Category Archives: Random thoughts

Seventy-seven cents

The Women's Union Label League parades for women's equal pay in San Diego's Labor Day Parade, 1910. Women have been at the equal pay thing for a while.

The Women’s Union Label League parades for women’s equal pay in San Diego’s Labor Day Parade, 1910. Women have been at the equal pay thing for a while.

I can’t believe we still have to talk about this crap, but evidently, we do. Seventy-seven percent. That’s how much money a woman earns compared to a man: seventy-seven cents of every dollar.

Today President Barack Obama signed an executive order that makes it easier for the employees of federal contractors to find out what their colleagues earn and to discuss wages. So Jane can stand on the line and ask Joe what he makes, and if he tells her, she can find the boss on her break and ask for a raise. That’s not revolutionary, but it’d be good.

But remember, only if she’s employed by a federal contractor. If she works at Home Depot or Dollar Tree or some other non-federal-government job, fugeddaboudit.

The presidential event honors National Equal Pay Day, and the event is a cheap political shot by Democrats to woo their constituents before an election. I’m all for it. Women’s median earnings are lower than men’s in nearly all occupations—even in jobs that are predominantly taken by female workers.equalpay-final-208x300

Women often suffer in competitive occupations because they take time off to have children. When working women have small children at home, employers say they take too much time off, they aren’t loyal to the company, they can’t perform at the highest level, and they don’t deserve a raise. When working men have small children at home, employers say that they have a family to take care of, so they deserve the extra money. That disparity needs to stop.

Women need to learn to ask for more money and negotiate for higher wages, but employers—and society at large—needs to shift its attitudes and reward results gained and not hours worked.

Today’s executive order does not give any female employee one red cent. It just makes it easier for her to find out what somebody else at her company earns. It’s a small step to raising that seventy-seven cents to a full buck. And that’s long overdue.


Your Title Here

BookBub's mystery category word cloud

BookBub’s mystery category word cloud

BookBub's historical romance word cloud

BookBub’s historical romance word cloud

BookBub, an ebook promotion services company, published a blog post about words that are trending in book titles. Using data from the last six months, BookBub analyzed 3,850 books from multiple fiction categories to see which words turn up most frequently in titles and then turned their results into word clouds.

Which word was used the most often? Love. Love appeared in the titles of religious and romance novels, but also horror, historical fiction, women’s fiction, and mysteries. Pious turned up in the titles of action-adventure novels, but not religious. (Religious, however, had Couponing. How inspirational is that?)

Murder and Death were huge for the mystery category, as you might guess, but some mysteries also used Dumpty (but not Humpty, as far as I could tell). Thriller titles used Justice, Blood, Black, and Blue the most (I guess there’s a lot of bruising going on in thrillers). War was the word used most often in historical fiction titles, and Destiny and Deadly—but also River—in action-adventure. Zombie and Dead turned up most frequently in horror titles, but historical fiction by a huge margin went with Bride. Historical fiction titles also used Sourdough and Bushwhacked. (I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wanted to use “Bushwhacked” in a title. Or anywhere.)

Contemporary romance titles included the words Audubon and Shopper. Children’s books went with Amazing, Treasure, and Princess. Religious books used the word Heaven most often in their titles (and let’s not forget Couponing).

Women’s fiction went big with food words: Ate, Pickled, Chocolate, Coffee, Shelled, Shucked, Fried, and my favorite, Geoducks.

Lots of words in book titles seem to be possessives. Everybody’s got one — God and the Devil, as well as normal people: Anne, Darcy, Doctor, Else, Gasparilla, Horatio, Jacob, Nefertiti, and Nobody. Tough guys get their time on the cover—Assassin, Hunter, Monster, Pirate, Rogue, Shooter, Warrior—as well as royalty: Emperor, King, Knight, Duke, and Lady. Abstracts that own things: Heaven and Freedom. Places that own things: Chicago and a Kingdom. Things that fly that own things: Bird and Fairy.

I couldn’t resist: I made up a few titles of my own using trending words. Ready?

The Assassin’s Princess Treasure (action-adventure)

Darcy’s Zombie Love Bride (historical romance)

Couponing on the Dumpty River (women’s fiction)

Deadly Destiny: Bushwhacked Justice (thriller)

Nobody’s Sourdough War (historical fiction)

Life just doesn’t get any better than those trending words—as long as you’re not bushwhacked.

The day I sang with Pete Seeger


peteSeeger2A long time ago, when I was an aspiring journalist, the Newspaper Guild, the union for writers and editors, was on strike against the daily newspaper in the town where I lived. A lot of newspaper unions, like unions everywhere, were losing ground in those days. If these editors and reporters lost the strike, they’d lose their jobs, and then if they wanted to keep working on newspapers, they’d have to move somewhere else. Where their future would be just as shaky.

The strike hung on through the winter. The cold often exceeded -20 degrees. Walking a picket line in that kind of weather isn’t just miserable; it can be life threatening. Because many of my friends and acquaintances wanted to be hired into those good jobs, too, we wanted that union to survive. And to help out the strikers, we often walked the picket line that winter to show our support.

The shift changed at 6am, so it was important to be out there when scabs drove through the gates for the morning shift. And one day when I got out there at 6am, standing in wind so cold I thought my teeth would shatter, there was Pete Seeger. He took off his gloves and played his banjo and sang a song. I think it was “This Land Is Your Land,” but I wouldn’t swear to it. We all knew it, and we all sang along.

Pete Seeger died today. When I looked at the photo tribute The New York Times posted, I noted how many times he’s standing on a stage with other people, highlighting and sharing their stories. That’s the way I’ll remember him, too. Standing outside on that freezing road, singing his heart out with a bunch of people who needed his voice.

Reading: Better than Prozac


Nate Bolt

Are books good for you? In a recent Boston Globe article, Leah Price examined a British program aimed at helping people read their way to psychological health.

My feeling was that if you could read your way to mental health, that would be great news. Because usually when I read about non-pharmacological psych treatments, they all involve running miles every week, which would depress the hell out of me if I had to do that.

So I’ve always felt extremely lucky that my psychological health is usually okay. Reasonably often I’m relatively happy. I tilt either way on that scale on occasion. I know what it means to be in the dumps sometimes, and I know that when I am, there’s nothing I like better than to lie on the sofa with a cup of tea and a great book. So when I saw this article, I thought, yes.

A little bit about depression: Price says that more than 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression; fewer than half receive treatment of any kind; and even fewer have access to psychotherapy. Antidepressants are the most prescribed type of drug in the United States, and in the United Kingdom, one in six adults has taken them.

Britain’s National Health Service launched the reading program based on a psychiatrist’s observation that sometimes reading self-help books actually helps patients improve. In this program, books are “prescribed.” The doctor diagnoses you with a condition, and you take the “prescription” to the library for specific books on managing depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, fear, worry, or over-eating.

I was thinking more along the lines of Pride and Prejudice, but whatever.

The NHS program is an example of “bibliotherapy,” which is enjoying a boom in Britain these days, evidently. In London, nonprofits and at least one for-profit recommend books (self-help, fiction, and poetry) that will fit your taste and cheer you up, sometimes in groups. I’ve always relied on my local librarian for recommendations, but whatever works.

Price’s article ultimately asks questions about society’s values when reading is asked to take the place of medicine. I’ll let you read the article for that and more. Rest assured, I was really happy to find out that if I’m depressed, it’s sound medical advice to lie on the sofa and read Pride and Prejudice. Maybe in a group.

Plus, it’s a lot more fun than running.

A modern-day Rip Van Winkle, plus football


Does everybody remember the tale of Rip Van Winkle? Written by Washington Irving in one night in 1818 while he stayed with his sister in Birmingham, England, the story was published in America as part of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent, and was an immediate success. Rip Van Winkle was a cheerful but lazy farmer who was plagued with a nagging wife. One day he met up with some curious people, and they, well, drank our Rip under the table. When he woke up, his gun was rusted, his beard was long and gray, and when he returned home, his friends and—somewhat to his relief—his wife had died. However, there’s a happy ending: he made friends with the young folks and lived a long life spinning yarns for travelers.

We are in the midst of football playoff madness, and I’ve just returned from a visit to Wisconsin, where Packer fans are like no fans on earth. And everybody is a Packer fan. While I was there, I talked to someone whose son had just received word from Packer management that his number had come up for the privilege of buying season Packer tickets. I suppose this happens for all teams, right? You call and say you want tickets. If any are available, you fork over your card. If the tickets are sold out that year, you get a number, and when it comes up, you buy or not, depending. This Wisconsin man had taken a number for Packer tickets on the day his last child was born, thinking that he’d be able to go to games with his three kids. How old is this youngest child now? Twenty-two. That’s right—in Wisconsin, you’ll wait 22 years to buy Packer tickets.

Now I know he didn’t just sit around by the phone, waiting like a jilted suitor for Packer management to call, so the Rip Van Winkle analogy isn’t perfect. But holy cow, people. That’s a long time to wait for Packer tickets. On the other hand, now he can spend some quality time with his adult kids. So, like Rip, the result was probably worth the wait.

To sleep, perchance to dream


ScaredMany avid readers remember forever the novels that deeply affected them. Stephen King has said that Lord of the Flies changed his life, because it had a point to make and was at the same time a great adventure story. I couldn’t name just one book that changed my life, but several still haunt me decades after I read them.

So I was interested to learn that researchers at Emory University devised a study to see if reading a novel could trigger measurable changes in a student’s brain. And they found out that it does—and those changes can linger for up to five days after the student stopped reading.

The study worked like this: The 21 participating students all read the same book: Pompeii, a thriller by Robert Harris that was published in 2003. For the first five days of the 19-day study, participants did no reading, but had their brains scanned for baseline measures. Then at a fixed time of day for the next nine days, the students read a portion of the novel. The next morning the researchers scanned their brains. After nine days when the students finished the novel, researchers scanned their brains for another five days.

The results: researchers measured heightened connectivity in the brain and neurological changes that persisted in a way similar to muscle memory, and these changes continued during the five-day post-reading phase of the study. The changes registered in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language.

“The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,” said neuroscientist Professor Gregory Berns, lead author of the study, in an interview with The Independent, a newspaper based in the UK.

“We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense,” he said. “Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”

Writers have always tried to create protagonists and antagonists that readers identify with, and to write books that people get caught up in. Now we know that if we succeed, we can literally change the minds of our readers. Cool. But spooky.

Stephen King would love that.

Writing obituaries


In my younger days, I wrote a few obituaries. Every time I did, I thought about that person’s life. What they must have experienced. How it felt. Who they left behind. How they’d be remembered.

The other night on the news, somebody interviewed two guys in the San Francisco airport who were bound for Green Bay, Wisconsin, to attend the Packer/49er playoff game. They were dressed in tee-shirts and their 49er (lightweight) jackets.

I don’t have to tell you how cold it’s been in the Midwest. The predicted wind chill factor for tomorrow’s game is -40. That’s right, minus 40. The actual air temperature by the end of the game will be below 0. People watching from the stands, if they stick it out to the end, will be sitting outside in those conditions for up to three hours.

The interviewer said, “How are you preparing for the cold?”

One guy said, “We have our Jerry Rice tee-shirts and our team spirit!”

The interviewer said, “Packer management is issuing hand warmers to all 70,000 fans—Packer and 49er. What about that?”

One guy said, “We won’t need hand warmers! We have our team spirit!” He might also have mentioned he’d be clapping too much. I might have over-interpreted his remarks.

I’m worried about those guys. To sit outside and watch that game, they need long underwear, lined pants, snowmobile suits, insulated boots, thermal socks, heavy mittens, fur hats, heat packs, foot warmers, hand warmers, blankets, and something warm to sit on. And probably other things I’m not thinking of. Living in the Bay Area, those guys probably don’t own that stuff. And they looked like they were traveling light.

As much as I admire—if “admire” it is—their courage and team spirit, those guys won’t survive the weather conditions in Green Bay wearing Jerry Rice tee-shirts and their team spirit. They just don’t have a clue about how cold -40 is. I’m worried about them, and I’m worried about their families.

I’m even worried about the obit writers. Just thinking about what it must feel like to freeze to death in -40 conditions is enough to send a chill down my spine.

So stay warm, my friends. Sometimes team spirit just isn’t enough.

Happy New Year!


New-Years-Moon-Lady-GraphicsFairy-thumb-485x400Best wishes to everyone out there in reading land. I hope you have the book and beverage of your choice, the football game of your dreams, or the party of the century. Whatever turns you on for the first day of the new year.

It’s very cold today here in Wisconsin, not exactly my kind of weather. But I’m warm and dry, which is huge, there’s a fire in the fireplace, and I have a cup of tea and my laptop. So all is well in my universe.

Best of all, my one resolution for 2014 is simple: make no resolutions. Last year I went with “Be a better person,” and we all know how that turned out. So with the no-resolution resolution, I’m expecting a happy new year. And I hope the same for all of you!

Lazy Holidaze


I’m visiting family in Wisconsin for a few weeks, so of course Wisconsin is having record snow—a foot more than average. According to the Green Bay weather station, it’s snowed 19 days of the last 26, and I swear I’ve been here for every one of them. My mother has a snow guy, who frees us from the frozen prison we call our house. Otherwise, it would be grim, indeed. At least for someone like me, who’s used to California weather.

Something about the holidays—the cookies, the central (over)heating, the inadequate clothing, I don’t know what—I’m struck by lethargy. I don’t want to do the work I brought along, I don’t want to put away the decorations or sweep up, and—heaven forbid—I certainly don’t want to shovel snow. I just want to lie on the sofa and read. Post-Christmas shopping sprees are not only not for me, just the thought of them gives me hives. Of course, my family isn’t big on gift-giving, so we don’t have any pressure to go out and find stuff for next year.

So, I think I’ll just pour myself a refreshing adult beverage, grab  a cookie, and check out my Kindle. Hope you all are enjoying your holiday!