Monday, September 29, 2014

Once More, The Chestnut

Hi, all, not much to say here today for a variety of reasons. This being the end of September, with summer officially over as of last week, I thought I'd break out a couple of quick pics from this morning. The American chestnut has survived the summer, and while it didn't do as well as I expected, it did pretty well considering the top 2/3 or more died. You can see from the pictures that we're starting to lose a little color from the leaves now; it's a little behind, considering we're rapidly coming into peak foliage season. Given the fact that it lives in a corrugated plastic tube (to keep it safe from browsing deer, rabbits, etc.), it may actually be a little warmer than the surroundings, and perhaps less stressed, competition wise.

And we'll add another view from another angle:

Not bad, eh? The new leader didn't put on a whole lot of length, maybe 4", but again, considering that I had this little tree written off at the end of May, it didn't do so badly, did it?

And now, one other shot that came out surprisingly well:

The picture is a little large for the frame, but I'm going to leave it for now.
The web is not particularly large, maybe 6 inches across or so. The spider is that little black dot in the almost center of the web. Quite a difference from the giant one we had on our garage at the end of August--the big ones all seemed to disappear when we had a couple of consecutive nights of temperatures in the mid-30s in early September.

Hope y'all had a nice weekend!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Emma Watson Tells It Like It Is

Emma Watson delivers a speech to the UN.

Emma Watson delivers.

I don't have much to say about this right now--I don't have much to say about anything right now, my brain has been kind of fried lately--but Ms. Watson is right on target: this is an issue for all, and we all benefit from gender equality.

That's all for now, have a nice weekend.

Monday, September 22, 2014

(Short) Weekend Update

You ever have one of those mornings where you wake up feeling like you've been beaten about the head and shoulders with a piece of pipe? Yeah, that's where I'm at today. I'm hoping it's because Saturday was a busy, rather physical day. I was a little tired yesterday, but during my writers' circle it was like all the energy just drained away. I didn't write at all well yesterday in the group, either. When all was said and done, I had one line, the opening line, that I couldn't throw away, but I couldn't seem to build anything off of it, either. I kind of, sort of knew what I wanted to do with it, but I just couldn't make the words work yesterday. As Vonnegut said, "So it goes."

That's about it for me today. How are all of you? Did you have a good weekend?

Friday, September 19, 2014


I saw this article on the web yesterday or the day before, I can't remember which. If you don't feel like reading it, here's the long and the short of it: a variety of school districts in America have been taking advantage of a Pentagon program to stock up on surplus military equipment, though not all are happy. The Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, decided to return 3 grenade launchers; they are keeping the 60 M16 assault rifles and the armored personnel carrier. Turns out that school districts in a variety of places across the country have outfitted their police forces with spare weaponry from the US government.

First off, let me say that I didn't even know school districts had their own police forces. Maybe this is a product of where and when I went to school. Compared to where the Catbird is going, my school district was huge, with 8 or 9 elementary schools and 3 high schools. That is tiny, though, when compared to New York City or Los Angeles. Those school districts are like a city unto themselves, and I suppose they need their own security people--but police armed with assault weapons and grenade launchers? It just feels all wrong to me.

We're living in an ever-increasingly-armed world. Do we need to be outfitting school cops with automatic weapons and grenade launchers? Officials at these schools say they're doing it to deal with "the worst case scenario." Said one official, the weapons are "something we need given the current situation we face in our nation." What situation? Yes, we have situations where kids will sometimes go on rampages in schools. They are terrible, terrible things, but they're not a recent invention, though they are getting worse in scale. But is the solution really to dump more weapons into the system?

And here's the other thing: we already have law enforcement. We have county and city and state police. We have paramilitary SWAT teams who are trained for this sort of thing. Obviously, school police forces would be trained, but I have to say I think I a SWAT team a bit more, know what I mean? And unless they're posting armed rapid response teams in every school--a move I vehemently oppose; schools are already too much like prisons--there's still going to be lag time between the time an incident begins and the time the forces get into place. Leave it to the pros. Keep the guns and tanks away from the schools.

Regarding the image: If you're a fan of Malcolm in the Middle you'll recognize Stevie Kenarban, Malcolm's very smart friend. The character had severe asthma, which him very halting...way. When I read stories like the one quoted today, I sometimes hear Stevie in my head: "What...the fuck?" It seems appropriate in this case.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Monday Already?

I admit I'm at a bit of a loss this morning--it's Monday--how did that happen so fast? I suspect my sense of time dislocation is at least partly due to last week's interruption to go to the airport. My own quick update is the Magpie is alive and well and loving life so far. We Skyped with her yesterday morning and she's still super-excited, though looking a bit tired (in fairness, it was about 10 p.m. her time and she's been on the go quite a bit). One of the things that will benefit her is that she's living in an international dorm, has a Chinese roommate, and has become friendly with people from France and Lithuania who are also over there. Though they all speak English, they decided to speak Japanese as much as possible. She says it's amazing how quickly she has gotten used to hearing and speaking it, and that she's much more fluid already than she was. Immersion will do that to you.

The Catbird meanwhile had her first cross country race of the season on Saturday. It was cold. It was rainy. The course was sloppy. But I've noticed cross country runners take a certain pride in the "we never cancel" mentality surrounding the sport. There's also a certain bonding that occurs in the face of shared misery; days like that are the kind that can become almost fun after a certain point, and can really bring people together. The Catbird ran reasonably well for a first race of the season, and will get a chance to improve on Wednesday. Ah, the grueling schedule of high school. She'll know in the next couple of days if she's got a part in the musical, which will add to the stress level. So far, she's keeping on top of her work load, which is not small--no coasting in senior year for her!

There's not much else for me to say here today. I was hoping to catch the Northern Lights this weekend, but topography and cloud cover conspired against me. Instead, I see these spectacular pictures from around the world and think, "Maybe next time."

On Tuesday, one of the local arts groups has an open mic night for readers. I'm going to read one of the shorts that's out on submission now called "Sunday Drive." It's one of the two stories I wrote last month that I'm rather excited about. We'll see what kind of a reception it gets.

Time to wake everyone up for the day. What's going on with all of you?

EDIT: Point of unusuality. Almost three years ago (!) I wrote a post called The Horse Latitudes. In it, I talked a bit about a movie of the same name I remembered seeing in school about a sailor who tried to fake his way through an around-the-world race and ended up going mad. When I searched for the information, he was identified as Philip Stockton (see this imdb reference). Yesterday afternoon, my wife and I watched a documentary called Deep Water. I quickly realized this was the story that had been told in The Horse Latitudes. There was no Philip Stockton, however (the note at imdb about The Horse Latitudes says "the true story of Philip Stockton"). The doomed yachtsman was actually named Donald Crowhurst. He did not enter the race with intent to cheat; facing financial ruin--and the knowledge that his boat would certainly sink--he succumbed to pressure to cheat. Months of isolation on the ocean and the pressure of knowing his lie would be exposed, he diverted to the Sargasso Sea and disappeared, leaving his wife and four children behind. It is truly a tragic story.

Friday, September 12, 2014


To borrow (and twist) a phrase used a couple of times in Sergio Leone's classic film, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, there's two kinds of people in this world: those who peel the Band-Aid slowly, and those who rip it off. The Magpie is a ripper. On Tuesday the family piled into the van and headed off to New York City. We stayed overnight with friends, had a nice dinner out with more friends, took a midnight walk on the beach and, after what felt like twenty minutes of sleep, we were off to JFK International Airport (someday perhaps I'll talk about my love for airports, but not today).

The Magpie was nervous--we were all nervous. She wanted to be there at 6:30 for a 9:30 flight, but as is our custom, we were a little late, maybe 15 minutes. The airline recommended arriving at least two hours early, and now I know why: it's been a long while since I've been to an airport, and there's a line for everything. She was on the baggage check line for maybe 20 minutes, and then we read the posted security rules and watched the screening process for ten minutes or so. Watched them scan passports and boarding passes, watched people unpack their carry-ons and throw them on the conveyor belts and pass through the metal (and whatever else) detectors. And it was decision time: did she want to get on line, or find something to eat in the concourse? Peel off the Band-Aid, or rip it?

When we brought her to college for the first time two years ago, we had tentative plans to spend some time with her, get some lunch, do some extra shopping. Nope. She made it clear that day that she wanted a quick separation--not because she was some snooty teen who couldn't stand being in the presence of her parents and sister, but because she was anxious and knew the anxiety would only get worse the longer she delayed the separation. There's more pain from doing the slow peel than the quick rip; best to get it over with.

And so it was Wednesday morning. As I said, we watched the security line for ten minutes or so and asked her what she wanted to do. She wanted to get on the security line. Once upon a time, non-passengers could go through the security check and hang out in the boarding area with ticketed passengers. Not anymore. "Once you go through the gate, that's it," I said. "We can't go with you." She understood, and it was hard for her, but she did it anyway. Fast rip. Well, fast-ish. It probably took another half hour before she finally put her own things on the conveyor belt and stood in the body scanner. We could see her once she got through. She found us, waved, and that was it, she was off to the boarding area and this great adventure of hers. Fifteen hours or so later, she touched down in Tokyo, a trip she's been waiting to make for years.

If I don't think too hard about it, it's just like her being an hour away at college. Except, of course, we can't skype at noon, as that's around 2 a.m. tomorrow her time, and if she gets The Second Week Blues we can't just 'pop in' for a quick pick me up visit like we did two years ago--she's almost 7000 miles away! Still, it's where she's wanted to go for years now, and it's incredible that she can live this dream. I hope it's everything she wants it to be.

Are you a peeler or a ripper? Have a great weekend, all!


Monday, September 8, 2014

Weekend Update

Warning: Not fully awake, less than a full cup of coffee in my system!

-School started last week for the Catbird. Two days down so far. She's also had two days of after school practice, is auditioning for the musical this evening, has an Honor Society function tomorrow morning before school, and at some point, she'll audition for the school's jazz vocal group. She packs a lot in a day.

-Speaking of school, they've altered the school day due to the adoption of the Common Core. School now starts about fifteen minutes earlier, ends fifteen minutes later, and has a bell schedule that makes no sense to me. Somehow, they've added an extra 2 periods into the day. First period is 42 minutes long. All the rest are 40. Except lunches, which are 30. So, if you have a 5th period lunch, you start the same as everyone else. But you start 6th period ten minutes before everyone else--huh? I guess they've figured this out, but the kids seem pretty confused so far, and the extra half hour apparently makes the day drag on even more. We'll see how it works out.

-When I woke this morning, I saw the orange upper edge of the moon sinking over the hills on the far side of town. Tonight is the Harvest Moon, which is also supposed to be a supermoon. Here's hoping the weather is clear--get out and take a look at and just after sunset!

-The Magpie leaves on Wednesday. That's all I've got to say about that right now.

-On a writing note, I have previously mentioned that in early August I wrote two short stories that I'm really excited about. I took the shorter one back and read it to my writers' group yesterday, and had my wife--and kids!--read it as well. It has now been test-fired at a couple of literary journals. These are reaches, as these are among the most exclusive of the markets, but dream big, right? The other story, rather longer, is marinating a bit after feedback from a number of readers. I'm hoping to shoot that one off by the end of the month. I also had a nice conversation with Agent Carrie about my next project, as I've been kind of stalled on two different ideas. We talked about them both, bounced some ideas around, and hopefully it's off to the races!

-Music time! This is from Ryan Adams, Gimme Something Good, from his new album, due out tomorrow.

-That's it for me, how was YOUR weekend? Thanks for visiting!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Anita Sarkeesian and More Ranting!

As you've been aware, I've been somewhat irritable and ranty lately. Oddly, I don't actually feel quite so cranky this morning (just tired, mostly); nonetheless, this post is likely to come off in a similar vein to recent posts. In this case, it's the subject matter as opposed to my general mood.

Some items of interest from the week. First, I don't subscribe (but I should) to Anita Sarkeesian's Feminist Frequency page, though I should. If you don't know Sarkeesian, take the time to check her out. She's been doing a video series examining women in media, particularly with regards to video games that is always thought-provoking, and, often, downright disturbing.

I realized early in the week that I hadn't checked her page for some time. It's not uncommon for there to be several months between video releases, and for good reason: each runs about 30 minutes long, are well-researched and are of professional quality. To my pleasure, I found that she had one that had just come out a week or so earlier, and I had missed her previous installment, which came out in June (time flies). However, I also found I had missed this, from a few days earlier. In short, Sarkeesian had received threats that forced her from her home.

Sarkeesian is no stranger to threats. After her Kickstarter campaign to fund her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series took off in 2012, Sarkeesian was actually the subject of an internet video game herself, in which players could beat up her image. Every installment is met with threats; I can only imagine how bad this must have been to make her leave her home, and once again, it makes me ask: are we still going through this shit? Seriously? Why are guys so threatened by a woman who dares to think and ask questions? Pointing out problems in our society should not unleash an avalanche of threats that include murder, rape and torture. Enough, already.

On a related note, I found myself involved in a Facebook discussion about this article (covering the theft and posting of nude (female) celebrity photos this week), which was posted by one of the Magpie's friends (hereinafter referred to as the Robin). A young man who graduated with the Magpie (we'll call him the Roadrunner) commented on the article, arguing that people were dicks, and that separation—physical, socio-economic, class, etc.—facilitated dicky behavior. In essence, his argument was this:

He's not wrong. Even in places like Facebook, where you may well be using your real name, the layers between people undoubtedly fuel what can only be called douchebaggery. It's not just the internet, replied the Robin, it's everywhere, and related how she had been verbally harassed while hiking in a state park that very same day. The Roadrunner suggested the internet was, in essence, a lost cause, that you would not be able to control their behavior, then went on to talk security and how, in essence, we shouldn't be putting things online because of security. He then compared it to cars of the 1940s, when no one wore seatbelts and there were accidents and asshole drivers. A good try, but he clearly missed the point.

Now, I don't know the Roadrunner especially well. He wasn't one of the Magpie's better friends, but she got on well enough with him, and she never indicated that he was a dick or a tool or anything like that (and to her credit, she has a very low tolerance for those sorts of people). I believe he was both sympathetic and trying to understand, despite his use of the "you have to protect yourself" line and his awkward analogy. It was clear, however, that he just could not understand, likely because: he's young (19, 20 years old); he's inexperienced; and he's a guy.

My own question in response to this was, if we write off the internet, where do we stop? It's okay to try to stop men from groping women on the subway or bus, or to try to stop them from staring or making rude comments on the street or in the elevator, but we'll just leave that internet, it's a lost cause. Oh, and construction sites. Construction workers have been whistling and catcalling forever, we'll give them a pass, too. Sorry, not good enough. Not when you have a young woman says, "I'd like to think that there is such a thing as 'safe' but I certainly have yet to feel that way."

This must change. I don't really know how we get it to change, but we just can't accept this, can't excuse it as 'boys being boys' or write it off as being due to internet anonymity. 

Maybe next week I'll be less ranty. Have a pleasant weekend, all.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Musical Monday: Trigger Hippy

Even though videos have a tendency to disappear over time, leaving a hole in a blog post, I'll put 'em up anyway. This is Trigger Hippy, a nice little group featuring several former members of the Black Crowes (maybe former members; I'm not sure of the Black Crowes are still a functioning band or not) along with the very accomplished Joan Osborne. This is a live recording made by someone who seemed like he was hanging right on Jackie Greene's shoulder. It's got a little Lake Street Dive to it (or maybe Lake Street Dive has a little Trigger Hippy vibe to them).

In other news...well, there's not much other news. L.G. correctly pegged my mood last week with her comment ("Harrumph" was quite fitting). I find I'm still in a bit of a mood. At writers' circle yesterday I wrote a short piece about flipping the calendar page that was rather negative. I almost posted it here today, but it needs a little more work than I'm willing to give it right now. We've turned the calendar page here, it's September 1 AND it's Labor Day here in the States, which is the official end of summer, though the celestial calendar gives us another three weeks. Normally, I like autumn, but this one's bugging me. Probably because of the impending changes which I've already gone on about here at other times. Enough of that. Have a great week, everyone!