Archive | May, 2021

The Sound of Silence

11 May

So I started a new job and I’m really excited about what I’m doing. However, thanks to the joys of COVID, I wanted to actually leave home, go to the office, and have a desk. Which means I’m the only person on this side of the floor… the tumbleweeds are rolling by.

As software designers would say, “This is not a bug, this is a feature.” When the new boss was letting me know about this situation ahead of time, I thought, “Great!” I actually work better in isolation. That is what appealed to me about the work-from-home situation. The wife and kids would go out for the day and the house would be all mine. All… mine! (insert evil laugh here)

Even having a desk in the bedroom from where to work, and being able to shut the door, and playing my music and/or radio, I couldn’t get over the fact that someone else was in the house with me. Kids would step in to give me a hug every so often. The wife would engage me with some news item when I came down for a snack. It disrupted my day in a way that being in an office never did. There, the presence of others was expected; at home, it was unwanted.

Plus you had the problem that you never went home after work; you were already there. I could bore you with the facts that you already know, since my working-from-home was no longer the exception, but the rule. There was no transition from being off-work to on. So despite having a great job working from home, it was driving me crazy. Having a sick day was pointless; a vacation was similar… unless you were leaving the house. Instead of resenting my co-workers – who I rarely saw – I resented my wife, just for being there.

So I figured the solution was to get a desk again–away from the house. I couldn’t afford to buy an office space, the shed wasn’t going to work as a “fortress of solitude” (because I live in Arizona, and an unheated / uncooled shed was simply not an option for five months out of the year), so a new job was the best solution… and it’s a great position.

Now what’s weird to me is that this is the first time in nine years that I’ve had a desk to go to in the same metro area. I had a desk when I was a traveling consultant at the location they asked me to fly to, but it was always a temp spot. It wasn’t MINE. Now I get the added weirdness of being the only one here. However, I think that’s gonna be a good transition for me. I had the “fortress of solitude,” I lost it, and now I’m back there again. By the time people actually have to come back to their desk, I’ll be comfortable.

Of course, I could be deluding myself–who knows? What do you think? Is this is a viable solution to my home woes, or am I simply running away and avoiding the relationship work with my family? Let me know in the comments below! Then you can see what I do with my books. However, if you’re not that interested in my writing, why not download my stories for free? You’ll be glad you did.

God Bless the Military Wife

10 May

I grew up as a navy brat, so for me, moving every couple of years was normal. You were expected to go to a new school, make new friends, I never really considered how that was for my mom.

For my dad, who was in the Navy, this was normal. He wasn’t a navy brat like me, but his father (who was a Navy vet) worked in the construction industry. Grandpa built nursing homes across the Midwest, which meant that every 6 months to a year, he had to move to where the work was. But my mom lived in two houses up to that point; one on a farm, then other in town, and all within the same 30 mile radius.

For the next ten years of their marriage, they moved five times. I came along at year two, which always amplifies things, but she seemed rather contented from all the notes and letters that I inherited. My dad volunteered to avoid the draft (strange, but true) during the Vietnam War, so when the war was over, everyone was getting out. The personnel guys offered him a deal he couldn’t refuse… a massive jump in pay grade if he signed up for another tour. Not having anything to go back to, he agreed.

Unfortunately, not many sailors took the same choice, so the Navy was woefully undermanned in the late 70’s. That meant when my dad was put on a fleet tender, instead of the normal six month rotation, he was on it for almost two years. He hates that ship to this day. Me and my mom moved back to her hometown and lived there, because there was no point waiting in Charleston when he rarely got off the boat.

So much like myself, my mom had to make new friends, and sometimes get new jobs (although I think they made do on his income most times). Then deployments… where he’d be gone for God knows when. Again, I was pretty young for most of this, so having my Dad gone for most of the time was… my version of normal. Communication was done through letters and cards and few and far between. Thankfully, like the ex-pat community, there is a whole community of Navy wives out there to connect to, regardless of where you’re stationed.

What broke their marriage was not her being upset at the situation, it was his infidelity. Despite the fact that she moved everywhere with him, vets will tell you that they can’t relate to the civilian world. The demands of the service require a lot of you–it’s a zero-excuse environment, because doing your duty could mean the difference between life and death. After the places you’ve travelled and the things you’ve seen, how do you go back to your wife and pretend to be the average 8-to-5 working man? So when they divorced, he got married to a Navy officer, and they’ve been together ever since.

It’s a terrible arrangement, but to do it for so long is nothing short of a miracle. It’s not uncommon–honestly, the divorce rate among military couples is only slightly higher than the national average–so I’m amazed when they stay together. Then again, I’m amazed when anyone stays together, but I could be exaggerating. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below! Then if like how I tell a story here, check out one of my books. However, if you don’t like paying for my stories, go ahead and download one of my stories for free.

It’s National _______ Day!

9 May

If you really need an excuse to party, there are several choices every day you can choose from. However, if you declare today National Archery Day (and it is), if no one knows it… does it really matter? What’s the point?!

Of course, in America, today is Mother’s Day–important for little kids’ gifts, the most phone calls made, breakfast in bed–but ever since it was promoted back over a hundred years ago, it’s the flower industry that reminds us of it every year. The archery industry just doesn’t have as much of a marketing budget to overcome that advantage.

For example, National Bowling Day is August 16th this year. I remember I was organizing an event five years ago at a bowling alley and we didn’t know it was a holiday until we arrived. We just planned to bowl regardless. However, we got free t-shirts, and it was nice… but as encouragement to bowl more, it lacked a lot of oomph.

Arbor Day is even having a hard time getting any traction. There’s an entire foundation dedicated to remind people to plant trees. The last I heard about it was when I was in 2nd Grade and we planted a tree as a class… that was the 80’s. It was April 30th this year… which is probably part of the problem. You’re hitting the end of the school year, and you had Earth Day on April 22nd (just the week before), so to have another environmentally-based holiday is rather hard to get excited about.

Despite the rhetoric, every day is NOT Earth Day, because we only have so much give-a-damn in our lives. Unless your cause is the environment, the rest of us have things to do. We’ve got to go to work, and take care of the kids, and feed the pets, and binge watch that Netflix series. Even if you care deeply about the environment, what are you doing daily to save the Earth? Recycling? Maybe that’s enough, but you’re not going to think about it after a while, and maybe you’ll check your coffee is free-trade, but you won’t care as much about your frozen pizza. You can’t pay attention to everything all the time.

Which is why there are holidays in the first place; one day you can remember to do one thing to make things better. But people have to know about it in the first place. Cornelia de Lange Syndrome Awareness Day (today) only works if people have heard about it; maybe shift it to a… not-Mother’s Day date? BTW, it’s a genetic disease that affects kids different ways, reshaping bones, and causing mental disabilities. Important… but shouldn’t it be important enough to put on a different day?

So if you’re going to have a Miniature Golf Day, a Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive Day, or a National Moscato Day realize that the entire point is to advertise that fact, and make sure you get the word out. And maybe not have them on Mother’s Day, because otherwise, no one will hear about it. But I could be getting too crotchety about this. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below! Then since it’s National Buy My Book Day (it’s not), buy one of my books. But if you think that’s a silly holiday, go ahead and download one of my stories for free.

You Know What I Was When You Brought Me In

8 May

I love a well-crafted commercial–and insurance companies hire some of the best firms in America. However, the recent GEICO ads bug me, because they hired these personalities to do a job opposite of what they do.

For those who aren’t familiar with this ad series, you can watch it, but here’s the gist. GEICO brings in this celebrity, they start doing their schtick, and the executives say, “You know, that’s really not what we’re going for.” The celebrity does more of that schtick, and the execs correct them again. That’s their “Take the Drama Out” rollout.

Why this annoys me is the concept is first, these are “claims auditions.” If these were anonymous actors pitching their best ad campaign, this would make sense, but these are known people. You know exactly who they are. Dick Vitale is a sports announcer; he says wacky things, he’s big, he’s boisterous, he exaggerates. Then these execs tell him (politely), “Yeah, that’s not what we do…” Then why the #($& did you ask him to come in?!

Billy Blanks is a high-energy exercise magnate; he’s gonna do a workout. Lisa Loeb is a successful singer-songwriter who does catchy mildly-depressing songs. So… it reminds me of when the boss asks you to do something that’s WAY out of your job description, but you do it anyway, and then they say, “Well, that’s really not what I wanted.” Really? Gee, maybe you should have asked the person who’s supposed to do the job to do it!

I’ll admit, part of my complaint is that I really love Lisa Loeb… and Dick Vitale, and I don’t want to see them humiliated on TV. But it’s that tone-deafness that really annoys me. I guess I’ve been in that situation too many times myself, grinding my teeth, because… well, my job is often whatever my boss says it is. A job description is a description, not a list of absolutely do’s and don’ts. Yeah, I could pitch a fit, say I won’t do it, but… that really removes a lot of my boss’s appeal to keep me around.

A pet peeve? Possibly, but considering how good GEICO ads usually are, I find it a slap in the face. Of course, I could be thinking about these too hard–what do you think? Let me know in the comments below! Speaking of advertisements, check out one of my books. However, if you found this post less than my normal quality, go ahead and download one of my stories for free.

And the next president is…

7 May

…no one you know. We’re still three years out from the next presidential election in America, but that doesn’t keep people from placing bets on it. However, I know that all of these are sucker bets.

Just for the record, you can’t bet legally in the US on political races. Lawmakers put that under the list of “bad things” that casinos can’t do, but the UK has no such scruples. The belief that voting odds can change elections is… not unprecedented.

Of course, the big question will be “Is Joe Biden running again?” The smart money says no, because he’ll be 81 and is already looking like he’s not sure where he is. So common belief is that he will step aside in favor of his VP, Kamala Harris. Despite all the hoopla that she gets for being the triple threat (black, Asian, and a woman), she’s not that impressive when she’s actually running. She didn’t even make it to Iowa. So despite the great step-up that gives her, she’d get trounced in the primaries.

The next question is… is Donald Trump running again. Despite his massive negative backlash, he’s still got a solid positive rating among Republicans. Compare to him to the list of “who cares” in the Republican primary and he wins easily. Whether he could win the big race depends on whose running against him. However, Trump himself will be 77 years old, and he’s starting to look his age. So I doubt he’s going to do it again.

Then this UK list hits names that are exciting, but doubtful. Nikki Haley is exciting, but front runners rarely win the primaries, because they appeal to a wide range of voters… not the diehards who vote in the primaries. Mike Pence appeals to Christian fundamentalists, but only in a “yeah, he was VP to Trump, right?” sort of way.

But the list gets more difficult to put your finger on. Ron DeSantis (governor of Florida) I believe could run, and he’s got a good track record, but he’s not very exciting. Alexandra Osasco-Cortez certainly has a huge Twitter presence, and shouts a lot, but I think she will fail in more conservative places like Iowa and New Hampshire.

Then you get the first ladies–why on Earth would they run? They know what a presidential campaign is like. Then they list celebrities; again, they have enough money to run, but the second they announce, every single bad mistake in their lives will be scrutinized. I think Dwayne Johnson likes being everyone’s favorite uncle; why would he give that up? Jeff Bezos would have to give up his comfortable billionaire lifestyle to have people yell at him for being a rich bastard? Nah…

The ones at the end of the list are the most likely. Kristi Noem, governor of South Dakota, recently making a name for herself among Republicans. Tim Scott, senator from South Carolina, a black Republican who gave the response to the presidential address… very articulate. For the Dems, Pete Buttigieg, current Secretary of Transportation, might make another shot. He’s more experienced, gay, and Midwestern. Not quite the same triple threat as Kamala, but a lot more appealing on the stage.

But it’s just as likely at that point to be some governor or senator you’ve never heard of, which is why it’s foolish to speculate at this early in the process. But election pollsters have to eat just like the rest of us. What do you think? Is my analysis missing a critical point? Let me know in the comments below! Then vote with you wallet and buy one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too much for your vote, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. I’m Marcus Johnston and I approve this message. 🙂

Equity Is NOT Equality

6 May

You hear the word “equity” a lot. It sounds like “equality” so how could anyone be against it? “Equity” means equality of outcome, versus equality of opportunity. Why is that bad? Because humans don’t work that way.

You’ve seen the cute graphic of three kids trying to look over a fence; how equal opportunity (represented by boxes) still leaves one kid unable to see. But if you give the smaller kid two boxes, and the big kid no boxes, everyone can see just fine. Looks correct, doesn’t it? After all, everyone should be able to see the game, some people just need more help.

One of the books I keep on my bookshelf from my grad school days (and most of them have been exiled) is “Declining by Degrees,” which is the PBS companion book to the documentary they did fifteen years ago. Because it’s been out so long, you can watch it for free. However, what interested me was the book was full of essays from different educational experts and journalists, all asking the same question, “Why are standards declining in our universities? Why are graduates able to do less than those who graduated a generation before?” Many reasons were given, but the solution was always the same: “You need to give more money to schools.”

Hmmm… that did not sound right. After all, LA Unified School District spends $18,788 per student, and as anyone in LA will tell you, never send your kid to a LAUSD school. New York City spends $25,199 per student, as compared to a nationwide average of $12,201. Now that may just be because LA and NYC are simply more expensive. However, that still doesn’t completely explain why there worse test scores in places that the spend the most?

Maybe it’s because money has nothing to do with outcomes.

Another lifetime ago, I taught at a private boarding school overseas. So our student body was a self-selecting sample; parents who wanted to pay a LOT of money to send their kid to an isolated location for an American school in India. They wanted their kids to either a) get into a Western university and/or b) have a unique international experience. As a teacher, I could always tell which students would succeed and which wouldn’t. What was the difference? How often their parents checked in with them.

The best students had their parents calling every night… or every other night, checking on their homework, they showed up at the parent-teacher conferences even though it was a serious pain to get to twice a year. They came to take their kids out on the weekends every so often. The parents made sure they were still in their lives. The worst students had no contact apart from holidays. The saddest example was the student who didn’t want to go home because all they would be doing is sitting in an empty apartment with a maid to take care of them.

No amount of money will turn a failed student into a successful one. The only thing that will is having that student find someone else who gives a damn. It doesn’t have to be a parent; it can be a coach, a teacher, a challenging friend. Putting up more boxes to lift someone up doesn’t convince the kid to actually stand; what it does do is give money to people who make boxes.

But what do you think? Am I just too jaded? Are there worthy charities that really just need more money, but get diverted to less worthy ones. (Of course.) Let me know in the comments below! Then if you need a worthy place to put your money, buy one of my books! However, if $1.99 is if too much to “donate,” go ahead and download one of my stories for free. Thank you for your support.

Let A Platitude Be Your Attitude

5 May

What is the difference between a quotation and a platitude? How can one person hear a cute saying and think it’s profound and another think it’s insipid? Does it have something to do with how it’s communicated?

I was listening to the radio and the same PSA came on for the umpteenth time. It sounds like Amanda Gorman, the current poet laureate, but it’s not be her; someone who is imitating her style. It starts off with “A return to sanity, could it be?” It goes into this poetic reading of the benefits of getting the vaccine and how it will help us get back to normal.

I really hate it.

However, let me do a little metacognition–that means I’m pretentious–thinking about how I think. Why do I hate this PSA? The first thought is my same thought about all PSAs; why do we need this commercial? Do you think people haven’t heard about the vaccine by now? Don’t you think people have already made up their minds about this vaccine? They’ll either get it or they’re waiting for availability or they won’t.

Who will hear this well-drafted poem that hasn’t heard the message already? “Click it or ticket” has been around for decades and yet I still have a friend who will never put a seat belt on. Ever. He’s the only one. The message is out there; you won the argument! Accept 99% compliance. That’s a win.

I think another reason is the repetition. I’ve heard this commercial five times a day; it’s played on this radio station every hour… maybe every half hour… because radio stations are required to play a certain percentage of PSA’s in their ad stream. Also because iHeartMedia charges companies differently for live streams than broadcast frequencies. There’s less advertisers who want to pay that, therefore, more PSA’s to fill the void.

I think the best example of this is music. I like the song “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” by Nine Days; everyone else of my generation hates it. Why? Because it was played on a high repetition when it came out in 2000. I love the lyrics, I love the tempo… but I also haven’t heard it a lot. Even now, I’m reluctant to actually play it, because it’s such an earworm, I can play it in my head easily.

My wife suggests that part of the problem is that it’s an unfamiliar style. Then again, she’s bought critical race theory whole; that doesn’t mean she’s wrong in this case. It’s an African-American doing a “performance poem,” which my lily-white ears aren’t comfortable with. The “other” does make things more difficult to accept. I never listened to rap growing up, so when my drinking buddy wants to crank up the rap from my generation, I can’t share the joy that he has about the genre. So I’m not down with it.

So this PSA fails on message, repetition, and style for me. You could judge it yourself. However, I think you remember something similar. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below! Then check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too steep for your wallet, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. This post brought to you by Albigensia Press and the Ad Council. 🙂

Better Than They Needed To Be

4 May

I’ve recently come across a new category of films. These are films that turn out to be great–deep and moving and philosophical–but are at their core, simply a cheap franchise. Why are they better than they need to be?

So me and my son watched the first two Hunger Games films together, after my friend introduced me to them in Tucson. At their face value, the story is rather simple. Teenage girl, dealing with teenage problems, now has to balance her love triangle in a deadly situation. Okay–since your audience is teenagers, you have to keep the rating down to PG-13, otherwise, they can’t get in the movie theatre.

You’re asking the director to make a film about a battle to the death… without showing blood. This sounds like a box office nightmare.

And yet… you watch it and… it’s unbelievably brilliant! It compares economic disparity, elaborates on the falsehood of television, deals with PTSD… all of this through something that was supposed to be a throw-away blockbuster. The story writing is amazing, there are NO bad roles or bad actors in this film, and the costume and makeup are insanely good.

Then how did they get around showing a blood bath without blood? Simple camera tricks; in the first film, they had shaky cam work. The second one was even more clever–having the camera leave the focus for a second or have something else move in front of it. Better yet, do it off screen! The scariest part of the second film had no blood in all, just the screams of the people of they loved… (shiver)

Similar thought about the Lego Movie. Lego had been making movies for years–usually 5 minute clips with no sound showing off how their playsets could be used. So they knew it could be done well. However, no one was expecting anything hilarious and brilliant. The writers realized that, “Gee, no one’s expecting to take this seriously, so why not just go all out with it!” And they did.

Once they had a great script, they could bring in a serious amount of voice talent with known names to do the roles. (Of course, you could say the same about the Emoji Movie.) However, they had access to all the franchises that Lego has ever done (DC Comics, Lord of the Rings, NBA All-Stars), which helped up the ridiculous factor. What came out was an amazing film that has great quotes, great earworm music, and a plot that made you laugh and cry with these animated characters.

In the end, way better than they needed to be. Is there another example that fits this category? Should it be it’s own subgenre? Let me know in the comments below! Speaking of better than they ought to be, check out one of my books. 🙂 However, if you’re not convinced that $1.99 is worth losing to chance, go ahead and download one of my stories for free! Then I’ll see you at the movies.

Hang ‘Em High

3 May

Here’s a weird topic; despite all the films to the contrary, legal public executions went out of fashion over a hundred fifty years ago. It’s much easier to kill someone in private. So a lot of the technical details behind them has been forgotten.

Why does my mind go to places like this? Well, I came across an article about Mary Ball, the last person to be publicly executed in Coventry, England. She had murdered her husband by poisoning him, because he had been sleeping around, and had confessed to it. It was August 9th, 1849, and more than 20,000 people showed up for her hanging… which kinda tells you that it was such a rare occurrence that people came from all around to see it.

In this case, they build a gallows for the event–usually it’s a temporary structure that is simply a platform with a sturdy place to hang the rope. It’s important to be high above the ground so that the trap door will open and snap the person’s neck… which is actually what kills them, not strangle them, which takes a lot longer and becomes “cruel and unusual.”

The picture I found for this gallows come from the historic site in Fort Smith, Arkansas and it’s a replica. In the Wild West, where there wasn’t as much law and order (and there was a “hanging judge” by the name of Parker), this was a quasi-permanent structure. However, even in this lawless area, it was considered an eyesore, and torn down in 1897.

Because I love local history, I always try to find out about the town I’m living in. In my hometown, they actually planted a “gallows tree.” Because it is the county seat, that’s where executions would be done. They only ever used it once; a man named Christian Riebling in Lyndon who got drunk on Christmas Eve 1883, had a shouting match with a younger man, and mortally wounded him. On May 6, 1884, Riebling was sentenced to death and got a crowd of 350 people who watched his execution. The tree was cut down the next year; apparently it was one of those things that sounded better than it actually was. In nearby Carroll County, they simply dug up their tree in 1878 and stored it in their courthouse, saying that it would grow again if you planted it.

It was there as of 1960; I’m very curious if it’s still there.

I found it interesting that there is a lot of tradition behind a gallows tree. In Scotland, they called them dule trees, and sycamores tended to be preferred, because they could hold the weight of a man being dropped from it. However, it could be any type of tree. However, gallows trees–or gallows in general–went out of fashion because of the “oogie” factor. People believed that nothing would grow where a gallows stood, So as people became more “civilized,” they didn’t want that constant reminder of their barbarity.

Okay–this was a rather dark subject, but I was curious. What do you think? Should we restore public executions? Is lethal injection more humane? Let me know in the comments below. I don’t execute characters in my books, so you’ll enjoy them. However, if $1.99 is too steep for your wallet, go ahead and download one of my stories for free.

Once We Win, Kill Our Allies

2 May

After winning any revolution, the new victors first step is to kill their allies. Not all of them, but enough that they don’t have to share the power with them all. If they can’t, this leads to civil war. This is also true in any election, though not as bloody.

What do I mean? Let’s start with the bloody examples first. In Germany, Hitler came to power on the backs of his party apparatus and his paramilitary, called the SA (Assualt Division) but better known as the Brown Shirts. It was the SA that beat up people at opposing political rallies, caused Kristallnacht, the destruction of so many Jewish businesses, and the Reichstag Fire, which finally gave Adolf his emergency powers. How did Hitler reward them? With the Night of the Long Knives; where he sent his more trusted goons (the SS) out to kill every single leader of the SA on charges of sodomy (which were true) and treason against the state, and then dismantled the SA entirely.

Why? Because Ernest Rohm was a threat to his leadership; an alternate charismatic leader with whom he didn’t want to share power. So he and hundreds of his followers had to go.

When you don’t do this, you get something like the Irish Civil War of 1922-3, where the former revolutionaries, united on the cause of Irish independence, suddenly couldn’t agree on the form that independence would take. Eamon De Valera and his Fianna Fail refused to accept the “limited sovereignty” that Michael Collins and his Fine Gael had negotiated from the British. So Eamon withdrew his support, and eventually, his followers (the second version of the Irish Republican Army) started fighting the Irish Free State. Collins was killed, De Valera was defeated, and Ireland… eventually became a republic anyway ten years later.

On the whole, it seemed like a pointless exercise–except it wasn’t. They winners couldn’t afford to let their allies get in the way of ruling. They didn’t want to, but egos get in the way, and… well, as James Madison once said, “If men were angels, there’d be no need for governments.”

On a less bloody version, voters often wonder why politicians go back on their campaign promises once they get into office. The truth is… because they can’t. They promise so many items that they can increase their voter bases, because something they say will have to appeal to you. However, once they get into office, they finally understand the limits of their rule. So when a politician gets elected, they can either a) conveniently ignore that promise, b) give lip service to that promise, or c) fulfill it to some degree, because that ally’s support is still useful.

So “killing your allies” in the modern sense is simply cutting them off from your support. Ted Wheeler, Mayor of Portland, was perfectly happy to let the Antifa protestors burn his city to the ground… until the election. After all, they were on his side, right? But once he was reelected, defeating the opposition (who said, “I am Antifa”), suddenly the protests weren’t as charming anymore. After the New Years’ Eve Riots, they are being put down a lot more harshly. He didn’t need them anymore AND he realized that they weren’t on his side. BLM is getting tired of Antifa at their rallies, the moderate Democrats are tired of the progressives, and the whole cycle of purging your allies begins all over again.

Of course, I could just be talking about speculation, not facts. What do you think? Are the parties more unified than I believe? Is there coalitions that stay functionally together after victory? Let me know in the comments below! Then vote with your pocketbook and get one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too steep for your vote, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. I am Marcus Johnston and I approve this message.

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