Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock. . .

Went home feeling pretty down last night. Tuesday, in of itself, wasn't all that bad -- busy, yes, but not bad. At least up until the last half hour when Eavesdropping kicked in and I heard our boss saying it's likely the company will be laying off someone in our writing group. Now, there's lots of scuttlebutt on the upcoming layoff -- due in April, at least 100 people to be affected. But I do know who the low man on the totem pole is at RWMC, so I'm not holding my breath. Continuing with my life theory of optimistic pessimism, I will:
  • Continue doing the best job I can for my current employer
  • Count on getting laid off in April, thus the job search begins now
  • If the anticipated layoff does not occur, then, frabjous day, I still have a job, and maybe a prospect for something better.

As it is now, I prefer the third option, in that I get to keep the job. I don't want to have to look for another one. I like this one quite well. But then again, you have to look at the wisdom of Homer Simpson:

"Why do things that happen to stupid people happen to me?"

Monday, February 25, 2008

Bait and Switch

Over the weekend, I read Barbara Ehrenreich's excellent book, "Bait and Switch," in which Ehrenreich details the seven or so months she spent as an "undercover" unemployed middle-class professional looking for a job. Frankly, had I read this book when I was an unemployed middle-class professional looking for a job, I would have slit my throat. It's bleak. She correctly identifies that most people reaching out to folks looking for a white-collar job do so with their hands open, hoping to clutch some cash.

Of course, it's not as bleak as she lets on. I found, when I was looking for work, plenty of people willing to help, be they in the church employment system, the state level or even the "networking" contacts I made.

What surprises me about her book is its incompleteness. She obviously has no clue how unemployment compensation works. Here in Idaho, it can take weeks for unemployment benefits to kick in, and they badger yo uto take the first job that comes up, even if it's filpping burgers, to get you off the rolls. That part of the system doesn't care if the job you're offered pays less than a quarter of what you were making before you lost your job.

Also, Ehrenreich's book is a bait and switch in itself. She admits all along that she never succumbs to the despair she saw in her fellow unemployed drones because she knew what she was doing was fakery. She also took at least two breaks from looking for work so she could continue her fruitful and beneficial work as a writer. She may have experienced the tip of the iceberg in feeling the despair, but she never got into the caves of doom that await people looking, for months and years, for proper employment.

I also don't buy her notion that the white-collar unemployed can do as she did, working and living off savings to make job-searching a full-time job. She encountered many working in temporary jobs to help pay bills, while still looking for work. That is a misery she does not explore but only in passing, so she's missed it. I was surprised at how shallowly she approached the subject.

I've been part of this unemployed, underemployed demographic -- to which she issues an odd rallying cry of "Brothers, unite! Shake off your chains and band together to fight for your rights to better unemployment, et cetera, et cetera." It's a failing of America that workers are looked at as commodities, things to get rid of in order to increase company profits.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Dump Session

I used to like the fact that my cubicle at work borders the boss’ office. I got to hear some top-flight gossip, future plans, and all. Now we have a new boss. He and our new document control person go in there occasionally to kibbutz and basically dump on a lot of the work we as writer/editors have done here to keep our customers happy. Now, I’ll be the first to say we didn’t always have the best practices under Art, but to her this pair dump and dump and dump on what we’ve done is a bit grating. Funny thing is, they whisper, thinking what they say won’t travel over the cubicle walls. I still hear it. I almost stood up today to protest, but, then again the nail that pokes up around here doesn’t get pounded down, it gets wrenched out. So I will remain quiet on the outside. Except to you folks here in Blogland.

Good news is I'm becoming more pessimistic about work in general. Having low expectations means you're not disappointed by much. According to many life-meters out there, at my age I should be "in a good job, with prospects." They never really say prospects of what? I like the prospect of getting paid. Advancement? Been there, done that, and reached my level of incompetence per the Peter Principle. No can do, Omaha. Maybe I'm an optimistic pessimist. I still see lots of hope in things that truly are hopeless. I should probably start rooting for the Chicago Cubs.

Demons out!

In the morning sun,
‘bout seven o’clock,
The parking lot fills ‘round Toys R Us.
And my little girl, she will get away.
Ride her bike down Toddler Highway.
Take your Close’n’Play.
Toddler Highway.

I’ve had this TMBG song going through my head all morning. I’ve discovered by writing it down somewhere, I can occasionally get it out of my head. Or reinforce the endless loop I have going through my brain until memory cells begin to die.

I wasn’t too sure about the lyrics. So I searched for them on the web and found these. Then I wasn’t so sure about the Close’n’Play. So I searched for it. Found this:

Should today’s alternate music loopheads be concerned that they’re getting their alternative music from people who are (gasp) approaching 50?

Maybe fans of the Johns aren’t that shallow. I like to believe that. So I suppose in the cosmic sense, this all makes sense. I refused, however, to spell Highway as “Hiway.” That is an abomination.

I used to have one of these, and rode around on it in the front yard in just my underwear. I was five or six. I have photographic evidence that will not be shared here.

Song is still going through my head. I really liked those brain cells. . .

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Crabapple Tree

Our neighbor to the north (Gary Wood, not Canada) has a crabapple tree that hangs partly over our property. Each spring it's packed with fragrant pink blossoms and honeybees. So many honeybees, every time I read one of those EVERYBODY PANIC stories about North American bees disappearing, I just chuckle and say, "They're all in Gary's tree." But back to the tree. Once the flowers have had their bee-assisted sex, the crabapples begin to form. They grow so thick and heavy the trees' branches droop as the crop ripens. I trim a branch or two so I can get the lawn mower underneath the tree. The kids pick up fallen crabapples to throw at each other. Then the leaves turn, then drop, then the snow falls. Little crab apples cling to the tree, providing food for birds, squirrels and who knows what else during the winter. Over the weekend, we watched sparrows, and early robin and a squirrel clambering and flitting through the tree, eating, eating, eating.

We have a plum tree in our yard that serves the same purpose for wild canaries. It's a joy to see them, yellow feathers, red feathers, blue feathers, perched in the tree, doing violence to a rotting plum.

I'm ready for spring.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


I have to remind myself that when it comes to writing, everything, in every way, is open to interpretation. What is appealing and makes sense to one doesn’t necessarily appeal or make sense to another. But then the other is a professor who obviously isn’t above making digs at sub-par students as he prepares the class for the next lesson, well, subjectivity goes right out the window.

Guess where I lie on this pretty prismatic picture.

I’m not going to whine. I’m not married to this guy, though I am depended on pleasing him for a grade. But that’s what bugs me. I have to please him. Read his mind. I don’t mind that he’s the type who won’t reveal technical communication “truths” straight out, but wants us, instead, to come upon them ourselves so we can figure out the why as well as the what. What I do mind is that if we step off the path he’s pre-beaten for us, he’s there with a subtle, yet snide reprimand.

I bite my tongue. I continue as best I can in this class, knowing full well It’ll take a miracle to please Professor Poophead. That, in five years, only one student “understood” the point of his first exercise in the class paints a picture of a guy who really doesn’t want students to learn, but one of a guy who wants to show off what he knows and why he knows it, without really telling anyone about it. Maybe my attitude toward this professor and this class will change in the future, as these “truths” become more self-evident. But I doubt it.

I already know I don't know a lot of things. I think that's a pretty obvious reason I'm in this masters program. But I resent a professor who laughs it up at students who don't know.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Dear Randy

Let me apologize in advance if this letter is short and full of whines. I’ve heard nothing but bellyaching at work all week, and it’s starting to grate on me. Add to that the fact it’s been snowing most of the day – but only here at RWMC; everyone else seems to have blue skies – and you’ll understand why I’m in a poopy mood. Suffice it to say that there’s a lot of change going on here at work, and not everybody’s happy about it. I’ll roll with the punches because I kinda like this job, but I just wish I didn’t have to hear all the complaining. That gets old. (I hear a lot of the complaining because my cubicle is next to my boss, and sound travels.) I still say this place needs a scream room.

I also, apparently, need to use a weed whacker in my nostrils and ears. My left ear, especially, looks like I have sagebrush protruding from it. I guess it’s insurance if I ever go bald on top, I can grow it longer and comb it all over my head.

Earlier this week, I was reading in one of my textbooks and came across a rather dry reference to some obscure technical communication academic document, written by Dole and Sinatra. I had visions of Bob Dole and Frank Sinatra sitting at some smoky table in a Las Vegas casino, putting their heads together to write a boring tech comm document. The imagination can be a very frightening thing. Would Frankie be singing about witchcraft being strictly taboo (with the big lips) while Bob was sitting there, grumbling to himself that some punk stole his newspaper off the porch again? I’d like to think so.

Speaking of imagination, I was reading through Alma a few weeks ago and came across the story of Ammon converting King Lamoni and his, well, everybody. Because my brain is malfunctioning, I had a vision of King Lamoni starring in a Mr. Rogers Neighborhood-like TV show, talking about non-violence, taking a chariot to the land of Nephi and such, with his catch phrase being “I gave away all my sins to know thee, neighbor.” I haven’t shared this with Michelle yet because she’ll likely roll her eyes and think I’m a complete idiot. Please feel free to do the same. I’ve also started to view the Large and Spacious Building as some kind of a mall, complete with a food court. I get weirded out every time we go to the Grand Teton Mall now. Thank heaven it’s not that often. So, do you think all of this is a sign that I’m beginning to really, truly absorb the Book of Mormon, or do you think it’s a sign of mental illness? Since I spent most of this week resisting the urge to put a paper bowl on my head at work, you know what direction I’m leaning. Uh-oh. Dangling participle. Quick! Call in the guy who knows what an Oxford comma is.

Ah HAAAAAAH! When you brought up the Oxford Comma a few letters back, both Michelle and I were dumbfounded. Well, I was dumb, she was founded, so together we made a set. Anyway, I speculated at the time that an Oxford Comma is that superfluous comma we’re forced (at work) to insert before the “and” at the end of a list. I was right, at least according to So neener neener, little brother. Now I know what you’re doing. Grubbing about and planting evidence of Oxford Commas to topple my position as the most popular member of the flat. Well, it won’t work. I like how AskOxford explains its use: optional, to be included by preference, but certainly when the “items listed are not single words.” Journalistic circles omit the comma entirely, of course, since our goal there is to constantly befuddle and annoy English majors.

Well, I must go. It’s almost time to go home, and I wouldn’t want to miss the bus. Hang in there.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Money to Burn, Obviously

Just a question to get us started off this morning: What’s up with Dubai?

They’re dredging islands out of the sea, shaping them to look like the world’s continents. They’re working on the tallest buildings in the world. They’re building some “green” city. Now they want to build the world’s largest arch bridge. (Link:

First, I’d say that’s our gasoline dollar at work. Yay for us!

Second, why this obsession with the world’s biggest this or that? Is anyone lining up at Dubai’s borders, saying, uh, hey you guys, you know you could do a lot more with that money than build the world’s biggest thingamajigger. Like help people? Sanitize water? Clean up toxic waste sites? Fund alternative energy research (oh yeah, don’t do that; your money would dry up)? Is there something wrong with this picture? Or is it just me?

It's probably just me. After all, the only thing I've done to wowo the planet was to resist putting a Dixie bowl on my head. Spend those petrodollars, boys. Have fun.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Document Designer Walks Into A Bar. . .

ALERT: The following is a longish essay I wrote for a technical writing course on readership analysis. Continue at your own discretion. There. I've got an audience bridge.

What Technical Communicators – and Comedians – Can Learn Through Audience Feedback

Comedians, like document designers, often work intuitively. A comedian sees a joke, a story, an action, in his mind. As he thinks it out, writes it out, tries it out, he imagines how the audience will react. Based on past audience reaction, most comedians have a pretty good idea whether a joke or routine will work – and what needs to be fixed when they know it’ll bomb. But comedians, like document designers, often see their intuition fail, or decide their creativity and ego are more important than pleasing their intended audience. In their pursuit of the perfect joke, their imagined audience was too forgiving, too tuned to the comedian’s style, too fictionalized to be real. Comedians, like document designers, often look past the flaws – perceived and unperceived – in their work to the audience they imagine will eat their stuff up.

The savvy comedian and document designer, then, know they’ve got to try out their new material and their creative risk-taking on real audiences before they declare success.

“Communicators who have observed someone trying to untie their tortured prose or decipher their ‘way cool’ layered typefaces are more likely to have a better sense of the moments in the creative process when they should resist their writer-centered or graphic designer-centered tendencies,” (161-2) writes Karen Schriver in her book Dynamics in Document Design. Intuitive approaches, Schriver rightly cautions, produce document designers that “ignore the very real fact that what people take away form text depends on their process of interpretation – processes which may differ from those of the document designer” (162). If the audience fails to interpret correctly what the comedian or document designer intends to communicate, the work that went into the routine or the document is wasted, serving perhaps as an example of what not to do in the future. Maybe the communicator viewed that “tortured prose” as a creative risk, a different or entertaining way to convey meaning. But creativity and entertainment cannot ensure the audience will understand the meaning conveyed or agree that the meaning has value.

Take, for example, Winters’ Tales: Stories and Observations for the Unusual, penned in 1987 by comedian Jonathan Winters. Winters, who rose from radio disc jockey jobs in and around Dayton, Ohio, to stardom on television and film in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, is best remembered for his improvisational comedy and off-beat characters like Maude Frickert, an elderly widow as prone to talking about riding motorcycles and blowing up squirrels as she was prone to sitting in a rocking chair to chat about her knitting. Many of the stories in this 216-page book resemble the sketches and comedy afficionados viewed through his appearances on his own television shows, along with those of Jack Paar and Dinah Shore. In many stories, however, it is evident that Winters’ intuition into what his audiences expect and accept from him differ with what audiences (or at least the author of this piece) expect and accept from him. What will follow is not intended as a social or moral critique of Winters’ writing. Certainly his contemporaries skirted with innuendo or addressed fully issues such as sexuality and politics boldly and with great audience acceptance. What will follow, however, will show how Winters’ forays into such delicate areas in Winters’ Tales were ill-considered as far as his specific audience is concerned.

A quick trip through the desert of text readability tests will show that it isn’t Winters’ word choice, style or diction that gets in the way of audience interpretation or acceptance. To test Winters’ readability, I ran a 170-word excerpt from the story “A Well-Kept Secret” through a battery of readability tests, ranging from the Fleisch-Kincaid and Gunning Fog grade level tests to the Flesh reading ease test. The results of those tests are displayed in the table below.

Flesh Reading Ease
Gunning Fog
SMOG Index

A score of 100 on the Flesh Reading Ease Scale, for example, shows that Winters’ prose is easily readable, avoiding complex sentence constructions and long words. The excerpt, in fact, achieves the lowest score possible on the scale. The scores on the Fleisch-Kincaid and Coleman-Liau scales show the words in the excerpt should easily be understandable by the average second grader, while the Gunning Fog and SMOG indexes indicate a higher reading level may be necessary – but not much higher; needing that of only a sixth-grader to be comprehensible.

I have purposely avoided revealing the excerpted material until this point to demonstrate a few things. Firstly, my firm belief that readability tests are extremely limited when it comes to gauging true readability. While the short words and simple sentences in this excerpt may easily be understandable by a second-grader or a sixth-grader, a reading of the text quickly reveals situations that will immediately appear difficult for readers of that ability level to comprehend. Additionally, the audience familiar with Winters’ comedy will find the context to be jarring and out of place in what they anticipate, based on their past experiences with his film and television performances. Finally, my belief that in writing some of the stories included in this book, Winters misjudges his audiences’ potential interpretations through falsely imagining their reactions through an intuitive audience analysis.

Here is the excerpt:

And now I was Lilly! How long was I kidding the old man is anybody's guess. Suddenly I got up. “Forgive me, Wells, I must visit the powder room.” I came out a moment later wearing just a robe; I stood there looking at the old man. How much I loved my grandfather over the years. And now it had come down to this. Should I tell him the truth? Lay it all out there? It would break the old man's heart. I kept saying over and over to myself: “Why, in God's name did I ever send for this wonderful old man? What the hell did I have in mind. Son of a bitch.”
The old man turned around and gave an unusual look to Lilly. “You know, my dear,” Wells said, “in all my eighty-five years I've kissed a lot of women, you're the best! I mean that. Damn it to hell, I wish I was sixty-five again -- I'd show you one hell of a good time” (Winters, 24).

On the surface, this appears to be vintage Winters, right down to the swear words, which occasionally slipped into his films, but rarely into his improvisational or television comedy. A reading in context, however, shows that in this story in particular, Winters misreads his audiences’ expectations and potential interpretations. The character Lilly is Edward Wellington Marsh, a former Navy man turned homosexual and transvestite living in San Francisco. Wells is Wellington Gaines Marsh, Edward/Lilly’s grandfather. The excerpt comes just after Lilly and Wells have had a sexual encounter and just before Wells dies of a heart attack after he sees his conquest is, indeed, a man.

To this reader, it is unclear what interpretation Winters intends with this story. Does the grandfather’s death result from the revelation that his conquest was a man – without grandfather knowing the man is his grandson? It’s unclear – even after Winters reveals the grandfather has a picture in his wallet of his grandson in a Navy WAVE (a Navy female auxiliary) uniform, sent to him by one of Edward/Lilly’s “gay friends.” Or does grandfather die of shame, knowing full well he’s just had sexual intercourse with his own grandson? Where, the reader may well ask after reading this story, is the humor? I admit I expected to read something along the lines of Winters’ classic bits of “A Man Under Pressure,” but I expected it to be similar to his schtick of imbibing airline pilots or trigger-happy policemen, comical caricatures, as opposed to a man pondering the death of his grandfather after a sexual encounter.

Winters has approached the topic of homosexuality in his comedy before. A quick perusal of Jonathan Winters: The Madman of Comedy, an hour-long video of Winters’ sketch comedy produced in 1994, shows no fewer than three clear references to homosexuality, ranging from a caricature (an effeminate high school football coach who’d rather draw pictures of duckies and bunnies on the chalkboard than diagram plays) to an improvisational bit with Art Carney, in which the pair take turns donning hats and playing with props to inspire their comedy:

Winters: Have you ever seen the Queen? What is she like?
Carney (wearing a monocle and speaking in a British accent): She’s a Queen.
Winters: Gives Carney an odd look, amid growing audience laughter.
Carney: Why is everyone laughing so? I don’t think it’s particularly funny.
Winters: Being a queen? (Goodtimes)

It’s clear in listening to the audience reaction that they understand the innuendoes in these situations. It’s clear by their laughter that they get Winters’ comedy and understand perfectly well the interpretation he intends to get across; the lower-case “Q” in Winters’ final response is clearly understood. Winters obviously sees a comedic opening when the audience begins to laugh at Carney’s “She’s a Queen.” He has instant feedback that his interpretation is exactly that of his audience.

Then the same audience turns to Winters’ Tales. They may well expect to find, in a book Winters wrote, that their expectations on such comedic innuendo will be met. Instead, the innuendo is dropped in favor of a rather explicit, painful story of a homosexual encounter between grandson and grandfather. While the audience easily accepts the innuendo in his sketch comedy, I’m doubtful a rendition of this story on stage would elicit the same audience response. I admit here that I am imagining to some extent the audiences’ reaction to Winters’ written story. On an individual basis, I’m sure, there are members of the Winters audience who fully accept Winters’ Tales as an extension of Winters’ comedy. It is telling, however, that Winters never attempted such a story in his sketch comedy. He knew his audience – be it from network censors to the “live studio audience” – would not accept such a story from the progenitor of Maude Frickert. Telling such a story in a written book, then, is a creative risk Winters was willing to take. In taking that risk, however, Winters misses the mark of his intended audience.

I believe this is more than a mater of opinion or a prudish rejection of homosexuality. Where the clash in the communicator’s intent and the audience’s interpretation lies in this situation is in expectations. Perception, writes Frank Smith in Understanding Reading, is a decision-making process. Smith adds: “the category system that is part of our theory of the world in our heads is essential for making sense of the world. Anything we do that we cannot relate to a category will not make sense; we shall be bewildered. Our categories, in other words, are the basis of our perception of the world” (Smith, 57). My Theory of Jonathan Winters includes innuendoes on homosexuality. But “A Well-Kept Secret” is bewildering because it does not fit into any Jonathan Winters Theory category that I have previously prepared. Smith cautions that our theories of the world are ever-changing, and that we need to either fix our theory as new information becomes available or reject/become bewildered by the information received. My Theory of Jonathan Winters includes categories for improvisational comedy, character comedy and amusing innuendo. I am unwilling to alter it to include a dumbfounding, humorless, and straightforward story of a homosexual encounter.

One might assume my bewilderment by “A Well-Kept Secret” is an isolated incident as far as the whole of Winters’ Tales goes; in other words, have I judged the 216 pages of the entire book by the 12 pages of this story? I have. That judgement, as explained earlier, comes from expectations. On the whole, Smith suggests that our ability to read any form of written communication is made easier when we can predict what comes next. That goes beyond anticipating what letters or words come next in a sentence to the overall tone and subject matter of a piece of writing. I set out reading Winters Tales predicting I would find more evidence of Winters’ oddball characters and silly sense of humor. That I found something different in some of the stories was bewildering.

I have evidence that this reaction is not steeped only in morals, but mainly in expectations. In reading James Elkins’ The Object Stares Back just prior to re-reading Winters’ Tales, I had fewer expectations outside of a notion that Elkins, as an art professor, likely was as odd as the art professors I recall from my college days. Because of limited expectations, Elkins’ many inferences to Freudian sexual intonations and the inclusion of two vivid photographs of female sexual anatomy though shocking, were not entirely unexpected. My theory of the world of art allows for the occasional nude image.

This brings us back to feedback-driven audience analysis versus intuition-driven audience analysis. While intuition does and can serve comedians and document designers well, it’s an ill-advised strategy to rely solely on intuition when one wishes to communicate effectively with an audience. “The key difference between intuition-driven models and feedback-driven models lies in how the image of the reader is built, on where ideas about the reader come from,” Schriver writes. “Intuitive models of readers spring from the document designer’s imagination, while feedback-based models derive from representations of real people” (161). As a comedian, Winters has easy access to feedback-driven audience analysis. He knows instantly if a joke, gesture, character or voice works as a comedic element, and knows when, on stage or in film, to tone back his creative risk-taking for the sake of keeping his audience. In a different genre of communication – a collection of written vignettes, that ability is muted, either in favor of the creative risk or through a flawed intuitive audience analysis in which Winters figures flights of creative fancy will be accepted by his audience.

Writers are allowed – and ought to be encouraged – to take creative risks. That axiom applies even in the world of technical communication, where one would expect that creativity would be only a small part of a genre more concerned with facts and clarity than anything else. A writer who can find a way to remain connected with his or her audience while taking those risks is a writer who guards the technical communicator’s exemplar: Audience first. The secret lies in finding balance between creativity and communication. “The writer frequently takes too much for granted, assuming that merely by speaking his mind he can change the readers,” write R.E. Young, A.L. Becker and K.L Pike in their essay Rhetoric: Discovery and change, as quoted in Schriver’s text. They continue: “If [the writer] fails, however, to utilize available bridges or to create new ones, his writing will not be effective. Thus it is not enough that bridges exist; they must be used – and therein lies much of the art of rhetoric” (163).

Elkins finds bridges – creating effective warnings in his text to alert the more sensitive reader that potentially offensive material will soon be in the offing. For example:

A painting by Gustave Courbert called The Origin of the World is a brightly lit scene of a woman’s crotch with her legs spread and one breast visible. There is a tangle of black hair and a small stripe of red labia (Elkins, 105).

The description Elkins offers is vivid and blunt. It serves various rhetorical functions. First, it allows Elkins simply to offer a description of the picture. Secondly, since this description appears with a parenthetic reference to the reproduction – which appears on the next page in the book – it offers readers a rhetorical bridge they may choose not to cross. Those who know they do not want to see the image can, for example, cover the image on the next page with a hand as they read the text on the next page. Those who want to see the image may see it. But Elkins offers a rhetorical bridge, as Young, Becker and Pike recommend, that allows readers to consider Elkins’ effective writing without being offended by the reproduction. A comedian like Jonathan Winters, expert in his genre of rhetoric, would have done well to consider offering such rhetorical bridges to his audience as he took creative risks in Winters’ Tales. Alas, he does not.

For the document designer, these examples communicate the necessity to pay special attention to rhetoric in achieving and retaining contact with the audience. Obtaining feedback from an audience actively participating in the document will afford communicators the opportunity to find out where additional rhetorical bridges are needed to keep the audience. Listening to an audience “caught in the act,” of reading a document, as Schriver describes it, is paramount for communicators who want to keep their audiences’ attention. No readability formula or intuitive reasoning can more effectively bridge the rhetorical gap between audience and communicator than communications with the audience.

Works Cited:

Schriver, Karen A., Dynamics in Document Design, 1997, John Wiley & Sons, New York.
Winters, Jonathan, Winters Tales: Stories and Observations for the Unusual,” 1987, Random House, New York.
– Jonathan Winters: The Madman of Comedy, 1994, Goodtimes Home Video, New York.
Smith, Frank, Understanding Reading, 1982, CBS College Publishing, New York.
Elkins, James, The Object Stares Back: On the nature of seeing, 1996, Simon & Schuster, New York.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Peter Principle

Over the weekend, I began re-reading The Peter Principle, by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull. The basic premise of this book is that in any hierarchy, an individual will rise to his or her point of incompetence. We all have things that we’re good at doing – but as we’re “rewarded” for good performance through promotion, Peter and Hull say that eventually we’ll get into a position for which we don’t have the skills. I’ve seen that in my own life. I was a fairly competent newspaper reporter, but when I was promoted to a newspaper editor, I reached my level of incompetence. I recognize that it’s leadership and proactivity skills I do not possess. I’m happy now as a technical writer, because the job I have does not call on those skills. Were I to be promoted to tech lead, I’d be in trouble. So I’m content to stay where my competencies can shine.

Can a person learn to overcome his or her incompetencies? I believe so. I’m not sure Peter and Hull believe that, but then again I’m infected with the Alger Complex that they fear leads to a false sense of hope and security among the upwardly-moving class.

Anyway, the reason I bring The Peter Principle up is because of its application to politics. As Dr. Peter writes (page72): “Even if a majority of the nominating committee consists of competent judges of men, it will select the candidate, not for his potential wisdom as a legislator, but on his presumed ability to win elections! We hear this going on in both the Republican and Democratic parties this year as various candidates vie for nomination to run for president. Each side is talking about electability as primary motivators to support so-and-so candidate. Yes, they give lip service to other qualities, including legislative and executive ability, but the linch pin in the whole process seems to be “who can we nominate who’ll beat the other party?” This illogical push is aided and abetted by the media, who come up front with the question: Can Democrat X beat Republican Y? With the sublimation that if, yes, that can be done, then Democrat X (or if you want to flip-flop, Republican Y) will be the best one to pick. No one, not even the public at large, seems to care what other abilities these people have, whether they’re good at building consensus, good at coming up with innovative solutions to problems, good at anything except looking good in a suit (and I include Hillary Clinton in this; makes no matter if the suits are conservative blue or feminine pastels (unless, of course, John McCain were to wear a pastel suit. That would get attention.))

I’d like to continue this discussion further, but my thoughts are being drowned out by two of my children, who have dragged their toys into the study to continue their dolly dialogue:

Isaac (playing with a Superman doll): Hey, where’s Superman?
Lexie (playing with a bevy of Disney Princess dollies, and, I think, a Barbie doll): Isaac, I will do my own words, you do your words!
Then lots of blah blah blah but VERY LOUD.
Now they’re leaving.

What was I talking about again?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Mitt is Out

Mitt made it official -- he's out of the race. As usual,'s headline is the best: McCain seen tenting fingers, muttering "Excellent!"

Mitt it out, by the way, so the Republicans can focus on beating Obama or Clinton in November. Um. Well, if the only reason you can say you're bowing out of a race is so the party can focus on beating the other party, that's kind of sad. So Democrat shopping I go. Unless good ol' Ralph Nader makes it official.

The bowl, by the way, is still on my desk.

The Alluring Dixie Bowl

I have a paper "Dixie" bowl in my cubicle. It's ont he desk in front of me right now. For the last few days I've used it to hold corn chips, as part of my lunch. It still has a few corn chip crumbs in it, along with the expected salty residue. The urge to put this bowl on my head like a hat is proving near irresistable.

I just got my green card. It's a card that shows our INL qualifications, the training we need to have and keep our jobs. It shows I'm a certified hazardous waste operator and a Level 1 radiation worker. Which means I can legally wander into areas posted for my level of training, that contain radioactivity. Not that I plan on doing much of that, mind you. I'm very much like Homer Simpson in that I have this job that in a vague way involves radioactivity, but I don't let thoughts of that kind of stuff interrrupt a good round of Chair Ball.

I still have not put the bowl on my head. My will is strong.

This weekend is going to be a busy one. Friday, I'll spend shoveling snow, literally. Have to shovel off the roof of the house, the shed and the kids' backyard fort. I will also likely be talked into shoveling off the roof of the widder lady who lives across the alley.

The bowl is still on my desk, unmolested.

The bowl is still not on my head.

Still on the desk.

Still on the desk.

I gotta go.

I'm back. Mitt Romney may either suspend or stop his campaign for president. So it goes. I'll then vote for a Democrat. So it goes. Maybe I'll send him my bowl. It might prove a comfort to him. Reminds me that I gave a Monty Python "Gumby" hat (basically, a handkerchief knotted at all corners) to my first mission president. I have a photo of him wearing it. He's now a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.

I wonder, still, if he has the Gumby hat. He probably does, and thus does not need a Dixie bowl at all.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Wednesday. Whoopee.


I've been asked to define what my "sensibilities" might be. I've thought long and hard about the question. This is the most popular answer among my many personalities: When it comes to politics, I'm convinced, along with P.J. O'Rourke and Dave Barry, that the people running for office don't stand a chance of really making a difference because the Washington bureaucracy has been there so long, plugging away, sucking in innocents only to devour them, like that creature in Clark Ashton Smith's story of the banker baited to his death by a tumbling trinket. By voting for someone, anyone, into office, I'm surrendering my sensibility that they can actually get anything accomplished without their accomplishment becoming a mish-mash of compromise to the point it's unrecognizable. I know that makes no sense. But neither does politics.

Just a few thoughts this morning:
  • Super Tuesday: So my boy didn't win. Or win as big as he'd hoped. He won about as big as I thought he would. We likely have a GOP front-runner who has a real weenie voice.
  • I will still stick with Mitt. When he eventually loses the Republican nomination, I can then cross over to the Democrats (no matter who wins that contest) with a conscience clear of offense to my sensibilities.

It snowed nearly another foot overnight. My truck, again, looked like it had been at Ground Zero when the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man exploded all over Central Park West.

I have given up on parking at he movie theater to catch the bus in the morning. I'm now parking at another stop where the parking spots are not contested and the area is actually plowed. No more wading through foot-deep snow for a parking space. Now only if I'd remember to remove the parking brake when I have to back up to let the snow plow do its job.

I leave now to complete my homework assignments.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Sooooooper Tuesday

For those of you not residing on Planet America, this is Super Tuesday. Which means people in, what, 24 states, are going to the polls to decide which of the goobers running for their respective political party primaries will square off against the winning goober from the opposing party in the upcoming November elections. I will admit I have my favorite: Mitt Romney. Why is he my favorite? Can't say it s his stand on the issues, because I'm not really sure where any of them stand. Is it because of his business background? Maybe. With our economy tanking, I'm not sure it's a winning thing to send a Vietnam vet foreign policy hawk into the White House, nor anyone from the Democratic Party, who, let's face it, are nice enough people but don't feel I'm paying enough in taxes. I think I like the fact that, underneath all the media glitter, he's just like a dorky uncle who probably knows a lot about business and finance but has lost complete contact with the modern, swinging American social scene. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

If he wins Super Tuesday, I will, personally and in front of this blogging audience, kiss my dachshund full on the lips after she's sniffed around in some unvacuumed corners. But I'm not counting on it. The vet will win, and we'll have some other tempter-tantrum prone flag-waver heading towards the White House.

The soundest political strategy thusfar: Vote for Google Ron Paul. He's not going to win anyway. And we'll have someone with a weird first name in the White House.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Things I'm Tired of Vol. 1

Just for entertainment value, let me go over the things I’m tired of. They’ll likely still be going on when you get out at the end of the month.
  • Dramatic promises of waaaaay exciting news stories from our local TV news stations, advertised on the radio. Life hanging in the balance! Only tonight on News Channel 3!
  • Used car dealerships. Specifically, “Right Price Auto,” which seems to think the theme to “SpongeBob Square Pants” is free for their use as an advertising jingle, and “New Ride Auto,” who recently fired their Really Loud Car Sales Announcer in favor of an Ear-Ripping Loud Car Sales Announcer.
  • The Clinton/Obama race: She’s a Woman! He’s a Black! Less Filling! Tastes Great! What’s a Liberal to do?
  • The McCain/Romney race: Both: You’re an idiot! I know you are but what am I? You’re a nerd! I know you are but what am I? I know you are but what am I? I know you are but what am I? Infinity. No! I’m not! You are! Shut up, Francis! Why don’t you make me? Why don’t you make me! Because I don’t make monkeys, I just train them! Makes me want to vote for Ralph Nader. Again. At least he acknowledges that he’s a moron.
  • Steve Jobs. If I have to see that smug picture of him holding up that new Mac laptop, I’m going to puuuuuuuuuuke. Thank the stars if you’ve never seen it. He makes Bill Clinton and Rush Limbaugh appear to be humble bumbles.
  • My, I’m a negative vibe merchant. So sorry. But it feels good to get it out of the system. Sorry you had to be on the receiving end.


It is true, we're in a drought situation here in Idaho. It is true, we depend on snowpack in the mountains to replenish our rivers, streams and reservoirs, and to replenish the aquifers way below the ground from whence most of us suck our water thanks to municipalities who charge us a lot for the service. It is true various religious denominations in the area have asked members to pray for "moisture." It's true I'm grateful that, this year, the snow has been more abundant in years past, if only to ensure our forests don't go up like a torch as soon as summer hits and the farmers stop their incessant whining about not having water as they wait for their government subsidy checks.

That being said, I want to go on the record as being officially sick of having to deal with all this snow. I'm tired of shoveling the sidewalks. I'm tired of scraping the frost off the windshield in the morning. I'm tired of dodging -- and having to plow through -- four-foot-tall piles of snow in the middle of the road because that's what passes for snow removal in the municipality where I have to catch the bus for work. (Never mind that little ol' Sugar City, with one slightly maniacal snow removal person responsible for all our city roads, can have the roads cleared -- including the ends of our driveways) in a 12-hour period, while in nearby Rexburg they'll still be working on the most recent snowfall for the next several days.) I felt like a rat in a maze trying to get to the bus this morning. Every street I took, snow was piled everywhere, blocking routes and sending me back out onto the main street, where the snow removal people at work don't necessarily look behind them as they back up to move snow. They're scary people. Not as scary as the Schwann's drivers or the Salt Lake shuttle people who consistently try to run me off the road in the wee hours of the morning, but they're right up there, scarywise.

Then there are the morons at Everday Floral, obviously weary at blaming college students for their parking woes, who are now pointing their thorn-pricked fingers at we INL commuters. Well, they need to visit the parking lot we use when we're using it, just to see in what various out-of-the-way snowpiles we have to park because, ahem, it's the COLLEGE KIDS still hogging all the spots. There are cars in the lot so buried in snow you can tell they haven't been moved in weeks, if not months.

I will post pictures of the snow sometime this week, once I can locate the camera. The photos will include the spot in the yard I had to dig out in order to free our light-up Christmas reindeer, one of which was completely buried. It stands 2 1/2 feet tall, telling me it's no illusion to believe we have at least three feet of snow on the ground.