Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year

Yes, just one more confession of ignorance before we slip out of the old year and into whatever the new one holds for us. And I realized as I woke up this morning that I had had something a little bit wrong for almost my entire life. And it just happens to be appropriate to the annual transition we are about to make.

You know the song 'Deck the Halls'? Fa la la la la and all that? Well, I was hearing the part that goes 'Fast away the old year passes' in my head and then started wondering about the next line. I had always thought it went something like 'Hail the new ye lads and lasses.' Meaning, to me, goodbye old year, let's welcome all the new people who are coming into this world in the coming year. But then I wondered 'What exactly are new ye lads and lasses?' I think I must have thought it meant something like 'the new year lads and lasses,' even though I knew the word was 'ye.' It was only in pondering it that I realized that it must be, 'Hail the new, ye lads ands lasses.' As in hail the new year, everyone. Looked it up just now and sure enough, there is a comma after new.

Frankly, I'm a little sad  that the song isn't about welcoming the next year's infants. But I'll get over it. Or forget it. One or the other.

I decided I would post a YouTube video of this but if you look closely, you'll see that they get it slightly wrong too. But you'll have to watch to see how.


Friday, December 23, 2016

By way of a Christmas card

I've already posted about this on my more book and story related blogs, so not to be tiresome, but I made a little chapbook this year out of a Christmas story I wrote some time ago. Mostly I'm just putting it up here by way of a Christmas card, but you can buy it if you want. Or if you don't want to buy it but still want to read it,  just email me and I'll send you a file. I'm not in it for the money. No obligation, believe me. I just wanted to show off the cover, because I made it (accidentally) and I like it.

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

"You will discover the truth in time."

I've had some unusually provocative fortunes in my fortune cookies lately, and this was the latest of them. Perhaps it doesn't seem so on the surface. But pity the poor English language learner with this one, eh? Talk about your multiple meanings. Although I think I normally would only have gravitated to two meanings, I now think there are at least four.

Here are the two more obvious ones:

"You will discover the truth in time." You will find out the truth before it's too late.

"You will discover the truth in time." You will find out the truth eventually.

But, perhaps, influenced by a recent viewing of the new movie Arrival, I also see a couple more slippery ones.

"You will discover the truth in time." The truth you are seeking is to be found in this strange thing (or non-thing) which we call time. Or, time itself holds the key.

"You will discover the truth in time." You will find out what is true about time itself. Or, you will discover what is true within our conception of time as opposed to what is untrue.

The concept of time seems to have been coming up for exploration a lot lately, and I don't think it's just me. In addition to the time aspect of Arrival, which I won't discuss further here for fear of spoilers, there is also a popular new television series called Timeless and a bestselling new book from James Gleick called Time Travel, which I'm quite eager to read.

And for me personally, it seems to be cropping up everywhere. Part of this makes me think that we may be more adept at time travel than we know. Here's an example from the beginning of Lene Kaaberol and Agnete Friis's book Invisible Murder (sorry, the beginning is as far as I've gotten so far.)

Tamas's mind was working at a fever pitch. It was as if he could suddenly see the future so clearly that everything that he would need to do fell neatly into place, almost as if he had already done it and was remembering it, rather than planning it. First we'll have to do this. And then this. And then if I ask...

And this is from a book I happened to read recently, David Morrell's Scavanger, which I picked up after seeing him as the guest of honor at the recent Bouchercon in New Orleans. This thriller turns out to have a lot to say about time capsules, and the peculiar human impulse to memorialize our particular historical moment for the future, and how hard that turns out to be. But in the midst of this, Morrell, who is a scholar as well as a thriller writer, throws in a quote from Kierkegaard, which resonated with me as describing the condition of many of us in the days and weeks after the recent presidential election, and perhaps was similar to a state that many felt after Brexit as well.

The most painful state of being is remembering the future, in particular one you can never have.

Here's hoping we all discover the truth in time in one of it's better meanings--sooner than later, but better late than never.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Missing Maps

Oddly enough, I got another cool email about crowdsourcing you can do, this time from Doctors Without Borders. Although I'm sure they'd also be thrilled if you simply wanted to donate money to their worthy organization, they sent out an email a couple of days ago asking people to volunteer some time to a project called Missing Maps. I'm pasting it in here (when they mention MSF, they're referring to their French name, Médecins Sans Frontières) :

Help Put Aweil, South Sudan on the Map!

Aweil, the capital of South Sudan’s Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, is home to tens of thousands of people, many of whom live on the city’s largely unmapped outskirts. Putting these settlements on the map is the first step to collecting crucial health and demographic data that will help MSF provide essential medical care to this underserved population. That’s where you come in!


When MSF responds to disease outbreaks, natural disasters, and other health crises, hundreds of teams have to cover enormous areas (as happened when MSF responded to a measles outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo last year). Now, with MapSwipe, you can help give MSF coordinators a super-fast snapshot of where the population clusters are, helping them to send their teams to the locations where they are most needed to achieve maximum vaccination coverage.


MapSwipe, available free from the App Store and Google Play, enables users to view and swipe through satellite images of remote areas to identify features such as settlements, roads, and rivers. The information gathered helps to build maps for aid workers to use in largely unmapped but crisis-prone regions like Aweil.

Here's how you can help:
  1. Download the free MapSwipe smartphone app from the App Store or Google Play.
  2. Create an account.
  3. Start mapping! You’ll find the “Map South Sudan for MSF” mapping project in the app’s “Missions” section.

Click here for a tutorial on how to use MapSwipe—helping us map is easy and fun!
MapSwipe is part of the “Missing Maps" project, an open collaboration that aims to map vulnerable places in the developing world.
Unfortunately, I don't have a smartphone so that I can be the guinea pig on this. However, I think you can use a computer if you go to this Missing Maps page. Not sure if it will take you to this particular Sudan project, though.
Although this is endorsed by organizations like the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, I do wonder a little if there could be misuse of such maps. In fact, a quick Google search brought just such questions on a website called  raised just such questions at a website called, though the article did not question Missing Maps or any of these groups ethics. Something to ponder a bit before jumping in. Meanwhile, back to looking for blood vessel stalls.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Stall Catchers--the game

It's Giving Tuesday, and perhaps you're feeling a little tapped out. So here's something you can do that costs no money at all. At the website EyesOnALZ, they've rolled out a new game you can play that will actually help with Alzheimer's research. Unlike some fundraising campaigns where you can play different regular games which slowly amass monies for worth organizations, this is a little more direct. It's called Stall Catchers, and what you do in the game is look at an actual brain to help identify where the blood flow gets stalled in specific places. Here's the video.


And here's a word from  the BrightFocus Foundation Program President and CEO Stacy Pagos Haller  about what they're trying to accomplish over at the website Dementia Today:

Stall Catchers helps scientists who are researching blood vessels in the brain identify where there can be clogged capillaries or “stalls” that stop blood flow. Researchers hope they can reverse Alzheimer’s symptoms like memory loss by reducing the number of stalls.

The more people of all ages we can recruit to spot stalls, the faster the project will go, and the closer we’ll get to unlocking a cure for Alzheimer’s. With your help, this part of the research project can compress into months and years what could normally take decades, so that’s where all of us are needed. In the first 30 days alone, nearly 1000 citizen scientists did the equivalent of 14 weeks of analysis in a lab!

As Stacy says, all you need is a computer, a tablet or a smartphone to get started. So whatcha waiting for? Go HERE to get started. (I edited this to change the link to a better starting point for the game.)


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone--Yes, Everyone.

We are living in divisive times and that's not going to end soon. And I suspect Thanksgiving is going to be hell for a lot of people this year, whatever side of that divide you find yourself on. Perhaps for that one day we can try to find something transcending our particular historical moment. To that end, I present you with the SNL skit about Thanksgiving dinner from last year. Perhaps even more apt now.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

dum spiro, spero

Occasionally the alignment of random events makes me wonder how random things really are. Over the years, Santa Cruz has had more than one large truck patrolling the downtown streets, covered with words, sometimes figures like dolls or stuffed animals. Sometimes there is a loudspeaker blaring music or rhetoric. Usually these vehicles leave me more baffled than intrigued. They often seem to be advertising some fringe ideology of the driver, which you might agree with if you figure out the coherent message but then again, you might not.

Don't know this truck personally, but it's a benign example.

Last week, though, I saw a large truck with only one message on it. Along it's long black side, the white letters proclaimed "Dum Spiro Spero". As my only association to "spiro" was the not beloved vice-president Spiro Agnew, and I was pretty sure we weren't still talking about him, I thought, well, I'll look that up when I get home. And then forgot about it.

The next day, my friend came to town, and wanted to go back to a clothing store where she'd found a dress she'd decided to buy. While I was waiting with her at the counter, I passed the time by looking down into a glass case full of pendants on necklaces and things like that. A lot of them had little tags attached which explained their meanings. The first one that caught my eye said "Dum Spiro Spero" and explained that it means "While I breathe, I hope."

I'm not really sure what the driver of the black truck is hoping for, but it's a lot better motto than some are toting around these days. A lot of people may know this phrase already, as not only is it the state motto of South Carolina, but also there seem to be many people who have had themselves tattooed with it.


It is attributed to Cicero, though unlike some of his other sayings, I don't see a particular work cited. Maybe he just went around saying it all the time.

It was  also part of the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Sarawak, now one of the states of Malaysia. That creature on the top is a badger, or in the parlance of heraldry, a brock.

In any case, it seems to be a good time to tattoo it on your body or wear it as a necklace, or put it on your big, black truck. Let's be hopeful. While we can.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

I Love You, California

I guess I won't be moving to Canada just yet...

Joint Statement from California Legislative Leaders on Result of Presidential Election

Wednesday, November 09, 2016
SACRAMENTO – California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) and California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) released the following statement on the results of the President election:
Today, we woke up feeling like strangers in a foreign land, because yesterday Americans expressed their views on a pluralistic and democratic society that are clearly inconsistent with the values of the people of California.
We have never been more proud to be Californians.
By a margin in the millions, Californians overwhelmingly rejected politics fueled by resentment, bigotry, and misogyny.
The largest state of the union and the strongest driver of our nation’s economy has shown it has its surest conscience as well.
California is – and must always be – a refuge of justice and opportunity for people of all walks, talks, ages and aspirations – regardless of how you look, where you live, what language you speak, or who you love.
California has long set an example for other states to follow. And California will defend its people and our progress. We are not going to allow one election to reverse generations of progress at the height of our historic diversity, scientific advancement, economic output, and sense of global responsibility.
We will be reaching out to federal, state and local officials to evaluate how a Trump Presidency will potentially impact federal funding of ongoing state programs, job-creating investments reliant on foreign trade, and federal enforcement of laws affecting the rights of people living in our state. We will maximize the time during the presidential transition to defend our accomplishments using every tool at our disposal.
While Donald Trump may have won the presidency, he hasn’t changed our values. America is greater than any one man or party. We will not be dragged back into the past. We will lead the resistance to any effort that would shred our social fabric or our Constitution.
California was not a part of this nation when its history began, but we are clearly now the keeper of its future.
Hoy despertamos sintiéndonos extranjeros en tierra extraña, porque ayer los estadounidenses expresaron sus opiniones sobre una sociedad pluralista y democrática que es claramente inconsistente con los valores de la gente de California.

Nunca nos hemos sentido más orgullosos de ser californianos.

Por un margen de millones de votos, los californianos rechazaron abrumadoramente la política alimentada por el resentimiento, la intolerancia y la misoginia.

El estado más grande de la unión y la locomotora de la economía de nuestra nación ha demostrado que también tiene su conciencia más tranquila.

California es - y debe ser siempre - un refugio de justicia y oportunidades para las personas de todos los orígenes, lenguas, edades, y aspiraciones - independientemente de su apariencia, dónde vivan, qué idioma hablen, o a quiénes amen.

California, por mucho tiempo, ha sido un ejemplo a seguir  para otros estados. Y California defenderá a su gente y nuestro progreso. No vamos a permitir que una elección sea un revés para el progreso de generaciones en la cima de nuestra histórica diversidad, el avance científico, la generación económica y un sentido de responsabilidad global.

Estaremos comunicándonos con los funcionarios federales, estatales y locales para evaluar cómo una Presidencia Trump podría afectar potencialmente los fondos de programas estatales en curso, las inversiones creadoras de empleos que dependen del comercio exterior y la aplicación de las leyes federales que afectan los derechos de las personas que viven en nuestro estado.

Estaremos utilizando al máximo el tiempo durante la transición presidencial para defender nuestros logros, usando cada herramienta a nuestra disposición.

Aunque Donald Trump haya ganado la presidencia, no ha cambiado nuestros valores. Estados Unidos es más grande que cualquier hombre o partido. No seremos arrastrados de vuelta al pasado. Lideraremos la resistencia a cualquier esfuerzo que destruya nuestro tejido social o nuestra Constitución.

California no era una parte de esta nación cuando comenzó su historia, pero ahora somos claramente los encargados de mantener su futuro.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Poem for Thursday

For some reason, bits of this poem were going through my mind yesterday, and I decided to revisit it. It is in the public domain, but this specific version comes from Poem of the Week, where you will find some additional notes on it. I offer no interpretation of  it. I read it a long time ago, when it gave the title to a collection of essays by Joan Didion. It is a famous poem, perhaps prophetic, though prophetic of what, I couldn't say. Poem of the Week says that Yeats wrote it in the aftermath of WWI.


    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.   

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.    

    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

                                              William Butler Yeats

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Way We Live Now--post election day

By a rather random series of events, I've had a lot of chance to ponder Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now over the last few years. I read it for a small book group I'm in, and reviewed it at Escape Into Life. Then I happened to catch the Masterpiece Theatre series done on it, starring the superb and very transformed David Suchet. Wrote another little piece on that. In March of this year, I
started to see a certain resemblance between Trump and the novel's center stage monster, Melmotte. I thought I'd reprint this short reflection in its entirety, with an important postscript. Spoiler alert: the postscript gives some of the novel's plot away.

The Way We Live Now, again
Far be it from me to turn this book review blog into a political commentary, but after just watching a segment on Lawrence O'Donnell on a shady Trump deal in Mexico, I just have to say that a Donald Trump was foreseen by Anthony Trollope in The Way We Live Now when he created the character Melmotte, who enters the political realm in England from a vague but somehow glamorous business past. Everyone is enamored with his wealth, but  he eventually learns that politics may be a step too far. He even has a shady railroad deal out in the American West, which proves to be more than questionable.
Postscript: What I didn't tell readers then was that Melmotte, despite or because of all his chicanery, actually attains a place in parliament. But as I hinted, it is a bridge too far. He is ill-equipped for that august body and is soon laughed off the stage, to his ruin. Ridicule is a powerful weapon and normally I am not in favor of it. But I think it's very fair play for someone who has used it mercilessly against others to his own advantage.

 Read your classics, people. It could serve you in good stead in areas you least expect it...


Friday, November 4, 2016

California Ballot Measures

I just voted! And I thought I'd warn the  Californians among you who have yet to look at your ballot that you probably need to carve out a little time for that. There are a lot of measures on the ballot this year, some of them broadly addressing the same topic but from very different points of view. There were also a couple that I personally found a little tricky. So I thought I'd post some links to places you can go to understand them better. I am on the leftie end of the spectrum so I'll post the progressive link, of course, but the others are more neutral. And just for the record, I did not vote straight progressive, although that's as far as I'm going to go with telling you exactly how I did vote.

So without further ado, here is the California  Progressive Voter Guide You can see how various progressive groups weigh in on the different measures and underneath you'll see a short  clear recap of each.

Then I remembered my mom's old favorite, The League of Women Voters, who seem like quite informed people. One thing I like about their list is that they only weigh in on the propositions that relate to issues they study. But they do direct you to a place where you can research the other issues.

That site is Voter's Edge California. I've linked to the first proposition, Prop. 51 just so you can see the layout. I probably found this site the most helpful for the more baffling issues, and that's because toward the bottom of each measure, you will find who contributed to each side and how much. Plus, even further down you will find a link to opinions and analysis on both sides. I thought this was a really illuminating feature.

Finally, I'm going to post to the link to a video by Santa Cruz's very own John Laird. He took the time to give relevant facts on each proposition for about five minutes. Unfortunately, I learned of this after I had filled out my ballot, but I do know  and like John Laird and as some people may find video an easier means to learn from here is John Laird on 17 State Ballot Measures.

Good luck, everyone. And don't forget to


Monday, October 31, 2016

Why wouldn't you vote?

Once again, I'm not telling you how to vote, I'm just asking, why wouldn't you? It perturbs me. And trust me--you don't want to do that.

Maybe for some reason you can't see the difference between the presidential candidates this year. I don't understand that, but never mind. What I'm asking is, why wouldn't you exercise a right that others have earned for you? Forget the presidency. Well, don't, but if you must, why do you think that's all there is to voting? There are senators and representatives, both state and local, that might arguably affect your life even more. Maybe there are local officials on your ballot. Maybe there are people who will have an impact on your children's lives at school. In California, there are a ton of propositions that your vote will count on.

I was in London just about ten years ago now. I went on a tour with a great local guide, and she took us in the course of the walk to a statue dedicated to English suffragettes. They suffered forced feedings and other torments to get English women the right to vote. Our tour guide impressed upon us that we owed them.

Okay, maybe you're not British, a woman. Maybe you're a white guy who takes his rights for granted. Trust me--unless you're a descendent of the people aboard the Mayflower, you shouldn't. And even then, you should wonder.


What can it hurt?


Monday, October 24, 2016


Not a word much in use these days, am I right? Normally, perhaps yes. But I happened to see it in an important judicial ruling just now and it made me wonder where it came from.

An article by Mark Joseph Stern in Slate discusses a recent decision by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker. I had heard about the case before, but I don't think I had learned the outcome. Governor Rick Scott of Florida had refused to extend the registration deadline for voters as Hurricane Matthew bore down on the state, even though he had been the one urging them to flee the storm in the first place. Oh, pish tosh, Governor Scott said (not an exact quote), everyone's had plenty of time to register.

LBJ, MLK and Rosa Parks, singing of Voting Rights Act, 1965

Apparently, Governor Scott has never heard of a little thing known as procrastination. In any case, Judge Walker overruled him. Stern reports that a ton of people took advantage of the extension. Actually quite a bit more than a ton--108,000 people.

Judge Walker:  “This case pits the fundamental right to vote against administrative convenience.” He came down on the side of rights, which can almost seem like a novel position these days. but here's the quote that is behind this blog post.

It has been suggested that the issue of extending the voter registration deadline is about politics. Poppycock. This case is about the right of aspiring eligible voters to register and to have their votes counted. Nothing could be more fundamental to our democracy.

I have just assumed that poppycock was a minced oath of some sort, like saying "Jiminy Cricket!" or  "Gosh darn it!". But thinking about it, I don't know exactly what it would replace. When I think of an image for "poppycock", I tend to have some vague image of popcorn and maybe some kind of peanut brittle.

However, I would be pretty much totally wrong in that. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the best guess is that the word came into American English from Dutch dialect. Pappe means soft food, like our pap, and kak means dung like our, well, you get the idea.

World Wide Words, however, says the Oxford English Dictionary dismisses this idea, but only on a small technicality, not in the broad meaning:

The OED is firm in dismissing one often-heard view of its origin, from the Dutch word pappekak for soft faeces. It says firmly “no such word appears to be attested in Dutch” but points to the very similar word poppekak, which appears only in the old set phrase zo fijn als gemalen poppekak, meaning to show excessive religious zeal, but which literally means “as fine as powdered doll shit”. The word was presumably taken to the USA by Dutch settlers; the scatological associations were lost when the word moved into the English-language community.

Whichever view we take, it's hard to ignore the excremental factor. This apparently hasn't deterred Orville Redenbacher from adopting the word for one of its brands, though. Here's their description since I can't find an available picture to post:

"A scrumptious blend of Orville Redenbacher’s® light, fluffy popcorn and premium whole nuts tossed in a sweet and crunchy glaze made with real butter and brown sugar."

I think I might know where I got my original impression of the meaning.


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



Monday, July 25, 2016

camel and palm tree illusion

This is just a funny thing that came up when I was looking for an image for my last post. I googled "camel palm tree" and Google filled in "camel and palm tree illusion". I didn't have time to look it up till just now. Without further ado, then, the camel and palm tree illusion:

That is a rather famous one which appears on many websites. However there is yet another optical illusion involving a camel and palm trees. This one comes to you courtesy of and no, I don't know where they got it either.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"So You're Coming to Tripoli"

When my mom died a few years ago and we were going through her possessions, we came across a little pamphlet called "So You're Coming to Tripoli". It was my intention at the time to post the cover, which is rather charming, but I didn't and don't have a camera suitable to the task and somehow the picture of it that one of my sisters took of it didn't work. So I let it go.

Just today, though, a Wheelus Airbase alum (if that's the right word) named Cathy Speegle sent me a PDF of that very booklet.

Much to my surprise, I figured out how to get it on to the Wheelus Air Base blogpost, where I think the most people who would be interested in it would find it, but as no one else is going to scroll down that far and I happen to have the link all set, I'll just say that you can find it HERE. It is very much of it's era and I'm glad to have finally fulfilled an ambition to get it posted on this blog, so thank you, Cathy. And if any of your friends from those days  should happen to see this, I hope they'll feel free to email me at the address in my profile and I will try to get you both connected.

This picture is actually from Algeria and was taken before 1900, but you get the idea...

                                                                                      Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, July 17, 2016

I could(n't) care less

This one is sure to cause some teeth gnashing in certain sectors of the Confessions of Ignorance readership, but it's pleasing as punch to me. I am among that portion of the population that has been known to say," I could care less." I then brace myself for the usual response, which is that this is the wrong way to say it and doesn't make any sense. Up till now, I've acknowledged the rightness of my opponents, while continuing to use the expression. But all that is about to change, my friends.

The reason for this is that somehow in the last week, I came across an interesting post on this very subject at in their previously unknown to me section called Word Fact. Here they explain that the expression "I couldn't care less" popped up in British English at the beginning of the twentieth century, but that the variant "I could care less" took root in America in the 1960s. They then go on to point out that the fastidious among us find the American version to be logically flawed. Obviously, if you could care less, then you care more than you might. Here's comedian David Mitchell's rant on the topic. 


Nevertheless, the aberrant expression persists. Word Fact goes on to say that some etymologists have attempted to explain it like this:

“I could care less” emerged as a sarcastic variant employing Yiddish humor. They point to the different intonations used in saying “I couldn’t care less” versus “I could care less.” The latter mirrors the intonation of the sarcastic Yiddish-English phrase “I should be so lucky!” where the verb is stressed.

But  Word Fact isn't having any of it. It goes on to present my real defense:

The argument of logic falls apart when you consider the fact that both these phrases are idioms. In English, along with other languages, idioms are not required to follow logic, and to point out the lack of logic in one idiom and not all idioms is…illogical.

Which bring us to question, what is an idiom? The Online Etymology Dictionary is very good on this. It tells us that the  word entered English in the 1580s and meant a form of speech peculiar to a people or place. It took until the 1620s for it to have our more current meaning of a phrase or expression peculiar to a language. Coming to English through the typical French route, it goes back to the late Latin idioma, which meant "a peculiarity in language", to the Greek idioma.  Fowler, of Fowler's Modern English usage, has this to say: "A manifestation of the peculiar" is "the closest possible translation of the Greek word". The root idios we know from words like "idiosyncratic" and means "particular to oneself".

And from the same entry, another quote Fowler:

[G]rammar & idiom are independent categories; being applicable to the same material, they sometimes agree & sometimes disagree about particular specimens of it; the most can be said is that what is idiomatic is far more often grammatical than ungrammatical, but that is worth saying, because grammar & idiom are sometimes treated as incompatibles

I rest my case.

(The signage at the top I found on Jenz Grammer Tips. I think you can guess which side she weighs in on.)


Friday, July 15, 2016

Fruit and veg

My friend and fellow Santa Cruzan Leslie Karst  has just put up a blog post titled When is a Fruit a Vegetable? over at her blog Custard and Clues. Frankly, it falls very much in the province of Confessions of Ignorance, especially since I didn't have the foggiest about all this. And the one thing I thought I did know, which is that tomatoes are actually fruits, is maybe not so true.

Or maybe it is. A lot depends on who you're talking to. In any case, she has researched the topic far more thoroughly than I would have. Go check it out.

Leslie's recently published mystery novel

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Nothing but a Heartbreak

Just popping in quickly here to say that I have put up a short piece on rarely attended to blog Story Dump, as my friend and former co-worker Maryse Meijer has a collection of short stories out called Heartbreaker, and you can find a link to the title story there.

I'm also thinking that I will be reviving that rather moribund blog as I seem to have fallen in with a bunch of short fiction writers lately, and if I can find the time and energy to do it, I will be featuring some of the links to their work there. I'll probably also be posting mention of new entries here, just to help generate some interest.

But don't worry. The whole ignorance thing isn't going away any time soon...


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

another think coming

As any casual reader of this blog will quickly deduce, there are a lot of things I don't know about. How disconcerting, then, to discover that something I felt quite certain about has shifted over to the "you know nothing about it" category. I am not young, people. You'd think that by this time, the things I feel confident in are a pretty stable, if small, collection. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case.

Yesterday I was reading Peter Rozovsky's blog post on Marlon James' A Brief History of Seven Killings. Although in general enjoying the book, he did have a slight qualm when he saw James (or James' character) mistake the expression "another think coming"  as "another thing coming". My original assumption was that this was just a typo. Of course it's "you've got another thing coming". Everyone knows that. Right?

Wrong. The original expression was "you've got another think coming". A nice piece at Grammarist tells us that the original expression was "If that's what you think, you've got another think coming." Several examples are cited of early usage, all of which use "think", not "thing". But gradually the word shifted to "thing", so that in our day, it is the more common usage. the Grammarist  writer says that example of "thing" were a lot easier to find than "think" in current usage.

a play by Arthur Lewis Tubbs (1867-1946)

I have several very unscientific, unproven thoughts on all this. Although the contention is that "thing" made more sense to people than "think", my own belief is that people don't really think that much about phrases making sense when they repeat them, they just mimic what's been said to them because they think they already understand what is meant. I think in this situation, "think coming" and "thing coming" sound pretty much identical. So as I commented on Peter's blog, I have never heard anyone say "another think coming". But that doesn't mean they haven't said it. I may have just assumed " thing" because I "knew" that to be correct, while everyone else may have been saying "think" all along. I doubt it, but it's possible.

Secondly, as Peter pointed out, he has never actually heard anyone say "another think (or thing) coming", but has seen one or other of the versions in print occasionally. Now I have to admit that probably no has ever said that to me, because if they had, they would have had another thing coming--like my fist. But I do think I have heard it used, though probably more in drama than real life. Or maybe in the heightened speech of someone who was worked up, where I have noticed that people do tend to resort to clichés.

An interesting thing, though, is that I don't think the two phrases mean exactly the same thing. Having another think coming really means you should think again, reconsider. Having another thing coming is more of a warning--if you persist on this path, you may be in for a surprise. Probably an unpleasant one, too.

Well,  we now  know  where  Judas Priest  weighs in on  the  issue. But I'm curious how familiar others are with either phrase. Did you already know all this, or did it come as a surprise?

Have a think on it and get back to me.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Show-off

No, this isn't yet another post about Donald Trump. I have a flash fiction style story up again at FlashFlood this year, which runs for 24 hours in June in honor of (Britain's) National Flash Fiction Day. The slight twist is that I happen to have gotten more involved in a little online writing group recently. Kind of a fever took hold and quite a few of our members managed to submit and get accepted by the deadline, which made it fun to look for their stories instead of just my own--which, let's face it, I already know pretty well.

As was the case last year, I was struck by what a wide range of styles and subjects emerged. My story "The Show-off" can be found right HERE.


Thursday, June 23, 2016


I am not a lawyer, but in any universal Golden Rule sort of standard, I am pretty sure that the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness trumps the right to bear arms. Period.

And this just in, a Congressional cover of the song.


 But on the right path, though they are, let's face it, they ain't Joan Baez. So...


Thursday, June 16, 2016


I was just idly flicking through the channels one evening when I happened upon an old Huell Howser video about his road trip to Chico in which he has ended up at the Sierra Nevada Brewery. At the point I came in he was talking about the brewing process and was discussing the importance of hops with the brewmaster.

I like beer, and in recent years have developed more of a taste for hoppy beers than I once had. Hops are all the rage now, or maybe they went too far and are now becoming a little less overwhelming in whatever's fashionable, but I have to say that until that moment I had never once in my life considered what a hop was. This is more or less what they looked like on the show, sitting in a barrel waiting to be added to the vat:

Although beer may have preceded civilization, the use of hops doesn't go back very far. Pliny the Elder mentions them in the late seventies, AD, but they don't really get a brewing mention until around 822. (Hops fanatics can check out this very easy to read post at Beer Scene Magazine HERE.)

This is what they look like in (cultivated) nature:

Apparently, hops ousted another contender, grut, or gruit, which was a mix of bitter herbs and spices that helped preserve beer.. Hops have an antibacterial effect, according to Wikipedia, which favors brewer's yeast over other microorganisms. But they also add their own flavors to the brew. 

Here's an image of hops growing in a hopyard in Germany. The plant's tendrils have to be trained upward in order to get all parts of the plant the right amount of sunlight.

I think that might be all I have to say about hops--for now. If you were looking for any kind of brewer's recipe, you came to the wrong place.