Saturday, July 31, 2004

Arizona Saguaro

Someone called SmartyPantzJessi sent me this neat cactus picture for this journal.  I messed with it a little - I hope you don't mind!  I especially like the Disney-style lettering.

The state flower shown in the graphic is the flower of the Giant Saguaro, that huge cactus with arms that everyone remembers from westerns and Warner Brothers cartoons.  It takes something like 75 to 100 years for a saguaro to get big enough to get its first arm.  By then it's probably about 20 feet high. The one in the graphic would be about 20 to 30 years old, I'd estimate.

The flowers are visited by bats and birds, and the fruit that comes later is harvested by the Tohono O'Odham using long poles.  They use it to make jam, syrup and cermonial wine.  Myself, I've never tasted saguaro anything. Flickers and Gila woodpeckers make holes in the mature saguaros for nests, leaving those holes behind for later use by other animals such as tiny elf owls.  The hole gets crusted over on the inside as the saguaro heals inself, forming a saguaro "boot." Circle of life stuff, y'know?  The saguaro's main enemies are pollution, drought and people.  I hate it when I see holes in a saguaro from somebody's gun.

The other picture is a rerun from an older posting.  It was taken at our old house on Grannen Road over a decade ago. Another picture from that same property, featuring a more typical saguaro with multiple arms, can be found several entries below this one.


Saguaro National Park info page

One Christian Responds to Another - Or Tries To

I got my first negative comment today, on the What Would Jefferson Do? Does it Matter? posting. The commenter's handle, "pinetreeheaven7," is not a valid screen name, so I will respond here.  Please be aware, though, that I really, really don't like to argue about religion or politics, or much of anything, to be honest. So this is a one time deal.  If at the end of this entry you think, as pinetreeheaven7 does, that I'm somehow not "really" a Christian, you're mistaken, but I'm not going to spend my life trying to convince you about this. Any further attacks on this church-attending, Bible-reading, Kerry-supporting Democrat will be deleted without comment.  You are, however, free to express your views elsewhere, as long as it's not for the purpose of slandering me.  Onward.

My unsendable email reply (slightly edited) begins:

I really don't like confrontation, so I'm only going to do this once.  You took your shot at me, and now it's my turn.  After that there will be no more turns, not between you and me, anyway.  

In a message dated 7/31/2004 10:45:27 AM US Mountain Standard Time, AOLAlerts writes:  

If you are a Christian I will eat my hat. Episco what?

The Episcopal Church has been around for centuries, and was one of the first to diverge from the Catholic Church.  Like everything else in this world, it's not perfect, but it is certainly Christian. St. Michael's in particular is a wonderful place. It's arrogant and ignorant in the extreme of you to assume that Episcopalians are not really Christians, or that I am not.  I not only attend church every week, but I usually serve at Mass as crucifer, torch or lector, especially in the summer when we're shorthanded. It has always horrified me that some Christians will narrow the definition so that it means "everyone who agrees with me" rather than "everyone who does his or her best to follow Jesus."  Once people put someone else in the box labeled "Them" instead of "Us," they tend to feel justified in treating that person as subhuman, which is the very antithesis of the teachings of Jesus.

Christians are against murder (killing babies).

I am very much against killing babies.  I am also against killing adults and children. Somehow, some of the same Christians who think that birth control is a mortal sin have no problem with killing Iraqis, prisoners, or even doctors who disagree with them. "Thou shalt not kill" is not an easy commandment to live up to, even if it's recast as "You shall not murder."  I, personally, have never killed anyone.

They beleive that marriage is Sacred and Holy insitution between a man and a woman, ordained by God as a symbol of our faithfulness and committment to Him.

For a gay couple to emulate that in the eyes of state law (which is separate from God's law, although it follows most of the same principles) does not make this any less true.

Ten commandments has these two listed as top commandments. Lies and slander are also something that God condemns.

First of all, depending on your numbering (which varies in different sects according to where the text gets broken up, but still adds up to 10), the top two commandments are about one's duties to God (not having strange gods before Him, etc.). The ones against murder and slander come later in the list.  All of the commandments are subsets of the main two: "You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole mind, and your whole strength," and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  The commandments you refer to are part of that second one.

As for lies, all my life I have tried very hard never to lie to anyone about anything. I manage it about 99.9% of the time. That doesn't mean that people always agree with me. I have never lied or slandered anyone in my journal.
(I have written fiction, though.)

If you are truly for religious freedom then i suggest that you join the groups that are fighting the ACLU. This organization's main goal is to get anything that points to the bible or Christ out of everything.

Many Christians, including myself, disagree with you.  Your claim about the ACLU *is* slander.  The ACLU believes that people have a right to believe as they choose, or not to believe at all.  Religious freedom is exactly that.  What you want is the "right" for everyone to be forced to agree with you.  Nobody is preventing you from believing what you believe.  They are merely defending the right of other people to believe something else. (In retrospect, I suppose that the commenter means "out of everything in the government." The concept of separation of church and state was important to Jefferson and other Founding Fathers, and remains important today.  If a courthouse can't post the Ten Commandments, or if "under God" is eventually removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, that in no way "prohibits the free exercise" of religion. It merely keeps a governmental institution from openly endorsing a particular form of religious faith.)

Hollywood is the only ones that have true freedom of speech now and they are great supporters of the ACLU.

Shall I correct your grammar?  You go from singular to plural in the same clause. The correct construction would be "People in the Hollywood entertainment industry are the only ones now who have true freedom of speech.  They are great supporters of the ACLU."  Even with corrected grammar, the first part is a false statement. You demonstrated your right to free speech by posting on my journal.  I will allow the comment to stand--once.  I will block future postings by you on my journal, as is my right as editor/publisher of this particular forum.  You are still free to post your misguided nonsense elsewhere--for example, in your own journal. (Of course, that would require having a real account somewhere.)

Larry Flint is also on their membership list.

He's a jerk, (IMO) but so what?  It doesn't mean that he's wrong 100% of the time.  People are complex, and one of the complexities is that nobody (except Jesus) is completely right or completely wrong in every way.

How about "What would Jesus do?"

Which, of course, I acknowledge indirectly in the piece you commented on. In the current instance, I think Jesus would want me to treat you with compassion, but speak out against your errors.

You can find this out by reading your bible. Take the time and you will never regret it.

If you had read my whole journal (which admittedly is a lot of reading), you would see that for Lent I reread the four Gospels and part of Acts.  I have been to classes about some of Paul's epistles.  I've read much of the Old Testament (but not all of it), including bits that most people would prefer to skip over, because otherwise Christians would still be offering burnt sacrifices and keeping Kosher (to name two of the less over-the-top practices that don't involve actually killing people).  I read aloud from the Old Testament in church.  And what's more, I think I understand some of it, a little.  I'm not perfect, but I don't hate anyone.  I do my best to love my enemies.  Can you say the same?

Regards and with prayers that you will someday understand your own faith better,

Karen Funk Blocher

Friday, July 30, 2004

In Defense of Nuance

So what's wrong with nuance?

Douglas Adams wrote:

"The Universe, as has been observed before, is an unsettlingly big place, a fact which for the sake of a quiet life most people tend to ignore. Many would happily move to somewhere rather smaller of their own devising, and this is what most beings in fact do."

Life is complex, and, as the cliché goes, things are not always as they seem.  However, many people can't handle complexity and nuance.  They want to believe the easy, black and white answer. 
Anything more nuanced than that requires critical skills that many people either don't have or don't bother to use. They don't want to have to think things through, or investigate for themselves, or listen to anyone who says that the answer is neither X nor Y,  but somewhere in between, taking into account factors C, D, and J. Answers like that don't fit into sound bites, and leave the speaker open to false charges of "flip-flopping."

On the other hand, people can be very uncritically accepting of a forwarded email that appears to confirm something compatible with the reader's world view. If the claims in it make readers angry or sympathetic enough to send money to a cause or to vote  against certain candidates, so makes the better--from the original sender's point of view.

Take for example the email I recently got from a former member of a learning team I was in at University of Phoenix.  G. is a reservist and a prison guard who, when I met her, was so new to computing that she didn't know how to send an email. She's probably been in Iraq since I last saw her.  I haven't asked.  At any rate, she now knows how to send an email, and how to forward one.

The forwarded material was a nasty little attack on John Kerry's voting record, claiming that he's "voted to kill" every major military weapon system to come down the pike since 1988. "With Kerry as president," the email concludes, "our Army will be made up of naked men running around with sticks and clubs." Now, really, think for a moment. Even allowing for hyperbole, how likely is this claim?  I didn't believe it, but I didn't want to argue with G., either (I was terribly busy at the time, but that's another rant), so I deleted the email without comment.

Last night I finally got around to looking up the email attack on, the Urban Legends Reference Pages.  It's the same place I always go to check on claims of dubious veracity.  Snopes has a whole page of links to analyses of claims about John Kerry.  Most of the claims aren't true, which is fairly typical for a lot of the topics that Snopes covers. The George W. Bush page also debunks more claims than it affirms.

The emailed claim about Kerry's anti-weaponry votes is rated "False."  Actually, the reality is more complex than that, with superficially true data forming the core of a highly misleading, basically false claim.  I'm not going to reprint the explanation here; you can go to the page and read it for yourself. Essentially, it says that Kerry voted against three appropriations bills that included the listed weapons, some of which, as Dick Cheney acknowledged in a separate quote, were obsolete.  (The B-1 bomber, for example, dates back to the mid-1970s, and was argued over by my high school Star Trek club.) The bills included many items each, from weapons systems to pay increases, and senators only got to vote yea or nay on the whole thing.  Kerry voted nay. 

As the Snopes page points out, senators may vote against an appropriations bill for any number of reasons.  Maybe the overall military appropriation is too high.  Maybe it's too low. Maybe it just needs to be tweaked, and the hundred dollar hammers and such removed (not that they're actually listed that way), before the senator will sign off on it.

I haven't researched these bills myself, so I don't know exactly what happened and why.  But it's a clear example of a complex reality reduced to libelous distortion for political purposes.  On Snopes you can also find discussions of false claims about Kerry's wife and Heinz outsourcing, a fake quote in which Kerry disses Reagan's body and Reagan's followers, and, for that matter, a false, particularly egregious example of George W Bush misspeaking before a pro-life group. Just the other night, a radically left-wing acquaintance of mine was chortling over that one.  I should have realized it probably wasn't true.

So while I didn't get to see Kerry's acceptance speak last night (I was in class), I fully agree with him that life is complex and nuanced, and the complexities must be acknowledged.  Otherwise, you're in danger of falling back on answers that are easy, and comforting--and wrong.


Thursday, July 29, 2004

Five Things That Dogs Are Telling You

Weekend Assignment #17: Through some unexplained miracle, your pet or pets gain the mental capacity for speech for exactly the length of a single sentence. What do you think that sentence would be and why?

"Give me what I want!"

What Tuffy wants is obvious - a scratching, gobs of meat, air conditioning and freedom at the same time (we only have single-room a/c) , to go to the "other" outside where it's not raining, or reassurance after a sudden noise. She doesn't need to talk, really, because she gets her message across just fine.

Extra Credit  You get one question to ask your pet that (presumably) it would answer. What's the question?

"What can I do to convince you to eat your dog food?"

reprinted from Karen's Credos & Curios:

Five Things That Dogs Are Telling You
1.  Don't forget the dog.
2.  More, please.
3.  Don't hurt me; I'm only a puppy.
4.  I'd really rather not do that.
5.  Hey! Intruder alert!

Noodle (the trouble dog)


Photo by J Blocher

Tuffy Toro (born 1996)

Photo by J Blocher


P.S. Two more Tuffy pictures added by popular demand!

Happy Anniversary, AOL-J! Welcome to Tucson!

photo by JBlocherHappy Anniversary, AOL J-Land!  As part of the festivities, I now present a time-traveling, virtual tour of Tucson, Arizona, spring 1986.

In January, 1986, John inherited some money that allowed us to put our stuff in storage in Columbus Ohio, install Jenny Dog on a mattress in the back of our newly-purchased Dodge van, and drive around the country looking for some place that it wasn't winter.  We went as far south as Key West, as far north as Montreal, and then headed west, mostly following defunct Route 66 until it was time to drop south for a visit with John's sister, Martie, in Phoenix.  We hung out there for perhaps five days, during which John bought a Chinon camera for my birthday.  Then we drove south to Tucson, ostensibly to see Old Tucson, a combination movie location and tourist attraction.

We stayed at the Ghost Ranch Lodge, a neat old place with an extensive cactus garden. On our first full day in Tucson, we went to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is full of the animals, plants and even minerals of the Sonoran Desert.  The day clouded up.  When it started to rain and then to hail, we ran for the shelter of a ramada (basically a roof on poles).  It didn't help much.  The roof of the ramada was made of saguaro ribs, the skeletal sticks hidden inside the giant saguaro cactus.  The ramada was good at providing shade, but not so good for blocking rain and hail.

desperadosBoy, the mountains were pretty, though, when John took pictures that afternoon. The cloud hung below the top of the Catalinas (above).  We thought that was about the best "dramatic weather" (as John called it) we'd ever seen.

When the rain was over, we went to Old Tucson as advertised.  The desperados at the right, stars of one of the four different gunfights stages each day, were part of the show.  So were the buildings, some of them deteriorating adobe ones built for the movie Arizona in the 1930s, others suitable for gunfights, movie and tv exterior shots, or sales of food or souvenirs.  The High Chapperal was filmed at Old Tucson, and lots of films, from John Wayne vehicles to The Three Amigos. Sadly, about half of Old Tucson was destroyed by fire about a decade later, thanks to a disgruntled, mentally-ill employee. It's been rebuilt, but it just isn't making it financially any more.

To make a long story short, we loved Tucson.  Two weeks later, John was negotiating to buy our first house as homeowners over a pay phone at Gilbert Ray campground.  We eventually had to sell that house on Grannen, but it was great while it lasted.  Below is a view from behind the house. 

Grannen, 1986
We were so taken by the whole Tucson / Arizona / western sensibility that we bought western shirts and hats (I got my black Silverado hat at a mall in Albuquerque), and even went to an NCAA rodeo competition at Old Tucson. Here is a picture of John "gone native," standing in front of a saguaro. In case you're wondering, no, he doesn't smoke cigars anymore. We still have the hats, though. I also have some gray cowboy boots that cannot be worn without pain--at least, not by me. 

Judging from the placement of the photo in the album, I probably took the picture of John right after our first trip to Tombstone, site of the famous shootout between the Earps and the Clantons. But that's another story.

John goes native, 1986 I heard Arizona Governer Janet Napolitano say yesterday that Arizona's population (if I recall correctly) has gone up 40% per decade.  An amusing, mostly-true book called Arizona 101 says that most people in Arizona would like the borders to have been closed right after they arrived, just to preserve what's uniquely Arizona from overdevelopment.  Well, there's still lots of desert in Arizona, but it's very true that things have changed since we got here in 1986.  Hardly anyone wears a cowboy hat any more, except during Rodeo Days, which are still a school holiday in March. Valley National Bank is now Bank One, Ev Meacham is long gone from the governorship, thank goodness, and Indian jewelry stores and IBM have given way to call centers and companies built around optics or defense contracting.  It's still a pretty neat place, though. And you are (virtually) there!


P.S. Thanks, everyone, for stopping by.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004


source: NWSThis is more like it.  We've had significant rain most of the afternoon here in midtown Tucson, real monsoon activity instead of just rain over the mountains.  At least one major city street was briefly closed due to flooding. With any luck, I'll find water actually flowing in a wash once I get off work, and get you a couple of pictures.

Just this past Sunday, Father John Smith pointed out in a sermon that the rain one person prays to avoid (say, the day of a family picnic) may be the same rain someone else (say, a farmer in the drought-starved Southwest) prays to get.  I was reminded of this as I reveled in today's rain, only to learn that a  nearby town had major rain damage.  Someone was even injured when his mobile home collapsed.  I heard this on the radio, but missed the details as to where exactly this was. Needless to say, I didn't want anyone to get hurt, or for a family to lose their home!


photo by KFBLater:

It was pretty dry at the east end of town by the time I got home, but there was water flowing in Pantano Wash.  Here's the best of the pictures. Usually there's no water in this semi-retired river, except right after rain. As I understand it, water used to flow in some of Tucson's rivers (notably the Sata Cruz) over a century ago. Overgrazing and other man-made changes to the local water table soon put a stop to that.

The next time there's significant weather before dark, I'll try again for some pictures.


Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Blah, Blah, Blog - Blogging as Buzz Word

A year or two ago, I saw the HTML header line "We blog for Harry Potter," and didn't know what they were talking about.  Blog?  Is that some weird new word meaning "promote?"  Even when Father Smith announced that St. Michael's had a page at, I was clueless.  Little did I know that in January of this year I would be put in charge of that page, and a dozen other web pages that I would build for the church.

In March, I finally asked Shelly to explain about blogging, and set up this journal.  Now I have this page, a BlogSpot one of my own for the Mâvarin fiction entries, a Live Journal one for keeping up with friends, and of course the one for the church. This one on AOL gets most of my attention. 

Probably like most journalers, I love the freedom and the outlet of being able to write about anything that interests me, and get it read by other people (who may or may not find it interesting, too)  immediately.  I also love being able to keep up with online friends in New York, California, Iowa and even Tucson, just by our reading each other's journals.  If I can just rope some of my old college and Trekker and Whovian and Leaper friends into this movement, we'll really have something going.

And now it seems that American culture at large is starting to pay attention to all that blogging and journaling so many of us are doing.  Just look at this NPR page on Democratic Convention blogging, full of links to blogs and blogging-related stories. The words "blog" and "blogging" are hot buzzwords on NPR these days, even if the full meaning of the word sometimes escapes some of the people who use it.  For example, the guy who posted in a chat room after seeing John Edwards' name being painted on John Kerry's plane is referred to as a blogger, which he probably isn't.  From too inclusive, we go to not-inclusive-enough as fans of political blogging dismiss general purpose journals as being about tooth-brushing.  I've already ranted that rant in this journal, but if you'd like to hear me fumble through an argument in favor of literary and general blogging, you can check out the NPR story link called Blogging: A Web Diary Tour

I imagine that if I took the time to Google the news, or did a search on CNN or Reuter's, I'd have similar results.  Conventional media are talking about blogging, just as we AOL Journalers, coincidentally, are celebrating the first anniversary of our particular forum. Aside from politics and celebrity watching, blogging and journaling is the hot topic du jour.

There are already far more blogs than a single person could sample in a lifetime, and, really, how many people would want to try? But among the chatter about politics, raising children, literary efforts, legal issues, art, science, sports, movies, humor, and all the many aspects of people's lives, there are two things you're sure to find if you look at a significant number of blogs and journals:

One: sooner or later, you'll find people who write about something you care about as much as the blogger does, whether it's John Kerry, Turkish Angoras, or the difficulties of your high school years.

Two: you're going to find people who truly write well, with an engaging style and an interesting  point of view. 

Some of these people will probably never find an audience of more than a few dozen readers, which may or may not be fine with them. Others will find their way to a wider readership, topping polls in AOL-J Land or elsewhere, getting linked to by other bloggers, and so on.  A few, because of their subject matter, good writing, and good luck, may achieve quasi-journalist status, go where the general public cannot, and be followed around by CNN.  Or maybe, having written many thousands of words for a growing online readership, some of the better bloggers may, in the fullness of time, end up with a book deal.

Guess which of those I'd like to be.


Monday, July 26, 2004

Route 66 in 1986

I was the first caller again today on NPR's Talk of the Nation, and I think it was one of my better efforts.  I have no doubt that if I dare to listen to the audio clip, I'll be appalled by my ums and uhs, but for once I got in what I wanted to say with reasonable clarity.

The subject was America "off the beaten track." It's something I know a little bit about, although my experience is neither recent (for the most part) nor in-depth. Back in 1986, when John and I put our stuff in storage and drove around the country, one of the major goals was to gather material for a book about Route 66, both the 1960-1964 tv show (which was airing on Nick at Nite in those days), and the decommissioned Mother Road.  In 1986 there was officially no U.S. Highway 66 or Historic 66, just a collection of state routes and local road names, small town main drags and access roads that frequently dead-ended in the middle of nowhere, most memorably in a cemetery full of cows (dead people, live cows).

Here are some highlights of my Route 66 odyssey:

* Oklahoma!  We talked an antique shop owner into selling us a genuine U.S. 66 sign as part of a half-hour conversation. We talked about the bypassing of small town America vs. the continuing interest in Route 66 and local color by writers and certain types of travelers. It turned out there were at least two other writers working on Route 66 books that year. I hope they did better with their books
than I did with mine, which is still sitting on C-64 floppies in a word processing program called Paper Clip.  Does anybody out there have the capability of converting those files for me?

* Somewhere Off the Map.  At one truck stop, possibly in New Mexico, we were told that the nearest town had been on the 1985 Rand McNally atlas, but didn't qualify to be on the 1986 one due to population decline.  The reason: the town wasn't on I-40.

* Tucumcari Tonight!  We loved Albuquerque, but Gallup and Tucumcari were even prettier and more Route 66-ish. We seriously considered moving to Gallup, until we saw Tucson a week or two later.  The romance with New Mexico was somewhat tarnished, however, by the replacement of the van's starter in Tucumcari under slightly hinky circumstances.

* Dublin, Texas. Or was it Shamrock, Texas?  We were a little annoyed at first by this town, where we had to wait in the middle of a main street while the car ahead of us let a neighbor out of a parking lot, and where we got the hairy eyeball from locals eating at a place that sold BBQ and steak fingers.  But the Pony Soldier Motel (or somesuch name) was pleasant, and the Middle Eastern family who ran it was efficient and friendly.  The next morning as we drove away, a bulldozer was knocking down the other Best Western across the street from the one we'd stayed in.  We decided to get the heck out of town before our motel was knockled down, too.

* Denny's, Las Vegas.  We arranged our interview with Route 66 star George Maharis over the phone at a Denny's in Burbank.  He was doing dinner theatre in Las Vegas at the time.  When the local restaurant Maharis named for the interview venue turned out not to be open for breakfast, we ended up at a Denny's instead.  Among other topics, he spoke at some length (as did Martin Milner in a separate interview) about how much the country had changed since the actors filmed their tv show entirely on location, in a different town every week. Back in 1960, a small town in New Mexico was very different culturally from a shrimping town on the Gulf, a dam project on the Colorado, or a logging camp in the Pacific Northwest. Even getting to such places could be an adventure. "Now you can go anywhere you want," Maharis concluded, "and it's a Denny's."

Dang.  I wish I could have finished and published that book.


Sleepy Time Karen

Can someone explain to me why I stayed up to 3:45 AM rereading and editing chapters 30 through 35 of Mages--again--instead of going the heck to bed? Yes, I fixed some things here and there, made a start on an important revision at the end of the book, checked over some vocabulary in the language of magic, Lopartin, decided to rename a character so it was less obviously a Beatle name, and generally had a good time, in between trips to the living room to watch an obscure Kurt Russell film that reminded me of an old Harlan Ellison Outer Limits.  But was it worth it? 

Obviously not. I knew it wouldn't be worth it.  But I did it anyway.

Here I am at work, dragging, trying to subsitute Diet Pepsi for sleep and get work done without accessing currently-unavailable areas of the cerebral cortex.  Tonight I really have to get going on my homework, in the one course most likely to show me what I'll be doing for a living a year or two from now.  Team members are counting on me.  My future is counting on me. My boss and co-workers are counting on me.  How am I meant to do what I need to do without adequate sleep?

It's not even as if I really went about my rewrite / edit in any sane matter.  I keep looking up something in a different chapter, and get caught in my own prose and characters.  Six hours later, I've improved the same chapters I went over the last time and the time before that.  Over the past several weeks, I've worked on chapters 1-4 and 25-35, repeatedly, and haven't once  touched the big chunk of story in between.  Where's the sense in that?

I guess it's the old problem of immediate gratification vs. deferred gratification.  It's so much easier to do the fun thing than the sensible thing--except that later, I suffer for it.  Every Sunday during the recitation of the Confession (the Episcopal version of the Confetior), I internally confess that I goofed off at work, and didn't take care of myself by getting enough sleep, dieting and exercising.  Don't I ever learn?



Saturday, July 24, 2004

It's nice to be noticed!

The email said, in part:

Dear Member,

Congrats! You have been chosen as a spotlighted member within the Music Community. Your screen name is being featured on a music community page!

Please stop by to view the spotlighted feature at AOL Keyword: Music Talk.


Cool! Thanks! (And yes, to follow up on the featured journal entry, the monsoon has started here. No gullywasher, yet, but yesterday I did have to "run and hide [my] head" coming out of the bank.)

The top featured journal on the music page, by the way, is Mrs. Linklater's Guide to the Universe. Her entry on summer music is more succinct than mine. I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. Her other entries tend to be longer and funnier. I recommend them heartily.

And while I'm recommending things, here's a shout out to Shelly's Cyber Chocolate, which has had several interesting posts lately. The creator of Wonder Librarian has a number of other blogs, including a couple about writing and one about Mars. You may want to follow some links.

I've already plugged Mumsy's Interactive Haiku (repeatedly!) and The Peach Pages, so I'll move on to Becky Yanagi's Where Life Takes You. She's written some really interesting, moving, and fun entries since I've been reading her journal. Check it out!

There are a bunch more, non-AOL journals I could mention, but for now I'll just direct you to the Other Journals list on the right. John wants to go to lunch.


Friday, July 23, 2004

Knowledge Queen at Your Service

This is kind of embarrassing, but I'll do it anyway. John Scalzi's Weekend Assignment is as follows:

Weekend Assignment #16: Create a brand-new Superhero secret identity for yourself, based on your personality and proclivities -- and make sure to list at least one "super power" that relates to a special talent you have. Now, to be clear, this "super power" shouldn't actually be a super power, like the ability to fly or shoot lasers from your eyes (unless you can actually do that). No, we're just talking about naming a "talent" you have, in superhero terms. So, for example, if you're really good at finding bargains, you could say you have Super Shopping Senses -- "Oooh! My shopping sense is tingling! Something in this aisle is on sale!!!!" Like that.

Meet Knowledge Queen., who has the ability to absorb large amounts of information as easily as Rogue absorbs other people's super powers (okay, with maybe a bit more work than that), and to disseminate the resulting knowlege to anyone in range, whether they want it or not.

The information-gathering phase can be visual (words in books or online, or possibly television, not so much Real Life) or auditory (radio, tv, by phone or in person). The transmission phase of  Knowledge Queen's use of her powers can be divided into four different modes:

1. DataBurst - short bursts of (semi-relevant) information are inserted into conversations without warning--even if Knowledge Queen wasn't a participant in the conversation until that moment.

2. UoP FeedBack - arcane concepts are absorbed from textbooks and lectures, and fed back to the instructor or other students, either orally or in 350 to 700 written words (more likely 700-plus).

3. Controlled Synthesis - the subject matter (say, the Don Bellisario Laws of Quantum Leaping, or hints about the Doctor's hidden past at the time of Rassilon) is observed, analyzed, mixed with subjective content and synthesized into new knowledge, and fed back in written form.

4. Random Synthesis - random bits of information are synthesized into rambling journal entries or a succession of IMs, or (occasionally) in person.

As with Green Lantern and the color yellow, there are limitations.  It has to be information that Knowledge Queen is either interested in or actively studying, and the knowledge is more likely to be conceptual than trivial or fact-oriented.  If you want to know who Luke Skywalker's aunt was, ask someone else. But if you want proof that Sam Beckett's whole body leaps, an explanation of accrual-based accounting, a story about what it was like to live in Manlius, NY in the 1970s, or instruction about the difference between "its" and "it's," Knowledge Queen is your best bet.

Warning: may contain peanuts (or whole elephants) of off-topic material.

Extra Credit: Oh, all right, fine: If you could have one genuine, honest-to-goodness super power, what one would you want and why?

That's easy. Time travel, preferably without the use of a machine. I'd pop back to last night and get a good night's sleep while simultaneously blogging in a second room and editing the second novel in a third room.  (Hmm.  I'm going to need a bigger house, with better air conditioning!) Yes, I'd be dead in ten to fifteen years (thirty to forty-five subjective years), but I'd be incredibly productive until then.  Plus I could do all that Beatles recording, shopping in the 1960s and so on that I wrote about before, accumulate money for myself, St. Michael's and the Sam Beckett Foundation, and not have to hold down a steady job.  Sounds like a good deal to me, especially if John (Blocher, not Scalzi) gets to time travel, too.

Incidentally, John, a.k.a. Line-Man, claims to have the mutant power to make any line he's standing in move more slowly than any other line.  When John is in line, someone up ahead wants to write a two-party check, has a declined credit card, needs to complain to a manager, claims to have returned the video no matter what the computer says, or has an item with a missing bar code.  Alternatively, the clerk is new, in training or incompetent, or it's time for a shift change. Not a very useful power, I grant you, but he believes it's true.  I say it's selective attention, a concept Knowledge Queen will be happy to explain on request.


Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Who Are You and Why!

Back in 1977, I was an enumerator.

This means that I spent half a summer working for R. L. Polk & Co., going door to door in the Syracuse area with a list of names and addresses. My job was to verify who was living at each address so that the next edition of Polk's City Directory would be as accurate as possible.

It was an excruciating job in some ways.  I'm pretty shy, so ringing doorbells and attempting to take names was hard for me, especially when the person at the door refused to give a name. They didn't mind that their basic personal information was routinely published in the phone book, but being asked to tell the 20-year-old college student at the door the same data (plus the names and ages of other household members) seemed an invasion of privacy. I was also told by one person that he wouldn't give his name because he was hiding from the law.  Gulp! Okay, sir, I'll leave quietly now.

There were also productivity issues, partly because I didn't hustle quickly enough from door to door, but also because whoever set the quotas didn't have accurate data on the housing density of the different parts of town, and therefore set some quotas too high. Mr. Wigglesworth looked out for me, and I didn't get in much  trouble over this. Then the building we were in burned, and we had to go out again to the same houses as before.  Some of the people who gave the info the first time refused to do it again. 

I didn't have to put up with that for long, though, because right after that I left for the Clarion SF Writer's Workshop at Michigan State University for the rest of the summer. Clarion kind of scuttled my fiction writing for more than a decade, but I met John there so I've no complaints overall. Eventually, when I was ready to finish the stalled novel, the 1977 advice of Damon Knight and Robin Scott Wilson and Algis J Budrys and the rest were still in my head, waiting to help me.

There was one day on the enumeration job that I still remember after all these years. I was in Liverpool that day, a Syracuse suburb near polluted Onondaga Lake.  Years before, I'd taken karate lessons there. This day, I got lost briefly en route to my assigned district, but that was no trauma. I've never been a great map-reader, and I always learned an area best by exploring it while technically lost. 

I soon found the neighborhood, parked my dad's Duster, and resumed the door-to-door work.  One house had a decoration by the door that featured a wooden owl, and the words, "Who are you and why!" I couldn't figure that out.  Who am I and why what?  Why am I at the door?  Why am I who I am?  Who wants to know, anyway, and why?  And why did the question end with an exclamation point instead of a question mark?  Did that mean that the people in the house didn't want me to tell them the answer? Maybe the ! meant that I was supposed to think about the answer for myself.

The last house of the day was inhabited by an elderly lady whose son worked for my dad at University College.  She was lonely and wanted to talk. Since it was after 5 o'clock and I wasn't going to get any more work done anyway, I accomodated her.  That fifteen minute conversation was the most pleasant moment that came out of that summer job.

Oh, and during that job I lost 35 pounds with Atkins (mostly Steak-Umms and cottage cheese) and all that walking.

Why do I mention this, after all these years? That weird little sign, "Who are you and why!" has come to mind as I've thought about the school reunion topic that John Scalzi and R Yanagi and others have been talking about. High school reunions are all about who you are compared to who you were, as judged by the people who knew you way back when. Who am I? I'm theoretically a novelist, but I don't have printed books yet to prove it.  I'm theoretically about to be an accountant, but despite my high GPA I don't really feel anywhere near ready to sit the CPA exam, or to choose a specific area of the accounting field--maybe auditing, maybe not.  Is it too late to become a paralegal instead?  Maybe forensic accounting?

So who am I? I'm, umm, Karen.  Who do I have to be?

I registered on the Fayetteville-Manlius alumni site, but I have no plans to go to Manlius for my 30th high school reunion next year. Maybe if I was a CPA by then and had a printed copy of Heirs of Mâvarin in hand (from a major publisher, of course), I'd go. Maybe.  Without those things, I can't prove that my graduating class was wrong to deny me the Most Likely to Succeed award at the F-Emmys, and to give me the Gladys Ormphby Award instead. Even with the book and the CPA designation, I'm not at all certain sure my old classmates would be impressed. On the other hand, none of my classmates are U.S. Senators or Nobel laureates or Grammy winners or CEOs in the Fortune 500.  Probably. So why should I feel defensive or intimidated?

The thing is, I shouldn't feel the need to prove myself to all those strangers, who weren't particularly friends of mine when we were 17 and 18 years old together. My friends were a year behind me, or at other schools.  My boyfriend, Dan Cheney, had moved to Texas by then.  He's been dead for over a quarter of a century, but my other friends from 1975, from my old Star Trek club, are probably all still alive. My mentor and co-maid of honor, d l hobert, runs the Fulton library. Chris Dohery is in Skaneatales, the last I heard, and I think Gordon Hunter is a professor.  Now that would be a reunion worth going to. I wonder what Carl Norman, our token pro-military Trekker, thinks about the war in Iraq, and whether Karyne S. ever changed her name legally, or went back to Karen. Did Tim Reed become a cartoonist? How is Mark S. doing, and Will G., and Dick C., and Had C.? Who are all those people now, and why?

In my novels, I wrestle compulsively with the concept of who someone is, and what changes a person into someone else. All of my major characters are buffeted by profound changes in circumstance, in perception, in memory. They change their names, sometimes their bodies, and their roles in life. They become different people, and yet never so different that there's no trace remaining of the people they were. In the real world, people don't usually get amnesia, share consciousness with someone else in the same body, or turn into monsters, or suddenly learn they're displaced royalty.  Even so, there are echoes of such things in our mundane lives, and they change us. What victim of Alzheimer's or dementia is quite the same person as before? How does it change you when you find out you're adopted, fall in love, take on your spouse's name, get divorced, become a drug addict, get a prestigious new job in a new city, lose the job you have, or undergo chemo to fight the ravages of cancer?

I'm not adopted, addicted, demented, divorced or cancerous, but I know I've changed over the years. I kind of remember 17-year-old Karen in the halls of F-M High School, 20-year-old Karen going door-to-door, and 33-year-old Karen at her first Doctor Who pledge break at KUAT. I'm not quite any of those people any more. I've accreted years of experiences and ideas, accomplishments and failures.  I've learned things, but that hasn't taken me to success by anyone's standard.  I'm barren and in debt, fat and terribly sleep-deprived, and yet most of the time I'm reasonably happy.  Weird. All that stuff has changed me, and helped to make me who I am.

Whoever that is.


So.  Who are you?  And why! Take that anyway you like. It's kind of a verbal Rorschach test.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Time of the Moon


I was twelve years old when my family sat around a black and white tv and watched Neil Armstrong step onto gray alien dust. We were at a vacation home on Lake Ontario, the Speakman camp, the same place I mentioned in my vacations and food entry last week. In all the years we rented that place, that was the one moment that really connected us to the world. Lake Ontario connected us to Canada, but that tv broadcast touched the whole world.

The remarkable part was that it was live television from outer space.  In the Mercury and Gemini days, it seemed that what we mostly had was garbled radio voices on tv. But by 1969, thanks to the space program, history could be watched as it happened, all around the world.  The sound and picture quality were dreadful by today's standards, but it was "one giant leap" forward in quality since the early days of manned space flight, when I didn't have a clue what the guys in the capsules--or at Mission Control--were saying.

Because of the improved sound and those handy telecommunications satellites, we got to hear Neil Armstrong mess up his historic quote.  Have you ever noticed that "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" doesn't actually make sense?  That's because he meant to say, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." He composed and rehearsed it, but when the time came, he blew the line.  For years he insisted that he'd actually said it right, only to have one word of it go missing due to poor sound quality.  Recently, however, someone played it back to him, and he finally owned up that he got it wrong after all.

Anyway, that historic snafu, and the amazing accomplishment that surrounded it, happened 35 years ago tomorrow as I write this.  Always mindful of Mumsy and her haiku journal, I offer this small tribute:

Grainy images
Enthralled the Earth when Neil made
Footprints on the Moon

Because the Night

NPR today (I know: I mention them a lot) had a Talk of the Nation segment on the night, a ridiculously broad topic if I ever heard one. Sure, you can rattle off zillions of song titles, quote poetry, talk about the Dark Skies initiative, remember that Neil Armstrong's little stroll was after 10 PM Eastern, and explore the mysteries of sleep, dreams, insomnia, fear of the dark, diurnal rhythms and so on.  But where's the unifying theme?

For me, night time is not particularly romantic or mysterious or frightening or desperate or beautiful. It's simply the time I'm most awake and creative.  Night time is for blogging, for homework, for work on the novels, for researching the careers of journeyman actors on IMDb. If I could do it and still earn a living, I would get up around  1 PM, eat, work until 6 or 7 PM, eat, spend time with John, then read and write until about 4 AM, take a bath and go to bed. That would be my ideal schedule.  Unfortunately, my brain insists on approximating that schedule as much as possible.  So I get up around 8:30 AM after hittting the snooze bar at least once, drag myself to work, come home at 6 PM, mess around on the computer until 2 or 3 AM, sometimes later (possibly with a side trip to do homework at B&N until closing time), take a bath, and get to bed in time to get 5 hours of sleep, which is NOT enough for me. So if I goof off at work long enough to write a journal entry, it's because I'm so tired that I feel the need to take a break and do something creative.Oddly, sleep deprivation doesn't seem to be a detriment to creativity, but it does seem to get in the way of processing invoices and checks and charge slips. It also generates typos.

The most interesting thing that surfaced on TOTN today was the notion that a large number of creative people are/were night owls.  The writer of the book Acquainted with the Night didn't endorse a caller's suggestion that linked being right-brained with being a night owl, but it sounds plausible to me.

Wake me up when it's time to go home.  Not really--I held out until after work to write this. But it's very true that when midnight comes around, I'll probably be much more awake than I am now.


Sunday, July 18, 2004

I'm Looking for a Few Good Readers

As most of you know by now from my relentless cross-promotion, the word Mâvarin is the name of a fictional country in which my unpublished novels take place.  I've been working on them off and on for longer than some of you have been alive: roughly 30 years.

Heirs of Mâvarin is well and truly ready to go.  It's written, it's edited, and nothing more needs to be done to it, until and unless an editor from a major publishing company says, "if you fix this one section, we'll publish it," (for example), and I agree with the change.

Mages of Mâvarin is not ready to go. The manuscript, which has never been printed in its entirety, is over 1200 pages long. It has little holes of missing scenes marked up with short red notes to myself, and inconsistencies because of revisions that force changes in other chapters, or just because I don't remember every word of the current version at all times. I also have a notebook of handwritten notes and scenes, not all of which I've typed in yet.

The biggest problem is the length. I've little chance of selling Mages of Mâvarin in one volume, since I don't have a large following of readers who are certain to want my books no matter how long they are. I'm probably going to have to break one very long story--one month, three countries and a legendary island, two realities, half a dozen major plotlines, and over a hundred named characters--into two or three books, even though they really won't be self-contained novels.

In short, Mages of Mâvarin needs work, which I won't have time to really put in until I get this accounting degree finished off early next year. Even so, I'm not willing to let it languish entirely while I write journal entries and slog through my last half dozen courses at University of Phoenix. I need to be making progress on it, even if it's slow progress, a couple of hours a week.

And I need beta readers.

A beta reader is someone who will commit to reading the entire manuscript, probably more than once, and offer constructive suggestions. I need someone who will say, "Lord Shari suddenly becomes Lord Arlin for three pages in Chapter 23," or "The scene with Rani in the hotel room contradicts the scene on the island earlier in the chapter," or "You should probably cut this scene completely, and move this other one to Chapter Seven." That sort of thing. If it's more critical than that, I'll probably be crushed and depressed for days, but if the beta reader is right, and I know it, I'll make the changes and ultimately be grateful.

So.  Here's the sort of person I need to help me with this:

1. The beta reader should be an adult, although I may accept a very mature and talented person ages 16 to 20. I wasn't ready at that age to write the books, although I tried. The odds are against a teenager having the writing experience, critical skills and facility with language to really help me.

2. The beta reader needs to be a fan of the fantasy genre. My husband, a professional editor, hates fantasy, which makes it hard for him to give me valid criticism.  I need someone who's read Tolkien and Lewis and Rowling and probably a slew of other writers, and liked their work. Only someone familiar with the genre will know a trope or an archetype from a cliché, what's original and what's not, and whether it matters that it's not.

3. The beta reader needs to have an excellent grasp of grammar and punctuation.

4. The beta reader should ideally be a fiction writer, albeit not necessarily a published one.

5. The beta reader must have the time and interest to see this through and do the work: read every word and offer useful comments where warranted.

6. The beta reader must be a kind soul who knows how to critique the writing honestly and fairly without crushing me like a bug.

If you fit all those criteria and are interested in taking this on, please email me. I'll take no more than two or three readers. I'll settle for one really good one if necessary.



Friday, July 16, 2004

Bad Food, Rotten Drinks

This is about food and vacations, with lots of parenthetical asides (in green italics for no particular reason).

Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, my family used to go up to Lake Ontario a lot in the summer time, both on day trips and for summer vacation.

We'd go up Route 81 (one of the first Interstates)
toward Watertown, (the real "Upstate New York")
past convoys of Fort Drum soldiers, (eventually bound for Vietnam)
exit at Pulaski, (named for a Polish hero of the Revolutionary War)
drive on rural roads lined with corn ("as high as an elephant's thigh")
and pine trees, to Sandy Beach (real name Sandy Island Beach)
and nearby Sandy Pond (where Steve once caught a catfish by leaving a fishing pole in the water overnight).

Still with me? Good.

The later trips up Route 81 were mostly to a particular vacation home
owned by a man named Speakman, right on Lake Ontario near a camp for the underprivileged. My room was in the attic, which was rather hot despite the exhaust fan in the front window. I'd listen to the waves until I fell asleep. I'd get up the next day to listen to the radio (Arthur Godfrey and My Love by Paul McCartney), read books my Mom thought would be better for me than horse and dog books (I was much put out to learn that The Clothes Horse had no horses in it) and fill in puzzle magazines (crosswords and word search, and eventually logic problems) between trips into the water, to ride the waves on a leaky raft.

It was pretty boring, really, except for the few times my parents let me bring a friend along.

What, you may wonder, has all this to do with John Scalzi's Weekend Assignment about bad food or drinks? I'll tell you.

Somewhere between Henderson Harbor and the Speakman camp, there were two smallish black roadside signs, advertising a place called (if I remember correctly) Starlight Cafe. "Starlight Cafe - Bad Food," one sign said. The other sign, on the other side of this fine establishment, said, "Starlight Cafe - Rotten Drinks."  My dad and I thought this was great.  Eventually my dad visited the place on his own, and reported back that the signs were accurate.

I don't generally eat bad food.  Oh, I eat food that's bad for me (why are carbs so alluring?), and occasionally I accidentally bite into an olive or a piece of raw onion, two foods I actively dislike. But I'm not one for eating weird foods on a dare, or for carrying around specific memories of some time when the milk or the meat was spoiled. So I'm sorry, Mr. Scalzi, but I can't regale you with stories of that time I ate something vile or absurd.


In 1972, my Mom took us to Europe on a three week Caravan tour. That trip generated a number of food stories, most of them brief and uninteresting. I was sick when we arrived in London, and the local doctor prescribed a milk shake, which turned out to be little more than slightly chilled chocolate milk. I remember drinking unhomogenized milk in Holland, as I was starting to feel better, which was very strange texturally but tasted rather good. I remember the odd recurrence of veal, tomato rice soup, wedge-shaped fried potatoes and pineapple slices at Caravan-provided meals in country after country, and the meal at the end at which tour guide Jimmy Patterson personally served us all pinapple slices as a joke. I remember eating Italian ice cream (complete with orange pits) outside the Colliseum after watching feral cats eat spaghetti inside it.

And I remember France.

It wasn't easy to order food in France.  My French wasn't great, and my Mom's French was rusty. In one restaurant, we thought we ordered spare ribs and saurkraut (not a terribly French meal, I'll grant you), but got ham hocks and kidney beans. Ham hocks are pretty weird looking, not exactly food I would normally choose to eat, but it tasted all right.  Perhaps two nights later, we were at a slightly more upscale restaurant where you sit at the same table as other diners, perhaps two parties to a table.  I got steak kabobs or something like that, some kind of tender, flavorful marinated meat. I thought it was beef, but my brother Steve claimed afterwards it was horse. Perhaps it was. I later read in a guidebook that the restaurant does indeed serve horse. That's a vile idea, eating The Black Stallion or Black Beauty, but it wasn't bad at the time, because I didn't know what was happening.

Years later, in college, I ate the only memorably spoiled food worth mentioning--barely. I was living in a house on Westcott Street that sort of belonged to my ex-boyfriend (long story), running up phone bills to Columbus (where John was), and terribly broke and depressed. I ran out of food money, and at one point had nothing to eat but dried milk, spaghetti and moldy Ragu. I picked out the mold with a spoon and combined the rest.  I don't remember how much I actually ate of it.  Then I invited myself to dinner at my Dad's apartment.

Some things I wouldn't eat or drink: John's pen pal Kooichi occasionally sends us odd foods from Japan, most of which I won't touch, bizarre seaweed crackers and cans of a soda called Sweat (which is reportedly cirtus-flavored).  I'm not going to drink anything called Sweat.  I don't care what it actually tastes like.  Sorry, Ko.

Something weird I did eat as a kid, and claimed to enjoy, was a peanut butter, bologna and lettuce sandwich on white with mayo and mustard. (I was trying to one-up my brother.) I ate those things for weeks, but eventually I had to concede it was better without the peanut butter. I also experimented with putting black pepper in Tab or Diet Pepsi as a possible cold remedy.

Can we get off the subject of food now?  I find it rather depressing.


Wednesday, July 14, 2004

The Monsoon in Color

NOAA GOES image WCI 17
Here's what the monsoon looks like, according to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Now that's more like it. It rained much of yesterday evening in Tucson, and it will rain more today. Finally.  It supposedly rained over an inch in the last day or so, which is roughly 1/12th of the average rainfall for the year.

I don't quite follow NOAA's terse explanation of the color scheme on this satellite photo / map, but I think the most colorful bits are colder and wetter. Tucson is roughly in the gray spot in the southeast quarter of Arizona (that colorful state just east of California).

No pictures from me today, even though the cloudy Catalinas were highly photogenic this morning.  The digital camera is recharging, and I'm up against the final deadlines on all my homework. Plus today is payroll day at work, so I'll be busy here, too.


Tucson, Rain & Those Hazy Crazy Memories of Summer
Fire on the Mountain - More on the Monsoon
Clouds' Illusions
Monsoon Watch: One Step Back....

National Weather Service - Tucson monsoon page
National Weather Service - Tucson forecast

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Momentary Monsoon

This year, the arcane standards of the National Weather Service that determine when the Arizona monsoon starts proved to be less demanding than mine are. As of today, their page about the monsoon says that it started last Thursday, July 8th.  I, on the other hand, was trying to hold out for actual rain in the city of Tucson itself, which is to say, any place I happened to be at the time. Not a few raindrops, but rain.  A gullywasher.  Or, more to the point, a car washer.

Today, I finally got that.  For all of five minutes.  At 3:30 this afternoon near Broadway and Country Club, there was thunder. There was a downpour. There were people staring out the window. There was minor flooding in the street. But by the time I left for the bank ten minutes later, all that was left was a little rain in the street plus a light sprinkle.  Phooey.

Maybe tomorrow. Meanwhile, here's a picture taken around dusk tonight, looking east from Park Place shopping mall toward rain on the Rincons.

It's almost 8:30 PM now, and I just heard thunder.


Tucson, Rain & Those Hazy Crazy Memories of Summer
Fire on the Mountain - More on the Monsoon
National Weather Service - Tucson monsoon page
National Weather Service - Tucson forecast

Monday, July 12, 2004

What Would Jefferson Do? Does it Matter?

Some of the Disney faithful have a mantra, "What would Walt do?" Based on a religious slogan that surfaced several years back, WWWD? pits observed and perceived attitudes of Walt Disney--pro creativity, pro innovation, pro quality, no matter what the bean-counters say--against Michael Eisner's almost completely antithetical attitudes.  If you don't think Disney as a company has gone downhill in recent years, you probably don't know about the three recent accidents of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, the Rocket Rods debacle, the failed movies, the split with Pixar, the closing of Disney's Florida animation studio and on and on.  Check out  for details. Even so, it's easy to forget that Walt had his frailties, too, most notably the mishandling of a strike at his studio many years ago, and possibly mild racism (which is no justification for keeping Song of the South off DVD). Walt Disney was a great man in many ways, but he was a a man of his time, and he was not perfect.

That's not what this journal entry is about. Not exactly

 When John Scalzi posted his "Hanging with the Founders" challenge over the Fourth of July weekend, I got re-interested in Thomas Jefferson, John, Abigail and Samuel Adams, and Dolley and James Madison, and wrote a couple of entries about them. Some of my research was from a Time cover story, some from the Internet, and some from my memories of junior high school social studies.  I didn't have a single book of American history in the house, or a biography of any of the country's founders.  After perusing recent biographies of J. Adams, A. Hamilton, T. Jefferson and B. Franklin, I settled on a slightly shorter book with a broader focus: Don't Know Much About History by Kenneth C. Davis.  It's a fun book. When I can't stand to work on my accounting homework another second, I turn to it for considerably more pleasant reading than Accounting for Governmental and Non-Profit Entities. The latter is a PDF download with tiny print, so even if the subject matter were fascinating, it would be a pain to read. But that's another rant for another time.

So far in my reading, I've finished the Revolution and am just starting on the Constitutional Convention. It turns out that not all the guests at my picnic were alive by 1814, the year I picked up the Madisons in my fictitious time machine, but that's okay.  Samuel  Adams will just have to catch his ride in a different year. Still, the Madisons should have mentioned to "Karen," the time traveler, that he was dead.

Other than dates, the main thing that I've discovered in my reading so far is that Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and others didn't always live up to their lofty ideals. I suppose that shouldn't shock me, but it does bother me. John Adams supposedly tried to defeat Jefferson for the presidency by hiring riders to go around telling people that Jefferson was dead.  Samuel Adams favored locking people up without trial for fighting the state of Massachusetts after they were both heavily taxed and disenfranchised from voting. (What happened to "no taxation without representation," hmm?) Jefferson, who hated big government more than Reagan did, expanded the federal government's clout almost as much as he increased the country's physical size with the Louisiana Purchase. And let's not even get into the irony of the slaveholder who wrote that "all men are created equal," went on to father Sally Hemmings' children, and felt threatened by the U.S.-inspired revolution in Haiti.

On NPR today, there was a discussion about whether the Republican Party or the Democratic Party has a monopoly on traditional family values, or American values, or whatever.  Personally, I side with the Democrat values of social and religious tolerance, equal rights for everyone, making up your own mind about things, helping people when they need it, and not favoring the rich at the expense of everyone else.  No, the government can't take care of all the people all of the time, nor should it; but there's a lot in the traditional Democratic values that resonates with me.

On the other side of things, the federal government shouldn't be worrying about who is allowed to marry whom. Nobody has ever explained to my satisfaction how a gay married couple makes my marriage to John mean an iota less than it did before, or threatens it in any way. Nor should the government be deporting a New York pizza guy--a legal immigrant on a valid visa--for helping a couple of his countrymen find an apartment. Nor should it be imprisoning people for years without trial in Cuba and elsewhere. As an Epicopalian who is very active at my church, I also frankly resent the notion that anyone who believes in Jesus should subscribe to George W.'s pro-war, anti-abortion, pro-death penalty, anti-stem cell brand of religion.

I don't know what Jefferson or either Adams would say to any of those things, or what they would do as politicians in today's world.  I suspect they would not be amused.  It doesn't matter, ultimately, because I know I am not amused.  A lot of these Republican policies come down to attempts to infringe on people's freedom.  Isn't freedom what this is all supposed to be about?

As Austin Powers put it, "Freedom AND responsibility! It's a groovy combination, man!" People should take responsibility for their own actions, and not try to impose their will on others except to enforce the social contract (your rights end where the next guy's rights begin).

If politicians fail to honor their own ideals or the ideals of others, ideals of major religions or the Constitution or a Tucson blogger, there's nothing new about that. If they misbehave in other ways--crassness tolerated on the Senate floor but not on tv or radio, hanky panky with female interns, hypocrisy, arrogance, attempts to abridge freedom in order to bolster security, the selling of political favors--well, it turns out there's nothing new about those behaviors, either.  Politicians are like people.  They're not perfect.

Ask John and Tom.


P.S. No gullywasher yet.  I think the monsoon got shy when I grabbed the camera at lunchtime.

Holiday Picnic with Tom and Abby and Friends
The Madisons Receive an Invitation

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Monsoon Watch: One Step Back, and Forward Again

When I started out to church this morning, there was hardly a cloud in the sky. Now they're building up again over the mountains, mounds of white puffy promise that make the Catalinas and the Rincons look small.  But overhead, the sky is perfectly blue and clear. I'll be very surprised if it rains today.

I liked blue sky
Back in Syracuse, but now
I need rain instead.

Stay tuned.


Later that same day...

What was I saying about no cloudage overhead?

At 7 PM I heard thunder!  I grabbed the camera and rushed outside, walking to the end of the block and back by way of the alley. A few tiny droplets of rain fell on me, my eyes got all gritty from a brief duststorm, and I just missed getting pictures of lightning about three times.  No gullywasher yet, but it's coming.  The thunder promises.

Up the block, a neighbor I don't know at all stood propped up against his truck, shirt off, camera to his eye, trying for lightning pictures.  I wished him luck with it.  Across the street, a couple with two dogs hugged and watched the sky.

Come on, come on...!

Promise, sunset clouds
You will not slip off at dusk
And leave the earth dry.

But they did.


Tucson, Rain & Those Hazy Crazy Memories of Summer
Fire on the Mountain - More on the Monsoon
National Weather Service - Tucson monsoon page
National Weather Service - Tucson forecast

Clouds' Illusions

It didn't rain today in Tucson.

Let me qualify that: it probably rained on the edges of Tucson.  There was lightning over the Tucson mountains and the lower end of the Catalinas near the Rincons. There were the vertical streaks on the horizon in two directions that could mean either virga (rain that doesn't reach the ground), or real rain.  But in the city, nothing.  Nothing but clouds.

Still, it's getting closer.  The monsoon is coming.  Had I taken pictures for you a week ago, it would have been all blue sky, with maybe a little fluffy cloud over the northwest or southeast edge of the Tucson valley. Another day or two, maybe another week, and we'll have rain--not the little half-hearted sprinkle that leaves spots on my car, but a gullywasher that turns Tucson Boulevard into a river.

The pictures here (except for the one of my car) were all taken around 5 PM today.  It wasn't even almost sunset, but the sky was fairly dark. It was also windy, which is typical of this weather.
But after sunset, we could see that the sky was clearing.  For the second night in a row, the planet Venus was visable.  No stars yet, but Venus.

Everyone in Tucson is waiting for the monsoon.  It's the main topic of conversation.  The guys at vehicle emissions, testing fumes in a 110 degree open concrete building, watch the sky and wait.  People give each other updates at the bank, or when they get home from work. People get on the rooftops, patch them, and give them a fresh layer of white "cool cote," so there won't still be leaks in the ceiling when the rain starts. People look at their filthy cars, and try to decide whether it's worth going to the car wash, only to see the car get dirty again the next time it sprinkles, or else get cleaner in the first big storm.

There's a book called Arizona 101 that we bought when we arrived here in 1986.  "When everyone at the office rushes to the window, you know it's raining," the book said.  That's pretty much true.  Once every couple of years, in the winter, everyone looks out the window at hail or snow. In the summer, if it's really pouring, say about 5 PM on a weekday, people stand around and wait for a break in the storm before dashing to their cars, or else leave a few minutes early to avoid the worst of the flooding.

I took a bunch of pictures today from the edge of the Costco parking lot.  Here are two of them. The green stuff is mesquite and greasewood and palo verde trees and sagebrush, all growing in the Rillito River.  That's right; you're looking at a dry river bed. And yes, all that white stuff is trash. There were also a bunch (covey?) of Gambel's quail, but they wouldn't pose for the camera.

There's one other point I could mention about the Arizona desert before the monsoon hits.  It's hot.  It's over 100 degrees, and getting humid. Between here and Nogales or Naco, between the Mexican border and Sells, people die almost every day this time of year, trying to get from Mexico to Tucson and beyond.  They die of heat or dehydration, or get shot, or die in vehicle accidents in overloaded vans owned by "coyotes"--professional smugglers of illegal immigrants. The latest trend is that these people get abandoned in overloaded vans, or those vans tip over on the freeway, with 30 people inside.  What a waste of life. But people keep doing it, because even a minimum wage job in Tucson means a better life--if they survive long enough to get one. There must be a better way.


No More Deaths
Tucson, Rain & Those Hazy Crazy Memories of Summer
Fire on the Mountain - More on the Monsoon
National Weather Service - Tucson monsoon page
National Weather Service - Tucson forecast

Friday, July 9, 2004

More for Scalzi and Mumsy, and If Mâvarinû Wrote Haiku

A Few More for Scalzi and Mumsy:

Pumpkin anything!
Strange that I should crave foods with
Jack O' Lantern eyes.

Cold comfort food soothes
Hunger, stomach pain and stress:
Ice cream first; then guilt.

Dolley Madison
Would be astonished to learn
About her snack cakes.

If Mâvarinû Wrote Haiku - Haiku from the land of Mâvarin:

a tengremIf Mâvarinû
Wrote haiku, Fayubi would
Have three-line insights.

By the River stands
A monster, furred and fearsome;
Inside: confused boy.

Muddy water hides
Sandy bottom, swords, secrets,
But no missing friend.
Cool, sweet grass, wild smells.
A rabbit's near! Run it down!
Feral tengrem snack.

Cathma (Crel)
Large house, three stables
Do not teach twins to assume
Rule of

In the Infinite
This world and the Afterworld
Are linked by spirit.

There she is. My face
Hovers over empty plate,
But I did not eat.


Art by Sherlock.
More about Mâvarin books and characters:


Thursday, July 8, 2004

Deficient Haiku/Stand As Placeholders for Now/'Til I Do Better

You asked for it, John Scalzi:

Faithful snack machine
Sell comfort carbs, get me though
Accounting class stress!

What I need to eat--
For health; for peace in my house--
Is not what I want.

Raindrops came today,
Not enough to say "monsoon,"
But enough for hope.

Difficult problem:
Snacks and nature and meaning
In just one haiku.

I may try again
When sleep and food help my brain
To function again.


Tuesday, July 6, 2004

The Aging Lottery

I don't have a picture of my friend Eva, so you'll have to settle for pictures of my parents.  The distinguished man on the left is Dr. Frank E Funk, former Dean of University College, former Director of Continuing Education at Syracuse University, former president of the Wilmington Railroad Museum in Wilmington, North Carolina, and former WW II navigator who spent some time in Stalag Luft 1. He's in his eighties now, still doing work for the railroad museum, still an elder and recording secretary at his church, still working out in an upstairs room at his home, still active, reasonably healthy (albeit a little deaf) and happy.

Exhibit B is my mom, Dr. Ruth Anne Johnson, as she was in the late 1980s. Having had polio, hepatitis C and encephalitis at various times in her life, she wasn't in great health when I was growing up, and was in rather lousy shape by the time she moved to Tucson in the early 1990s. Sometime around 1990, she gave up teaching speech and drama at the Brevard campus of Barry University after a series of small strokes.  She was troubled by multi-infarct dementia and diverticulitis, worried about Alzheimer's and her 2001 ostomy, fell fairly often toward the end of her life without ever breaking anything but a tooth, and suffered from depression and other psychiatric conditions. She smoked and was sedentary, but those were just secondary causes of her difficult final years.  She was just 75 when she died--a good run, but not at the end.

And then there's Eva.  She's not a relative of mine. I've only known her a little over a year.  I pick her up for church at St. Michael's most weeks, if she's well enough and doesn't have something else going on that morning.  After church we sit at coffee hour and gab. Some weeks she invites me and my friend Kevin over for ice tea and some kind of high-carb dessert. Eva turned 99 years old on May 18th. She's a retired nurse with several generations of offspring, dead and alive. She grew up in Seattle, lived in Alaska, divorced one husband and buried another, and has generally had a full and interesting life. Her hearing isn't great and neither are her eyes, but her sense of humor is intact and so, for the most part, is her mind. She's grateful for the ride to church and appreciates our friendship; but really, Kevin and I benefit from Eva's friendship at least as much as she benefits from ours. She's a joy to be around.

Since my mom died in December, 2002, I've been very aware that my dad probably doesn't have a lot of years left; but you wouldn't know it from his busy schedule of charity work, travel and social events. And here's Eva, laughing at Kevin's witticisms and seldom complaining about anything, health-related or otherwise. Eva and my dad both won the aging lottery. Yes, they both kept active, they don't smoke (although Dad did when he was younger), and they both have a good attitude, which helps a lot. Even so, I'm sure that luck and genetics are involved as well.  It's impossible to say which factors matter more, the ones they control, or the ones they don't.

When I talk to either of them I can't help thinking about my mom, especially her last couple of years, which she spent in and out of rehab facilities and the adult care home.  I'll never forget calling my dad on Thanksgiving and crying, because my mom was so out of it that day (we never knew whether it was a psychiatric problem, a medical one or overmedication) that she consistently failed to get any food on her fork before bringing it to her mouth. (I also can't forget the day, many years earlier, when my dad cried because his mother no longer remembered him.) I wonder: how much of my mom's poor health was bad luck and bad genes, and how much was bad habits and bad attitude?

Do I have the discipline--and the genes--to live like Dad when I'm in my 70s and 80s, rather than like Mom?  Is every day without working out, every dietary indiscretion, leading me inevitably toward strokes and dementia, no matter how hard I work at keeping my brain active? The answer is less than 30 years away.


Monday, July 5, 2004

AOL-J Anniversary Rag

thanks, RYanagi The torch at the left is courtesy of R Yanagi of Where Life Takes You. She's part of a peer-generated celebration of the first anniversary of AOL Journals, often abbreviated AOL-J, which started in July, 2003. I only stumbled into this magnificent time-waster this year, so to all you pioneers, hi there.

AOL Journalers are encouraged to post a torch in their journals as a virtual torch passing around the blogophere, hitting as many real-world places as possible.  The torch has already hit Tucson at least once, but here it is again. There are a number of torch gifs you can use: see Nwanyiomas Journal for some of them, or come up with your own.

Other anniversary doings can be seen on many different journals.  Nwanyiomas Journal has a good roundup of them, but I'd like to single out jcgeorgiapeach, who is collecting Southwestern AOL-J participants and pictures on The Peach Pages, and Mumsy, who is collecting names of folks from elsewhere on Cyberdancing, and giving everyone a chance to contribute Interactive Haiku on another of her journals.

I'm ferociously behind on my homework, so I'll wrap up this entry for now.