Sunday, December 25, 2011

Mystery Insignia: US Army Air Corps

This insignia is one of the most common shoulder sleeve insignia or patches worn during the Second World War, according to war historian Dr. Howard G. Lanham. He explains:

"It was officially adopted on 19 March 1942 as the patch of the Army Air Forces. In a sense it was a "default" patch that a member of the Army Air Force would wear, who did not have a more specific patch authorized; such as that of the 8th Air Force, for example. It was generally worn on the left shoulder of the service coat or shirt." 

Lanham provides additional examples of some of the manufacture styles on his website: Variations of Shoulder Sleeve Insignia, Second World War 

Lanham continues: "When the U.S. Air Force was organized in 1949 they dropped the use of this patch, but it was still something that might have been worn by WWII veterans still on active duty with the Army -- as a former unit patch on the right sleeve. If you have any other questions that I can help with feel free to write."

Friday, December 23, 2011

You'd Better Watch Out

Time to mind your P's and Q's if you live in Tempe, Arizona. I spotted the Jolly Old Elf himself on Broadway Rd. between Rural and College. He was traveling incognito, riding a vintage Schwinn bicycle painted primer red, with a green plastic milk crate strapped to the rear fender. Despite the camouflage cargo pants and huarache sandals, his red flannel shirt and fluffy, white beard gave the game away.

I saluted His Jolliness, saying in surprise, "I thought you used a sleigh."

"It's not very practical here in Arizona. Six of my reindeer were taken into custody at the border, and I was fined an entire sleigh-full of gifts for transporting undocumented workers."

Pointing to the flash of pink sticking out of the waistband of the camouflage cargo pants, I asked "What's with the pink underwear?"

Santa's rosy cheeks turned even redder. His eyes dropped and he mumbled something.

"Pardon?" I asked.

"I was arrested. They strip-searched me. Instead of cookies and cocoa and a few minutes with my feet up beside a cheery Yule log fire, I had moldy bologna on stale white bread."

"That had to be embarrassing, Santa. Sorry to hear that. For what it's worth, most of us don't approve of those tactics."

"Someone gets used charcoal briquettes in his stocking this year," said the Jolly Elf.

"Used charcoal briquettes? I thought you gave the Naughty Ones lumps of coal?"

"Coal's too good for him. Used charcoal briquettes is all he deserves."

"Wow, that's really harsh, Santa, especially from you."

"With coal at $75 a ton, I had to do something to cut costs. Used charcoal is free, and anyone who thinks feeding people moldy meat on stale bread is acceptable certainly doesn't deserve something as useful as coal in his stocking."

"You have a point there, Santa." I pulled out my wallet. "Have they set bail for the reindeer yet?"

"No bail for Dasher. He broke a leg falling to the ground when he got Tased, while trying to fly back over the border with Dancer and Donder. Prancer, Vixen and Comet are still in Tent City, but they get released tomorrow.  I'll have to find a replacement for Dasher, and fast."

"How about a 150-pound Neapolitan mastiff, Santa? He's never pulled a sleigh, but he's strong. Oh, and I'd keep him well back from the kids. He doesn't like them much."

"I don't have much choice, this close to Christmas. Send his resume to Candy Kane, my Elven Resources Manager. Is he afraid of heights?"

"Not that I know of, Santa."

"He'll get minimum wage, plus full benefits, including holiday overtime. That's a big hole in my budget this year as well, but Wage and Hour fined me half this year's toy production for running a sweat shop. Said I owed over 200 years-worth of back pay, vacation time and sick leave to my employees, including the reindeer."

"That's pretty harsh" I agreed. "Nem prefers ice cubes and pizza bones, but I guess you have to toe the line."

"Nice talking to you. Look for something extra-special in your stocking, young man."

"Thanks, Santa. I'll keep the cocoa and cookies warm for ya."

I watched him ride off toward South mountain on his vintage Schwinn and shook my head.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Writing Knights Press

Convincing a publisher to read your work is a disheartening task, especially as the rejection slips arrive. Azriel Johnson, the chairman and event organizer for Writing Knights Press, has a deep personal grasp of the difficulties new writers and aspiring poets face. Johnson's own writing career began at age four, when his sister gave him a diary to keep him busy and help him communicate with more confidence. He wrote his first short story at age 10, creating the super geek antihero, Jimmy James. Johnson plans to revisit his Jimmy James stories by giving the character a role in an anti-terrorist task force. Since 2009, Johnson's interest in writing has expanded to include support and promotion of the work of fellow writers in addition to writing, publishing and staging his own poetry, novels and plays.

"I like certain people's writing," states Johnson, "and I asked myself 'Why aren't these people getting more notice?' Writing Knights Press provides writers with confidence and gets them to be more willing to put their stuff out there." Through Writing Knights, Johnson provides two separate platforms for aspiring poets and short fiction writers: Writing Knights Press and a matching Facebook page.

The first Writing Knights event, "Writing Knights Press Presents: A Poetic Night of Musicality" was held at Bela Dubby, located at 13321 Madison Avenue in Lakewood, Ohio. More than 30 performers have appeared since that first event, according to Johnson. "A Poetic Night of Musicality" was eight acts long, and the most recent three events had a one-hour open mic before the main performances.

Johnson chose Bela Dubby because he liked the venue. "They were really supportive of both poetry and music," says Johnson. "Bela Dubby is basically a combination coffee and bar. It's smaller, but feels really big when you stand there behind the mic. You can get all kinds of people in Bela Dubby, but they are all chill. Bela Dubby is open six days a week until about 10 PM EST most nights."

The next Writing Knights event, on December 15th, will be the sixth for the year. "This month there are a number of performers who have never appeared on a Writing Knights stage," explains Johnson. "A big part of each performance is the open mic joust. Each participant has 5 minutes to show off their poetic or musical prowess and the audience determines the winner." The performers can sometimes provoke strong reactions, according to Johnson. "I choked on my water during one of the open mic performers so I mentioned it when I got up to MC the next performer."

Live performances are only half the Writing Knights picture, though. To date, Writing Knights Press has published 13 poetry chapbooks. Two are due to arrive in December 2011 and two more are slated for release in January 2012. "Writing Knights Press is always open to first submissions," says Johnson. "Interested writers should read through our guidelines on the Writing Knights website, here."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Freelance Success Tools

Winnowing through the chaff to find genuine, viable freelance projects that pay a living wage sometimes takes longer than writing the articles themselves. Finding projects on a single site has taken me up to three hours. Doing that on multiple sites easily consumes an entire writing day, leaving the coffers empty while invoices to sketchy clients moulder on someone's desk. Kenneth Crawford's newsletter, "Freelancer Today" sifts leads from multiple sites into a digestible package that cuts through the barrage of "you must be on crack" project descriptions to the offers from reliable, sincere clients.

My time is worth, at the very minimum, $25 per hour, if I'm working on something fun that fits my interests. If I have to research, conduct on-site interviews or purchase items to finish the project, that per-hour cost rises fast. The first time I cruised Crawford's website, I saw that he had gone through many of the same sites that I had checked, with a twist. He sifted out everything but the viable offers and posted them in one convenient message, as a daily to-do list. It took just 15 minutes to click through the links and read the project descriptions, a savings for me of about $18, or just a dollar less than he was charging for a whole month of leads. Then he sweetened the pot.

Crawford is no stranger to the joys and heartbreaks of freelance writing. As a veteran of the Panda war and the devastating blows handed to content providers, Crawford understands very well that work can dry up overnight, leaving the freelance writer twisting in the wind. His decision to drop his already low price of $19.95 per month down to $9.95 per month had my jaw on the floor. But it pays to have a generous heart, especially right now. Basically, he's charging the price of a box of generic mac and cheese a day for a ready-made to-do list of jobs that will pay for anywhere from three months to an entire year's subscription to his service the very first time you snag a project. It doesn't get any better than that without putting himself out of business.