News, News, and Reviews

So, this is what happens when I get busy and my stack of blog topics I earnestly want to write about become irrelevant to my mind: I don’t write new posts. This, of course, occurs in the life hierarchy on many levels. I don’t believe that I will ever be a good multitasker; it’s simply not in my skillset. Oh, well. But I’m up, and I don’t have to be anywhere for a couple hours and, thus, I will give a few soundbites:

Is Simone Biles still news? I’m not sure why. Look, shame her if you want or laud her as a hero. It’s up to you. As always, my take is a little simpler. Simone Biles used to be a good athlete. That’s why she’s decorated with medals. I’ve seen her routines, too, and been impressed with her flying leaps, even if I know nothing about all those air twists gymnasts keep talking about of late. Historical athletes are knows for not giving up and walking away. I get that. But has anyone been acting normal since the Covid lockdowns? Absolutely not. People have been acting in weird, unprecedented ways. I’d just leave it at that. The Olympics went forward, but perhaps they shouldn’t have, especially with the forced vaccinations involved in some cases, and the abject shaming of athletes who weren’t forced to get it but who refused because they didn’t know how an unknown variant would affect their performance. Remember that athletes must care first and foremost for their primary equipment, which is their bodies. We are still living in unprecedentedly stupid times, though (this smug little piece of work even pulled the Bible out in her shaming; what a — never mind). I would just leave it at that regarding Simone Biles. Let her be. She might have a comeback, or she might discover she has a life waiting for her outside of competition. Later, she can write her memoir: Olympic Dreams Dashed in the Time of Covid.

Does anyone actually care about Covid any longer? Apparently they do, if they are willing to misuse the Bible in their attempt at getting everyone vaccinated. For my part, I’m not going to start wearing a mask again. I have a hot-to-trot governor who has said the phrase “out of an abundance of caution” so many times in the last year and half that I’ve lost count. Out of an abundance of caution, we shut down our economy. Out of an abundance of caution, we shut down our schools. Out of an abundance of ——, we bribed our Idiocracy with $100 bills and $250k lottery winnings for getting vaccinated. Look, New Mexico leads the nation in getting the Covid vaccine and falls last in education. What does that tell you about human beings? Uneducated people are more likely to trust “experts” and take the bait dangled for them. Did you ever watch the Idiocracy film? I recommend it. The refrain of the comic side character for why he does exceedingly stupid things that make no sense is I like money. That’s the level we’re operating at in New Mexico. It drives me insane because I know people here aren’t that stupid…and yet, they are willing to be. On a slightly related note, people often shut down when I talk to them because, as I’ve heard repeatedly, “I don’t listen to people who use words with more than two syllables.” To which, I’ve replied, “You do realize syllables has three?” Blank stares, followed by eyerolls.

This reminds me of why I quit using Duolingo. They are actively engaged in the destruction of the English language and, because I know they are actively engaged in this, I realize they are probably destructing other languages as well. This does not make them a trustworthy app for teaching languages. This review of a popular app probably requires an entire blog post, but I’ll leave you with one example: their only accepted translation for the Spanish expression Yo tampoco is me neither. This is a colloquial expression I haven’t used since childhood because as I grew older I learned to speak and write in adult English. My husband also uses adult English. He generally says, “Nor I,” though I already know that is a different Spanish expression, Ni yo, and wouldn’t be accepted. Most people I know don’t use kindergarten level English. Most people I know have read a few books, at the least, and usually respond appropriately in context: —I don’t like this language app. –Neither do I! Unfortunately, when you “mistranslate” something on Duolingo by going outside kindergarten level discourse, you lose one of five hearts. When you lose all five, you can’t access new lessons for at least four hours. Since I refused to use the expression me neither, I lost all my hearts and didn’t get all five back for twenty hours. Yes, that’s right. Twenty hours. This has left me with the impression that Duolingo is not trying to help me learn a second language, but training me to use a degraded version of my native tongue by punishing me with so-called mistakes that aren’t actually mistakes. It’s bad enough that I’m punished for making real errors, anyway…but that’s where this review deserves its own blog post.

Upon reading this post, I decided to add a very short news update to this list: we now have political prisoners in the USA. Let that sink in.

There you have it: two [nay, three] little blurbs on current news and one review. Perhaps later this weekend, I might give a longer review on Duolingo and why I now hate it.

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Early Glimmers of a Golden Communist Future

My thoughts are going many different directions this morning, and I need a way to put them together into a cohesive whole. I’m famous for that. I bring in disparate elements and tie them all together — I do it in my books; I do it in my reading and assessing of the world. I have a peculiar talent for creating patterns that don’t actually exist. One early betareader/reviewer of The Minäverse complained about this aspect of my writing and then said he could offer me no help in fixing it because somehow it all worked and he couldn’t see how to change it. An even earlier critique partner complained that he couldn’t suggest changes in a sentence or paragraph of my book because it would snowball, and then the entire books would fall apart. What this no doubt means is that my brain is a mess to an order of magnitude that isn’t ordinary, and you shouldn’t take anything I say to heart.

With that caveat, let me proceed. While I took my breakfast break this morning, I watched a YouTube video on what Cuba is really like — not the beautiful Cuba you might find in travel images and foodie videos, but the actual lived reality of the Cuban people. And I thought it looked sort of familiar. Why is this familiar? I asked myself. Oh, yes, it’s familiar because I’ve seen it at Walmart and its brother corporations such as Sam’s Club and the Sam’s Club gas station. Could it be possible, I asked myself, that Walmart has been preparing us to think of communism as normal for years now? The last time we were at the Sam’s Club gas station, the line was exceedingly long, extending into the Sam’s parking lot. Being the person he is, my husband averted the line, went the wrong way down the arrows and swung around to discover that the line was long because most of the gas pumps were out of order. That’s the way it is in communist Cuba, except worse, of course, because the heights of greatness are never achieved overnight.

But the gas situation isn’t nearly as bad as the shopping experience in Walmart itself. Empty shelves. If not empty, stocked only with one or two products to make it look like the shelves aren’t empty. Few employees. Hour-long waits in checkout lines. While some people experienced this for the first time during the pandemic, this has been going on for years in my area of the country. It got so bad several years ago that I quit Walmart for a long time due to 70-100% of my shopping list being unavailable — that is not even remotely an exaggeration. If I were an actual Karen (my children think I’m a Karen because I’m grumpy), I would have called the management and complained on repeat about my terrible experience as a shopper. Not that Walmart cares. Walmart has never cared. They are too large an entity to care about meeting customer needs.

If you go back farther in Walmart’s history, they were one of the early corporate adopters of working with the NSA to put out propaganda messages that encouraged Americans to spy on each other and report suspicious activity to the government. What, you don’t remember that? It was disgusting. When we finally achieved high status and brought a Walmart to Socorro, I would do anything to avoid shopping there. I was not going to support a corporation that worked hand-in-hand with the NSA. Now, of course, that’s old news. We’re quite happy to allow the social media networks to bring us propaganda and to censor what US citizens can or can’t say. Libertarians, for some reason, decided this was all good because Muh private business. Did you know that if you post a comment on pederasty or pedophilia, especially when it’s adjacent to the word homosexuality or a relevant synonym, YouTube will pull your comment in less than five minutes? I dare you. Go try it. I guess I’m about to find out how this platform responds….

After watching that video on Cuba, I turned to the daily local news, which I still read sometimes. New Mexico is in a sad state after the last year and a half. I often see articles about the state’s willingness to pay people to go back to work. Today, I read about our farming industry, and their inability to find workers during the pandemic. That means two growing seasons have now been affected by large unemployment checks and a government that pushes fear and lockdowns. Do you know what happens when there are no field workers? Food rots in the field. This creates scarcity, which drives up prices. That, again, is beginning to look like Cuba. A cold chill rose up my spine. Why, I asked myself, is the government giving so much to businesses like restaurants and not supporting farms, which are the most important businesses we have? And then I asked myself what exactly they could do about it besides subsidizing them. That might work, if farm laborers could be bribed back into the fields. But those types of subsidies won’t last forever, so I began imagining the state taking over the farms and forcing people to work them, as in communist Russia — which, unsurprisingly, created famine and starvation, as government officials generally know nothing about running a farm. Meanwhile, though, the government has already caused scarcity without taking over the farms at all. That’s how evil the government is.

Look, I don’t know how to pound this in hard enough: communism isn’t a golden ideal that could be enacted properly to create a better society. Rather, it demonstrates the nature of mankind devoid of God. It’s just one of the ironies of the way humans function. They think they can create a society based on the equality of all humans and the value of their labor, but as soon as they reject God, they instead create a self-serving system of exploitation, starvation, and murder that begets a compounding cycle of scarcity that leads to, yes, more exploitation, starvation, and murder. Change the ideology and remain “secular”, and your results are going to look the same.

How is this possibly connected to Walmart? I don’t know; you tell me. Why does a self-serving, godless corporation go out of its way to encourage people to snitch on each other while actively creating a monopoly where they drive competitors out of business, and then refuse to hire enough labor or order enough supply for their stores? I don’t think Walmart is the beast system. I don’t think they’re the ultimate communist-corporatist-fascist state. No, they are just a glimmer of what our government has been attempting to bring us for years now. And it will only get worse, even if Walmart shuts down half its stores and files for bankruptcy tomorrow…because, ultimately, the communist, Luciferian dream stays alive wherever God is thrown out like so much garbage. Even where there is free trade. Especially where there is free trade because that is simply when exploitation and murder go global.

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Shepherd Me, O God

That’s the name of a hymn we often sing at Mass; it turns out it was written by a Lutheran, which is ironic because I wasn’t familiar with it until attending a Catholic church. The Lutheran church we were members of sang very old, heavy German hymns to organ accompaniment. This particular song draws me in every time with its simple folk tune combined with moving lyrics: Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

Mass today was profound for me, if not a little weird. By weird, I mean that as I stared at the stained glass of the Holy Spirit dove behind the statue of Jesus, I saw the silhouette of a giant spider. It had to have been a tarantula, but it was bigger than any tarantula I have ever seen. It was extremely bizarre — I wondered if anyone else had seen it, but the people appeared to be focused on the priest and his sermon. Obviously, I have ADD and can’t ever entirely focus…. I imagined for a moment that I was in a horror film and away my mind flew!

Sometimes, though, God knows when I need to listen and catches my attention. The spider disappeared, by the way. I saw its long legs slide across the glass one last time, and then it went…who knows? We’ve been deluged with rain lately, including last night. That’s the rational response to why a tarantula would have climbed that high up on a church building. It was apparently trying to dry out.

But let me back up a little. The liturgical readings today included Jeremiah 23, in which the prophet is delivering woe to the false shepherds leading God’s people away from him and into destruction; Psalm 23, in which David reassures us that God himself is a good shepherd who will not lead his people astray; Ephesians 2, wherein Paul is explaining to the Ephesian church that Jesus has reconciled the lost sheep to God through his sacrifice; Mark 6, in which Jesus disembarks from a ship and sees a vast crowd of people as sheep without a shepherd and begins to teach them. And lastly, here is the responsorial verse (from John 10): My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord; I know them, and they follow me.

In the liturgy, the Bible selections are read directly before the sermon. Honestly, I’m not blaming a giant spider for trying to distract me from the message; I can do that just as easily on my own. The spider did distract me for a minute, though, before God called my attention back. He’s my shepherd; that’s why he calls me back when he needs to teach me something. The message this morning was on giving our time to God. I’ve been feeling guilty about my time-hording ways lately. In fact, I wrote a comment on this post about my need for an abundance mindset with time because I’m stingy with it (I’m linking to it because the whole post is good and you should read it). It’s difficult for me to view time as abundant. At the same time (there’s that word again), It’s what I value more than anything. What humans view as scarce becomes precious to them. But God is not like that; he created billions of humans he considers precious and worth saving. And he will without fail give them his time if they call on him. I suppose you’ll remind me now that God operates outside of time. True…but when Jesus was here, he existed in time, and he gave it to either people or his heavenly Father no matter how worn he was. The gospel passage today makes that clear.

The priest repeated his message about our need to trust God and give him our time — he wanted to drive it home. No doubt, this simple message needs to be pounded into obtuse people who set their own plans in their own way and fail to spend any time listening to their Good Shepherd. It’s no wonder I struggle and spin my wheels even when I add a daily prayer and Bible readings to my checklist. God is not a box to be checked off on our lists of daily accomplishments. He wants us to enter into his rest from the busyness of our lives, to dwell in his presence. To change animal metaphors a little, God wants us to curl up at his feet like my puppies curl up at mine. My dogs have trust and devotion to me for no rational reason that I can make out. I’m a far cry from a good shepherd, and yet they trust me implicitly. It’s humbling, to be honest. I suppose my kids did at one time, too, when they were little instead of grown or nearly so, as they are now. And yet, I can hardly put a modicum of my faith in a perfect shepherd. A mustard seed. Just a mustard seed worth of faith is enough, but I rarely manage that.

On the way to the altar this morning, the congregation sang the song I opened this post with. Oh, how prescient that song is for me. Shepherd me, O God beyond my wants… But my wants are everything to me, aren’t they? I want to use my time stacking up my accomplishments: writing books and speaking Spanish and playing the accordion and getting at least a couple more degrees. And to what purpose? So I can be proud that I did all these amazing things, which, as it turns out, are quite commonplace? Accomplishments without purpose are useless to the world. And I have a feeling that my accomplishments will continue to be useless unless I allow God to shepherd me past them as my ultimate goal.

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El acordeón y yo

My love for the accordion has been with me for about twenty years now. It’s funny because in my last post about learning extremely relevant vocabulary through Mexican music I stated that I’d been listening to these beats for over twenty years, but I tend to forget how old or young I am. My focused attention toward norteño, banda*, tejano, etc. adds up to twenty years on the nose.

I can’t really put a date on the day I first tuned in to Ramon Ayala’s accordion playing. What I remember is that it took my breath away while I was driving, which is as dangerous as you might imagine, and I pulled my car over to the side of the road to finish listening to the song. It was Rinconcito en el Cielo. It was an earth-shattering moment in my life. The next accordion player to really grab my attention was Ricky Muñoz of Intocable in songs such as No Te Vayas. However, earth-shattering moments are rare, and I never had to pull my car over again to catch my breath.

Over the following years, I studied the music by listening to it (obviously) and reading about its history. I collected albums and attended a conjunto festival in San Antonio, TX, where I saw Flaco Jimenez play. Later, I saw Ramon Ayala live, though every time Intocable has come to New Mexico, something has prevented me from going to see them. I’m sad about that. I’ve seen a number of other bands live, though, including Conjunto Primavera. It’s been great fun learning about some of the older musicians, too, who aren’t featured prominently on the local Mexican radio stations any longer. By older, I mean bands such as Conjunto Bernal. Not that long ago, I ran across a video in which Ramon Ayala and Paulino Bernal were playing together, and then Ricky Muñoz made an appearance near the end. I think it was a birthday celebration, but I can’t find the video — if I do, I’ll post it. This is incredible because these men represent three generations of accordion players. Muñoz is a gen-Xer, Ayala a boomer, and Bernal a silent gen. There are, of course, millenials now playing the accordion, but there is so much wealth to be found in the parents and grandparents and greats that originally impacted my life so much. And by the way, as it turns out, Señor Bernal now mostly plays praise songs on the accordion because he’s a Christian; so is Señor Ayala. They both have testimonies circling the internet.

One date night when my husband and I had been drinking at the local Socorro pub, he ordered me an accordion on his phone. Just like that. Just ordered it. That was…I don’t know, 2013? There was a live band at the pub complete with an accordion player, though I believe they were going for the Celtic sound. The accordion was still of the Norteño variety, that is, a three-row diatonic. Soon, my accordion was shipped and I’ve been struggling to learn to play it ever since, though I never really went all-in until recently.

Being an obtuse intellectual, it’s difficult for me to grasp music, which seems to be something you get naturally or you don’t. However, anyone can learn music, and you can’t fault me trying. Little by little, I’m learning my favorite songs, which has given me an entirely different perspective on musicianship. I love Ramon Ayala and still would call him the king of accordion, as he was the one who drew me into the magic of the norteño sound. But after trying to learn songs, I find Muñoz’s playing to be impossible to replicate. There is something almost unearthly about his playing, something intangible that I can’t attain to at all. On a recent Twitter post, he says in answer to the question If you could speak to your accordion, what would you say?: “I always speak to her and it is something too intimate….” That…definitely comes across. I can imagine myself talking to my accordion and either being verbally abusive to it or turning the scene into a Johnny English moment because…I can’t help myself. I’m always more comedian than artist. In case you want to see the Tweet for yourself, here it is:

*Banda is brass band music; I love it, but it doesn’t always or even usually have an accordion.

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Back Cover Blurb for Order of the PenTriagon

Under the bright sunshine of the innocuous town of Roswell, New Mexico, the aliens landed their ships for the first time, leaving behind a virus that eventually swept the globe. The spread was curbed through a series of vaccines that also cured the Earth of violence. This curious global stability has come to be known as the Alien Peace.

Peace has come to Earth for all but a lonely few, that is, whose minds have gone haywire from the vaccines, and now taunt them with unrelenting noise.

Talat is one of Roswell’s vaccine damaged. After her caretaker publishes an illegal book about the aliens and then dies under suspicious circumstances, Talat flees before the authorities can force her into foster care. This lonely flight ends when an equally damaged young man, Robert, shoots a government official to protect her. Now fugitives, they escape their hometown together…and land right into the arms of the aliens.

It was never noise. It was them, guiding the chosen ones to fulfill their prophecies for domination of Earth and humankind. Unbeknownst to their transcendental overlords, a few unacceptable humans hide their own prophecies of a warrior couple who will defeat the din of abysmal peace. But with so many voices, how will Talat and Robert know which ones to follow?

Or…if that’s perhaps too long, here’s a shorter version:

Under the bright sunshine of the innocuous town of Roswell, New Mexico, the aliens landed their ships for the first time, leaving behind a virus that eventually swept the globe. The spread was curbed through a series of vaccines that also cured the Earth of violence. This curious global stability has come to be known as the Alien PeacePeace, that is, for all but a lonely few whose minds, damaged from the vaccines, now taunt them with unrelenting noise.

Talat is one of Roswell’s vaccine damaged. After her caretaker publishes censored information about the aliens and ends up dead, Talat flees before the authorities can force her into foster care. This lonely flight ends when an equally damaged young man, Robert, shoots a government official to protect her. Now fugitives, they escape their hometown together…and run right into the aliens’ trap. What was once noise is now clear: the aliens’ prophecies must be fulfilled.

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