This week, Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge is a great one; the best photos of 2012 of people and animals. Go here for a look. In the meantime, here are some of the photos of people and animals I did in 2012 while living in Zimbabwe and after returning home to Maryland.
You don’t have to be Christian, or even believe in Santa Claus, to believe in the specialness of the Christmas season. As someone who believes in peace and goodwill as a way to mitigate a lot of the violence and chaos that infects our world, I think any holiday that emphasizes peace, love, and understanding, is okay in my book. Of course, it’s also a time when families, so often pulled apart by the incessant demands of our consumer society, have an excuse to get together and renew their bonds.
I talked, for instance, to my older brother yesterday. We hadn’t spoken for more than three years, not because of any estrangement, but my travels and the demands of his business just kept us apart. As I write, I’m waiting for my youngest daughter and her husband to arrive with my first grandchild, Samantha, in tow. Sammie’s 15 months old now, and this will be the first Christmas we’ve been together that she’s old enough to remember, so that makes it sort of special regardless of my beliefs.
Anyway, I’d like to wish all my readers a happy and safe holiday. May you renew the bonds of love with your family and have all the happiness you deserve; and, may the upcoming year see a greater effort to make a dent in the world’s problems.
The National Memo » Veterans Denounce Neoconservative ‘Swift-boating’ Of Chuck Hagel. If the NeoCons are against him, that’s all the more reason to be for him.
Commenting on tragedy is something that is hard to do in the immediate aftermath. For that reason, I have avoided comment on the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which a deranged gunman took the lives of 20 students and 6 adults. I have, however, followed the comments by others – and, some of the comments that have flooded cyberspace have left me shaking my head in dismay.
Anyone who might wonder about my position on religion and politics; I try to steer clear of the former and have a strong feeling of disgust for the latter; has but to read some of the commentary to know why. The puerile political posturing by some former politicians, like former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who blames the shooting on a combination of lack of prayer in classrooms, homosexuals, and contraception are too dumb to even attempt a response to. Huckabee, perhaps realizing how inane his comments sounded, has since tried to back off them a bit, but it’s a case of too little, too late. The initial statements are engraved in stone, and no amount of scratching will remove them.
But, it’s the statements by those who try to portray themselves as ‘religious’ leaders that has really left a bitter taste of bile. Using this senseless tragedy as a vehicle to push their far out agendas has further validated my decision decades ago to look at Western religions with a sense of caveat emptor. Take William J. Murray, son of former anti-school-prayer activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who brought cases that spurred the Supreme Court to get prayer out of schools. Murray, now a convert to evangelical Christianity, has gone on record as saying, “lack of school-sponsored prayer led to this tragedy.” Like beginning the school day with a Christian prayer would have dissuaded Adam Lanza from his killing rampage. Murray needs to get real.
As if Murray’s ridiculous statements were not enough, Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, joined the chorus, claiming on American Family Radio’s AFA Today that the Sandy Hook shooting was due in part to ‘God being taken out of our schools.’ James Dobson, considered the number one right-wing religious leader in America, went even further. He had the audacity to claim that letting gay couples get married, among other things, caused God to let children be killed at Sandy Hook.
Finally, we have the nutty congregation of Westboro Baptist Church, a fundamentalist Christian church from Topeka, Kansas, threatening to stage a demonstration at the funerals of the victims of Sandy Hook, declaring that God sent the shooter.
These so-called ‘religious’ leaders would have us believe that their God approves of the slaughter of innocent children in retribution for treating all people with dignity regardless of their politics or sexual orientation, or for policies that put religion where it belongs; in the home and church; or, for teaching children rational science rather than religious fantasy in school. This isn’t even the Old Testament God, but something from a sci-fi horror novel. If there are people out there who buy this drivel; and I fear that there are many; I can’t sign on to such a religion.
My heart goes out to the families of the victims. We might never know what motivated this deadly event, but, the pulpit pronouncements from these foam-at-the-mouth prophets of doom aren’t helping. I find it strange that none of them seem to want to venture a comment on the ease with which disturbed people can get high-powered automatic weapons in this country has contributed to the continuing slaughter. There are some sane voices out there. Let’s hope that they’re not drowned out by all this insane patter.
It’s great when your work gets read in public. In November, Zimbabwean novelist Virginia Phiri read my urban fantasy Wallace in Underland to students at one of Zimbabwe’s secondary schools. I’ll let her describe the event in her own words”
Every writer wants his or her books to be read, and hopefully enjoyed. One of the ways of getting your work noticed is through public readings. In November, I had that experience vicariously when Zimbabwean novelist Virginia Phiri read my book Wallace in Underland at one of Zimbabwe’s secondary schools. Virginia, one of Zimbabwe’s most prominent writers, had previously read and reviewed the book, and when she was invited to do a reading at the school, asked if she could read my book. Well, of course, I said YES.
I’ll let Virginia’s own words describe the event:
I have just come back from a successful Masiyephambili Junior School Readings. The students, their teacher, the School Librarian and I had a lot of fun!
Wallace in Underland was a hit with 12 and 13 years olds. This was both boys and girls. During the questions, answers and interaction sessions the students seemed to have picked up the bullying aspect by Jamal and his friends and the abused pets sentiments. It was clear that the students were able to relate the topics to their environments.
This is a different style of writing from what they are used to but they enjoyed every minute of the reading.
It looks like there will be more of these readings in other towns and at the Book Fair.
I received the following item from my friend Larry Walker, a Foreign Service Officer currently serving as a foreign affairs advisor for a military command in Germany. This is truly funny, because it is so true – as anyone who has ever been in the military can attest. I have edited the contact information at the bottom of Larry’s article for security reasons, but the rest is just as he wrote it:
You know you’re working at a military command when…
–you call everybody in your office by their first name except your boss, whom you call “sir” or “ma’am.”
–you work with colleagues who go by nicknames like Paunch, Misfit, Biggie, Lapdog and Boom-Boom.
–all the folks you work with go to the office in camouflage fatigues, and every meeting looks like a chameleons’ convention.
–you can tell Air Force camouflage from Army camouflage at a distance of 50 feet.
–you can spot a colonel, even out of uniform, at 100 ft.
–you can name ten different types of Navy uniforms.
–you know a Navy captain is equivalent to an Army colonel, and a Navy lieutenant is equivalent to an Army captain.
–portions at restaurants on base are twice the size of the civilian world and mostly consist of meat.
–you can’t explain what you do for a living without resorting to incomprehensible acronyms and PowerPoint slides.
–when you’ve had a busy day and need some exercise, you tell your wife you had accelerated battle rhythm today and need to get in some PT (physical training).
–you pay little attention to officers below the level of Major or Lieutenant Commander but worship all enlisted service members above the level of Master Sergeant or Senior Chief Petty Officer.
–you refer to a self-service cafeteria as a “mess hall.”
–you stay home sick and email your boss that you are “keeping quarters.”
–you are ordered to attend a “theater briefing,” and you think it’s a hilarious coincidence when you find out that it is actually being held in the base’s theater.
–instead of cussing, you start using the relevant NATO code abbreviations for the first letter of each word (e.g., instead of “What the f—?” you exclaim “Whisky-Tango-Foxtrot!”
–For really bad expressions, you run letters together to form whole words (e.g., FIGMO – f— it, got my orders, and BOHICA – bend over, here it comes again).
–your wallet contains a CAT card, a badge for classified areas, a ration card, a SOFA driver’s license, dollars, local currency, and an ATM card for the Service Credit Union, while your jacket pocket contains an official passport with a SOFA stamp.
–you refer to your job as “my billet” and to decisions reserved to your supervisors as being “above my pay grade.”
–when you plan a business trip, you say you are “going downrange.”
–you when you talk about getting something through the clearance process in order to send it to the Commander’s Office, you say you’ve got to run it through the “chop chain” to get it to the “head shed.”
–you start shining your shoes once a week rather than twice a year.
–you hear a rapper rap the word “ho,” and you briefly wonder why he is singing about the Horn of Africa (HOA).
–you have an email signature block that looks something like this:
Mr. Lawrence A. (Larry) Walker
Foreign Affairs Advisor
(Mozambique, Madagascar, Mauritius)
Southern Region Engagement
U.S. Africa Command/J531
Bulding (Of course), Room (Somewhere above the basement)
Kelley Kaserne, Unit (A whole bunch of numbers)
Plieninger Straße some more numbers
70567 Stuttgart-Möhringen, Germany
Four phone numbers and
Four email addresses (which means remembering four separate passwords, yuck!)
Africa Command protects and defends the national security interests of the United States by strengthening the defense capabilities of African states and regional organizations and, when directed, conducts military operations, in order to deter and defeat transnational threats and to provide a security environment conducive to good governance and development.
- Don’t ever let anyone convince you that you’re not a writer. This is the most important thing to keep in mind, because, along the way there will be many who will try to divert you from your goals, from family to the educational system.
- Never forget that you write to be read. Unless you’re one of those artsy writers who write only for your own pleasure, remember that your reader is your customer.
- Begin at the beginning. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, start in the appropriate place.
- Don’t use ten words when one will do. Now, writers are supposed to use words, and the more the better, right? Wrong. If a word doesn’t contribute to the understanding or forward movement of your story, cut it.
- Get your reader’s attention with the first sentence. When someone picks up something you’ve written, make sure the first sentence grabs them by the nose, eyes, heart, ears, and taste buds and makes it impossible for them not to turn the page to see ‘what happens next.’
- Once the hook is in, keep pulling. If you’ve hooked a reader with your opening, you owe that reader a great ride. Put your reader on a roller coaster that they’ll never forget.
- Don’t censor yourself. When you’re writing, especially first drafts; don’t let that internal censor or critic hold you back. Let it flow out, warts and all; you can always apply a little blemish remover during rewrite.
- Remember the basic story structure: Take a character that readers can identify with or sympathize with; put him up a tree and remove the ladder; throw rocks at him for a while; and then let him climb triumphantly down from that tree.
- There’s actually only one plot or theme for every story: Someone came to town; things changed.
- Write every day – something, anything, just write.
The Word a Week Photographic Challenge: Blue is here. Blue can mean many things; sad, peaceful, loyal, or even racy, as in blue movies, or ‘cursing up a blue streak.’ Here are my photographic interpretations of blue for you to enjoy: