30 September 2006

Where is This "Other" Phoenix?

I recently had an experience I can only liken to an episode of "The Twilight Zone."

Last night we watched an episode of "We Live Here" that appears on some satellite network called "Fine Living."

This episode was titled "Phoenix," making me think (as I am sure you can understand) that it would be a show about the city where we live: Phoenix (as in "Arizona.") Apparently not.

This show had, as its guests, three people who live in Phoenix.

The first guest, who rides motorcycles, said something to the effect that once you move to Phoenix, you have to have a bike (as in motorcycle), because everyone does. He proceeded to talk about this huge biker culture in Phoenix.

The number of people I know who ride (or even own) a motorcycle is exactly zero.

The second guest took the host to a far distant mountain preserve area for another kind of biking (as in bicycle). She said that this activity is pretty much the reason to come to Phoenix.

While I know a few people who mountain bike, and a couple who hike, this is assuredly not the main reason to visit Phoenix -- at least, not the one in which I live. And, interestingly, this guest did not even suggest sunscreen -- odd, considering how Arizona has more per capita cases of skin cancer than anywhere in the world, excepting the continent of Australia.

The last guest took the host to a Mexican restaurant, stating in almost these exact words, that the official food of Phoenix is Mexican.

Um, the official food of the Phoenix where I live is pretty damn much whatever we want to eat. Yes, we actually have restaurants that feature food from Italy, China, Japan, Thailand, Romania, America (several areas of it), and, oh yes, Mexico. In fact the best Chinese restaurant I have ever been to is a couple miles from my house.

Last in a very long list of annoying things in this show occurred toward the end when the guests were all commenting on the beautiful sunset they were watching. When the host asked what makes the sunset so beautiful, one guest offered some lame explanation about the position of the sun in relation to the mountains and the curve of the Earth.

Okay, the reason Phoenix has such dramatic sunsets is simply pollution. Tons and tons of crap in the air fragment the sunlight scattering colors all over the damn place. Sure, the sunsets are gorgeous, but only if you can stop coughing or sneezing long enough to enjoy them.

Just for the record, the Phoenix metropolitan area where we live (and where we both were born) is pretty much just like any other biggish city in America. Some people ride motorcycles, but the dominant mode of transportation is the automobile (see "Sunsets," above). Some people eat Mexican food, but there are plenty of options. Some people mountain bike, but there are also world-renowned art museums, zoos, a fantastic one-of-a-kind-in-the-world botanical garden, theater, dance, art, sports (I guess), and many other things.

And we have pollution. Lots and lots of it.

28 September 2006

"Chinatown" Update

Of course you know that the fantastic film "Chinatown" (1974) is based on a true series of events -- not the detective and the murders; rather, the diversion of waters from the lush Owens Valley.

It's indeed a long, complicated story of deceit, betrayal, engineering marvels, and the needs of the many supposedly outweighing the needs of the few.

The latest chapter is being written as we speak, as you can read in this article in The Los Angeles Times.

I don't know what is more incredible: that the story of "Chinatown" is so amazingly told, or that officials in early 20th Century Los Angeles had the nerve to steal so much water and ruin the lives of so many people.

24 September 2006

! ; ? . " : '

Happy National Punctuation Day

Yes thats right Today is the day the entire world celebrates punctuation or rather it should

You will note that this web log entry is being made entirely without the benefit of punctuation Do you notice the difference

I am doing this because I fear one day punctuation will go the way of shorthand something everyone has heard of but no one knows how to do any more

With text messaging email and the general mess called the United States education system its my guess that punctuation will be a cute anachronism in about fifty years if not sooner

Please do not misunderstand Teachers are two or three of the countrys genuine heroes and I do not fault them at all for the level of ignorance in their students

As a writer punctuation is very important to me I love punctuation I love colons and semi colons and all those other things that help words mean more and more accurately

Here is a link to one of my favorite comedians and one of his best routines yes Victor Borge and his Phonetic Punctuation courtesy of the ever wonderful Internet Archive This is a QuickTime file

More about National Punctuation Day will be found here

23 September 2006

Falling for Autumn

Welcome to Fall! Or, as some call it, Autumn! Or, if you live in the southern hemisphere, Spring!

I love Fall.

The start of Fall, called the Vernal Equinox, is the time when the sun appears directly over the equator. It does this twice a year (beginning of Fall, and the beginning of Spring). The amount of daylight and darkness are basically equal during that day.

In many ancient cultures it signaled the start of harvest time. For people in Phoenix, it usually signals the start of the last month or so of summer; for, although Fall officially starts on 22 September, the weather here doesn't seem to catch up until sometime around All Hallow's Eve.

However, this year, Fall weather started a few days ago -- it was actually 62 degrees at our house Friday a.m. That's a big deal!

Although we have very few trees here with leaves that change colors, I still love Fall!

The illustration is by famed naturalist Charles Harper.

22 September 2006

Crisis in the "Manor"

In the last episode of Animal Planet's fabulous "Meerkat Manor," one of the main meerkats -- Shakespeare -- had gone missing after an attack by a rival meerkat gang.

We were upset to find out this was a season-ending cliff hanger. We figured we would have to wait for the start of the new season of "Meerkat Manor" (29 September in America) to find out that -- whew! -- everything is okay.

Well, no. According to this article in the Los Angeles Times, that's not going to happen.

Fans in England, where the season started on 04 September, say that Shakespeare's disappearance continues -- and that is upsetting a lot of them. It is not so much that an animal might have died -- that is nature's way; rather, that promotions for the new season intimated that Shakespeare's fate would be revealed.

Animal Planet insists it does not know what happened to Shakespeare.

It is one thing to use such an incident as a grabber to make people come back for the next season; but, to not actually resolve the issue is unfair -- sorta like the reason so many people (us included) have dropped ABC's "Lost."

19 September 2006

Sleeping Single in a Double Bed

I recently read two interesting articles about the pros and cons of people in a relationship sharing a bed at night to sleep.

I cannot do the "sleeping together" thing -- and it's nothing new. I think sleeping together or apart has no affect on my relationship with Matt. I get a good sleep; he gets a good sleep. Everyone's happy. (We do, however, share a bed when we take naps on weekends. Aawww.)

The articles are here and here.

17 September 2006

Like, How Hard is This?

A great example of why I dislike local news (in general, and in Phoenix specifically): Friday night we were watching news on one of our local television stations (I won't name them. Why embarrass them further?) and the anchor said something like the following:

"A father had to make the hardest choice of his life: his job or his family." I thought, okay, someone had to pick between long hours away at a good-paying job, or time with the kids. Wrong! It turns out it was this: a local sheriff, watching surveillance video, spotted his son robbing a bank and turned him in. What? This was having to choose between job and family?

The man was understandably distraught over what he did; but, in the report we saw, it was not like he had to make a monumental decision: support a criminal who happens to be his son, or follow the law -- a law that, by the way, everyone is suppose to follow, not just a sheriff.

What irks me about this episode is that the news writer was making the story appear to be something that it was not -- just to hype it. While I understand the supposed need to strive for ratings, this kind of deception is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Antithetically, I feel the same way about a person who finds money in a wallet, or a bag, and turns it in; and the news people fall all over themselves praising the conduct.

Are we so ethically dead inside that "doing the right thing" is somehow unusual? I certainly hope not. It particularly irks me when the person finding the money is a child. It's like the writer is saying: "Look how this innocent child did the right thing. Aren't we pathetic adults ashamed of ourselves?"

Of course any person would be tempted to keep some found valuable; but it is only logical to conclude that the benefits of returning it would far outweigh the damage that would result from keeping it -- even if the person is not caught. Society depends on people conducting themselves a certain way. When that conduct is absent, society disappears.

I do not think it a big stretch to say that much of what is wrong with society today (in general, but specifically in this country) is the distance being placed between what is good for "me" in the short term, and what is good for "us" overall.

13 September 2006

Like Dust in the Wind

As a writer, this really scares me: the possibility that a simple flicker of electricity could wipe out -- forever -- important works that only exist in a digital realm.

Recently, I finished digitizing 30 years of newspaper and magazine articles that I wrote (but not all of them, of course), 10 years of radio documentaries, and miscellaneous other bits and pieces of my writing work.

Every month, I do a data backup of these and other important files so I won't lose them.

It seems, however, that the same issues that are the concern of my little world are being played out by important institutions responsible for important works. Now, that is scary.

12 September 2006

More Wildlife News

The world of nature is providing all kinds of news of late -- including one of the coolest stories around: the discovery of a new species of bird!

Bugun Liocichla
(pictured), named after a tribe near where it lives, was discovered by an astronomer working in India. It is the first discovery of a new species in the area in 50 years.

Of course, every silver lining must have a cloud: the area where this bird was found is slated to be greatly disrupted by the building of a new freeway, which could significantly alter the bird's habitat.

Read more about this cool discovery

09 September 2006

Trekking Through Time

Another anniversary: It was 40 years ago yesterday that one of the most influential television shows in my life made its debut: "Star Trek" -- the first, the best.

I would have just turned seven years old. I always loved watching science fiction movies and television (not reading sci-fi books, though); so I was ready for this "'Wagon Train' to the stars."
Of course, I remember the early episodes, how hot William Shatner (pictured) looked back then, the way-cool special effects.

Mostly, though, I remember having to sneak out of bed at night and into my parents' bedroom to watch it on the tiny portable black-and-white television we had then. This was probably after the show had been exiled to the Siberia of Friday nights (may have been the last season) when it came on after my bed time.
Well, I loved it. None of the later shows quite recreated the appeal of those early chunky, clunky episodes.

Other shows that had me as a kid were "Outer Limits" (yessiree!) and "Mission: Impossible" (totally). I am so glad I am old enough to have been there when these things were new, and television was consistently good (well, better).

More about the "Star Trek" anniversary will be found here.

08 September 2006

FCC Told to Take a Hike

Thanks to three logically thinking, reasonable, and clearly intelligent judges, CBS and its affiliates can re-air a documentary featuring recorded excerpts of people who, in the heat of the events of 11 September 2001, used words that probably should not be uttered in polite company.

The three-judge panel for the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals told the Federal Communications Commission to refine its new rules that, if broken, could impose huge fines on stations which air the "offending" programs. One vocal minority group had threatened to bombard the FCC with complaints should the program air -- for its third time. (No complaints were issued the first two times. How odd....)

I, personally, am not offended by the occasional use of "foul" language, and I have been known to utter a word here or there that might make some people blush. However, I am far more offended by a small group of people thinking they can threaten a television network to do things their way -- or else.

If such people are offended by such language, may I suggest a very simple and revenue-neutral solution: don't watch the program. CBS plans to add a disclaimer warning about the strong content. When that disclaimer pops up, change the channel. Better yet, go play a game of Scrabble.

As a clarification, I totally support fines against programs that allow offensive language or conduct in such a situation that it would surprise the viewer -- no matter who is responsible. I understand parents wanting to protect their offspring as long as humanly possible, thinking that the schoolyard is totally bereft of such language or conduct, that the music their wee ones listen to is not actually about sex, violence, drugs, or hurting small animals. I understand those efforts; and, I suppose, applaud them -- as futile as they invariably are.

In summary: fines for the surprises (like the over-hyped boob incident); but no fines when warnings are clearly given.

The CBS show, called "9/11" airs Sunday.

More information about the judges' decision will be found

07 September 2006

Death in Captivity

From a death in the wild to a death in captivity as we mark, today, the 70th anniversary of the death of one of the most enigmatic animals to have ever gone extinct -- if, indeed, it is.

The thylacine (illustrated), known colloquially as the Tasmanian Tiger, is both thought to be extinct -- the last known animal dying in a zoo this day in 1936; and alive, in hiding, protected by a conspiracy by naturalists who want to keep its existence a secret (to protect the animal).

It is true that extinction is the rule, rather than the exception, with animals, plants, fungi, etc. (It is said that more animals and plants have gone extinct than currently live.) Still, it is hard to not be intrigued by this gorgeous marsupial that is something like a dog.

Of course, I do hope this beautiful mammal does still survive and is being protected by a veil of silence. I can just imagine what fate would befall it if it really was alive and the media got wind of it. Sigh! Why is it so hard for humans to just leave well enough alone?

More about thylacines will be found
here and here.

Thanks to
Kris in Australia who wrote about this on her web log.

04 September 2006

Death in the Wild

It is with great sadness that I write of the death of naturalist Steve Irwin -- the crazy, often goofy Australian who yelled "Crikey" while wrestling with an alligator.

Irwin (pictured) was killed by a stingray while filming a documentary in Australia.

While I did not necessarily agree with his antics, and the dangerous chances he took around animals, I do have a great deal of respect for anyone who attempts to educate people about the value of animals of all kinds -- and their importance to the world around us.

Like Rachel Carson, David Attenborough, and Marlin Perkins, Irwin spent his life trying to get people to understand animals. His is a great loss.

More about his death will be found in this article from the Associated Press.