Friday, October 21, 2016

Please make sure you're registered to vote

If you're an American, you need to vote this year. I'm not telling you how to vote, but I am telling you that you can't let weather or other considerations put you off task. Here are a few links to check whether you are actually eligible. I don't know which one will be easiest to get info from but one of them should clarify the situation.

Monday, October 10, 2016

I'm on Twitter

Yeah, about a week or so ago, I crossed the great divide and signed up on Twitter. Of all the social media I haven't joined yet, this was always the one that seemed the least of a time suck, but the pros never completely outweighed the cons to me. In the end, it wasn't temptation that put me over the edge but the instruction to sign up for it in a class I'm taking. It wasn't mandatory, but it seemed practical. So I did.

                                                                       by Surian Soosay

I'm still ambivalent. It's less distracting than I thought it would be, so that's a plus. And seeing friends that I already know through other social media there is also nice. It's also cool to be able to follow some people that you don't know and never would in non-virtual life. To me, Twitter seems a bit like a flowing river which brings all kind of flotsam and jetsam floating past. There's quite a bit of self-promotion there, which I don't really object to, but there's a delicate balance between what's interesting and what's overkill. There are only so many times I want to see the same book jacket popping up, for instance. Don't worry, I'm not talking about you. I am deliberately posting this here and not retweeting it so that the offenders won't see it. I'm not after hurting their feelings.

Perhaps it's just the season but I've already gotten in a, well, political tangle. I don't think I'll be talking about political stuff too much after this season, but I haven't minded retweeting a few things about the presidential election that I agreed with. So one of the guys in the class sent me a private message saying, "I've seen some of your tweets and I think we are pretty much diametrically opposed in our views, so I really don't think you want to follow me."

I responded by telling him that I was following him for the purposes of the class, not to get into political arguments with him and he should feel free not to follow me. But I found myself disturbed by the logic of it. We should avoid reading each other's comments because we have opposite views? As someone who came from a marriage between a Republican and a Democrat, that just doesn't make much sense. Nobody's right about everything, not even me.

There's already been quite a few interesting and entertaining links to things I never would have known of otherwise, so all in all, it's probably to the good. We'll see.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Of Red Chandeliers and Second Lines--New Orleans

I've been away from the blog world for various reasons and away in general this month, having traipsed down to New Orleans to the annual Bouchercon conference. In case you don't know, this is a big mystery conference that is named after the influential crime writer and editor Anthony Boucher and is held in a different city every year. I first went two years ago when it came closer to my part of the world, in Long Beach, and attempted to go last year when it was held in Raleigh, partly because I happened to be visiting South Carolina right before it anyway. But there was a huge storm right before it started and the train tracks between Charleston and Raleigh were flooded. It turned out that the one place you didn't want to be if you were trying to get to Raleigh was Charleston right then.

I'll get to the actual book stuff on my book review blog, but thought I'd mention a couple of New Orleans confessions of ignorance, one of which I solved and the other not. The first questition was about what is known as the "second line". Anyone who was interested in joining the second line at the conference was encouraged to do so. This was a parade down Canal Street to the Anthony Awards ceremony that night at the Orpheum Theatre, following a real Dixieland band. This YouTube film was posted by Kristi Belcamino, a crime fiction writer who used to post at Do Some Damage. (I purposely linked to a Bouchercon wrap-up article by Scott D. Parker for another angle on the event.)

I had been in a second line parade once before, down the streets of Santa Cruz. The husband of a friend of mine had died tragically young of a heart attack. He was from Louisiana and so after his funeral, we did a second line style parade down the streets of Santa Cruz, the band marching out in front and all of his friends following with their umbrellas twirling, to his favorite local bar. Despite the overwhelming sadness of his death, it was a very beautiful memorial to him.

Second lines can be about a lot of things, though. Our mystery conference second line had no tragic element, other than all the imaginary deaths the writers had plotted, and I later saw one for a wedding, which was done in high style. Our second line wasn't perhaps as exuberant as the wedding one, but pretty good for a bunch of writers and readers. And it was raining, so I think at the start there was a fifty-fifty chance that everyone was just going to head back in to the conveniently nearby bar in the lobby.

My question, though, is where does the term "second line" come from? It turns out that it distinguishes this group from the "first line," which is the actual band. It's just the people who join in after the talent has gone by.

I read up on it a little. Wikipedia has it as pretty certain to be of African origin, and some speculate that  in the beginning it was a circle dance, in which the children formed the outer or second line. I don't know about all that, and I strongly suspect that no one else has certitude either. But I do like having locked down what the second line is in present day terms.

Less satisfying is the other thing I was curious about in New Orleans. I was staying at the Renaissance New Orleans Pere Marquette on Common Street. There were two different kinds of art in the room. One was a picture of a street address in the city, which coincided with my room number, a motif which featured in all the rooms and which I thought was pretty cool. The second was a little more questionable. It was a giant image of a red chandelier which was over my bed. I didn't find it all that appealing and didn't understand its purpose either.

Not my room, but pretty much identical.

The second night I was there, though, I was hanging out with a friend in the bar at the main conference hotel, and in a lull, I happened to look out and see that there were giant red chandeliers suspended in the main part of the lobby. As this was a Marriott, and not old, I knew that they had taken this from some local tradition, which seemed to be the same tradition illustrated in my room. I think the red chandeliers must be iconic in New Orleans, but to my surprise, I haven't been able to track down anything about their history. It's almost like they are so iconic that they are just taken for granted.

Marriott lobby as photographed by Belly G.

But I figure if I post about it here, maybe someday somebody who knows something about this will weigh in here...

Monday, September 5, 2016

trash talk

 No, I'm not planning on analyzing where that phrase came from--I'm actually going to talk about trash. That's because on Saturday I came across not one but two interesting films about it.

The first came from our local recycling center. In it, a very enthusiastic young woman explains all the intricacies of our local recycling requirements. I don't know about your community, but perhaps some of them are similar. Although it's very clear and informative, there was a not so positive thought running through my mind, which is that this was way more information than I ever wanted to know. The contrarian spirit in me thinks that we should be making recycling easier for people, not harder. And maybe someday, we will. But for now, remember that there are two kinds of plastic bags, the stretchy ones you can recycle, the non-stretchy ones not. And that's just for starters.

I just  remembered that there was yet another item for discussion. I also saw an article a couple of days ago on the closing down of recycling centers. That's right--the closing down of recycling centers. Although it was in The Guardian, it was actually about California. The subtitle of the article says it all: Poor and homeless San Franciscans rely on income earned by trading cans for cash, but their subsistence is under threat as hundreds of centers close down.

The reason? As The Guardian describes it, the real money in recycling comes from the scrap value of the material, the price of which has been plummeting for the past three years. Here's a sentence that shocked me:

“Energy is so cheap right now that it’s much easier for manufacturers of anything –aluminum cans or plastic bottles – to be using virgin material instead of recycled material,” said Mark Murray of Californians Against Waste.

Oh, and here's another one:

But plastic bottles are overtaking aluminum cans as the dominant beverage container, according to Murray.

Really? After all the massive education about how environmentally terrible plastic waste is, this is where we still are?

A WWII poster--apparently times have changed.

Not to mention that there is a whole anti-homeless people issue that factors in as well. Honestly, every time I think about this article, I get very depressed.

But let's end on a bright note. That comes from the fact that the other trash film I saw was on America Reframed and was called "Trash Dance." It showed the progress of choreographer Allison Roe to fulfill her vision of doing a public dance performance by the Austin Department of Solid Waste. I missed the beginning, so I don't know how hard it was to persuade the workers to participate, because by the time I tuned in they were all pretty much on board.

Both the performance and the film, which was directed by Andrew Garrison, are quite beautiful and moving. One of the great things is seeing the unsuspected gifts of the workers brought to the fore. And another was the way a huge crowd turned up in the rain to see and celebrate them.

There is an ironic aspect to it all, though. Most of the people involved in the making of both the dance and the film are white and most of the waste department workers are people of color. They are proud of what they do for a living, so it's not that. But what becomes obvious is that talent is spread fairly evenly through both populations, so it's a little uncomfortable to see that one group of people gets to identify themselves as artists and the other doesn't. Or not usually, anyway.

Despite that one reservation, it's still a great collaboration. If you get a chance to see the film, do.


Friday, September 2, 2016

who is singing?

I really like Honda's commercials where some average joe or jane enters a car room floor and falls in love with a car. I don't have a car and I don't care about cars. But I do love the choirs that accompany these individuals' raptures. My only problem is that, first, they only sing a few seconds of their song, and second, I can't find their complete version online. The songs are already out in the public, the choirs probably are known by someone, but unlike other songs that I've discovered through their composers' YouTubes, I haven't figured out how to find the full choral versions of these.

Here is the link to Honda's fragments. I have a sad feeling that Honda didn't bother to record full versions, but if you know something different, please do post a comment.
A fragment:

Friday, August 5, 2016

writer in the family

I was talking in an online writing forum the other day about the fact that my mother was a writer, which manifested itself in various ways throughout her life, and is undoubtedly why my sisters and I all share the inclination. I mentioned that her biggest claim to fame was a little piece she got into Reader's Digest's "Life in These United States" once. And I don't mean that ironically, because ever after that,  word would come to her or one of us that someone sitting in a waiting room or some equally random place had happened upon it and been thrilled to see her name.

Several people in the forum were equally jazzed to hear this, and one of them said he used to read that column every month as a child. He even asked me what year it had come out. I really didn't remember, but this led me to try to find it online, and much to my surprise, I did. Apparently the column was syndicated, so there is a copy online from the Milwaukee Journal.

I think about half the people who read here who are not Russian hackers (and yes, thank you, Russian hackers for boosting my stats into the stratosphere last month, no matter what your nefarious purposes) actually knew or at least know about my mom. For those of you who didn't know her, her little account shows up there as written by Carolyn Graham.

Here is the December, 1981 edition cover. I'm not sure if this is the one it appeared in or not. But sometime around there, anyway. In any case, it's representative of the period.


Friday, July 29, 2016


Naming no names--because it's not necessary--the word has come up a bit lately. I think I know what a demagogue is, though I can't quite define it, and it's high time I put an end to that. In this political moment, we need to be able to define our terms more precisely.

Joseph McCarthy

According to the Oxford Dictionaries a demagogue is "a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument". Which maybe sounds a bit like all politicians everywhere. Perhaps it's a matter of degree.

"Demagogue" entered English in around 1640. The Greek demagogos meant leader of the people, demos being "people" and agagos meaning "leader", according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. So it seems not to have originally been a pejorative term. But the same dictionary also mentions that the word has been used as a pejorative often since its first use in Athens in the fifth century B.C.E. The dictionary also quotes one Loren J. Samons II, who in his book What's Wrong with Democracy? writes:

Indeed, since the term demagogos explicitly denotes someone who leads or shepherds the demos, the eventual use of this word as the primary epithet for a political panderer represents a virtual reversal of its original meaning.

George Wallace

It seems that the relationship between the leader and the people can be a bit of a two-edged sword. In this short piece by Megan Garber for the Atlantic, she seems to have hit upon the salient point, saying:

...the key thing about demagogues, historically, is that they have been people who, by way of their very popularity, threaten the populace. They undermine the stability of a “by the people” form of government particularly by turning “the people” against each other. They represent a danger not just to electoral outcomes or political parties, but to democracy itself.

Huey Long