Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

I hear it is snowing in the North East, something I can remember from growing up in the Catskills. It is no fun dressing up in a costume only to have to put on a snowsuit to keep warm while going door to door. In California, I can just watch the mountains. Snow as backdrop, the way I like it.

To all of you who actually see trick or treaters at your door, have a fine All Hallow's Eve and don't eat too much leftover candy.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Shrinking the "To Be Read" Pile by My Bed

I finished two books in the past two days. I tend to read when I eat meals alone and sometimes I get in a page or two before I sleep. If I am intent upon finishing something, it gets dragged along with me everywhere.

Len got me a pre-publication copy of our friend Neil Gaiman's new novel The Graveyard Book and it's been waiting to be read for several months. Lately, Neil's been touring all over the place reading it for charity. It's aimed at a far younger audience than I am, but I've always enjoyed good YA and kiddy lit. In this book, a toddler escapes the slaughter of his family by crawling out of the house into a nearby cemetery which has been turned into a park. The residents take him in, name him Nobody Owens, and raise him. In the process he learns a few good skills from the ghosts and other denizens. He becomes quite resourceful in protecting himself from the killer who needs to finish the job he started at the beginning of the book.

It's a perfect little book to read for Halloween. I especially liked a short exchange which was a shout-out to Alan Moore's Watchmen, a riff on my husband's favorite line from the graphic novel: "you don't understand, they are all in here with ME." I think it is debuting quite high on the best seller lists, so it isn't hard to find a copy for an avid young reader's trick or treat bag.

The other book I just finished is Travels with Charley:In Search of America by John Steinbeck. This is one of the books I picked up in Salinas at the Steinbeck Center back in August. I'd been slowly picking at it, but got a rush to the end this week. I am profoundly struck by the timeliness of the book, which is far more than a travelogue of Steinbeck's months driving around the United States in the autumn of 1960. His northern journey took him to a number of places near those I traveled to in my first trip across country by car in 1974, where we took a month to get from New York to Stanford University (one of Steinbeck's own stomping grounds.)

Steinbeck's description of the sameness of American cuisine is magnified today, and I can only imagine what he would think of the saturation of chain restaurants throughout the country. He'd probably really like the locatarian movement. I loved reading of his decision to go to Yellowstone National Park, even though he mostly avoided the National Parks on his trip as "too touresty," and how he had to beat a hasty retreat when Charley went wild over the sight and smell of bears. I so related to visiting his sisters in Salinas to get his absentee ballot and how outraged they were that he was voting for John Kennedy. When they told him his father would be turning in his grave, Steinbeck told them that if his father were still living, he too would have changed parties. He met wonderful characters, like the actor, and frightening characters, like the racist hitchhiker in the South. Throughout it all is the wonderful personality of Charley, an older standard poodle, who kept him company during the trip.

I also had a light-bulb moment when I realized what a familiar Norman Rockwell painting was all about. It's a picture of a little black girl in her go-to-church best clothing, with faceless adults walking with her. She's got to be the little girl in the part of the book where Steinbeck made a point of going to New Orleans to see the horrible white women who were daily screaming obscenities at small children on their way into an integrated public school.

I remember the news stories of the integration of the southern universities, but this slipped by my notice in the copies of Life and Look that I read in my grandfather's barber shop. Or maybe somebody hid those issues from me, because it is very disturbing to the adult me to read about these atrocities against what Steinbeck described as a "mite" of a girl, actions which would have given me nightmares when I was almost as young as she. Thus I learned of the "Cheerleaders" who Steinbeck derided as a group of people (to use a later phrase) looking for their fifteen minutes of fame, who would scream at this little girl and the little white boy and his father who also attempted to enter the school and then run home to watch themselves on television.

If you do a Google search of "New Orleans Integration Cheerleaders" you can read about this protracted battle, about a child who was afraid to eat her lunch (teachers found her sandwiches stuffed in her locker) because one of the women would hiss at her each day "we're going to poison you so you choke to death," and about white people who lost their jobs or apartments and had their property destroyed because they attempted to break the blockade and send their children to integrated schools. It is a shameful part of our history.

Reading about this brought the recent actions of Sarah Palin and John McCain into sharp focus. Their campaign has reached back to pull those same kinds of disgusting actions into today's world. They are the Cheerleaders, urging the people on who people yell "kill him" or "terrorist" or indicate that Arabs or Muslims are an acceptable object of hate, fear, or loathing in order to block Barack Obama's bid to be President. We are being forced backward to a time better recognized for the evil it generated than as some kind of rosy picture of white America. Those who do not study history are condemned to repeat its mistakes. Those who are taught history by unreliable teachers are even worse off.

Despite this, I have great hope that next week we will elect an intelligent, thoughtful, gracious man to be President of the United States, which would impress the John Steinbeck of Travels with Charley.

Vote. And volunteer to get other people out to vote. It isn't too late.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Yes We Carve

My friend Gillian held her annual pumpkin-carving party this afternoon. With the temperatures as high as they've been this week, it is unlikely that the pumpkins will make it to Sunday unless they are refrigerated.
As you can see, we've got some talented carvers in the group. Lisa Klink did the cat on the left, a bas relief which left a layer of pumpkin to diffuse the light of the candle. Craig Miller did the nice bats on the right.Indiana Jones, done by Nicole Dubuc, was one one of the most complex carvings of the day, although the portrait of Darth Vader you can see in the center of the bottom row in the group photograph was also impressive.
In past years, more people have done double-sided carvings like this graveyard with ghosts projecting from the back of the pumpkin that Genny Dazzo made. This may have been the only pumpkin with projecting images this year.

Three of us got into the spirit of the election by using the patterns from to produce pumpkins with the Obama for President logo. It was a great idea, and, as Gillian said, we won't have any problem identifying what year the carvings were done.
The pumpkin in the center on the bottom row of this last photograph was an original design by my husband, Len Wein. He likes designing his own and does a great job with it. In past years, he's created a Swamp Thing and a Batman.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Absentee Ballots Are Counted in California

Last night at dinner with Paul Levitz, the publisher of DC Comics, we were having a discussion about absentee ballots. One person at the dinner table insisted that absentee ballots aren't counted in California unless the election is close. This is simply not true, according to the California Voter Foundation:

Will my vote by mail ballot actually be counted?

All Vote by Mail ballots that are returned to county election offices by 8 pm on election day are counted. After the 2000 election, a popular radio talk show host suggested on air that absentee ballots in California are not counted unless the contest is close, and unfortunately this piece of misinformation ended up being repeated to the point where many people became concerned that their absentee votes had not been counted.

All votes legally cast in this state are counted, regardless of whether they were cast at the polling place or submitted via mail through the vote by mail voting process. It may take a little longer to incorporate all of the vote by mail votes into the final election results, but they are all counted.

Vote by mail ballots must be returned to county election offices and received by those offices by the time polls close (8 pm) on Election Day in order to be counted. Late-arriving vote by mail ballots are not counted (just as you would not be able to vote if you arrived at your polling place at 9 or 10 pm).

Don't let anyone talk you out of voting by saying your vote won't count. It does.

And while I'm on the topic of the election, I hope everybody heard Colin Powell say on Meet the Press what I'd like to shout from the mountains every time Sarah Palin or John McCain whips their troops into a xenophobic frenzy:

“ ‘Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.’ Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim. He’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no. That’s not America. Is something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?”

It should not matter if a candidate is a Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Budhist, Catholic, or atheist. "Under God" was not added to the Pledge of Allegiance (which had its beginnings during the Spanish-American War) until the McCarthy era. There is no religious test in the Constitution for any office, though it seems to take a long time to break down that barrier in public life. Just ask David Levy Yulee, Lewis Charles Levin, Louis Brandeis, Jack Kennedy, and Keith Maurice Ellison.

Pizza for the Horses Tonight at Shakey's

Horse and Pony Rescue Ranch, Inc. (HAPRRI) is having a benefit to help pay for the board and feed for several rescue horses, including Montana and baby Willow, about whom I've written earlier.

The benefit is tonight, October 22, at Shakey's Pizza, 10340 Reseda Boulevard in Northridge, California from 5:30 to 9:30.

I've got a flyer that I'm supposed to take with me for it, but I know that members of Family Equestrian Connection will be at the restaurant before I can get there with flyers for people who show up. I'm pretty sure that HAPRRI gets a percentage of the sales during the evening.

If you happen to be in the neighborhood (and I know some of the folks who read my blog are in the neighborhood), please drop on by to support the horses. Ask for a flyer from the folks who are handing them out and say I sent you.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Old Friends

One of the coolest things about the Internet is finding people you think you've lost. Last year, I wrote a piece about a childhood friend who had moved away when we were in junior high school. I hadn't seen her since the summer we graduated from our different high schools. She found the post, which mused about her birthday, and got in touch with me, which was just wonderful. I hope we don't lose touch again.

I've had cousins find me because of this blog, as well. Some of the others (and I've got a lot of them, rather like the character in My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding) follow what's going on in my life because of it. I wish more of them were on Facebook, which I'm finding to be a great way to know what my nieces are up to (most of the nephews aren't on it.)

Earlier this year, people with whom I graduated from high school put together a list serve over on Yahoo. This is in anticipation of the momentous graduation anniversary we've got coming up next year. Cautious, because my high school memories resemble nothing less than a 1960s version of Mean Girls, I signed on. It's worked out just fine, even though discussing politics would be a remarkably bad idea. (In all fairness, I had a great time going to three reunions, starting with the 15th, since time heals most wounds, but I haven't made it back to one in a long time.) The best thing about the list serve is that someone decided to get in touch with people who moved away before we graduated, so, last week I had dinner with a different friend who left during junior high when her parents moved away.

Felice and I had a lot in common back then, because we were both of the bookworm variety of child. We've got a lot in common now: she wound up going to law school as a second career, just as I did. She lives near Buffalo, which I would consider a prison sentence during the winter, but I do envy the fact that her house is on three acres. Just imagine how much Ace could enjoy that in the summer. The lake effect would kill the benefit every February.

We reminisced about the Ogden Free Library, our favorite place in my home town. She talked about how her mother had to go to the librarian to explain that she was entitled to look at all of the adult books--there was some sort of age limit for the adult sections. I can't remember what it was, but I do remember that I got past it as well. When you read at a high school level in second or third grade, such limitations are criminal.

Felice's husband is also a reader and a quote from Douglas Adams played a part in their courtship. We discussed a lot of books and writers over dinner, many of whom have become friends of mine over the year--either because I photographed them or because I was the lawyer for the Science Fiction Writers of America for so many years. Felice and Keith are planning to come to L.A. to attend the Nebula Awards, which will be great fun for them and I really look forward to seeing them again.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Prophetic Fake News

Thanks to my dear friend Neil Gaiman for mentioning this January 17, 2001 article from The Onion, "Bush: Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity Is Over." Click the link and read it, even though it may well make you cry.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hofstra on the Map

Like many people of my age and older, I first heard of Hofstra University when I listened to Bill Cosby's routines about going to Temple University and playing football. Hofstra would beat Temple 900 to nothing. It's a very funny routine and can be found on one of Cosby's first L.P.s (remember those?)

The Hofstra I attended was no sports powerhouse. The days of football glory were behind them and the days of basketball greatness could only be seen in a crystal ball. I went there because they had an experimental program called New College, where I could earn my B.A. in three years. I was in a great hurry to get to law school. So was most of my first year class. As those of you who've read my blog know, I took a few detours before entering law school 20 years after I started Hofstra. I did, however, get my B.A. in three years at New College.

Tonight, Hofstra takes the stage as the location of the third debate in this presidential season. I'm looking forward to exterior views of the campus, which has changed a lot since I went there. The photograph above, which I found online, is the Unispan, the foot bridge that connected the north campus, with its community center and dormatories, to the south campus where the library and most classrooms were when I attended. I hear there are now two of them.

Robert Davi (whose time at Hofstra overlapped mine) used to sing opera on the Unispan because of the great accoustics when it was empty. The place was pretty much deserted on weekends when I went there because so many of the resident students were from Long Island and would go home on the weekends. I rather liked the quiet.

The law school was founded right after I graduated and quickly rose to national prominence, but before that, the school had a noted theatre program and graduates who went on to stellar careers in entertainment: Francis Ford Coppola, Lainie Kazan, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Walken, and Susan Sullivan. Overlapping my time were Peter Friedman (who was the star of the theatre department my first two years at Hofstra), Mike Starr, and Ron Kovic. The founder of Digital Domain, Scott Ross, was in my first year class at New College (he had a lot more hair then) where all 150 of us took lecture classes together in the morning. Phil Rosenthal, creator of Everybody Loves Raymond, is a more recent graduate.

I spent a lot of time with theatre majors, many of whom did reside in the dorms and I was good friends with a theatre tech major named Arturo Porazzi, whose name I often see attached to Broadway productions. Dinner with the theatre majors was always a lot of fun and the shows at Hofstra were professional-level. Hofsta holds the oldest college Shakespeare festivals in the country and I saw Peter Friedman star as Hamlet and later in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. There was a great production of Richard III a couple of years later. My first year, Spectrum (the musical comedy production) did A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and my third year it put on Patience. The Hofstra production of Three Penny Opera went on to win many awards in a national college theatre competition.

I occasionally run into fellow Hofstra Alumni, but rarely run into people who went to New College. My good friend Karen is one of the great exceptions. We became friends after meeting at an interview when I was looking for a clerkship during law school. We graduated together, but she was a year ahead of me. I recognized her name because of her nick-name. We had actually taken an elective class together, but we travelled in different circles.

So tonight, I have a choice of watching the debate at home or heading over the hill to Century City to watch the debate with a group of Hofstra Alumni at an accounting firm. I was rather enthusiastic about this until I realized it would probably not be an Obama crowd like the Al Franken party was. Despite our anti-war protests back in the late 1960s, Nassau County was Republican territory. New College contained most of the long-haired, hippie-freak, anti-war contingent. Hofstra proper had a strong ROTC program and a big Greek contingent when I was there. New College students were, and alumni still are, insistent upon referring to themselves as "New College" as opposed to "main campus" students.

I just read about a huge reception Richard Nixon got at the Nassau Coliseum in 1972--the Coliseum borders Hofstra to the West--and about the 5000 doners who attended a fund raiser right on the campus for Bob Dole during his run for President. Democratic voter registration has just exceeded Republican registration by a few hundred voters in Nassau County, and local Republican party officials try to downplay that fact.

I think I might be better off going to a non-political alumni event another time and looking for a Move-On party here in the Valley tonight.

Fire Season Part 4

We got an unexpected holiday yesterday when the president closed down the school at 10 a.m. I got out about 11:30, caught some lunch, and went to check on Ace. Gayle had moved Ace back to his own barn because the air was so much better than it had been the day before and there were no close hot spots from the fire. In fact, once I got off campus, I thought the air was so much better than it had been on Monday that I couldn't figure out why they had closed down school. (AQMD had rated the air really bad, but gave an all-clear for Wednesday.)

I could see smoke occasionally curl up from behind the ridges, but the worst of the fire had moved on to Simi Valley to the west. Ace was settled in with clean water and I gave him his snack before I left. His meal buckets were already for today. We won't be riding for a few days--time to let the air and his lungs clear out. The vet Gayle consulted said the horses will begin coughing, which shouldn't worry us unless it is accompanied by fever. The coughing will get rid of the crap in their lungs, since we couldn't find horsey dust masks to put over their noses. I wish we could have gotten those goggle masks which are put on race horses. The fly masks don't help much, but they were better than nothing for keeping goop out of their eyes.

The wind is down to nothing this morning, but it promises to be very hot with humidity less than 10%, so the red flag warnings are still up. The Senson/Porter Ranch fire is 20% contained, but I can't see any smoke on the San Fernando Valley side of the mountains. This is a good thing.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fire Season, Part 3

Ace had a lot to say about his current living arrangement and kept calling to me when I left the barn last night. The winds keep shifting, but so far things are north and way west of where he is. The air, however, is a different story. I wish there was a mask we could put over their noses to keep them from breathing in this smoke.

I had no trouble getting to him last night, even though the news report talked about heavy street traffic. I went to his boarding facility and picked up his Strongid and snack, which I took to him and then cleaned out his stall. It's a good thing he's gotten used to the goats at FEC--he hated the Boer goats when he was at Pierce and now two of them are in the pen next to him. Ally, the Arabian filly that boarded near his stall at Ranch at the Falls was in the Arena at FEC--that barn had a mandatory evacuation yesterday morning. Fire was my big fear the entire time Ace lived there, because it was right on the hills and there have been bad fires there in the recent past. If the FEC horses have to evacuate, they will be going to the Ventura County Fairgrounds, because there is no place closer with space, including here at Pierce.

The air is not as bad as it was yesterday morning, nor as good as it was when I left work yesterday. I didn't hear the winds pick up until early this morning, but they were bad up in the hills. In addition to the uncontained Porter Ranch fire, the flames moved east to Granada Hills and one of my co-workers discovered the house where she rents a room was being evacuated as she started to come to work at 5. I think she's happy that most of her personal property is in storage somewhere in the south part of L.A. She says she grabbed both of the first edition books she had that were signed by Bill and Hillary Clinton and got out.

Len and I discussed where the artwork is that will pay for a new house (above the insurance pay-off.) My computer and hard drives where I keep my digital images is packed and ready to go. If we had to evacuate, I'd also try to get the four drawers of the file cabinet housing my 20 years of portraits of science fiction writers and artists into boxes and into the car. They are my most valuable assets, much more valuable than my saddles, which can be replaced. Harlan Ellison called last night to let us know we can go to his place, along with Michael and our "two dogs." Harlan missed the memo that there are three of them again.

We're going to be all right. Our house is going to be all right. There's 7 miles between us and the fires. It's Ace's lungs which may not be all right.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fire Season Part 2

What a difference a few hours makes. Porter Ranch is up in smoke, very close to where Ace is. I'm having my trainer move him to be with her horses, in case of an evacuation. I got a call saying they could bring him to Pierce, but I don't want to do that--yet. The news reports have the fire skirting Chatsworth and heading down into the canyons on the way to Malibu. The evacuation area is north and west of where Ace is--and includes the barn he was at 18 months ago. I'll get to him in about two hours, unless traffic is blocked. I'm a lot more stressed than I was this morning.

Fire Season

The winds are hitting 65 mph and the air is moving from north east to south west, so we are getting the residue from the fires burning in Hansen Dam. Hansen Dam is a big horse area in Los Angeles, but I think the horses are being evacuated to the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank, which is probably six miles south of the fires.

At the moment, Pierce College is really in no shape to accept horses because of the construction going on by the stables to put in the new arenas. The school horse lots are also under construction, so the school horses are taking up the 18 stalls of the mare motel. I just heard my boss indicate that there's a new flare-up somewhere, so despite the construction, we may be getting evacuated animals before the day is out.

Right now, the north west corner of the valley where Ace is still has clear air. The wind direction is still to the east . When I went up to the Performing Arts Building parking lot this morning, there was a clear division between smoky air and clean air, but it was creeping westward. I won't be able to upload pictures until later.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I Just Got My Life Back

I have finished my tax return duties for 2007. My husband will go to the accountant tomorrow. I faxed off the numbers today.

I need to find a way to make Ace a deductible dependent. I guess I should start licensing pictures somewhere. Then he can be a prop.

Or my friend has to sell her screenplay where the horse is based on him and he can take up acting. I could be a stage mom.

In the mean time, I can spend hours with him this weekend without guilt. Hooray!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Molly and Willow Get a New Home

I'm taking a class in multimedia storytelling which is supposed to teach me how to use Final Cut Pro, Sound Slides, Flash and DreamWeaver. So far, I'm not totally getting Final Cut Pro, which tells me I should sign up for the class which is dedicated to FCP in the Spring. Or I need to go out and buy a good book. Or I need to have my friend Becky, the professional film editor (she worked on Spider-man 2 & 3, a couple of the X-men films, and a whole lot more), come by with her equipment to give me lessons. The first project is due next week and I'm on shaky ground with the technology, I'm afraid.

I did go out and shoot my first story for the Sound Slide presentation. My group is doing a multimedia package on the impact of the economy, and, as I've mentioned before, I'm looking to cover animals being neglected and losing their owners.

My trainer Gayle started a 501(c)(3) horse rescue charity many years ago called Horse and Pony Rescue, Inc. (H.A.P.R.I.) They got a call about some badly neglected horses a couple of weeks ago and one of Gayle's other students, Scott, decided to take on a thoroughbred mare and her three month old filly. Molly--whose name has now been changed to Montana--and Willow arrived at Davis Ranch on Saturday. The filly is beautiful, despite having caught her leg in something at the place from which they were rescued. The mare is emaciated, but in much better shape than she had been when first rescued about a month ago. The interim holding ranch managed to put about two hundred pounds on her, but there's a long way to go.This is what Molly/Montana's backbone and ribs looked like when she arrived on Saturday, after two weeks of good food. She was giving everything she had to feed her baby. Apparently, the place that owned her was feeding the horses Pig Chow. From the description, it sounds like the place was the horse equivalent of a back yard puppy mill.

Scott built a really nice 24 x 30 stall for the horses which will be divided into two 12 x 30 stalls when the baby is weaned. They will be well cared for by the entire Family Equestrian Connection. I'll be taking follow-up photographs of the horses to show how they progress. I'm also supposed to be setting up a news and color blog as part of the class (as if I need to be writing another blog) and I'll post the name as soon as I come up with one.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Political Party

Like most people, I'm looking forward to the train wreck which is coming up in the form of the Vice-presidential Debates. It won't be quite as much fun as the one I went to for the first Presidential Debate. In the photograph above, comedian and political commentator Al Franken, candidate for the U.S. Senate from Minnesota, addresses the crowd at a back-yard fundraiser in Los Angeles last Friday night. I saw several people I recognized and even a few that I know, like screen writer Josh Olson (A History of Violence.) Al was planning to do commentary during commercials, except there were no commercials. He did have some remarks at the end, before running off to House of Blues where Dan Ackroyd was having a big-ticket benefit for the campaign.

If you look closely at the photograph below, you can see SNL alum Laraine Newman next to the man watching television. Julia Sweeney was also in attendance. That's Al Franken sitting at my feet watching Jim Leher on the television. At one point, Mr. Leher was absolutely struck dumb by something that John McCain said. I wish I could remember what it was. I have fond memories of photographing Jim Leher in my studio in Virginia for an ad campaign more than 23 years ago. He was very nice, and gave me a lot more than the 10 minutes I was told I would have with him.
I'm hoping the moderator on Thursday night asks Sarah Palin about Adam and Eve riding dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden.

While a number of the people at the fund raiser were disappointed that Barack Obama didn't lay into McCain and were very unhappy that he kept acknowledging points where he agreed with McCain, the polls indicate it was a winning strategy. Obama looked presidential and McCain looked rude and angry. It was as if McCain mentally pictured Obama as the enemy, wouldn't look at him, wouldn't acknowledge him, in order to eviserate him. No wonder no one has nominated him for Mr. Congeniality.


For those of you who asked, here's a picture of Dexter, our new golden retriever. He was three in May and we've had him for all of two weeks. He's made himself right at home. He has the world's longest tongue.