Wednesday, December 13, 2017

"What Else is On?"

Remember the triumphant, feel-good ending of The Truman Show, where Truman sails into the wall of the massive television studio that’s been his home and his prison? He talks with Christof, the show’s director/God through the clouds and is unconvinced that remaining in his sheltered life is a good thing.

“In case I don’t see ya,” he says with a grin, “Good afternoon, good evening, and good night!” He then walks through the open door into the darkness, and the audience watching cheers.
Then they ask what else is on.


Or at least these guys do. Because to them, The Truman Show was entertaining television – but just that: Entertainment. Show’s over, folks – so what else is on?




I fall into that trap a lot. And I don’t even watch much television.

We all do it, to a certain point – what wildlife biologist Jeff Higdon calls “five-minute activism” in an article at Slate.com on whether a polar bear photographed by National Geographic is starving due to climate change or is starving due to the multitude of other reasons animals starve in the wild.

“What I would like to see is people learning more about these issues,” Higdon tells Slate. “It infuriates me, it’s a five-minute activism kind of thing for people. The photo gets thrown around and two days later it’s forgotten about and no one’s behavior has changed.”

I see a lot of this. I indulge in some of it – armchair activism, but little else.

Like what’s going on at the FCC re: Net Neutrality.

I’ve seen the problem – bogus comments, spammed comments, weird comments, bot comments – touted as a problem on the FCC’s part in filtering or managing comments. However – I think a lot of this trouble (and it is trouble) is linked to the kind of idiot Internet behavior that leads us first to believe a photograph of a starving polar bear shows evidence of climate change and then second to forget about said polar bear five minutes later: The Web is entertainment, it’s for trolling, it’s for making a point without technically doing anything about the underlying problem.

The Internet is the quickest way to do something to feel good about having done something, rather than doing something to actually do something. (Want an example of the feel good/do nothing activism? Click on the link to “knowyourmeme.com” in the Wired story linked above. It takes you to this, at least for the next day or so:


Yes, filling in a few info boxes and then shooting off this email makes you feel good about doing something. But what did you actually do? Did you read the letter they suggest the whole way through? Chances are you didn’t, because you don’t have the time because you’ve got to see what’s on next!

Yes, Internet activism is easy. So easy bots can do it. So easy pro-net neutrality activists can do it. So easy the Russians can game it, and you know they’re gaming it because come on they’re totally gaming it.

What did I do?

During the FCC’s first comment period on net neutrality, back in 2014, I told them, in a unique letter, I favored net neutrality because I have cable internet and already see my ability to use the internet on a nightly basis squeezed by poor capacity on the cable provider’s system. I cautioned them that failing to keep the net neutral, my ability to teach classes online – my second gig – would be hampered if suddenly teaching were designated as a second- or third-tier Internet activity.

Then sometime between April 27 and Aug. 30 of this year, I sent them another unique letter – electronically – reiterating my desire to see the net remain neutral.

Mindlessly using any commenting system to send a message to a government entity gives such entities fuel to say, “Hey, the people just don’t care.” Think otherwise? Read this, and look at the table where the top most common names are provided. Nobody is taking any of those messages seriously.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

December 12, 2017


Ten years.

Ten years blogging.

Ten years wasting your time and mine.

I’m writing this post right now during an idle moment at work in late June, so I can’t as of this writing give an official count of the number of posts I’ve published.

Comments, now, tallying comments are easy. Meaningful ones: Less than two dozen, and that’s being charitable. There was for a time I was on the Random Translated from Chinese Comment Bot’s radar, but those moments have long gone.

Purpose? Plenty of that. This blog will be a treasure-trove to my descendants, providing any of them are interested and the Wayback Machine still functions. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll deliver the username and password to this blog to my descendants in my will, out of fear they’d take one look at it and delete the whole thing.

I have also considered using one of those blog-to-book services, however given their inability to capture linked material and to play YouTube videos, their utility seems limited.
Perhaps, of course, I could hand my credentials over to my estate, or the university library or presidential library to which I bequeath my papers.

Or I could just go on babbling since NONE OF THAT IS EVER GOING TO HAPPEN.

And to tell the truth, I have blogged before.

I started a blog briefly around a Thanksgiving break some time before 2007, but the effort petered out and I have since lost track of it. It’s in the blogspot/blogger blogosphere somewhere. Perhaps I might look for it. (I’ve tried a few times to search for it, but it’s a tiny needle in an ever-expanding Internet haystack, so I’ve given up finding it. Maybe you’d care to look for it – I recall I began blogging in the 2003-2005 year range at the time I was working at a local newspaper and thus hated writing with a passion.)

There were also copious amounts of blather posted while I was a university student in the late 1990s. The year 1997 plays prominently in my memory. So this should, by rights, be a 20-year anniversary post.

But I won’t brag up my credentials. Ten years of consistently bland writing is enough to celebrate, is it not?

Monday, December 11, 2017

"Why, He's a *Licensed* Driver!"

By the end of the week, our oldest will join the ranks of even the great Lord Morley in becoming a licensed driver.


Our son took his written test today, and will do the skills test Wednesday. Then sometime after that our insurance agent will contact his RV or boat dealer (or both) and say the purchase is a go.

I don’t want to know what it’s going to cost us to insure our son. Boys in general get a (deserved) bad rap, insurance-wise. I’m fairly sure this will be my reaction to the insurance company’s quote.


Nevertheless, we’ll pay. My Dad paid for me for the first little bit – and I recall myself, on my own, having to pay roughly $500 a year for insurance on a 1976 Chevy Nova that was in the final stages of Rusting Rigor Mortis. That would nearly double what we’re paying for insurance, and I’m sure prices have gone up since the mid-1990s.

We have visions of him doing errand-driving for us. But given his homework load, his impending mission, and his general desire to remain motionless in the basement, it’s likely we’ll still have to do a lot of driving, mainly taking his sister to ballet lessons in Rexburg – because that burns up an evening, with the thrilling monotony of driving bookending the repetition of the seven basic ballet movements.

I hope our son can avoid the misery of auto accidents. I was in two of them in my formative driving years, one of them minor, the other major in terms of damage but minor in terms of injury. I can still remember the pattern on the shirt I was wearing for the latter one – ludicrous spoked steering wheels from a boat, with “Anchors Aweigh” underneath them in script. I see the pattern once in a while at the fabric store and I feel nauseous, although as time has passed, it’s mostly because I’m in a fabric store.
I do remember this: Never heard a cross word from my parents about it. Although I’m sure plenty were said behind my back. Yeah, that nausea is coming back; it never really goes away, does it?

But let’s not focus on that.

Focus on his successes – and the worry that the panic we saw in him in the kitchen this weekend when he forgot to spray the pan he was putting the brownie mix in never kicks in while he’s driving and oh God he’s going to get into so many wrecks . . .

But let’s not focus on that. Focus on the positive. He’s learning. Developing skills. Problem-solving and problem-anticipating skills. They’ll be honed over time. I mean, look at me: Knock on wood, not even a speeding ticket in twenty years of marriage. I’ve slid off the road a few times in winter, including one bladder-stressing moment when my truck spun right through the only gap in a long stream of traffic on a slick road. But not a dented fender nor a visit from a policeman. Let’s hope that keeps up, and is our son’s future.


For I, too, am a good driver. A licensed driver. Just don’t hand me any cigars at the gas station . . . I wouldn’t mind being brought in on the Wookalar case, though.

Friday, December 8, 2017

A Weird Contrast in Books, Part II

Richard Nixon the Man Behind the MaskRichard Nixon the Man Behind the Mask by Gary Allen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In reading Gary Allen’s “Richard Nixon: The Man Behind the Mask,” we get a peek at the right-wing nastiness that’s now in the fore.

Let me say I don’t believe the right-wing has a corner on nastiness, as there’s plenty of that to go around in the extreme fringes of any political party. It is telling, however, to see the paranoia, the disdain for the media, and the veiled and unveiled racism inherent in right-wing Republicans of the 1960s and ‘70s, which we recognize today in the right-wing we’re seeing in power.

In reading about this author, I see an irony. He mocks Nixon as an opportunistic politician, willing to bow to whatever winds blew to get him elected. Yet Allen was a speechwriter for George Wallace, a politician who started out as a Democrat on a crusade for race reconciliation in the South and who ended as a right-wing Republican who sang the graces of segregation because he saw in it supporters enough political power to get him into office. We all have our blinders, I suppose, but for most of us, we don’t get the chance to have them displayed so prominently.

Allen and his supporters lament a party that slipped slowly to the left. Not that the party ever would become eponymous with the Democrats. What one perceives as a shift to the left can really be a shift to the center, where more and more voters find themselves due to the ugliness of the party purists on either end of the American political spectrum. Ronald Reagan would also probably be labeled as a squishy liberal by Allen et al’s standards, and might find it hard to fit into the Republican Party of today, which is slipping now to the right.

Allen is somewhat schizophrenic – lionizing conservative firebrand Barry Goldwater for his unsuccessful run for the presidency in 1964 and then, in the same chapter, lambasting him for being a tool of the grassroots wave that took him through the nomination and to the election, but without the fire to do anything more than put his shoulder to the wheel after it was all over:

[Goldwater] was propelled into candidacy by the zeal of the grass-roots to capitalize on the great depth and exuberance and loyalty felt by his hard-core supporters all over the country. Instead of continuing the crusade Goldwater went back to his ham radio. The ’64 election was water over the dam – Goldwater over the dam.

No wonder Allen then fled to the firebrand race-baiter Wallace – here was a man who would follow through! Blinders fully on, of course. The desire to win – no matter the moral quality of the bedfellows – is what the right-wing seems to want, then and now. The ilk of Trump and Moore may have questionable morals and standards, but by golly they whistle the right tune!

Allen is consistent in his schizophrenia. In the chapter entitled “The Pachyderms Return,” he laments that Nixon avoided patronage of many who helped get him elected, and then concludes by castigating Nixon for appointing several long-time friends and aides to his cabinet. Patronage only works for Allen, it seems, if those getting the plum jobs are conservative Republicans.

And see, you get this on the left too. Nobody’s immune.


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A Weird Contrast in Books. Part I

The Associated Press and Labor: Being Seven Chapters from the Brass Check; A Study of American JournalismThe Associated Press and Labor: Being Seven Chapters from the Brass Check; A Study of American Journalism by Upton Sinclair
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Slate.com, I’ve now read Upton Sinclair’s “The Brass Check,” his critique of the “concrete wall” of early 20th century journalism.

Sinclair might be pleased to know that with the passing of a century, American journalism has improved. Somewhat. Though he might find some situations the same, albeit with different characters.

(This is an interesting contrast to my other read this week, Gary Allen’s critique of Richard Nixon from the right-wing. Surely if Allen and Sinclair were to find themselves in the same room, some kind of matter/anti-matter explosion would occur.)

The journalism Sinclair describes reminds me of the “fake news” phenomena we witness today on the Internet. I have to wonder if it’s gullibility of the reader, the gall of the fake news producer, or a combination of blissful ignorance and “I don’t have time for this” that makes such fake news proliferate. Facebook (something I’m sure Sinclair would find appealing and appalling at the same time) is working on a fake news detector so we can see, sometime soon, whether we fell for or followed fake news on our feeds. The question is: will the detector be fake news itself?

I feel we’re in the same kind of quandary Sinclair found himself in when newspapers were sending and receiving fake cablegrams on his behalf in order to get the story, or writing pure fiction about him running a ranch for ne’er-do-well boys in Nevada while he was living in Bermuda. There’s such a proliferation of news and “news” thanks to the Internet, he might even find himself wishing for the halcyon days when the press was a “concrete wall” or symbolized by the metal bars of a prison cell. The mainstream press may have much higher ethical ideals (somewhat) than in his day, but in our day, who wants to listen to the mainstream press?

It’s interesting, too, that Slate would publish this work as a literary-critiquey message to the new owners of the LA Weekly, who apparently are Trump supporters (!) who have fired most of the paper’s writers and want free contributions from the unwashed masses. (Had they been liberal owners, I suspect Slate wouldn’t be reacting this way; rather they’d briefly lament the state of modern journalism and leave it at that.)

But it doesn’t matter. It got me to read Upton Sinclair, something I’ve been meaning to do since I found a copy of The Jungle at the thrift store who knows how long ago. (I’ve read plenty by Sinclair Lewis, whom I often confuse with Upton Sinclair, however.)

I suppose the bottom line is we still have a national press controlled by business interests, a national press that often fakes ethicality as long as some political line is toed (and again, both sides of the American spectrum do this) or if there’s an element of sensationalism about the story to be told. Not that we don’t have reporters and organizations with high ethical standards that are worth far more than the powder it would take to blow them up – it’s just that the elements Sinclair decried in journalism are pretty much intact in the broad spectrum of what we call news.


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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

"The Meadows"


You remember the guy from “So I Married an Axe Murderer,” the one who went on about “The Pentaverate” and how he hated the Colonel, with his wee beady eyes?

I’m reading a book about Richard Nixon that was written by him. Or at least someone who thinks an awful lot like him.

I know there was a right-wing of the Republican Party that was convinced Richard Nixon wasn’t conservative enough. This guy apparently belongs to that wing – Gary Allen, author of Richard Nixon: The Man Behind the Mask”. Or something like that. Looking at the cover, it’s hard to tell what the title is.

Colonel Sanders hasn’t yet come into the picture, but I expect his arrival any minute.

Gary Allen doesn’t like liberals. He does NOT like journalists. He does not like the Council on Foreign Relations, nor the Rothschilds, JP Morgan, and many, many others (thus the SIMAAM reference). And surely, he does not like Richard Nixon, and I haven’t even gotten to the part of the book that discusses Watergate yet. As the book was published in 1971, however, I suspect Watergate is not covered extensively.

Most of the books I’ve read about Nixon or relating to Nixon – even the one by G. Gordon Liddy(!) were relatively historical (if we can put the self-serving of Liddy’s book aside). The Man Behind the Mask may be the first purely political book I’ve read about Nixon. And it’s weird. W. Cleon Skousen, so far, features prominently – not surprising, as the author was a member of the John Birch Society.
So, lots of weird little triggers. I may or may not finish reading it. It seems written for that specific kind of audience that wants MOAR EVIDENCE that Nixon is a “squishy liberal,” rather than a conservative. I’m sure the audience did a lot of nodding while reading, while the more critical observer might look at Allen’s equation of pragmatism=betrayal as a tad off-kilter. Give no quarter to the liberals is the core of this book, and as Nixon gave quarter, wharrgarbl Goldwater or something like that.


Kind of sounds familiar these days. What we might give for the stability(!) of a Nixon White House today.

Beauty, Clark


I’m not sure you could call it my first day as ward membership clerk, but it’s what I’ve got.

In typical “sandblasting a soup cracker” style, I got some training. I may or may not remember how to log in to the computer, and I sure hope I remember that other password because the ward clerk says there may not be a reset password option. Hoping I got it written down well enough I can read it. I should probably get a notebook or something.

One important thing to note: I’m *this* close to getting a key to the filing cabinet containing the candy bars. Oh, and also the records.

There’s apparently a training video I need to watch. Should have watched it last night, but we went to the Wesley Bell Choir at the Methodist church instead – one of our holiday traditions. They do a good concert. Also, the first blizzard of the year. We had to crawl through it to get to and from the church. And I was glad when we got home to think that my truck was (finally) tucked away in the garage, out of the elements. I had the garage cleaned weeks ago, but the truck, wouldn’t fit in until we got the tailgate fixed so we could close the garage door. That only happened Friday.

But back to clarking, as I’m going to call it.

Basically, I’m a stalker. I’m supposed to find out where people go and where they come from and where they’re supposed to end up. That’s about all I’ll say about it, as I’m dealing with a lot of personal information.

I may also want to read the church handbook, re: Clarks. I’m sure there’s revelatory stuff there.

And as long as this post is going to be somewhat biographical our journal-y in nature, I’ll add this:

The Nutcracker is halfway over – last performance is tonight. Another sign, along with the Wesley Bell Choir, that the Christmas season is sneaking up on us once again. Lexie did her (first, I think) solo in the show – as the ribbon candy dancer. I should probably have taken some pictures, but we will have a video of it coming shortly. Isaac also had a first in this round – I missed the leaping part, but he ended up holding a ballerina as part of the opening act – which they call the “Party Scene,” which takes up HALF of the entire show. It was fun to see, particularly as his face was, typically, pretty expressionless. But the more I watch this show, the more I understand why Tchaikovsky didn’t much like the music he did for it. (The music’s fine, but the story for the show is pretty dull. Girl dreams, hero saves her from the Rat King, and sweets dance for a very long time for their amusement.)