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




Mon, Apr 30 2007

Shrek is doing a great job

There are a lot of comments floating around concerning the use of DreamWorks' Shrek character being used to promote both physical fitness and junk food. Most of the comments appear to be against Shrek as a model for fitness. The Shaping Youth blog joins the cry against Shrek selling candy and exercise at the same time.

I'm going to go against the grain here and suggest that the use of Shrek in seemingly opposite campaigns may be the best thing that has happened to kids in a very long time. Parents and teachers have a great opportunity to use this issue to teach kids valuable lessons about how consumers receive conflicting messages every day and how hypocritical grown-ups can sometimes be about these things. One day chocolate is portrayed as a junk food nightmare. The next day we hear about the beneficial properties of chocolate. And we have traditional brands of cereal now incorporating chocolate into new varieties. Special K has long been touted as a great cereal to eat when you're watching your weight. Suddenly, it's fine to have Special K with chocolate for breakfast as long as you avoid nasty trans-fats. (The Life cereal line also has a new chocolate version.)

Ads for chocolate candies often include descriptive words like "seductive" and "sensual" and show people devouring the stuff with expressions of ectasy. Some scenes make me wonder if we're approaching the soft porn approach to selling the stuff. And do you ever see a chocolate-centric commercial with an elderly person or a large-figured person enjoying his or her chocolate? Of course not. The actors are all young, attractive, fit-looking and dressed for a night on the town. (Or a night in the bedroom.)

And exactly what constitutes a chocolate bar anyway? Enter the not-unexpected call for regulation. Mixed messages? You bet. That's why I believe that the Shrek character fits in perfectly with the real situations kids (and grown-ups) are faced with every day in our society. Shrek's physique and opposing endorsements should fire up the discussions about how much our society is comfortable saying one thing and doing quite another thing.

posted at: 11:29 | category: /Health and Fitness | link to this entry



Fri, Apr 27 2007

The week's end, and remembering the bigger picture

I hate to end the week's blog posts on a negative note. There are so many kind hearts and loving people whose stories are important to tell. So I went and found a few good stories. Marion Ross, who is probably best known for playing Harriet Cunningham on Happy Days, donated a truck to the Freeborn County Historical museum in Albert Lea, Minnesota. Preschool kids in New York filled a wagon with money to help stray and abused animals. Some of the little ones earned the money themselves. Elaine Durazo is making certain no Tahoe City-area teen girl who wants to attend a high school prom is stuck at home because she can't afford a dress. Some elementary kids (and their teachers) in Wisconsin got together and sent 18 boxes of books and school supplies to kids in Louisiana who were still being affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Look around you. It's everywhere. The world has not gone to hell in a handbasket, even though it may look that way at times. God's spirit moves people to do some wonderful things, even in the face of evil and violence. If you've been hurt this week, there's only one thing to do. Reach out and help someone else. And if you've been blessed this week, there's only one thing to do. Reach out and share your bounty with someone else. None of what we have here really belongs to us anyway. We're stewards, for better or for worse. If God saw fit to make us stewards in our challenging world, it tells me that we have a fun-to-play part in underscoring His endless love.

posted at: 15:51 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry



Santa Cruz shooting stories carry possible reasons, but that doesn't matter in the end

There has been a bit more news on this morning's shootings in Santa Cruz. In spite of the rumors and possible reasons that circulate, it's impossible to actually make sense of these things. And not only does it traumatize the families involved, but it traumatizes co-workers and others who witness such things. My heart goes out to those who are hurting from all this.



posted at: 15:11 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry



More shootings

Unfortunately, it looks as though we've had a Santa Cruz area workplace shooting this morning, at a county facility. We listened to the scanner for some time, because my spouse was needing to be sure his route to work would be mostly clear of emergency traffic.

posted at: 07:20 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry



Thu, Apr 26 2007

Casual use of Call Return

I got an email this morning from a friend and it was the sort that contains a warning about phone numbers. Sometimes these things don't turn out to be legitimate, but this particular warning should be heeded. I can understand someone being tempted to respond to voice mail that tells them a loved one is in trouble. But I'm wondering if a lot of the trouble comes when people have gotten no voice mail at all. They simply see that they have been dialed and they use Call Return to dial back the number. I know a lot of people who always use Call Return because they can't stand not knowing who called them. The scam artists wouldn't have to leave a message at all for these types of folks. And vishing could mean that the scammers used a fake area code when they placed the call to you. Curiosity may not kill the cat but using Call Return because you have to know who called while you were out could get you a really high phone bill.

posted at: 10:25 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry



Wed, Apr 25 2007

Pit bull as service dog

We're always hearing horror stories about pit bulls, so I enjoyed the article on action actor Melvin "Shorty" Rossi's service dog, Hercules. I can see how Hercules' compact build would be a perfect match for someone of shorter-than-average stature.

posted at: 08:37 | category: /Arts and Entertainment | link to this entry



Tue, Apr 24 2007

Crunch week, side trips and priorities

This is crunch week for finishing up the May issue of Deb's Monthly Review, so things are a bit pinched for me in the posting department. You could go work the Crossword Puzzle from MSNBC or try Sodoku from USA TODAY. You might take a few moments to send a few thoughts to your Congressperson or contact news media outlets and let them know how you feel about their coverage of events. (While you're at it, would you give them a message from me? Would you please ask them to stop playing Alec Baldwin's voice mail messages over and over and over? I feel like I'm being forced into some weird psychotic loop in which I'm stalking a whole celebrity family without even trying. It's demeaning to everyone and I'm tired of it. Thank you, whoever you are, for passing that along.)

Cold brew some tea or take a hike. Or start some sprouts. You could even build your own exercise equipment.

Forget saving the environment by using one square of toilet paper. Find out how two 9-year-old kids are working to save the rainforests. Or learn about a kid who's been raising money for clean wells since he was 6 years old.

Every week is a kind of crunch week for all of us. If it was our last week on earth, how would we spend it? What tasks would we focus on? Who would we communicate with? What would we read? Do? Believe? Dream?

posted at: 11:25 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry



Mon, Apr 23 2007

Miss Piggy rides shotgun in graphic on Brown Beret flyer

I've just dashed off a note to the folks over at Sesame Workshop to ask if their characters were licensed out and authorized to be used by a movement called Root Force, which Indybay featured on its site. I didn't realize the Sesame Workshop characters were quite that political in their scope. Maybe other folks own the copyright to certain characters now and I'm just behind the times. But the whole thing seemed very strange to me.

posted at: 11:22 | category: /Arts and Entertainment | link to this entry



Fri, Apr 20 2007

Well-fed, but maybe also poisoned?

Sadly, the shootings at Virginia Tech have brought threats to other students, including those in Yuba City and Marysville in California. Many schools had to add extra security measures this week after copy-cat threats and pranks emerged. At least one threat in another state may have appeared on a MySpace blog, which could at least alert authorities quickly enough to take preventive action. The media has been showing the pictures of the Virginia Tech gunman's video manifesto with much pomp. I would suggest that maybe it's time to stop this. I understand that such material could help us understand and identify any potential troubled individuals in our own circle of acquaintances. We would all want to avoid any other incidents like the ones at Virginia Tech, if at all possible. But when the media show these images over and over for days on end I'm very concerned that troubled individuals and impressionable young people will see it as some sort of glorification of violence, no matter how many times some well-dressed media personality accompanies the material with comments like "tragic", "horrifying" and "disturbing".

If we eat poison for every meal we can kill our bodies. But sometimes a little poison, administered in very small doses, can dull the body to its affects. The mind often operates the same way. I would hate to think that, in their rush to cover every aspect of the sadder side of life, that news outlets inadvertently served up little doses of poison that we take up and process in frightening ways. I hope the decision-makers in the business that is the news medium will remember that as they prepare their reports to keep us informed.

posted at: 09:02 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry



Thu, Apr 19 2007

Job satisfaction

It was fun to hear a bit about some studies showing that people who work in jobs that give service to others generally report a higher rate of happiness in their work. I noted that other areas of significant job satisfaction included creative workers and office supervisors. I can't speak for office supervisors, but the creative expression in writing, painting, acting and other arts gives tremendous satisfaction, so I would expect to see that high on the list.

I wasn't too surprised to know that there wasn't as high a satisfaction rate among physicians and lawyers. People who enter either of these professions usually have a set of expectations that can include a high rate of success, a high rate of respect from others and a high rate of financial compensation. To some extent they do receive good financial compensation, but physicians in recent years have been saddled with time issues, plus insurance restrictions and escalating overhead and regulatory mazes that often prevent them from doing what is best for an individual patient. And they always seem to have the threat of malpractice suits dangled over their heads. I know of several doctors who have opted to retire early because of the current state of health care in the United States. Lawyers, once esteemed by colleagues and society in general, have become fuel for lawyer jokes and searing criticism that causes some of them to be reluctant to even disclose the nature of their profession at social gatherings. What was once a proud profession draws sneers and disgust. That could really cut down on the amount of job happiness.

I don't know much about roofing or bartending, but food servers probably deserve medals for the work they do. I've been seated near restaurant patrons that would practically drive an angel want to poke them with a fork. Servers get blamed for everything from management's no-substitutions policy to the cook's heavy-handed use of sage. There are bad food servers, of course, but I've been served by men and women who can still smile after 25 years of insults from tyrants who leave a two-cent tip after treating the food server like their personal property. If one finds happiness in serving food to the public, one has a gift that surpasses human reasoning and understanding.

Which leads me to wonder if job satisfaction is more about the personality of the worker than about his or her position. People who perceive the world as a dull or miserable place no matter what they do are going to hate their job, but their attitude may also lead them to choose jobs that can foster their negativity. Maybe a great percentage of those who go into the ministry, into education, into the arts, are more likely the type of person to be hopeful of making the world a better place in at least the corner from which they labor. Since none of us lives long enough to attempt every profession, we can only speculate about the areas of work we don't pursue. But I have a big hunch that an attitude of giving and the wish to make a difference count for a lot, even in jobs society might not always think of as glamorous or even high-paying.

posted at: 11:57 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry



Wed, Apr 18 2007

Iverson to head Red Cross?

Trent Stamp posts that Mark Iverson—yes, Mark Iverson of the IRS—has been chosen to head the Red Cross. These two types of organizations present such a strange combination of philosophies that I haven't yet been able to wrap my mind around the whole idea. The only thing stranger would have been a switch that went the other-way-around.

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



Tue, Apr 17 2007

How to show your respect if your flag mount is not designed to fly at half staff

President Bush, in response to the Virginia Tech killings, called for U.S. flags to be flown at half mast throughout this week. Many private citizens might like to participate in this sign of respect and mourning, but since many have wall-mounted flags that can't be lowered this way, there is an acceptable alternative for anyone wishing to participate. I'm told that the ribbon may also be all-black. It should be the same length as the flag and is usually 2-4 inches in width. It should be attached to the pole just above the flag.

posted at: 12:37 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry



Mon, Apr 16 2007

Songs that take us through tragic days

The news today has been difficult to take in, with the killings of so many at Virginia Tech. It seems as though days like today make us all think about other tragedies and how events make their way through the timelines of our own individual lives. Remember the song that Billy Joel wrote in answer to the child who thought there had been no important history for "old" people like Billy Joel? Children have a hard time relating to things that went on before their existence. but as we grow older each of us could probably insert a few of our own events into "We Didn't Start the Fire".

I was thinking of another song today, very different from Billy Joel's, but one that says even more to many of us who have seen too many tragedies. Horatio Spaford wrote the words in the midst of grief and loneliness, and Philip Bliss set them to music. It's easy for us to look up and be hopeful in the good times, but when we find words to still praise God at the darkest moments of our lives, faith takes on a whole new meaning. This link is one of many arrangements of It Is Well With My Soul.

posted at: 15:34 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry



More colorful shopping experience on the way

Are there colored bar codes in our future? Microsoft Corporation and the International Standard Audiovisual Number International Agency say there are. ColorZip is already using colors to allow people to buy things with their camera phones. All this color is probably also going to jazz up the RFID industry quite a bit and produce some brand new businesses and services.

posted at: 10:22 | category: /Science | link to this entry



Fri, Apr 13 2007

Dealing the news

Much of the news on TV has degraded lately to sub-tabloid level. The stakes are high and the hands are increasingly too hot to hold in the neverending poker game of newsertainment. It's hard to keep up with the rules because they change so quickly. Currently, breaking news beats scheduled broadcasts, breaking news with a live press conference beats any other breaking news, a live press conferece involving a celebrity scandal beats any other live press conferece, a high speed chase beats any live press conference, a high-speed chase on a Los Angeles area freeway beats any other high speed chase, and so on.

Remember slow-news days? We don't have those anymore. Jib-Jab threw off the poker-face and made fun of this media-driven extravaganza with a video entitled What We Call The News. They do their best to tell it like it is without using gutter language, but do view with caution if you're easily offended or at work where others might take offense at your video selection.

Jib-Jab must have known that there doesn't seem to be any end to this escalation of news-slinging. Their satire will probably be just as appropriate in 10 years as it is today. In the poker game of newsertainment it seems as though nobody ever holds for long. And the chips just keep piling up on the table. Nobody ever folds. And we keep tuning into their back room game and we peek over their shoulders in the hope that we'll get to see what they've got up their sleeves for the next round.

posted at: 09:59 | category: /Arts and Entertainment | link to this entry



Thu, Apr 12 2007

What was I...

I knew about WWIS (What Was I Saying), which happens went we start telling a story and then get sidetracked by telling another story and forget what we intended to say in the first place. This syndrome has probably been in existence for as long as humans have told stories. And I knew about WDICIHF (What Did I Come In Here For). That's what happens when we enter a particular room or place, get distracted by something (or someone) and then realize we've forgotten why we came into the room in the first place. This particular syndrome has probably been going on ever since people started building homes that had more than one-room. When the only other place people had to go was to the outhouse it was probably relatively rare for them to forget their reason for making the trip.

I've never tried to make a verb out of WDICIHF. I suppose "widicifing" might work, but that's a bit of a tongue twister. WWIS might work as "wawissing", though that sounds a bit like stuttering.

Now it seems that cyberspace has caused a new syndrome, similar in some ways to the other two, but with a bit more friendly verb form. It's called wilfing (What Was I Looking For) and it may already have come to a workplace, or home office, near you. Bosses may hate wilfing, but they'll have to admit that your wilfing is no worse than them promising to meet with you and then being delayed while 7 other people stop them with questions. By the time they get to you they probably can't even remember what the topic of your conversation was supposed to be. So they experience widificing. If they still can't remember what the topic is they will probably open with some general statement and then pretend to wawiss with you so that they can frown and interrupt themselves with, "What we were talking about?" Bam. You'll remind them of the original topic and they'll be off the hook, at least in their own mind. (Come to think of it, maybe the trip to the outhouse fits in with this type of syndrome really well after all.)

All these syndromes manage to sound silly and philosophical at the same time. Each begins with us aiming toward a task. Then we cheapen our own purpose by choosing to allow ourselves to be distracted. Then we try not to make ourselves look like nitwits while we work our way back to the original task. It's a perfect metaphor for the way most of us spend the majority of our waking lives.



posted at: 09:43 | category: /Playing | link to this entry



Wed, Apr 11 2007

An accident waiting to happen

The Ballard Street comic was wonderful this morning, but not because it's funny. We all spend time putting ourselves together in a physically cosmetic sense by bathing, brushing our teeth, styling our hair, shaving (for you gentlemen) choosing the right clothing, etc. It's such a ritual for most of us that it's automatic. But we often think nothing of jumping into our daily tasks without centering our inner self and remembering who we are and what we're about on any given day. I suppose this is why some religions encourage the use of altars. Having an appointed place to go to gather one's thoughts and examine one's motives makes us more likely to take time for a little inner preparation for the day.

We've all seen drivers putting on make-up or shaving in their car and wondered why they didn't make better use of their morning. They look ridiculous to us and we know they're putting themselves and others at risk with their thoughtless behavior. When I don't make good use of my morning to prepare my inner self for the day ahead I could turn out to be just as ridiculous as those thoughtless drivers and just as much a danger to myself and to others, at least in a spiritual sense.

posted at: 08:15 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry



Tue, Apr 10 2007

We don't have to have Death by Chocolate to get our cocoa

Now that the idea of a cup of hot cocoa for lowering blood pressure has had a little cold water thrown on it, I'm remembering that not everything that has cocoa in it has to be Flourless Chocolate Cake or Triple Dip Fudge Ripple Ice Cream. How about this Pinot Noir-Cocoa Sauce from Beringer Vinyards? I've been putting a bit of cocoa powder into batches of chili for years. Start with a Tablespoon and then adjust the amount to taste, depending on how large a batch you're making. You could try cocoa in Enchilada Sauce or in Mexican Mole Sauce. How about cocoa in Barbeque Sauce? Make some Spicy Cocoa Sloppy Joes. Hershey's web site has a rich-sounding Tex-Mex Spiced Cocoa Rub for roasted vegetables that would probably also go well with grilled dishes. Who knows? Maybe you can finally get your kids to lap up some summer squash if they know there's a little cocoa in the recipe.

posted at: 11:47 | category: /Food | link to this entry



Mon, Apr 09 2007

Could badly written Christian fiction be a sin?

There are some interesting posts and comments going on over at Sand in the Gears. What exactly makes a book Christian fiction? Is a lot of fiction that's labeled Christian fiction bland and simplistic and even so badly written that it's sinful?

Good fiction can reveal a great deal of truth, but something tagged as Christian fiction isn't necessarily going to be an automatic vehicle for truth. And readers will always find good writing in every genre and bad writing in every genre. The difficulty in writing good Christian fiction is the dilemna of making it compelling, full of truth and full of God's grace without coming across as preaching. If you think that's an easy thing to do, you're very likely to be better off considering some other line of work.

posted at: 10:49 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry



Fri, Apr 06 2007

Could Nancy Pelosi's political faux pas open doors? Then so be it

There's a lot of commenting going on about Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Syria. I've read and heard a lot of the statements, both pro and con, about her trip. I did catch sight of two things that were new information to me this morning. CNN.com included them on its site in a piece by Dugald McConnell. I hadn't realized that Jimmy Carter had wanted to visit Syria (but was told not to) and I hadn't realized that Ms. Pelosi was the highest-ranking official to meet with a Syrian president since 1994.

It would be interesting to do some research to see where our high-ranking officials travel over a number of years. I wonder what other countries have, or have not, merited a visit by someone from our executive branch (or other high-ranking office). And I wonder how often influential people try, but are discouraged from, negotiating with countries we're considered to be at odds with. I don't pretend to know all the reasons behind state department tactics. And I'm not so naive as to think that everything Nancy Pelosi said was necessarily made public through the press. But the silent treatment doesn't seem to be working very well for a lot of our current policy on foreign relations. Maybe a little unofficial schmoozing and polite acknowledgement isn't the worst thing in the world, if it raises dignity on both sides. It could provide hope for a chance at making the world a little nicer place for a few more years.

Peace, for me, is more than just a lack of all-out physical war. I wonder if anyone else, like me, dares to hope for peace to feel like more than just the silent tension of long-lasting stand-offs.

posted at: 11:31 | category: /Politics | link to this entry



Thu, Apr 05 2007

10,000 steps takes awhile

A friend has decided to try the type of walking outlined in 10,000 Steps a Day to Your Optimal Weight. She attaches her trusty little pedometer to her waistband in the morning and then lets it count her steps for her. I haven't read the book yet, but I decided to spend this week trying to incorporate several thousand steps into my own routine. This writer must be leading a more sedentary existence than I'd thought. It takes concerted effort for me to fit even 6000 steps into my day. I'm sure the author of the book is on to something, but unless you accept the fact that 10,000 steps can be measured in terms of several miles you could be fooled into thinking this type of program will be a snap to fit into your day.

The good news is that walking is the easiest exercise for many of us. There's less wear-and-tear on the joints than there is with running or jogging. And even extensive walking requires nothing in the way of special equipment except a supportive pair of shoes (plus a pedometer, if you wish to keep track of your steps or distance). Still, I think the whole 10,000 steps routine might be something I'll keep in my schedule a couple of times a week, but not as a daily goal.

posted at: 10:48 | category: /Health and Fitness | link to this entry



Wed, Apr 04 2007

How to Hold a Meeting that Changes all other Meetings

I am notorious for loathing meetings and committees, except as true brainstorming tools. So I enjoyed reading one person's attempt to tell us all How to Hold a Meeting. There were some good points in the piece, but the truth is that there are a lot of people who simply like holding court and who don't feel that they're doing their job unless they go to a meeting and talk more than anyone else talks. I doubt that most of us could ever convince certain managers that most of their meetings are poorly run and are usually dominated by people who make no real difference to a company's service or quality.

Managers, if you want to know what's really going on in your company, stop taking all your input from middle managers, lawyers, sales people, compulsive talkers and anyone who might feel under pressure to tell you what you like to hear. Have at least one meeting a year in which you ban the usual crowd (or, at the very least, muzzle them). Invite the receptionist, the person who keeps track of lunch room supplies, a field service rep, the newest person from shipping, whoever empties the wastebaskets and whoever gets to work earliest in the morning (and shame on you if you can't name that last person). If you can pull it off, call in the spouses or young children of at least two of your other employees. Ask those kids to draw pictures of their parent at work and to tell you about why they drew what they did. You'll learn things you never knew about your employees and your company. And you'll gain insight on how to energize the rest of your meetings all year long.

posted at: 11:20 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry



Tue, Apr 03 2007

Edgy tactics

I'm not sure which is scarier—other countries vowing to test their newly developed nuclear warheads or our country vowing not to test our newly developed nuclear warheads.

posted at: 09:50 | category: /Politics | link to this entry



Mon, Apr 02 2007

The work of staying honest

One of the things that writers must do is read a lot, which is easier than it sounds. There's always a tension present between regular life and writing life. Everything a writer experiences through the physical senses, as well as imagination and life events, feeds that creative process. We use it all, along with our own writing voice, to inform and/or entertain readers. But we also have to find time to read what others have written, in order not to forget what we came from. Every writer I know first learned to write from reading (or at least hearing) what other writers wrote. It's how we recognize our own calling to communicate through written words. And if we lose that sense of our first love we might as well give up the whole notion of writing. But social obligations, laundry, meals, sleep, travel, filing, money management, exercise and other things would completely take away our time to read if we allowed it to happen. Other people would take over our time to read if we allowed it to happen.

We can't be alone too much or else we'll lose our sense of what it is to tell stories about people. And we can't be with people too much or else we'll never be able to collect our thoughts to tell stories at all. We don't dare neglect the reading of others' writings. Creative people can't really approach time management as a dry list of ordered tasks. We have to constantly keep in mind that what we do is really important, but it's not more important than who we are. If we forget that, we cheat ourselves, our readers and even our Creator, who first called us to be who we are.

People will tell you that the only way to be a writer is to sit down and write. And they're not wrong about that. But if that's all you ever do, you still may not really be a writer at all. And that's the part that's hard to get people to really understand.

posted at: 11:16 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry



Quote Of The Moment
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.
--Albert Einstein
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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!