Monday, January 28, 2013

Best Intentions of the Class of '68

In the process of sorting and packing for our move to the condo my mother discovered some of my high school mementos, including the programs from senior prom and graduation.

Each generation blames those that went before it for the world's ills. But all I can say is, when we were the same age we had the best of intentions -- as evidenced by the motto for the Class of 1968.

My high school class grew up on mass visual media (our parents were the radio generation). I recall images from the evening news of Berliners risking (and losing) their lives attempting to cross the wall to freedom. The Civil Rights Movement evolved before our eyes - some of the imprinted visions include snarling German shepherds, fire hoses aimed at marchers, armed escorts walking black students to school, and Governor George Wallace of Alabama barring the school entrance. Reports from Vietnam were aired nightly as we finished high school and entered our college years. The same dogs, fire hoses, and firearms were used against those who protested a war they considered pointless.

We asked embarrassing questions:  Why can I be drafted at 18 but I can't vote for or against the men who send me into battle? Why do I do the same work as my male coworkers but receive lower wages?

We entered the work force en masse to find more applicants than available jobs. Like today's college graduates, many of us returned to our parent's homes as we hunted for gainful employment to initiate our adult lives.

The Class of '68, like earlier classes, intended to change the world for the better -- just as the young people of today believe they can improve on the bungling of prior generations.

I applaud your resolve and wish you luck. We, too, hoped to improve upon the world that we inherited. Our intentions were good.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Books Read 2012, Digital and Otherwise

My selection of books for 2012:

The Sinner, Body Double, and Vanish by Tess Gerritson. One for the Money, Janet Evanovish. The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. Bangkok 8, John Burdett; Full Dark House, Christopher Fowler; Micro, Michael Crichton & Richard Preston; The Red Wolf Conspiracy, Robert V.S. Redick; The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, Jon Ronson; Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card; Even Money, Dick Francis & Felix Francis; Hiss of Death, Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown; and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon.

Canyon Creek Book Club reads:

The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein; The Speed of Dark, Elizabeth Moon; The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde (2nd reading); The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman; Lost Horizon, James Hilton (2nd reading); Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks; A Killing Tide, P. J. Alderman; In the Land of Invisible Women, Qanta A. Ahmed, MD; Curse of the Mistwraith, Janny Wurts; Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, Laura Hillenbrand.

I'm currently finishing a mystery of my own choice and I've already started our next book club selection, an historical novel.

My reading over the past year was divided between traditional print and my Kindle e-reader. I appreciate the Kindle for the ability to download entire collections of classics for free or a minimal fee, the opportunity to access the early books in popular series, and the ease of acquiring hard-to-locate books for fiction research. However, I found it extremely frustrating to read a complex fantasy novel on the Kindle without the ability to easily flip pages to the glossary or the map that was excluded from the e-book. Both of the books I'm reading at the moment are printed. They don't need to be recharged, nor do they suddenly leap ahead several hundred pages when I inadvertently press the wrong button. It's easy to flip ahead in a traditional book to locate the end of the chapter. Maps, charts, and/or character lists can be marked with a Post It note for easy reference.

Each version of literature has its advantages. My lightweight, compact Kindle contains a whole library of books. My current mystery novel is a bulky 600+ pages, but it provides a tactile reading experience lacking in the digital world. The books massed on my bookshelves are a visual representation of worlds visited and worlds yet to explore. A lone e-reader doesn't elicit the same sentiments of recollection or anticipation. At least for me.

But I'm of the Fun with Dick and Jane generation.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Pardon Me if I'm Wary of the "Good Guys"

Yesterday's local newspaper posted a front page article about President Obama's efforts to limit gun violence. Wayne LaPierre, Chief Executive and Vice President of the National Rifle Association, was again quoted:  "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

The same issue of the newspaper included the following news items:

  • The "gun-toting partygoer" who shot and killed a nightclub bouncer during a New Years Eve celebration was sentenced.
  • Also sentenced was the New Years Day celebrant who fired several rounds into a vacant lot and wounded a 7-year-old boy in a nearby home.
  • A 7-year-old boy was shot and killed when his father placed what he thought was an empty gun on the dashboard of his vehicle. The father had removed the magazine but did not verify that the chamber was empty. The round left in the chamber fired when the father climbed into the rig as his son was buckling his seatbelt.
People with legally-obtained firearms have:

  • Shot their hunting partners or other hunters;
  • Sent bullets into adjacent apartments or homes while cleaning their weapon;
  • Shot their spouse (and sometimes the spouse's coworkers) in domestic disputes;
  • Shot opponents in drunken arguments;
  • Left those weapons insufficiently secured which allowed children to possess them with sometimes heartbreaking results ; and
  • Shot themselves while handling their weapon.
That's merely a sampling of the firearm-related stories that have appeared in the news in recent years. Which indicate it doesn't take a mentally unstable person with a semi-automatic military-style weapon to kill or maim. The stories just illustrate that stupid, angry, careless, and intoxicated don't mix well with legal firearms. None of the solutions I've heard thus far (from strict regulation to hands off) adequately address the dangerous acts of idiotic "good guys" with guns.

I'm not anti gun. There have always been guns in the house, family and friends have and do hunt, and "hooks & bullets" paid my salary for the greater portion of my working life.

But pardon me if I'm cynical about the NRA claim that more guns in the hands of "good guys" will make me safer. 

I'm not feeling it.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Book Club: "Unbroken"

Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken was not on my personal reading list. It seems the older I get the less interested I am in reading about pain and suffering. At last night's book club discussion I found out I wasn't alone.

Reading Unbroken was similar to watching Apollo 13 or Columbo -- you know the ending yet you're fascinated to learn how the characters arrive there. We knew Louis Zamperini survived the horrific events related in the book but wanted to learn how. In reading Unbroken I dreaded picking it up again each time I put it down. Yet once I began reading I was hooked.

Louis Zamperini grew up in Torrance, California, where he was best described as a young "hell raiser." His antics ranged from pranks to delinquency. Older brother Pete was handsome, mannerly, and reliable. Louis took the opposite route. It was the intervention of Pete that turned Louis' life around when he convinced the high school principal to allow the incorrigible Louis to participate in a school sport. Louis took up running and proved to be a phenomenon. He broke high school, state, and college records that eventually took him to the U. S. Olympic trials where Louis became the youngest member of the 1936 team. Although he didn't medal in Berlin, Zamperini's burst of speed during the last lap of the 5,000 meter race garnered international recognition. The 1940 Olympics were cancelled due to World War II and, with his running career sidelined, Louis joined the Army Air Forces. As a lieutenant, Louis became the bombardier on a B-24 Liberator in the South Pacific. When their plane went down in the Pacific, Louis was one of three crew members to survive the crash. Thus began a 47-day ordeal on a small raft in a huge ocean. After combating thirst, hunger, and sharks, Louis and the other remaining crewman were taken prisoner by the Japanese. Louis and the other POWs received brutal treatment at the hands of the Japanese, but Louis was singled out by the sadistic guard the men called "The Bird."

Hillenbrand recounts Zamperini's brutal treatment as a POW without going into the gory details. Still, the repetitive abuses were difficult to read. It's understandable that Louis and the other surviving POWs would have difficulty adjusting to civilian life after the war.

Our discussion included the topic of heroism. The news media covers stories about individuals to rise to the occasion, but Louis Zamperini's heroism lasted for years. Without knowing the outcome, Louis refused to be used as a Japanese propaganda tool in order to escape the sadistic treatment of The Bird. We talked about how war legitimizes psychopaths and how even upstanding people are degraded by its demands. Today we recognize the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but in 1945 the veterans were expected to man up and just resume their lives on their return. We discussed personality traits that make up a survivor and how the American POWs defied the guards in even the smallest ways to assert their self-worth. Louis demonstrated how corrosive anger can be when he became obsessed after the war with revenge against The Bird. It wasn't until Louis met a young Billy Graham that he was able to release his hatred and heal emotionally. Louis even returned to the Sugamo Prison Camp after the war -- a fete none of us believed we could do considering the treatment Louis experienced there.

Louis Zamperini was a flawed human being who survived unbelievable events. The determination that made him a track star and Olympian also saw him through his horrendous ordeals. Yet his unhealthy focus on The Bird served him ill after the war. The inspiration to be found in Zamperini's story is that even the most human of us can find the strength to survive the worst events. Louis Zamperini's story certainly puts into perspective our day-to-day trials.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Saturday, December 15, 2012

What's the Answer?

We know that bans don't work (Prohibition, anyone?).

And there's the Second Amendment (although I'm not sure why we need a well-armed militia now that the British have retreated and we have a standing army).

I shake my head when folks seem to think that arming all the "good people" will make the "bad people" think twice before shooting. Members of the Mafia, drug cartels, and street gangs are heavily armed and yet this fact doesn't seem to stop armed assaults on them. Drug addicts aren't particularly logical when committing crimes to acquire their next fix. Plus, to be effective the "good people" would have to wear their holstered guns 24/7. And they would need to be so well trained that they wouldn't experience those initial stunned seconds when fired upon at the coffee shop, in the mall, or at the movies. Not to mention being well practiced with their weapon (I've seen hunting accident reports -- people can be idiots). Would armed amateurs really save lives, or increase the carnage with their crossfire?

I have family who hunt, I played with cap guns when young, I am not anti gun. I don't see the need for individuals outside of the military or law enforcement to possess automatic or semi-automatic weapons. But outlawing them or their ammo clips won't eliminate their existence.

What we can work on is our cultural attitude toward weaponry.

We'll never completely prevent tragedies such as those that rocked our world this past week. But shouldn't we strive to make them extremely rare occurrences?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

It's All in the Wrist

I chuckled as the camera panned through the office scene during a recent episode of Upstairs Downstairs. The dialogue was serious as the characters acknowledged that war with Hitler's Germany was inevitable. But I was amused by the actress pretending to type, seen only briefly in passing.

In typical Digital Age fashion, her wrists were sharply bent while her fingers tickled the typewriter keys. Anyone who has ever used a manual typewriter knows you cannot hit the keys with sufficient force when the heels of the hands are resting on the desktop. It was a brief, anachronistic moment that I found amusing.

I learned to type on manual and electric typewriters and still hold my wrists and forearms in the alignment necessary to operate these vintage machines. I think it helped prevent repetitive motion problems.

But believe me, I never want to go back to the carriage return, white out, carbon paper, and realigning documents to make corrections. Worse yet - retyping entire letters after they were edited!

I love my compact iMac keyboard with keys that respond to the tap of a finger!