and being moved to intervene in order to protect a human life. Get to know your neighbors—at least enough to help prevent a tragedy.

posted at: 09:40 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Fri, Mar 23 2007

Nike's logo

It appears that Nike is goint to change some things about the way it sells shoes and other apparel. It's probably a great idea to update certain things, but I hope they don't get too far off the beaten path with something like their logo. We cruised past a Nike outlet store the other night in Gilroy and Nike's well-lit Swoosh on the side of the building was unmistakeable. The simple symbol conveys grace, power and speed. And it does it all in one easy motion. It's one of the most brilliant logos I've ever seen. It was born in 1971, and though student Carolyn Davidson didn't receive top dollar, word has it that she's gotten a generous form of compensation from the company since then. I enjoy hearing about people who, once becoming a successful, voluntarily remain good to the people who "knew them when". It says a lot about their character.

posted at: 07:26 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Thu, Mar 22 2007

Blooper on my last post

I have been under the influence of allergy medicine this week, and I see that it has affected my ability to put more than three words together in a sentence. And so, my kind readers, I apologize for the heading of that last post, which should have read:

Be careful who you vote for or you might vote yourself out of a vote next time

The disturbing part is that I didn't even notice the error in the process of reading the heading aloud. Allergies may be hazardous to your health, not to mention your writing career, your peace of mind and your home life. My spouse has been tearing about on an organizational high lately, while I've been scraping by with a minimum of house tidying.

The lawns are a mess in California after the winter wet season (such as it was). I went outside to the back yard a few minutes ago and nearly tripped over a healthy Storksbill specimen that would have completely thrilled California naturalists on a field trip, but which prompted me to grab a short-handled shovel out of the tool cabinet. I used the shovel to give the spiky-looking beast a few jabs at its fat roots and left it to wither while the burr clover and other invasive plants continued to wave to me in the afternoon breeze. They can schmooze all they want to, but the battle is on.

posted at: 13:25 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Be careful who you vote or you might vote yourself out of a vote next time

I suppose we'll see this kind of thing from time to time, now that security-conscious lawmakers rush to placate those who think that proper paperwork is the best way to a more secure country. I grew up in one of the Missouri areas mentioned in the news article, and I can tell you that forcing Mennonites to have photographs on a driver's license is the last thing that Missourians (and the rest of us) should be worried about.

The violent, intrusive actions of fanatics on our planet seem to motivate society as a whole to force otherwise law-abiding citizens into a state of criminality, when all most of these folks want to do is follow their personal religious beliefs and make an honest living. The last people we should be mistreating in the name of security will be some of the ones hurt the most. Society's rules are increasingly produced by legislators who have been voted in by both liberal and conservative voters, many of whom have allowed themselves to be convinced that a set of rules will protect their life and property in the event of a crisis. We can't blame this kind of behavior on suicide bombers or extremist Muslim thought. If we say we want freedom in this country then we bear some personal responsibility to elect those who reflect that ideology. If we look the other way when the Mennonites suffer because they don't fit the majority mold then we shouldn't be surprised one day when we find our own freedoms restricted by moral choices that put us outside a majority we used to feel comfortable being part of.

posted at: 08:00 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Wed, Mar 21 2007

Cocaine drain

I just heard about the recent seizure of almost 43,000 pounds of cocaine by the DEA and U.S. Coast Guard, in cooperation with the government of Panama. I know they're rightly proud of their work. What concerns me is that the smaller amount of cocaine temporarily out there will cost more and that those who are determined to sell and/or use cocaine will now be even more desperate to get the stuff and will take more drastic measures than usual. I fully expect to see drug-related crime go up in the next few weeks. It's a sad little system, but I suppose it will go on indefinitely. So many humans seek a quick chemical high over all other things in life. And so many others are happy to sell it to them. The dollar amount of the drugs seized is impressive. But sometimes I think we would be really discouraged and really angry if we could count up the actual cost in terms of lives lost and children abandoned (or orphaned).

posted at: 09:29 | category: /Health and Fitness | link to this entry

Tue, Mar 20 2007

Learning left and right

Basic encyclopedias, even user-based ones, carry some sort of filtering of information. If Wikipedia feels too liberal for some people they can now balance their frame of reference by getting more of their facts over at Conservapedia.

posted at: 08:35 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Mon, Mar 19 2007

The choice to steal

People have been making off with all the "nuclear-free" signs from the city of Santa Cruz, and the most likely culprits seem to be college students. (You may have to register to read the story.) Though the idea that students are taking the signs is conjecture at this point, theft of this nature proves one thing. The people who are stealing these signs have talked themselves into the unfortunate notion that fiddling with nuclear material is bad for the public, but a personal choice to take something from the public without permission is simply good clean fun. I think I might be more concerned about their skewed sense of personal responsibility than about local nuclear developments.

posted at: 08:50 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry

Fri, Mar 16 2007

Send lawyers, lightning and dictionaries

Thanks to Boing Boing I had to smile once I followed their link to Lightning on Demand's legal woes regarding what is now called the Lorentz Gun. The editor in me (who admittingly often misses my own typos) couldn't help but notice that the otherwise thorough legal counsel from TASER International neglected to address Lightning on Demand by its correct name and called them Lighting on Demand. I wonder if that sort of thing affects the legality of the notice. Maybe not. At any rate, given the nature of the offended party's complaint, it's ironic that they misspelled the name of the company they put on notice.

posted at: 06:45 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Thu, Mar 15 2007

Starbucks promo saves you some change

If you visit a participating Starbucks store today you can get a complimentary Tall coffee from 10am-noon.

posted at: 06:03 | category: /Food | link to this entry

Wed, Mar 14 2007

Redesign Your School

Target and the American Architectural Foundation are sponsoring an interesting contest that might interest students who have an eye toward design. The contest is Redesign Your School—A Contest of Scholarly Proportions. Future school campuses are going to be challenged to accommodate rapidly-changing media and other new technology while still maintaining a friendly ambience for classic learning.

Schools will also need to be more open architecturally so that they can be better integrated into communities. Parents and neighborhood residents will be more likely to care about a school if they get personally involved. How do we make school campuses more usable by the general community?

I've had the opportunity to visit different elementary schools in the past week or so while gathering material for an article. One of the things I've noticed is the way school offices, which are the first inside glimpse many of us get of a school, often do not present their best side for a visitor who may be in there for a short time. A first glance at one office was extremely off-putting. It was oddly arranged and piled high with materials. The principal's desk looked a bit like the aftermath of unexpected Santa Ana winds. But my impression changed when I learned that the principal at that school spends most of the day out with students and teachers and not sitting around tidying the desk. If we want to encourage our superintendents and principals to stay in the trenches and support their teachers and students, how do we give them the best space for this? And there's the issue of security at schools. How do we make schools open and community-friendly while still maintaining a reasonable level of safety for kids and personnel? These factors are being worked on by some of our brightest designers, but maybe we could all learn a lot from listening to those who know their school best—the students. I hope many kids will jump in and participate in this contest and that adults will really listen. Help me pass the word on this great project.

posted at: 10:47 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Tue, Mar 13 2007

Is it about a state of being or is it about actions?

General Peter Pace's views on gays in the military have really brought on a flurry of comments from people. He seems to be standing by what he said, but I have to admit puzzlement. I've never really understood the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that Gen. Pace says he is in favor of. If homosexual orientation is going to be declared immoral in military circles, shouldn't it be banned outright? Why would the general (and others) approve of such a thing as "don't ask, don't tell", which basically tells people to be whatever they are or do whatever they wish as long as they keep it a secret. No matter how one feels about the morality of homosexuality or adultery (or other sexual matters), it's scary to me when we start telling people that if they just keep quiet about what they do they will be accepted. Is child molestation treated the same way in the military? Would a person with a sexual attraction toward children be welcome to join the military as long as he or she participated in a "don't ask, don't tell" policy? (And no, I'm not personally comparing homosexuality to child molestation. I'm just pointing out the absurdity of military personnel trying to use secrecy to define morality and fitness for duty.)

No matter how one feels about the issue of homosexuality in broad terms, it's just too confusing to compare adultery to homosexuality in this particular instance. Adultery is defined by some fairly specific acts. If a person has a known bent toward committing adultery I would guess that they aren't prosecuted until, and unless, specific behaviors occur (and are reported) that show them to be an adulterer. If adultery and homosexuality are considered alike in military life, why are they not treated the same way? If it's not the orientation, but the act that matters, how can we compare sexual orientation to adultery? Is there a "don't ask, don't tell" policy for adulterers? My confusion isn't so much moral as practical. Maybe some of you who have served in the military can clear it all up for me. It just really seems to me as though the policy needs to be defined in clear terms for anyone contemplating a military career. The current policy language serves only to muddy the waters and comes off as both hypocrital and disingenuous.

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

Mon, Mar 12 2007

Some Low-Fat product labels are full of fat

We've been cautioned lately about pigging out on foods that have been labeled Low-Fat. I would add one other caution to reading labels for canned soups, dry noodle mixes, spaghetti sauces and other convenience foods. When you glance at the fat and calories per serving, be sure to look at the top of the label and see how many servings are in a package. I've picked up one of these ramen-type noodle bowls and scanned the label and learned that the product has 7 grams of fat per serving, but closer examination at the top of the label gives the news that the package contains two servings. How many of us are actually going to divide the bowl's contents into two portions? One Low-Fat coffeecake from a popular wholesale baking company is labeled as Low-Fat, but when you read the portion size you realize you can only get about 3 bites of cake for your Low-Fat serving.

posted at: 10:02 | category: /Health and Fitness | link to this entry

Fri, Mar 09 2007

Do legislators really want to help us be safer from crime?

I thought that putting the cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine behind the counter at pharmacies was supposed to help the growing methamphetamine situation. I don't think we've gotten the desired results, judging from the statistics in an article on Watsonville crime for the year 2006. And while you and I continue to obediently stand in line to sign for our little box of sniffle rememdy, back in my old home state of Missouri the CEO of of wholesaler Handi-Rak has been sentenced to a 20-year prison sentence for selling those same types of cold medicines in bulk to meth makers. I wonder if anyone will ever figure out that the people who want to get drugs or guns for crime will find a way to get theirs while law abiding citizens are pressured to put up with inconvenience, discomfort and even danger in some instances, all with the help of legislators who insist they are restricting our access to such items for our protection. Not only do we not feel any safer, but we watch as criminals grow in numbers and strength, in some cases running their deadly business from inside prison walls.

posted at: 12:07 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Thu, Mar 08 2007

Maybe we really can't take a joke

Ann Coulter got a few more journalistic slaps on the wrist this week after her recent joke regarding John Edwards. Several companies, who had apparently placed ads on Ms. Coulter's web site through an online ad agency, pulled their ads.

I caught a bit of the interview Ms. Coulter did on "Hannity & Colmes" and I'll confess to being a bit confused about exactly who the joke was supposed to be on, after listening to her refer to the word being a "school-yard taunt". She says that her CPAC audience laughed when she made the original joke, so I'll assume they must not have been offended by what she said. (If they were, they apparently didn't say anything out loud.)

Some other conservatives have found themselves in the (probably, for them) embarrassing position of siding with gay citizens against Ms. Coulter's speech. Many liberal commentators and bloggers spoke directly to the matter of what she said. Others, like Geoff Staples at Radio Left, went right for sarcasm, and made a few sexually-charged remarks about Ms. Coulter's state of mind the night she gave the speech. All sort of opinions have surfaced, some in support of Ann Coulter and some condeming her words. Many opinions fall somewhere in the middle. Jeremy Meister thinks she may have done some good. Sticking to politically correct terms sometimes makes conservatives sound unclear on their own stances. And it's true that using a term that isn't politically correct forces everyone within earshot to ask themselves how they really feel about the term and its meaning(s) in polite society. Maybe there were some people who squirmed in their seats the night Ann Coulter gave her speech. Was it all in fun as an insider joke against the world of liberal politics?

I guess that one of the things that bothers me just a wee bit is that it's typical for school-yard taunts to come from school-yard bullies. I'm not saying that Ms. Coulter meant to come across as a bully, but just that she may have inadvertently pushed some old buttons for many people, both liberal and conservative, who have found themselves at the wrong end of hurtful childhood remarks. And bullies often follow up their taunts by saying, "It was only a joke. Can't you take a joke?" It may not have been the politically incorrect word that upset people at all. It may have been an (unintentional) opening of very old, very deep wounds. And that's something we all need to think about when we say things to, and about, other people in the future.

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

Wed, Mar 07 2007

Sensitive jets

I'm not quite certain why those seized F-14 Tomcats had anything to do with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but the internal motions of bureaucracy often leave me baffled. I still can't help but wonder about this particular move. Since immigration issues raise enough flags these these days, wouldn't it have created less hype and been a lot less expensive for the Navy to just quietly buy back the old jets? Now they have me wondering if there was fear that the jets would go to the wrong people, particularly in the case of the one stored at Southern California Logistics Airport. The airport is listed as a U.S. Customs Port of Entry. Maybe that's how ICE got involved in the first place.

The problem with a government mix-up isn't always the mix-up itself. It's the convoluted attempts to clean up and cover the mix-up that makes heads swivel and eyebrows dance.

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

Tue, Mar 06 2007

Stores that sell everything for a dollar may be selling scary stuff

One Stockton mom got an unwanted surprise when she realized the art set she bought for her little girl had a retractable razor knife in it. Cute little bear graphics on items in the set would lead most of us to believe the set was intended for children. But a lot of this mass-produced merchandise comes from other countries, where regulations may not be as strict as they are here. It's best not to assume safety. Check all toys and craft kits for yourself before you hand them over to little ones.

posted at: 07:09 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Mon, Mar 05 2007

Where are the octogenarian Aryans?

I once thought the white supremacy movement was waning, but I seem to have been slightly misinformed. The individuals with these sorts of beliefs have not only not given up the fight, but have apparently formed gangs and become more violent and organized in their war on most of the world's population. They are a minority, of course, but they've become a minority that now sports graffiti and tattoos. I suppose there is some sense to the latter. Tattoos might show colors more brilliantly on lighter skin tones, but other than that particular perk, I can't think of any particular advantage to the whole mindset.

I always seem to think of Aryans as young people. There are probably some 87-year old Aryans creaking around somewhere, but I have a feeling that anyone with that many years under their belt has learned the sort of life lessons that people under the age of 30 (or even 40) haven't even begun to consider yet. Besides, I'm trying to imagine roving gangs of (very) senior Aryans beating people senseless, shooting the socks off their meth rivals, burning down cops' homes and getting girlfriends to get a job in the bank so they can pull an inside job. Somehow, it just doesn't seem to happen. Unfortunately, my best guess is that Aryans who don't get killed or die in prison and who manage to live into their 80s have taken another good look around—and have figured out what's important and what's not. Those colorful tattoos would be a real social embarrassment right about then.

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

Fri, Mar 02 2007

Eclipses and a red moon

I hope the weather will let Americans on the East Coast enjoy the total lunar eclipse this weekend. We won't really get to see much on the West Coast. The very best viewing of all would be more over toward Africa. Europeans should also get a good show this time. We'll have a better seat this August, when another eclipse will occur.

Many wonder if the reddish hue that sometimes comes with a lunar eclipse around dusk has anything to do with Revelation 6:12. Joel 2 also refers to the moon turning into blood. Speculation over these verses ranges from literal to symbolic, and even among those who insist that the verse is symbolic, there is a wide range of interpretation as to what the blood-red moon actually represents. The expression could be both literal and symbolic, since the moon has appeared to be red many times. But the color red could be taken from a rose, a cardinal bird, a tomato, an autumn leaf or some other red spot of nature. Using the term "blood" gives the whole passage a particularly serious overtone. And was this blood-red moon a once-in-the-universe kind of event, or was it supposed to happen again and again, as an ongoing reminder to people? Sunsets often have a lot of red in them, depending on cloud cover and your viewing location. Was the moon mentioned because the red appearance occurs less often than it does with a sunset?

Wherever your study of such things takes you, it's easy to see that we're all very drawn toward the mysterious hues of a lunar eclipse. No matter where you live on the planet, chances are that you'll see at least one lunar eclipse in your lifetime. It might be that it does become something important if you decide to study and find out for yourself. And what about those pillars of smoke in Joel 2:30? Check it out, if you never have. It's fascinating reading.

posted at: 15:02 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry

Thu, Mar 01 2007

Don't blame it on the vampires, please

Orange Crate art linked to a Los Angeles Times news story, which happened to involve a vampire expert. The news story sounds a tad like the descripton of a horror film, complete with (Transylvanian) wine, excess of power, sex, (research on) vampires, academic pressures, opera, death and half a dozen other metaphors. I read it through several times in order to sort some of the details. Though I never followed the original story when it happened, I couldn't help but think that most of the trouble in these peoples' lives must have come up after one or more of them denied some basic truths about themselves.

When little children tell lies, they usually lie on a very simple level. They lie to other people because they're delaying the punishment or consequences they fear will come from people they perceive to be more powerful than themeselves, once/if the facts come out. When adults lie, we layer and complicate matters by first lying to ourselves about truths and not facts. Then we lie to others about facts, not so much to avoid punishment, but more to avoid becoming that person we'd have to become if we faced real truth. The lie coming out of our mouths for the first time is the second lie, a logical manifestation of the first lie we tell ourselves. Many writers, artists, pastors, storytellers, psycotherapists, filmmakers and lawyers commonly acknowledge and use this extra layer of adult self-deception in their work.

I sometimes write fiction. But I've met some well-meaning Christian people who insist that fiction is not good for those seeking to have the best spiritual health. I can think of at least one acquaintance who might even say that the people in the above-mentioned article actually got into all that trouble because they spent too much time focusing on fictional creatures when they should have been reading their Bible. I beg to differ, at least in principle. First of all, the fictional vampires came into their own because there is some historical evidence that this sort of blood-thristy aberration was adopted, for whatever reason, by certain humans in the past. Many legends grow from actual incidents. Secondly, there are plenty of people, including pastors, who spend lots of time reading their Bible and still get themselves into much the same sort of pit (perhaps minus the Transylvanian wine) that the folks in the article did. Something else must have been going on, besides novels, for these people to risk careers, academic degrees, self-respect and ties with family and friends. (Though it might make an entertaining story in itself to write of fictional vampires dragging people off on a path toward perdition.)

When we decide to take a couple of hours with a fictional movie or book, we suspend belief in facts for a couple of hours, while our mind is actually enjoying the process of seeking themes and truths that are timeless. When we close the book or come out of the theatre, everyday life is back in perspective, in much the same way that we spend two weeks vacationing on the beach, knowing all the while that we'll go right back to the daily grind when it's over. a much greater danger would seem to me to be in choosing to spend our daily lives suspending belief in major truths and then living a lie and lying to everyone around us. Even a vampire will tell you that when you can no longer see your own image in the mirror, you're going to be spending most of your time hiding from the light.

posted at: 12:18 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Not quite a bagel

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts wants to lure health-conscious Americans with a whole wheat variety dipped in sugary glaze. Still deep-fried, I'm guessing?

posted at: 07:02 | category: /Food | 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!