I am an observer not of this world, though most of the life forms that inhabit this planet have no knowledge of my existence which is probably a good thing. I’m here to observe and report back whether Earth is receptive to a cultural exchange with our world. So far it’s clear that none of the life forms from this world would yet be able to reach ours on their own although sometimes an early exchange can prove beneficial to all concerned. Sadly, from my observations thus far I’m inclined to recommend against such an exchange at this time. While the life forms on this planet pose no direct threat to us, our presence would greatly complicate the situation for the life forms on this planet and would undoubtedly change the course of their development. Continue reading
The Camel Club’s final case
Hell’s Corner, released in 2010, is the fifth and final book in David Baldacci’s Camel Club series. As mentioned in a prior essay, the Camel Club is a ragtag team of eccentrics who are attuned to and intent on exposing and correcting our government’s missteps. John Carr, AKA Oliver Stone, leads the group and is a former government-trained assassin from a highly secret (and fictional) branch of the CIA.
At the outset of the story, Stone is pulled back into the government fold, though not as a Triple Six assassin since that division no longer exists. He has other skills that they desperately need, so the president makes him an offer he that cannot refuse. Stone has been living off the grid for the last thirty years or so, constantly looking over his shoulder because even his own government has been after him. After his recent retaliatory actions to remove his two biggest threats it actually has a valid reason to pursue and eliminate him. The president recognizes his value despite Stone’s sometimes rogue behavior, so he offers him the opportunity to work on a high stakes case. If successful, the president promises that he’ll allow Stone to live out the rest of his life in peace. Stone agrees and is due to embark on a grueling training course after which he’ll be put back in the field on a case he really isn’t expected to survive. Continue reading
A most ungraceful exit
A Fatal Grace is the second of Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache stories. It was first released in Canada as Dead Cold in 2006. Although it takes several chapters before the primary murder of interest occurs, Armand Gamache ends up back in Three Pines again. For a small village outside of Montreal, Three Pines might rival Cabot Cove in Maine for the most murders per capita, and this is only one of the murders being investigated by the famed Chief Inspector this time. He has two investigations going on. The primary case occurs on Boxing Day in Three Pines and involves his full team. The secondary case is one involving the murder of a homeless woman in Montreal that occurred a few days earlier though most of his team is unaware of the Montreal murder. He keeps that case close to the vest as it is a recent one that he’s investigating on the side for a friend with the Montreal Metropolitan Police. Gamache is a Chief Inspector with the state police – the Sûreté du Quebec, and he and his wife (Reine-Marie) have a Boxing Day tradition of combing through the cold cases brought by Marc Brault of the city’s force while Brault does the same with some of Gamache’s more stubborn cases. Why such a recent murder would be a cold case intrigues Gamache. As for the trade, new sets of eyes could sometimes break the logjam. Continue reading
The pine cone mystery
For over 25 years, a giant pine tree that was rooted at the apartment complex next door loomed over the back half of my townhouse. It also sprawled over a large portion of the common area behind my building. That tree was monstrous. In addition to a constant flow of pine needles and twigs covering my roof year around, it dropped pine cones onto my roof that sometimes startled me out of a sound sleep. Many of those pine cones would eventually either roll off the roof onto the patio or fall there directly from the tree. That tree threatened to drop limbs which could make stormy nights especially daunting. Fortunately when limbs did fall on occasion, they fell into our common area, and our HOA would eventually have them cut up and hauled away. A few months ago, the apartment complex next door brought in a tree service to cut down that tree and turn it into mulch. It had been sick and posed a danger to people at both the apartments and our townhouse development. Continue reading
Everyone needs a very nice box
The Very Nice Box is a quirky, sensitive first novel by Eve Gleichman and Laura Blackett, released in July 2021. Gleichman and Blackett’s debut novel deftly takes on social stigmas, office peculiarities, loss, grief, relationships, and happiness wrapped up in an engaging story filled with humor and unexpected twists that keeps readers on the edge of their seats anxious to find out what happens next. The story centers on Ava Simon, an able engineer who leads a design team for STÄDA, a company in Brooklyn somewhat reminiscent of IKEA providing a wide range of heavily branded products meant for functionality above all else. These products are fashionable and cover almost every area of furnishing and function a person could need for their home, office, and personal care. Ava designs an essential furnishing that everyone needs – boxes. Her passion project is to design and build The Very Nice Box, something destined to become one of STÄDA’s signature products. Continue reading
Next to Normal is coming to SCP
Sunnyvale Community Players opens their production of Next to Normal on Saturday, 22 April 2023. Performances run Fridays – Sundays through 14 May 2023. This rock musical with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt was honored with the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010. The show is notable for being one of the first to deal with the serious issues surrounding mental health in American society and in particular in suburbia. Awareness through art can be powerful, enlightening, and healing, and this show makes a strong statement. The plot surrounds a family dealing with mental illness and the effects that it has on all of them through looks inside their hearts and minds. Despite outward appearances, they are all deeply affected in some unexpected ways. The characters are genuine and sympathetic, and the challenges they face from society at large and the medical community come vividly to life on stage through the music and stories told through song. Continue reading
My magical, musical journey: Part 9 – For the love of music
Music can be all-encompassing whether making music or just listening to it. It can be healing. It can be invigorating. It can also stimulate the brain in ways that nothing else can. Music encourages artistic and emotional connection and expression. And unfortunately in our profit-centered world, it can also be far too expensive. In July of 2019, I wrote a piece exploring some of the differences between those playing to live and those who lived to play for the sheer love of it, though in both cases my essay focused on the performance aspects and the range of compensation musicians received for their services.
I’ve written about the recent demise of two local theater companies. I had worked for both companies in the past, and they each served the community in numerous ways. Between the ongoing risks associated with the prevalence of COVID-19 reducing audiences, escalating facility costs, and legislation in California forcing performing arts organizations to treat any paid person as an employee with all of the overhead costs that entails, it’s become increasingly difficult to keep small theater groups and community music ensembles afloat. It’s also made accessing those that are still functioning far more cost prohibitive for many audience members. Continue reading
Niceness should matter
A few weeks ago, I wrote an essay about needing more cooperation and less competition. I still stand by that as a means to improve society and human quality of life overall. After more thought, I’ve begun to wonder if perhaps humankind is experiencing a negative aspect of evolution and as a result is breeding for greed, aggression, and other negative traits because they achieve more evolutionary success in the short term. Yuval Noah Harari posits in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind that to be an evolutionary success, an organism needs to create as many copies of itself as possible. Seeing the changes that society has incurred over the last several decades, it appears that for a variety of reasons, people have gotten meaner toward one another. We need look no further than the ultra-extremism in today’s GOP and its supporters. Their devotion to the morbidly rich, their love affair with guns, and their ongoing efforts to strip away the rights of everyone who isn’t a rich, straight, white Christian male to have any say at all in society has pitted everyone against one another for a smaller and smaller piece of the pie. They want to achieve a complete destruction of democracy through violence and domination. They keep talking of revolution while freely displaying weapons of war. Continue reading
A day for the history books: a former president has been indicted
30 March 2023 was a day that will loom large in our nation’s history. Given all that has transpired, it had to happen eventually, but only after extensive investigation. While we cannot know for sure, it’s likely that we’ll see more such days as the continuing investigations complete. Donald J. Trump, a former president of the United States of America, has been indicted. We don’t yet know the specific charges. Those will be unsealed in due time when he is arraigned.
In the U.S., the last 8 years have yielded many unprecedented events, some of which are undoubtedly criminal activities directed by the former president. His personal criminal past may well go back long before he entered politics, but because the investigations are ongoing, we can’t know the full content of what has been discovered surrounding those activities just yet. Now they are starting to land squarely in the courts with him as the focus of attention in criminal rather than just civil matters. This is a big change. In the case of the former president, this is all of his own making, and now he’s being held accountable, something he likely never believed could ever happen to him. While someone’s misfortune is not a cause for celebration, it’s a little hard not to view the events of 30 March 2023 with a bit of pride that we are still a nation of laws that apply to everyone, even former presidents. Continue reading
Life is anything but still
Still Life is Louise Penny’s first Chief Inspector Gamache story from 2005. Armand Gamache is a Chief Inspector from the Sûreté du Québec in Montreal who gets called to investigate a suspicious death in a small village not too far away. This is both Penny’s first novel and the first book in her long series of beloved detective stories. While the mystery in this story unfolds in the fictional village of Three Pines, it has been hypothesized that the location is based on Penny’s hometown of Knowlton in Southern Québec. Still Life was first written in English and has since been translated into multiple languages. In the English version, Penny sprinkles bits of French into the description and the dialog on occasion given where the story takes place. Fortunately, a knowledge of French isn’t necessary to fully enjoy the book.
Penny draws vivid characters who delight readers with their quaint observations and local quirks and customs. Her stories are thought of as gentler crime novels with very little violence and no sex which makes them far different from most of the aggressive stories that are so pervasive these days. These stories are instead built through character studies and relationships as Penny focuses on the human and humane interactions. Continue reading