Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday, for the Curious

After having read the typical, shameful stories of Black Friday mayhem (two shot and killed at a Toys "backwards-R" Us in California and a temporary Wal-Mart employee trampled to death in greater New York City; guess it's not just the hicks who like Wal-Mart) I thought I'd report on our much more tame, safe and humane experiences of the morning -- the worst of which was listening to some lady from Pocatello get tense and holler at some folks waiting to get into Target in a rather menacing way -- they weren't waiting in line.

3:30 am. I awake when the alarm is supposed to go of. Good thing, since I forgot to turn it on. Better thing, since the alarm wakes us to a scratchy AM country-western radio station.

4 am. My wife drops me off at Target to stand in line, while she goes on to Kohl's nearby, which opened at 4 am.

4:12, 4:16, 4:27, 4:38, 4:55, 5:01. I check my various timepieces (embarassingly enough, I have four of them, but NONE of them are a watch. I have a pager, cell phone, iPod and pedometer that tell the time. And also have a compass in the stock), in anticipation of Target opening at 5 am.

5:11 am. Realize Target isn't opening until 6 am. So I spend more time listening to music composed for orchestra and Jew's harp by an eighteenth-century German, plus Christmas carols sung by John Denver.

5:38 am. Michelle arrives. Surprised to find me still standing in front of the store. I'm freezing.

6 am. The doors open. Bedlam ensues, but I avoid it. Everyone else makes a hard right past the doors towards electronics. I make a beeline to the back of the store, where I run into a few of the guys I worked with at Target in 2005. They razz me -- "You don't work here any more but you still have to come in! Ha ha!" I do feel like a moron. But I get what I came for -- and am the ONLY person in the back of the store. I wander to the front, pay for my item, then toddle out to the van, only then realizing in the misty sleet that Michelle, who is still inside the store in the middle of the bedlam, has the keys. As my item weighs more than 200 pounds, I can't exactly put it in my pocket. I go back into the store and wait, not realizing that Michelle has borrowed a cell phone to call me on mine, which I cannot hear ringing. I feel like an idiot.

Round about 6:40. We leave Target for Kmart and buy many things I cannot list here because my children are getting more Internet-savvy.

7:48 am. We're now at Wal-Mart, frantically trying to find the one $10 item our daughter really, really, REALLY wants. A blue-clad store employee tells us they're sold out. But, fighting the crowds pawing through a few returns carts in the toy section, I find TWO of them. Feel like a big hero until we walk to the front of the store where we find an entire pallet of the same item.

8:12 am. We're eating a Crew Sandwich at Gandolfos. I can feel the grease doing me a lot of good.

8:37 am. I drop Michelle off at Porters, while I head into Best Buy. The real reason I go in there is to ensure that the deal I got on her Christmas package is still unbeaten. It is. I am the ruler of finding all things Christmassy.

9:20 am. We're back at Kmart, returning a few items for which we found better replacements at other stores.

10 am. We're back at the in-laws. Time for a nap.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mmmmmm . . . coconut

I shampooed with coconut shampoo this morning. I get to eat part of a coconut cream pie at Thanksgiving dinner. Life does not get better than this.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Terrorists Suck

Watching what unfolded today in Mumbai makes me ill. What do these terrorist idiots think they're accomplishing? They can't be looking for sympathy for their cause. Nor can they imagine that their victims will cower and cave in to their moronic demands. Go blow yourselves up.

Looking Backward


Before the saga of the Barack Obama election unfolded, and before the cry of Socialist! started being shouted in the reddest portions of the redder states, I began reading a rather tatty copy of a 219-page novel by American Edward Bellamy (pictured above).

In Looking Backward, Bellamy describes the journey of Julian West, a Boston socialite who falls asleep in a hypnotic trance in 1887 and awakes in the year 2000 in a society where incomes are equal, men and women are “drafted” into an “industrial army” which produces everything from socks and underwear to music and Sunday sermons. Guided through this new society by his hosts Dr. Leete and his daughter Edith (Edith? Do such names still exist in the 21st century?), West becomes absorbed in a world where neither jails nor lawyers exist, where competition among shopkeepers is made obsolete because the government runs the only shops in town and where medical doctors are paid just as much as those who serve them dinner in the city’s dining houses – also government-run.

Right now I know most of the readers of this blog are going nuts. “Socialism is baaaad, folks! Baaaaaaaaaaad!” I can hear them saying, braying like Al Gore. Hang with me. I’m discussing a book.

Bellamy believed that 1890s America – where people lived in luxury only blocks from families living in abject poverty – could use more application of the Golden Rule than the churches and society in general saw fit to apply. He was a devoutly religious man who wrote a book not extolling any political stripe or action, but a vision of what he thought America could become if its Christian citizens didn’t wait for the Second Coming of Christ to make the improvements that millennial reign was to bring in, as in Micah 4:3-5:

“And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; And none shall make them afraid: For the mouth of the Lord of Hosts has spoken it. For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.”
(So, conservatives: Now you'll see the left go nuts, because although Bellamy's Christian rhetoric is muted in his novel, he certainly does not believe in a separation between God and State, so there's enough umbrage to go around for everyone. Enjoy!)

Bellamy envisioned a society in which everything was held in equality, where people worked as what they enjoyed doing without fear of starvation, where those who worked at difficult jobs worked less hours than those at easy jobs, but for the same pay. He denounces very much the same thing Dickens denounces when, through Ebenezer Scrooge, Dickens voices the prevailing view of treatment of the poor:
“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up
a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight
provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time.
Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in
want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

“Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I'm very glad to hear it.”

“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

“Nothing!” replied Scrooge.

“You wish to be anonymous?”

"I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas, and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can't go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. ... It's enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”

As Erich Fromm points out in his introduction to Looking Backward, critics say Bellamy’s views are completely na├»ve, insisting for his envisioned utopia to come to pass that all humanity would have to be like him – unselfish, submissive, and, in Bellamy’s own words, a believer that “there is no stronger attribute to human nature than this hunger for comradeship and mutual trust.” It’s easy, then, to see how the trend of utopian novels Bellamy’s work inspired in America – more than 40 such novels were written after his appeared – devolved into the cynical view of the most famous of the 20th century’s dystopian novels, namely George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

Are we that cynical about human nature, then, to believe that a world like Bellamy's is impossible to bring about? I hope not.

“What happened to socialism?” Fromm asks in his introduction – asking the same question Bellamy might ask today of the 1890s optimism that America would overcome its societal difficulties and create a more perfect union. Fromm’s answer, which I think is apt:

“It succumbed to the spirit of capitalism which it had wanted to replace. Instead of understanding socialism as a movement for the liberation of man, many of its adherents and its enemies alike understood it as being exclusively a movement for the economic improvement of the working class. The humanistic aims of socialism were forgotten, or only paid lip service to, while, as in capitalism, all the emphasis was laid on the aims of economic gain. Just as the ideals of democracy have lost their spiritual roots, the idea of socialism lost its deepest root – the prophetic-Messianic faith in peace, justice, and the brotherhood of man.”

What I’m getting at (and what Bellamy hints at throughout his book) is that we need to stop thinking of each other as things to be manipulated, things to be acted upon, but as fellow citizens, fellow humans. That points all of us, myself included, down a rough road, with cynics at every turn. Because, like Scrooge, we take the view that we're already doing our part to take care of "the poor" through faceless programs that insulate us from the misery of others, a situation which allows us to sit back mightily and complain about the state of our taxes and the "returns" we see from those investments. Once again, we see people as things, rather than as people. That's much to our detriment.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Christmas Song Watch II

9:46 am: CHRISTMAS SHOES. Help! My brain is melting! My brain is bblblllblblblblblblblll . . .

Rexburg Needs These Lumps

There's been a lot of hand-wringing in Rexburg the past week over the negative attention the town has received since news of a handful of school children chanting "Assassinate Obama" on a school bus spread worldwide. Both the mayor and the superindendent of schools issued apologies over the incident, at the same time engaging in damage control over the sullied reputation of "America's Family Community" -- Rexburg's motto.

Most of the community, however, remains in denial, choosing instead to blame "liberals" for making a tempest in a teapot.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: These kids didn't say anything they haven't heard at home. I can't count the lies I've heard spread about Barack Obama here, nor the many times I've heard him referred to as Barack HUSSEIN Obama, as if a middle name is enough to make someone the epitome of evil. I've heard adults here say Obama should be shot before he tkes ofice. I've heard people say George W. Bush should refuse to leave the White House rather than turn it over to Mr. Obama. I didn't dare put an Obama sign in my front yeard prior to the election because I didn't want my house vandalized. So to hear that kids are repeating what they've heard Mommy or Daddy say at home doesn't surprise me much. Because those little pitchers, they have big ears, you know.

And we've heard it all before. I can't count the number of vile things I've heard said about Bill and Hillary Clinton, including that both of them deserve to be shot, buried alive, et cetera, et cetera. Maybe these things are said in jest. But kids don't know that. They take what parents say as gospel. And they repeat it.

To those who are upset that this has turned into a "liberal" shitstorm: Wake up. Rexburg, I've noted in eleven years of living in town and in the vicinity, has a penchant for sweeping its ugliness under the rug. Alcoholism just doesn't exist here, of course, but there are many people who are chronic "Nyquil" drinkers. Drug addiction and dealing doesn't exist here, and if it does, it's the fault of the "Mexicans," and if there are troublemakers at school, its highly likely that they're not members of "the Church." Kids here are lily-white. Nobody ever does anything wrong.

This is all, of course, a load of bull cookies.

I'd like the message to get out, though, that not everyone is oblivious here. Thankfully, one concerned parent spoke up about the Assassinate Obama chant. Others speak up about other concerns. I'm fortunate enough to be part of an Elders quorum where we discuss concerns like this openly. We're not all Democrats -- in fact, it's likely that I'm the only Democrat in the room. But we all realize that the ills that beset our society cross partisan lines.

Then we run into people like a BYU-Idaho freshman who wrote a letter to the editor of the college newspaper, basically saying that those in the LDS Church who vote Democrat shouldn't get temple recommends. (Read the paper editor's fine rebuttal to that argument here.)

That being said, I enjoy living here. I like the quiet here. We ahve our problems here, but in many respects there are fewer problems here than in other parts of this nation. I just wish we could discuss this partisan/little pitchers problem more openly, without people once again hiding behind the town's lily-white facade.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Christmas Song Watch I


Yesterday one of our local radio stations started its solid 24-hour broadcasts of Christmas music. This annual phenomenon begins with the abject optimism that, indeed, winter itself brings: Faith that it won't be as long, cold, snowy and unendureable as last year. But, given the number of free-form, slightly tuneless jazz saxophone solos I've heard peppering out of the radio speakers, this Christmas Music Season sounds like it's going to be just as lousy as last year.

I just don't understand it -- why do arrangers feel that the answer to every remake of every Christmas carol ever written needs a saxophone solo? And I mean every song. I swear I heard a sax solo during a rendition of "Silent Night" last year. I'd like to hear a solo on vies, the chimes, garbage can lids, anything, ANYTHING other than a saxophone. Drum up some originality, please.

And while I'm on the subject, I plan to use this blog this year to record my most innermost feelings (which will be dark and vile, not pretty) when I hear any of the following songs on the radio:

1) The Madonna version (or, frankly, ANY version) of "Santa Baby."

2) "The Christmas Shoes," which supplies a years' worth of treacle with every playing.

3) "Hey Sanna." I cannot legally type the true name of the song, "Hey Santa," because the singers do not sing "Hey Santa," but insist on saying "Sanna." I have no idea who or what Sanna might be, but I DO NOT wish to say "Hey" to him.

4) "Favorite Things." Whenever I hear this song commmandeered as a Christmas song, it makes me wish the Nazis had gotten the Von Trapps before they scuttled over the border to Switzerland.

(And, in case you're wondering, the album featured on this page is not a joke. It is available here, heaven help us.)

UPDATE: Had I extended my 2:30 constitutional for just another 10 seconds, I would have missed the aforementioned Madonna song. Damn my luck.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Causes, Causes . . .

A few days ago, I was invited to join a Facebook "cause" calling on people to rally around newspapers to prevent their death.

I admit to having mixed feelings about this cause, because I know a lot of good writers and photographers (not forgetting the ad people, designers, press operators and others) who work at newspapers. But at the same time, I look back on my career at newspapers and wonder why I stuck with it for ten years.

What stirs my antagonism? Some of the people I worked with and some of the people I had to deal with as sources. Sources and other people I had to go to for information were the worst. I had one person who continually lied to me about things he/she was responsible for in an official capacity. I'm sure I committed an offense to bring on the ire, but to be treated this pettily was shameful. I had many others who were thrilled to work with me when I was doing something they wanted. But as soon as I had to ask difficult questions or dared show their pet project in a less than stellar light, I had new enemies. I hated that above anything else I had to deal with as a journalist. I grew to realize that many people are two-faced. Some tried to project that image on me, and I resented that, just because I had to write about their pet projects going sour.

So it comes to dealing with people, then, that drove me from newspapers. I have to deal with people in my current job, but it's in a different capacity. There's a lot more cooperation and collaboration, and a lot more time to work with the same people. We've grown to understand each others' needs, each others' strengths and weaknesses, and that helps me as a writer be a better writer. I'm not saying that there aren't journalists who accomplish this with the people they work with. I know there are many. I worked with a few of them. I just know it did not work for me.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Here's Another One

Here's another one. It's not necessarily a poem, but I call it Conversation and Prelude to an Unwritten Childrens' Book.

And Babylon, the glory of the kingdoms,

the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency,

shall be as when God overthrew

Sodom and Gomorrah.

It shall never be inhabited,

neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation:

neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there;

neither shall the shepherds make their fold there.

But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there;

and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures;

and owls shall dwell there,

and satyrs shall dance there.

And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their

desolate houses,

and dragons in their pleasant palaces:

and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged.

Isaiah 13: 19-22

I don’t like the sound of that one bit, Chylus.

What?

The bit with the dragons and all.

Why do there have to be owls, Chylus? We shrews don’t like owls, much.

I wish you’d all stop whining. There’s a human in this after all and he’s the one who ends up-

Chylus, stop! You can’t tell them everything, not on the first page. The story hasn’t even started yet!

Well, they’re going to figure it out anyway. . .

I just don’t understand. What’s Isaiah doing in a children’s book?

Is that the name of the dragon?

No, the owl. You know they eat shrews.

They’re not the only ones who do.

There goes Chylus showing off again. He’ll ruin to book for everyone.

Shut up!

Is it true fire comes out of dragons’ noses?

Maybe.

I once told a joke to an owl and when he laughed a shrew came out of his nose.

I think I’m going to be sick.

You all can make jokes about owls! Filthy Holstein pheasants!

Shaddup, Pops, or Chylus here. . .

I told you to knock it off or you’re going to spoil the story!

I don’t take advice from earth-diggers like you, Runt!

If I were you I’d take less advice and more frequent baths!

That was nice.


Buuurp.


Who was that?

Probably Chylus. Better make a headcount.

Isn’t anyone going to explain what’s going on?

Well, somebody burped and we’re short two shrews here.

Quick! Tell Chylus a joke!

What are you talking about? His nose isn’t big enough.

Not that. I mean about this Isaiah thing. . .

That was a crisis ago, Mabel. Mabel? Mabel!

Anyone seen Mabel?


Burrrp.


Whew. Wet shrew.

What about Isaiah?

What about that dragon?

I promise if there are owls in this, I’ll quit the story I’ve got an owl-less contract.

That was with Doubleday, dear.

No, no dragons. The big stars are off making that medieval story. Only ones available for a story like this would be the pseudodragons, or maybe some griffins with flame-throwers hidden in their fur.

I think we’re getting a bit off the subject Mabel brought up.

Look. Chylus is throwing up.

Eats too much, the filthy vermin.

Now, about Mabel?

Her again?

Yeah, Frank. Chylus just brought her up again.

I hate people who have to monopolize the conversation with their own stupid stories.

Isn’t anyone going to explain who this Isaiah is and what he’s doing in our book?

Oh there you are, Mabel. Whew. Nothing personal, old girl, but you could use a wash and a brush.

What smells like wet shrew around here?

Shh! Chylus has got that weird look in his eye again!

Tell ME about ISAIAH or I’ll BITE your HEAD off, you silly FOP!

Calm down, Mabel. If you’d just listen to old Windle here, He’ll explain. He’s been trying to ever since you brought the question up. Windle, go ahead.

Windle?

Windle?

WINDLE!

Oh. He’s dead.

Dibs!

Dibs, nothing. You got the last four we found. This one’s mine!

Last four, pinfeathers! Who hogged that whole skunk to himself down near the trestle bridge a week and a half ago?

You did! Can’t you tell by the smell?

Is that what that is? Thought maybe it was because the moon was full last night.

Maybe it’s John’s turn.

Which one?

Which turn, or which John?

Which John, of course.

Do either of them know anything about Isaiah?

Quiet, Mabel. Never argue with a flock of magpies.

Lookit here, John. Chylus called dibs, and it’s your turn.

Old Windle? Geez. I’d rather have something a little less, well, shrewish.

Not until you tell me about ISAIAH!


OK, Mabel. No need to shout.

The quote from Isaiah, taken of course from the King James, has been included in this edition of this story merely because it contains the phrase the author used for the title of the book, and also shows off the author’s erudition; in stark contrast to the fact he typically spends his free time shelling peanuts and reading old Dave Barry columns.

I never knew Isaiah read Dave Barry.

No, not him. The author.

Who?

The author. Of this book.

Him? Fat kid with no neck?

Yeah.

Heaven help us.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

An Old Poem

Stumbled across this just a few minutes ago. It's a Mister Fweem Original.

I Call This Poem February

The wind is tired of biting

its toothless, slurping broth.

The trees are tired of being bare

and naked because of sloth.

The sun is bored with sugared snow,

and casting a pale cold light.

I’m not saying this to help you out,

but only for doleful spite.

I, Moron

Just a few minutes ago I was back at the scanner, preparing a case file for work. As the scanner did its thing, I looked out the window, hoping to see one of the small rabbits that live underneath our trailer. Haven't seen much of them this year, so it's always fun to see one squatting on one of the bare patches in the gravel that they've smoothed out over years of squatting in the gravel, black eyes staring at the dinks staring at them out the window.

Today, no bunny. So, in a quiet but high squeaky voice, I said "Oh, no bonny wee bunnies."

I think I said it too loudly -- because one of my co-workers in a neighboring cubicle gave me a funny look as I walked past.

Oh well.

No bonny wee bunnies.

Update, 2:17 pm: I'm not the only one on the lookout for the bunnies. Someone has been tossing out bits of apple into the patch of grass where the bunnies eat. Not that the bunnies are eating the apples, mind you; a rather large crow is out there right now, feasting away.

A crow-related note: These birds here know no fear. I walked within two yards of one today and all it did was look at me. Not worried in the least. And with good reason. I walked past a pair of them a few weeks ago and discovered they were pecking away at a pair of bunny feet, hind variety. So they, too, are on the lookout for the bunnies.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Experimental Tolerance


Here's a fine experiment on political tolerance which ought to be read by parents who chuckle about their kids chanting "Assasinate Obama" on the school bus or insist that it's only the Republicans who are intolerant of the views of others.

As for the Asssasinate Obama thing, I'm saddened to say that happened in my own back yard. The episode bespeaks of local intolerance and animosity towards the Democrats -- behavior I find absolutely shameful.

I'm glad to say I have not heard such things come from my children (we have a third-grader and first-grader, plus a pre-schooler). They have talked about the election at school in some capacity or other, likely under the guise of the Newspapers in Education program, which sees our local paper bringing copies of the paper into the schoolroom to goose its circulation numbers (every paper in Americ does this to some extent). Our third-grader insisted he would vote for John McCain, but he's had a hard time articulating why, which puts him on par with many voters. I haven't heard any trash talk about Barack Obama come from him, so I can assume it's either not occurring in school or he's ambivalent to it. Not a peep out of our first-grader. Probably because neither the Republicans nor Democrats feature pink as an election platform.

We have discussed the election at home. I told them I voted for Barack Obama, because I thought he'd do a good job. We've also talked about President Bush, saying that he's made some bad decisions, but overall has had to make some terribly important decisions under tremendous stress in situations neither I nor my wife would want to be in. We teach them respect of the individual, respect of the office, so don't go on saying that because I live in a red county in a red state that I must be a Republican. Because I'm not.

We live in a household very much like the one described inthe Chicago Tribune article linked to at the beginning of this post, with the exception that my wife voted independently this year for Ralph Nader.

So read the Chicago Trib article -- especially you who believe the Democrats are above such intolerant shenanigans. You'll have your eyes opened, if not your mind.

Secret Fear

I harbor a secret fear: That I’m dumb as a rock.

To some, I’m sure, the first thought is “That’s no secret, bub, we’ve known you’re dumb as a rock for a long time.” That’s not just the rhetoric talking. I could probably name at least a half-dozen people who would whole-heartedly agree with that statement. Because, at some time, my life and the lives of those individuals intersected at a point where I did indeed exhibit extraordinary stupidity, I know my stupidity is all they know of me. And because we’re all human beings, my stupidity is the only memory they retain of me.

Then there are others with whom my life has intersected at multiple times, both at times when I exhibited stupidity and at times when I was, at minimum, nonoffensive, or, at best, competent. How these people remember me depends entirely on their perception. If my competence outweighed my stupidity, so much the better for me. If, on the other hand, the situation is reversed, they place me firmly in the dumb as a rock camp.

Do I truly believe I’m dumb as a rock? Not so much. At times I have exhibited a level of intellectualism and curiosity that cannot rival that of granite, but at other times I’ve said and done competent things. I will not say brilliant things, because brilliance, all evidence to the contrary, is not as common as people like to believe – because with those we regard as brilliant, our lives intersect theirs only at the peak of their competence, not at the nadir or at the even strokes that lie between brilliance and mediocrity.

I don’t lose sleep over the thought that I might be dumb, not when there are so many other interesting things to do, like futz with the computer, read books, or stare at the wall blankly while I think of nothing in particular. I feel overwhelmed at times by the things I don’t understand, but those feelings are fleeting, since there are so many things I don’t understand dwelling on my ignorance would not serve any purpose whatsoever.

Why, you may ask, do I harbor this secret fear?

I’m two classes away from completing a masters degree in technical communication, and feel neither more technical nor more communicative.

My fellows at Uncharted spend their evenings chatting about web development with our developers in India, while I spend my evenings scanning clippings of newspaper stories I wrote three to four years ago into the computer.

I suffer from Homer Simpson Syndrome: I’m lazy, I’m kind of a goof-off . . .

My level of motivation sometimes makes that Hogwallop guy (the one who turned the three wanderers in, complaining about ‘this Depression thing they got going’) in “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” look like a real go-getter.

That brilliant novel idea I’ve “been working on?” Not worked on it over a year.

I don’t worry over much about my lack of brilliance. We are not all destined to shine like a star. Some of us, I suppose, have to be fossil fuel. Today, I feel like coal. The heavy-sulphur kind; the kind that pollutes more.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like . . .


I apologize for the quality of these pictures; a new digital camera is on the list for Christmas. But, here you see in almost its full glory, the Davidson Christmas Extravaganza. More lights are in the offing; I have to replace some I had to throw away last year. Also, we have not put out the deer yet, because there are teenagers about. Can't put them out for obvious reasons.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Randomness, Take 1


Michelle calls this photo "A Man and His Dog." I rather like it. The picture, that is. And the dog.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Memmmmmorieeeeeees

I am convinced I will never be done with this project of scanning all of my newspaper clippings into the computer. If only the paper had gone to the option of letting people download PDFs of the entire paper from the company website. My problems would be over. I'd have everything I wanted to keep in digital format already. As it is I'm back to the old paradigm of getting ink on my fingers. Trouble is, most of this stuff isn't all that good -- and I threw out the boring stuff years ago. Who will want to read this drivel after I'm gone? Don't know. But part of me really feels sorry for him. Or her.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

An Enlightened Moment


Occasionally, while watching a movie, I gain additional insight into the world around me -- especially if it's part of the world I've experienced.

Tonight, for example, I was watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind on the way home from work. Got to the part where the U.S. Air Force is holding the press conference just after Gillian announces Barry has been kidnapped by aliens. (In case you're going bug-eyed, thinking I'm going to regale you with a close encounter of my very own, relax.) Roy Neary starts to make the point -- a valid one -- that the Air Force officials can't blow them group off "by agreeing with them" that they'd like to see the lights in the sky too, the whacko stands up and says "I've seen Bigfoot before." All eyes -- and the cameras, journalists with pencils, et cetera -- immeidately swing to him, and Roy Neary gets this very disgusted look on his face while his wife nods and smiles smugly. She knows what's going to happen next.

The insight is this: Journalists are attracted to the whackos. I know I was when I was a journalist. And nine times out of ten, in group settings like this, it's the person who says the nuttiest thing who is introduced into the story as balance to what the officials are saying, rather than the fellow --in this case, Roy -- who is starting to make a logical argument that, unfortunately for the news, won't make a good sound bite. Although his intro is good, the reporters would have to go into a lot of exposition and explanation, taking up inches of copy space and seconds of time to explain it all. Better to go with the weirdo.

What the Heck, Beck?

So, St. Anthony Mayor Bill Beck has resigned, offering little to the public or news media at Wednesday night's city council meeting other than a statement -- or so the news says -- that his constituents are "stupid" and that the whole town "can go to hell."

He seems a bit testy. He offered no explanation, at least that I've heard, for his departure.

Not without reason. He and a few city council members are the subject of a recall petition -- apparently moot (or as they say in St. Anthony, "mute") on his point now -- because the city dared ask a local family to remove a bunch of junk cars from their property. (Something I agree with Beck on, because whenever I drive through the town and surrounding area, I always have to wonder if I've stumbled into a populated junk car lot.)

I knew Bill Beck back in the day when I was a journalist, and actually liked the guy. I don't know why he's being villified by commenters in the local paper, because he seemed to be a rather progressive individual for the city. Of course, politics and personality being what they are in St. Anthony, a small town that reveres the independent spirit of the old west but seems to cling (If I may use Obama's phraseology) to the disruptive, small-town narrow-mindedness that scared newcomers out fo towns like Amity and Friendship in the west of old. Back then, if a guy weren't fer ya, he was again' ya. That ethos has survived to this day, but surfaces in petty name-calling (on both the side of the mayor and his constituents) and the Instant Distrust (TM) that seems to pervade small-town politics. You like the guy until he's elected. Then don't trust him at all. Seems very Jeffersonian, but as if Jefferson and the rest of the city were still in high school.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

We'll Miss You, Aunt Jell-o


As we stood in the cold wind beneath the grey scudding clouds galloping in the sky above the Ammon Cemetery, I thought a lot about Jell-o.

Aunt Yvonne brought Jell-o to practically every family dinner, so we called her Aunt Jell-o. She took the teasing well. She took a lot of teasing well. From being reminded of saying things like "Boy, there sure are a lot of dead people in the world," as we drove past the cemetery in Laketown, Utah, where Grandma and Grandpa Speirs are buried. She endured the telling and re-telling of the time she wore a pair of underwear stuck by static cling to the back of her coat on a day of shopping in Idaho Falls, ignorant of the fact until an embarrassed shopper showed it to her. She never seemed to tire of being the butt of family jokes, and even told a few on herself. Every day, a new story. Today, I heard how she complained, in her trademark mangled English, about a driver who had been driving "erotically" down 17th Street.

Parties at her house, the best Christmas parties. In the basement, all of us fighting for turns at the pool table, then exchanging gag gifts, laughing, laughing, laughing. Telling stories on each other, with the dog, Teko, sitting in the window well, banished from the house for the evening, but not wanting to miss out on the fun. Nobody wanted to miss out on the fun at Aunt Jell-o's house.

I rarely at the Jell-o. Being half-Dutch, I suppose, made me wonder why it was such an interesting dish. But Aunt Jell-o's dishes at family parties were as expected as my own mother forgetting the yams until the feast was over.

On the hillside today, under the clouds, with cattle bellowing in the distance, the cities of Idaho Falls and Ammon spread out at the base of the hills, we told Aunt Jell-o goodbye. She battled cancer for nearly three years, asking that her "go-go juice" at the chemotherapy sessions be good. I knew she was ill. I did not know the cancer, diagnosed so long ago, was terminal.

Families drift apart. The fuzzy childhood memories are about all I have. And that's a shame. We drift apart, because it's easy, I suppose. But not recommended.

Uncle Doug said he spoke with her a few days before she died, about the family gatherings. He urged me, standing on that hill, holding back the tears, to stay close. "Those were the fun times," he said. "And that's what we remember. Make sure you do that with your siblings."

Okay.

Thanks, Aunt Jell-o. We'll miss you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Please Tell Me I'm Not Alone

Occasionally -- last time was a few days ago -- I had the eerie feeling that my head was literally screwed onto my body incorrectly. It felt like it was skewed to the right. To fix the problem, I have to deliberately hold my head to the left -- and I can feel it as if I'm working rarely-used muscles -- for a while, until the sensation of leaning to the right ends.

It's akin to the classic Peanuts strip by Charles Schulz, in which Linus "becomes aware of his tongue," and is distressed that he can feel it pressing against his teeth. His paranoia spreads to his sister Lucy, who bawls him out for being foolish about the situation, then becomes "aware" herself.

Please tell me I'm not alone with this.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Big Hoo-Hah

I, for one, do not mind at all that those against passage of Proposition 8 in California are holding protests in front of Mormon temples, Catholic churches and edifices of other religions that supported the ban on gay marriage. This is absolutely their Constitutional right.

I do object, however, when these same protesters claim the right to free speech in making those protests while attempting to deny these churches that same right in their fight to support Proposition 8. You cannot logically claim a right to free speech when, practically in the same breath, your umbrage is against those who have exercised that same right.

Nor do I buy the argument that we can wrap this all under the wing of tolerance, because what we’re really talking about here is “tolerance of gay marriage,” and not “tolerance of religious beliefs against gay marriage.” I’m always amused when the tolerance of one is assumed to supersede the tolerance of another. In other words, it’s right to believe in gay marriage because that’s tolerant, and any other view that opposes that is intolerant. But the same people who say that are intolerant of religious beliefs, including those against gay marriage. So tolerance is just another way of saying “Since I believe in this, I’m right, and you’re wrong,” – the same tactics the opponents of Proposition 8 accuse its supporters of taking.

So we have a lot of the pot calling the kettle black.

I’ve heard a lot of noise, too, about the separation of church and state, and how opponents of Proposition 8 claim that the banning of gay marriage is the result of churches dictating to the state what they want, in violation of the Constitution.

Those who argue this way need to re-read their Constitution, which states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The language here is clear. Congress shall make no law. This is the United States Congress, the United States government. And Constitutional scholars agree this was included in the Constitution to prohibit the Federal government from supporting a church as a state religion, not in prohibiting the involvement of religious authority or organizations in secular affairs.

That sentiment, too, seems to permeate the so-called Danbury Baptists letter, in which President Thomas Jefferson espoused the tenet of “separation of church and state:”
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man &
his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that
the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I
contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which
declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of
separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the
supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see
with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore
to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition
to his social duties.
It’s interesting to read the letter from the Danbury Baptists that prompted Jefferson’s response; that letter can be found here. Basically, the letter is from a group of Baptists congratulating Jefferson on his recent election to the presidency, expressing confidence that he would not work to enact laws that would suppress freedom of religion.

The US Supreme Court used Jefferson’s ideal in a 1947 decision, Everson V. Board of Education, in striking down a New Jersey law that allowed school districts to fund transportation of children to and from school, because some of that money was being used to reimburse travel for students attending Catholic schools.

In that decision, the court ruled:
The 'establishment of religion' clause of the First Amendment means at least
this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither
can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion
over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain
away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief
in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing
religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax
in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities
or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever from they may adopt to
teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can,
openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or
groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against
establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation
between Church and State.'
Interpretation of the Everson decision in relationship to Proposition 8 will in all likelihood revolve around the “Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another” portion in the decision. Opponents of the proposition might argue that Proposition 8 does just that – it aids all religions. Those who support the proposition, however, could counter that since other religions spoke out against the proposition, the “all” does not apply. They could also argue that laws commonly regarded as secular – punishment for crimes, traffic laws, et cetera, aid all religions, while remaining “purely” secular. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

Opponents of the ban will argue that the ban represents an imposition of religious thought on a secular government. Proponents of the ban will have to counter that argument. The language of the proposition itself might be proof that religion is not the primary motivator behind the law. The language states:
  • Changes the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.
  • Provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.
Interpretation, of course, is up to the courts, which is where this mess started in the first place.

It’s clear where my opinions lie on this matter. As the LDS Church has stated, opposition is not to civil unions that offer to homosexual couples the same legal, secular rights as married couples, but to the desanctification of marriage to achieve those secular rights.

From the statement issued by the LDS Church on Nov. 5 (emphasis added):

Allegations of bigotry or persecution made against the Church were and are
simply wrong. The Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage neither
constitutes nor condones any kind of hostility toward gays and lesbians.
Even more, the Church does not object to rights for same-sex couples
regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights,
or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the
traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.

Some, however, have mistakenly asserted that churches should not ever
be involved in politics when moral issues are involved. In fact, churches
and religious organizations are well within their constitutional rights to speak
out and be engaged in the many moral and ethical problems facing society.
While the Church does not endorse candidates or platforms, it does reserve the
right to speak out on important issues.



Opponents of Proposition 8 choose, however, to focus on the gay marriage ban, without acknowledging at all that the church, in this statement and previous statements, states it does not seek to deny the secular rights that homosexuals find in being allowed to marry.

Job Cuts Hit Home

It's interesting to note that the German delivery giant DHL cutting 9,500 jobs in the United States that the full story -- or at least the full story as I've heard it -- isn't coming out.

I have two relatives who work for DHL; both have either lost their jobs or will soon lose their jobs. From what I've heard from them, the reasons DHL is cutting jobs stem more from a non-comete agreement DHL has signed with FedEx and UPS and with arcane US security measures than the soured economy.

From what I understand, the agreement that DHL has signed/will soon sign calls for the company basically to abandon domestic deliveries within the United States, in favor of FedEx and UPS. In "exchange," DHL gets the promise that the two US companies will use its delivery infrastructure in other parts of the world -- an economy of scale savings, or so it seems. And that's fine. If that's how DHL wants to do business, that's their, uh, business. But it just seems odd that a company appears to be squeezed out of the states, just because the local boys don't want to compete.

Another difficulty is even more odd. Because of security measures put into place after 9/11, DHL can't operate its own airplanes in the United States -- apparently, you have to be based in the US to operate planes here. Since DHL is based in Germany, they're unable to meet this rule, so no planes for them. I've been told they were contracting the work out to a US-based company, but as contracting is almost always more expensive than doing it yourself, they were struggling to make the situation work on a business platform.

I'm not sure I believe the part about the homeland security rule; that just seems so farfetched. But I suppose stranger things have happened.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Evidence of Evolution

Blogger's Note: Funny I should write about anthropomorphism, because here's an example. I'm not pleased with it. It's as rough as a crosscut saw. Suggestions, please.

Ima pouted earnestly in a dark dry hole filled with the odd tangy smell of humus mixed with forty-weight. Not only had she not been allowed to say good-bye to her new friend Ernie, or indeed stay around a few extra minutes to witness the rantings of the enormous yet flower-covered Mrs. Nussbaum, but her father and mother in the zeal most parents even in the lower echelons of the animal kingdom are prone to exhibit, grounded their little daughter for the rest of the week.

Moles, by the way, invented the parental concept of grounding. The offending imp is condemned to sit idly pondering on his or her sins in a dark underground chamber (hence the term 'grounded') until the punishment is lifted. Spending days on end in a dark hole devoid of any elements of entertainment value outside of the occasional errant pillbug and crabgrass roots dangling from the ceiling is certainly a more heinous punishment than banishment to a bright and airy bedroom filled with all the creature comforts, telephones, televisions and clean changes of underwear children of the lesser decades even up through their twenties earn by whining until their parents break down and buy them what they want or break down and force their children to work fourteen hours a day at a beet farm to keep up payments on the double room at the state mental hospital.

Human children do, however, have that option open to them. Moles have even less enthusiasm for socialized medicine than does the average human, and state-run facilities for the mentally stressed are limited to the occasional rattlesnake den. Then again, Moles can, if they feel energetic and stout enough, can tunnel right out of their chambers of punishment and once again breathe fresh free air, providing their tunnels don't collapse on them first. They must also, even the females, go as long as three months without manicures.

Of this, Ima cared little. Thoughts of revenge against her sister Pinecone, though briefly entertained, were abandoned in favor of thanks to her younger sibling for starting the family off on this grand adventure, even if at the time the grandest adventurer of the family was holed up in a dark pocket of air two feet below the surface. She had actually been in the presence of a big 'un--Ernie, he called himself--who didn't act as if he wanted to squash his tiny questioner on the spot. "Indeedy," Ima thought to herself as she sat on her rump in the dark, listening to the vague earth-scratchings of her father and brothers as they widened tunnels and carved out bigger living quarters, "he seemed right nice, that Ernie. A bit dumb, a bit talkative, but not a bad sort. If only father hadn't taken me away so soon!"

A timid scratch near the tunnel entrance stopped Ima's thoughts. "Ima, didja get the candy?" Pinecone's narrow face and cheerful whiskers poked into Ima's chamber of punishment and smiles lit up their faces and the darkness around them. "I wanna eatit. Dat smell's still got my tummy all rumbly." Pinecone shuffled into the room and pawed at her sister.

"Stop it, Pinecone!" Ima squealed as Pinecone's whiskers tickled her ears. "Of course I brought you a bit. Wouldn't be sporting of me not to, after all it was your nose that smelled it in the first place." Pinecone danced an anxious jig as Ima pulled a chewed bit of candy corn out of the satchel she always carried. (No matter if you've never seen a mole with a satchel; chances are you've never taken a really good look at your average mole anyway. And if you had, even the dimmest of moles knows to ditch any vestiges of cranial sophistrication whenever one of us big 'uns gets too close.)

Pinecone gently snatched the candy out of Ima's paws and immediately set to contented chewing. "Um, yum, um YUM!" she mumbled between bites, sending bits of candy corn flying about in the gloom. While Pinecone chewed and yummed, Ima settled once again comfortably on her round bottom and thought of her new and interesting friend, the giant Ernie. In retrospect she realized the rashness of her daring-do, her conscience still stinging with the razored lecture she received from both father and mother mole. That giant could have easily squashed her flat as look at her. "But still," Ima thought while Pinecone continued to yum in a rather sticky voice in the darkness next to her, "he didn't squash me. That must mean something."

"Ima! Ima!" Pinecone had obviously finished her candy. She poked her sister in her sliver-sized mole ribs and agitated her hands as if she were preparing for flight. "Dat big 'un TOUCHED you! Was it gross an' slimy? Did he taste like toadstools; did he smell like Ditchbottom after rain?"

Ima paused to think while her sister fidgeted impatiently. She drew her claws through her whiskers and patted the fur on the side of her head. "Well," she started slowly, "he did smell better that Ditchbottom. . ."

* * *

Ima hummed an old mole tune a she brushed her fur and gazed into her dim reflection in the shard of glass pushed into the wall in front of her. Deciding to make the best of her undergrounding, Ima had busied her sister with orders and convinced Ditchbotom to dig out a small skylight in her ceiling, which he then covered with a domed bottom of a clear plastic soda bottle.

Why exactly she found Ernie Hoobler exciting even she couldn't quite tell. She wasn't even sure if she liked the enormous dim-witted and hairy beast; or if Ernie could look beyond her own moleishness to the real Ima under the furry coat and behind the near-sighted eyes.

All Pinecone knew was that she was getting very tired of being a lady-in-waiting. Finding the shard of glass Ima stared dreamily into had taken the better half of the morning and led her almost too close to Mrs. Nussbaum's busybody poodle Snoops who snapped and bit at the mere shadows of birds flitting across the green patch of Nussbaum lawn. Then there were trips to the sunny lip of the ditch for fragrant purple flowers to take away the musty underground smell of her lady's waiting chamber and trips to the lawn of Mr. Onslow to cull the largest and yellowest dandelions for Ima to smell and then rub the yellow pigment on her moleish cheeks (which most mole males find very attractive; a pigmentation Ima hoped would attract the eye of even the most dim-witted of handsome giants). As Pinecone watched Ima absently weave purple flowers and the yellow heads of clover into a crown for her head she wondered if the smells and sights and sounds of last evening's encounter had completely chased her sister's mind away.

"Ima," she asked, "you mind's gone, ainnit?" Ima continued to weave flowers and hum an old mole love ditty quietly to herself. "Ima," Pinecone insisted, "roof's cavin' in!" Her sister hiccupped, but continued singing. "Snake's a-comin behind you!" Pinecone almost shouted, trying to get any reaction out of her daydreaming sister. She jumped up and down, jigged side to side, kicking up pebbles and raking dirt from the low ceiling above Ima's sleeping alcove. "Gonna get et! AIII!" Pinecone frowned deeply. She wrinkled her upper lip in disgust at her mushing sister, sitting on her round bottom weaving a stupid Flowering Mole Wreath of Affection. She felt like tossing pebbles at her sister's head. She felt like dousing Ditchbottom in rainwater and hiding his smelly furry body in some dark corner of Ima's chamber.

Pinecone felt like tattling.

She poked her head out of Ima's chamber door and peered down both long hallways of the family tunnel. She could hear Ditchbottom and Tummythumper playing at some underground game a ways down to the left and heard the snores of her parents from a chamber not too far to the right. She looked back at her dreamy sister, who had finished her first wreath and was earnestly yet absently at work on a second, much larger wreath. "Ima!" Pinecone shouted in a whisper. Her sister actually looked up form her work to stare at her. "Hoo you makin' that big 'un for. . .oooohh!" Pinecone's eyes drew round; her jaw dropped and her whiskers quivered. "Dat's for the big 'un, ainnit?" Pinecone hissed, shaking her head from side to side. Ima, suddenly drawn out of her odd trance, timidly nodded her head--her eyes much wider than Pinecone's.

"Um, Pinecone, it's like," Ima stammered, raising from her seat and squattling towards her sister, still perched in the somber gloom of the chamberway.

"Ima," Pinecone screeched, "he's a BIG 'UN! How can you--love--a big 'un?" Then suddenly: "Oooff! Stoppit! Aaaaghh!" Pinecone popped like a cork out of the chamberway, with Ditchbottom and Tummythumper wadded up in a crumpled heap on top of her. "Offa mee!" Pinecone squeaked from the bottom of the writhing pile of tiny moles. With claws flying and whiskers gently jabbing her brothers in the eyes, Pinecone pulled and struggled out of the heap.

"We heard Pinecone," whispered Tummythumper, huffing and puffing and batting at Pinecone's tail which was in his eyes, "We heard Pine--getcher tail outta my face, sis!--Pinecone hollerin' about a big 'un an' we thought maybe he found yer fancy-pants skylight, Ima."

"Where's the big 'un?" Ditchbottom asked--in a rather muffled voice from the very bottom of the still struggling pile of moles trying in vain to right themselves.

"He's in her DREAMS," Pinecone whined, finally stepping out of the moley pile and pointing accusing fingers at her older sister, who stood bathed in a shaft of filtered sunlight streaming in through her skylight. "That big 'un who held her yesterday--she likes him."

Ditchbottom and Tummythumper righted themselves and stood in stock silence in a row next to their sister Pinecone, whose fingers still pointed in Ima's direction.

"You," Ditchbottom squeaked, "like him?"

"That big' un?" Tummythumper asked, incredulous.

"He smelt funny," Ditchbottom said, "like something wet after a rain."

"She's makin' him," Pinecone said, then whispered: "a wreath."

"Gross," the three said in unison.

"Mole-heart, mole-heart, love with the sun," Pinecone chanted, grinning a mocking grin and bouncing on her heels.

"Mole-lass, mole-lass, make a wreath for one!" Ditchbottom added in a rather silly voice.

"Leaf-dance, earth-dance, wed the lucky pair," chortled Tummythumper, grabbing Ditchbottom's hand in his left hand and Pinecone's hand in the other and dancing them about in a circle around their sister who wore an exasperated look intensified by her halo of light.

"Love of one, love of two, tunnels through the air!" All three chanted at once. They danced and repeated their chant as Ima sighed and tried to push her way out of the lively circle. Ditchbottom broke the circle long enough to snag a bundle of purple flowers from the floor. He bowed in mock solemnity sweeping the flowers deeply behind his back as Tummythumper and Pinecone stared and giggled withe their paws over their mouths.

"Accept, fair molelish lady," He said, sweeping the flowers from behind his back and snapping his body out of the bow and to attention, "yon bundle of ditchflowers as my token to thee." He chortled and was joined in a chorus of chortles by his brother and sister.

"My dearest moleish lord," Ima said, graciously taking the flowers from her brother's paw, "I accept thy bundle," with this she put the flowers to her nose and inhaled deeply, "that I may use them, dearest, to BLIP you right on top of the head." The flowers and their accompanying overpoweringly purple smell sang through the air as Ima aimed and landed them with a smack on top of Tummythumper's fuzzy head. Pinecone and Ditchbottom stopped their chortling and merely held their paws in front of their open mouths. Ima stormed out of her chamber, leaving Tummythumper to brush fragmented petals and stems from his fur.

Ima stormed back into the chamber, shaking her fists. "I'm undergrounded." She said, nearly a whisper. "You all get out. Now." Her three younger siblings silently and slowly shuffled out, single-file. Ima stonily watched their retreating fuzzy backs and kicked about at a few of the flowers crumpled on her floor. She sat back at her reflecting-glass and arranged her flowery wreath on her head. Softly, she sang, trying hard to conceal a smile: "Mole-heart, mole-heart, love with the sun. . ."

"Ima?"

She gasped and turned to the door, abruptly interrupting her flower arranging and her humming. Her father shuffled in through the door, squinting at the sudden light and holding back a yawn with the back of his paw. "What was all that noise I heard just now? And why are there broken flowers all over the floor in here?"

"Oh, Daddy!" She jumped from her reflecting-glass and wrapped her arms around her surprised but pleased father.

"Daddy is it now? My, my," Dirty-Fur mumbled, patting his daughter lovingly on the back of the head. "You haven't called me daddy since you were toe-high to a giant." He continued to pat her head as she continued to squeeze him tight. "I'm pleased you're not mad at me anymore, dearie. I love you so. That's why parents act the way they do at times--they love you--though their actions and harsh words may sometimes appear to mean the opposite."

"I love you, too, Daddy!" Ima said, trying hard to control the quiver in her voice. She released her grip and sat back down at her reflecting-glass, but this time rather than looking at herself she turned opposite and stared into the squinty eyes of her father, who plopped onto the ground near her feet.

"I was so scared for you, yesterday," Dirty-Fur whispered, putting a paw on Ima's knee. "I'd have rather faced a cat than that giant."

"But the big 'un--Ernie--isn't a bad sort, daddy!" Ima pleaded, putting her paw on top of her father's. "He may seem a bit slow, but more than that, he seems quite nice--not like any other giant, by any means."

Dirty-Fur sat blinking in the sunlight that cascaded over his head and shoulders from the domed hole in his daughter's ceiling. "He did seem the decent fellow," he said, more to himself than to the pleading looks his daughter gave him. "More willing to talk than to squash, at any rate. That must mean something." Ima put her head in Dirty-Fur's lap. He stroked her head, now bathed in light along with his own, and repeated to himself: "More willing to talk than squash. That must mean something."

Evolution

The more I delve into the writing I've committed against the universe in years past, the more I believe in evolution. Not the "Me Uncle's a Monkey" kind of evolution, but the idea that things change over time.

I have noticed, for instance:

-- I am much less tolerant of typos now than I was years ago.
-- I have finally mastered the concept of putting punctuation inside quotes, rather than orphaning them on the outside, where it's cold.
-- Though I favor books based on anthropomorphism (the attributing of human characteristics to animals, i.e., moles wearing waistcoats and crows that talk) I have yet to tackle writing in such a genre to any great effect. Though I have produced some samples that, huh, I think are pretty good.
-- I am trending now towards making my writing less formulaic and more like the ordinary, more conversant, day-to-day crap I produce. I'm not sure if this qualifies as evolution or devolution.

I think, overall, that I see progress in my writing, which is a good thing, since I had only one direction to go. Okay, two directions. But I think I'm getting better. Or at least I'm turning into a monkey.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Pumpkins and Chickens are Orange, Aren't They?

Note: More flotsam.

I

I had the book draped open in front of me though I wasn't reading It, or paying much attention to the discussion about the story we were supposed to have read. I propped my head up with mg hands, One elbow rested on the narrow, grainy desk top; the other on the spine of the book, causing its pages to strain at the bindings, I grabbed a bag of Skittles from the desk. My other elbow slipped, brushing the book, with a crash, to the floor. The jolt caused four Skittles--a red one, two orange ones and a purple one--to jump out. of the bag and hit the tiled floor of the classroom with high pitched 'snaks' as they bounced.

I glanced quickly at. the two sitting In the corner opposite me, inwardly sure that they were laughing at me. My legs tensed up while mg face flushed red, I stared at the floor, at the two orange Skittles on the ground. I squished them with mg foot.

The two in the corner were Indeed laughing; my paranoid mind assumed at me. University housing services never matched up two characters as perfectly as they had those two. One, a head taller than his dark companion, radiated orange to a-nyone who cared to look at him, Orange hair. Orange skin. Even the frames of his thick bottle-bottomed glasses were orange. He looked like a cock, ever alert, turning his head quickly from side to side, but never looking up or down. His companion resembled a Jack o' lantern in November, its shriveled face caving In on itself.

I didn't know their names, though I shared a classroom with them for two hours every Tuesday night. I could have learned their names easily enough, but I didn't want to. Their nicknames sufficed.

The cock as I called the first one, was obnoxious and pompous In a loud wag, always trying to draw attention to himself. He did not merely speak, (this he did often enough to get on my nerves) he enunciated. Each word carefully pronounced and accented as If he was talking down to a roomful of kindergartners. VAC--uum. Thank YOU. There was no denying he was intelligent, but his annoying personality ruled him out as a reliable friend.

Jack O', as I called the Cock's ever-present companion, was obnoxious and pompous in a quiet way- He was the Cock's one true vassal; a servant to do his every bidding. He laughed at all the Cock's jokes, and paid rampant attention to him every time he spoke, which as I said before, was often.

They were both talking quitely as the teacher lectured, gesticulating with their faces and waving their ;hands about highly annoying fashion. When there was a break in class, they resumed their normal, exceedingly loud babble in the inflated vernacular popular among those who enjoy playing themselves up in front of others. They had a maddening habit that frankly drove me crazy. Every week, the Cock would come to class with a new word added to his vast vocabulary. He and Jack O' would inject it into every conversation they entered, whenever possible (and sometimes when it was impossible). The word this week was 'purge.' The sound of that word, rolling of the Cock's pompous tongue, irritated me to my very soul, (After class I would find it hard to use that word in my own conversations, even when it was proper to do so.) Every other sentence he uttered had that word in it. He's the type of person who, on an extended camping trip, would annoy his fellow campers by describing a calm lake using wilder and wilder metaphors as the trip went on, until they were ready to break the lake's surface by throwing him in it.

II

Everything around me was mud and dead leaves. The few grassy patches, hemmed in by strips of wet, muddy concrete, were crisscrossed with bicycle tracks and footprints. The center of the square, between the classroom complex and the library, looked like a pig wallow. The water oozed out of the ground as if someone had stepped on a soggy sponge. The single emaciated tree in the canter of the square had but one orange leaf clinging for life to the bare branches.

I walked up the equally dismal steps of the library, and stood looking at the relief sculpture of the state mortared into the side of the building. Even that. was streaked with mud.

The woman in front of me was walking maddeningly slow, I stepped through the door she opened, then sped around her and into the library. I walked quickly to the newspaper section, hoping to find the Sunday edition of my hometown paper, which had been absent from the other campus library I frequented more often. The shelf next to the paper's label was empty. I pouted, and grabbed a magazine. The lounge couch, upholstered with a sickly orange vinyl, squeaked when I sat dawn on It. The few Skittles left over from class that were In my pocket rolled out into a crack in between the cushions, along with at least ninety cents in small change. I knew none of this, but roundly cursed my luck when I later searched my pocket for my keys, and missed the money, and the Skittles.

My feet squashed in the mud and standing water in the soggy field I had to cross to get home. I put my foot down in a puddle that was deeper than it looked. The water soaked In through my shoes, and began climbing up my sock.

The gunning of an engine caught my attention. The source of the noise was an ugly orange Volvo chugging along behind my dorm. I quickly drew my eyes away from it, and did not look up from the ground again until I stood outside my door, fumbling for my keys.

I yanked the door open and walked into the small room that I shared. My roommate was always gone when I came home. I think the jerk had a girlfriend or something I like that. The room was dark and smelled of garlic. That was better than the normal odors of herbal throat gargles or the cheap Brut cologne my roommate used. My hand slammed down on the light switch, nearly bringing the phone off the wall with it. The lamp sent a pitiful yellow-orange glow through the room. I cursed to myself as I dropped my books onto the desk. I whipped the curtains open and wrenched the windows, hoping a breeze would come by and suck the garlic smell out of the room. I emptied the contents of my pockets onto the orange desktop, muttering. My eyes bulged. Sitting there alongside my wallet, a scrap of paper, two ticket stubs and my room key, was a single orange Skittle that the couch at the library had not claimed. I picked it up and threw it out the window.

III

My history class was bound to be boring today. I was taking it just for the fact that it was a core requirement, nothing more. My major was communications, and, in my view, that had nothing to do with studying Rome or Greece. I highly disliked going to that class, partly because of my disinterest in the subject, but mostly because Jack O' sat next to me.

Most of the time, I got to class a little earlier than he, to give myself a few moment's peace. My hand covered my mouth to stifle an evil chuckle, for when I glanced at his hopefully permanently vacant desk, I noticed it was a seat for left-handers Poetic justice. That would put a burr up his tailpipe. Jack O' picked that time to come sauntering In the door, I concentrated on the paper I was reading while he fussed about, exchanging the lefty desk for a righty one from the vacant back row. He Infuriated me.

He never took notes on the lectures, though the amount of information given by the professor was copious, as well as complex. What really burned me up was that he always got A's an the tests, while I, an avid note-taker, barely scraped B's. He was a math major on top of that. I hate math.

Though I tried hard enough, I could not find a single redeeming quality in Jack O', or his friend. That fact Incessantly burned in my mind because I have always been taught to love my neighbors. Trying to 'love' these two would annoy me more than if I continued to loathe them. I admit I'm crazy; my loathing for them building up Insurmountable guilt deep in my soul. I was letting two idiots drive me insane . . . but I was having fun every step of the way.

I knew I had three choices to follow, choices that would lead to permanent Insanity, or an ugly, festering ulcer. The first was to continue in my present loathsome ways, breaking them down and destroying myself with harbored guilt. I could try to strike a happy medium, tolerating their presence only, since I had already rendered loving them academic. An evil smile crossed my face as fantasized about my third choice: bump them off. Kidnap them. Tie them up. A little Chinese water torture, perhaps. Make a finger necklace. I favored strangulation for them, since I felt strangled every time I saw them, together or apart.

A loud noise, the professor clearing his throat, pulled me out of my dark daydreaming. That was the first time I really took a close look at him that. day. He was wearing a hideous orange tie. I wanted to tighten that tie until he turned blue (it irritated me so), but certain facts (30 witnesses to the crime, for one), restrained me. I laughed, silently to myself, as I imagined their shock and surprise as I murdered the teacher. I had to do something though.

Suddenly, It was all so clear. I realized that I had but one choice, not three. Reason said simply: go mad, Why not? It could I lots of fur. Maybe I could be like that guy in Arsenic and Old Lace. Being Teddy Roosevelt wouldn't be that bad. Charging up the stairs like they were San Juan Hill could be a barrel of laughs, if I tried hard enough.

So, I resigned to insanity, but in the best way possible. No, not the best way. I couldn't kill them. My conscious would weigh down on me too heavily, I would continue to loathe them. It would be fun, while it lasted. Only one thing worried me. With my luck, the padded room they assign to me at the asylum would be decorated in orange.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Just A Thought

What I find most interesting in the debate over and protests against the passing of California's Proposition 8, which forbids same-sex marriage, is that those who oppose the law want to have their cake and eat it too.

Same-sex marriage came to California after the California Supreme Court ruled that same sex marriages were legal.

Opponents of the court decision opted to take California's proposition process to bring the decision to the voters, which they did.

With the passage of the proposition, three groups who filed suit to stop the proposition from becoming law now say (from CNN.com) "'such radical changes'" as outlawing gay marriage cannot be made by ballot initiative, but must, "'at a minimum, go through the state legislature first.'"

So, they were okay when the state supreme court -- bypassing the state legislature and legislating from the bench -- said same-sex marriage was okay, but now are upset because the majority of California voters decided that what the court decided is wrong? IN this effort, they express a logical fallacy that reveals their motivation is not listening to the will of the people -- who voted in favor of Proposition 8 -- but rather prefer throwing a legal fit until they can convince someone to get their way again.

There's also umbrage, in California and locally, against the Mormon Church for urging its members to campaign in favor of the proposition. Some point out that a significant amount of money raised by the organization opposing same-sex marriage came from Utah, not California.

Why is this a problem? It's a fair bet that a lot of the money the Barack Obama campaign used in successfully convincing voters to elect Barack Obama (whom I voted for) came from outside California, and nodoby seems to be complaining about that, at least among the liberals. Now, if Utahns had moved en masse to California, gained residency and then cast votes in favor of Proposition 8, I'd agree that there was undue influence. But because it was Californians who voted in favor of Proposition 8, I don't see that it matters where the money came from.

What this basically comes down to is a hissy fit. They did not get what they wanted. And rather than look at what they could have done better to convince California voters to vote their way, they choose instead to take the issue again to a narrower interest (the legislature) than the people and take potshots as those who backed the successful campaign (both the Caltholic and LDS churches).

Worst. Sour Grapes. Ever.

I'm always fascinated listening to election concession speeches, those given by the candidates who valiantly fought the battle but eneded upin second (or third) place. WHile some of them are truly sincere (like I believe John McCain's was), many are, obviously, filled with horse neers.

Then there's Rex Rammell.

Rex, an independent Republican bitter at coming in a distant third to Republican Jim Risch in the race for Idaho's open Senate seat, had this to say in The Standard Journal about his loss to Risch:

"Time will prove that everyone who voted for Jim Risch made a mistake. It is obvious to me that Risch supporters simply haven't suffered enough. When Jim Risch has turned the state upside down voters are going to look at themselvees in the mirror and kick themselves."

Heartfelt? Yes. Honest? Absolutely. I love a politician who will speak his mind. But -- correct me if I'm wrong here -- insinuating that voters are stupid because they voted for your opponent, is that the way politicians ought to kiss butt, especially politicians who might consider running for ze public office again? No.

Voters have loooooooong memories, Mr. Rammell. Just because you had a snit with Mr. Risch when, as acting governor, he ordered the elk that escaped from your elk ranch shot because of the chance they'd spread chronic wasting disease to the wild elk population is no reason to tell every person who voted for Risch in this contest that they're stupid. Yeah, you didn't directly say that. But you may as well have.

I didn't vote for Risch, by the way. I voted for Larry LaRocco. So you probably think I'm stupid, too.

We also have a runner-up in the worst election performance ever, this time from Rep. Mike Simpson, who won handily over his Democratic opponent. His radio commercials, however, never mentioned his opponent -- instead he took potshots at LaRocco, running against Risch. Childish.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Motivation and Misdemeanors

Ah, the election is over. Aside from the full-bore linear smugness now emanating from the louder Democrats, the world has gone silent. Two more months of Dubya and, or so they say, the new Peace in Our Time will reign. I certainly hope so. I’m excited – and distressed for – any administration to be going in after the current one. There are certainly a lot of broken dishes and empty pizza boxes to clean up.

It’s kind of entertaining to see the local die-hard Republicans wearing their sackcloth and ashes. Well, if their national party had done a better job at picking a candidate, and if that candidate had done a better job at picking a running mate, perhaps things would be different. But I doubt it.

Just realized something: Berkeley Breathed was wrong. Way back in the 1980s, the father of Oliver Wendell Holmes, consoling a disconsolate Mr. Binkley for his loathing of Jesse Jackson, said “The first black in the White House will be a conservative,” and admitted that he had himself voted for Al Haig in that primary season. Well, now we have a liberal African-American headed to the White House. And I’m fine with that. I voted the party, not the man.

I know of three family members who voted for Obama, including myself. An older sister voted for him “because he only owns four pairs of shoes,” she told another sister, who also cast her vote in the Democratic fashion. For pairs of shoes versus an unverified number of houses. That makes sense in a weird, Trivial Pursuit kind of way.

Clan Davidson, you should understand, with a few exceptions, has traditionally leaned Democratic. That comes in two parts: First, Dad was a Democrat, liked to say that this was a great country to live in if you have money, but if you don’t it’s one of the worst places to live. Also, there’s a streak of contrarianism that gallops through the family. Tell us to vote Republican because that’s what’s done in this area of the world and we’re going to march right into that booth and darken that circle for the other guy. Most of the time.

My wife, from a rather Republican family, voted for Ralph Nader. She wasn’t pleased with either candidate from the major parties. Nor was I. I suppose I wanted to vote for Obama to say I’d voted for him. Not because he’s black. Not necessarily because he’s a Democrat. But because I wanted to. Because a lot of people around me said I shouldn’t because he’ll bring the world down around his shoulders. After looking at the last Republican administration, I figure why not give a Democrat the same chance to screw things up? And maybe he’ll do better.

But it all comes down to what P.J. O’Rourke says. All these politicians go to Washington with an eye on making the town over in their name, and few succeed. Because few, once they’re there, can overcome this beast that swallows them up with the all-consuming troubles that are inherent in the office. Richard Nixon said misdemeanors were inherent to the office. That’s nothing compared to what’s inherent to the office these days. Good luck, Mr. Obama – you’ll need it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Twin Bridges to Uncharted

The video for this one is here. It's the second one. Now you may read the story if you wish.

Aaand an update: Beta testing is now underway at Uncharted, which is exciting stuff. Soon, you'll be able to read these stories on Uncharted, as intended. Can't wait for that to happen.

Twin Bridges -- A Fishing Spot for non-Fisher Folk

We are not fisher folk.

Dad, born in the Netherlands in 1928, did not have to fish. Just about any time he wanted fish – herring, mostly, pickled, raw, with a bit of onion sprinkled on top – his mother went to the market and got it. Fresh. Always fresh fish in the Netherlands, so close to the sea.

So when he moved from the village of Santpoort to the state of Idaho, it was not with fresh fish in mind. Fresh fish could be found in his new hometown – trout, mostly fried, occasionally with a slice of lemon, but most often ungarnished. But he did not fish. Instead, got his fish from local fishermen, including our neighbor of at least 30 years.

Dad never fished, and passed that on to his sons.

I still don’t fish. But because my oldest son is in Cub Scouts, and because they learned how to fish and because he was one of only two Scouts to catch a fish – a tiny, eight-inch trout pulled out of a stocked pond in the city of Rexburg – he caught the fishing bug.

So this summer, we went fishing. Of a sort.

We chose to fish at Twin Bridges, a campground built on an island in the South Fork of the Snake River, fifteen minutes south of Rexburg, about 30 minutes northeast of Idaho Falls. Fishing there, I’d heard people say, was fair. More importantly, it had shallow, placid water where three youngsters and their inexperienced parents could practice the art of fishing without getting in the way of serious fishermen or risking a swim in the Snake’s cold, swift currents.

Our children fished with poles the Scouts made – mere tree branches to which their leaders had attached a bit of fishing line, a bobber, a sinker and a barbless brass fishhook. With that pole and a kernel of corn as bait, our oldest caught his first fish, beaming, with the Scouts.

The campground and fishing grounds at Twin Bridges are old school. The island is covered with a twist of cottonwood forest and brambles of underbrush, ranging from bachelor buttons to dandelions to box elders and foxgloves, all sprouting out of dusty soil washed onto the island when the river is high. The island that splits the river into two threads also divides the waters – the main, swift fork of the river flows to the north, the quieter, shallower and more meandering fork to the south. In the shallows among the reeds, our kids watched entranced as innumerable tiny fish swam, swarms of commas paddling and darting over the muddy bottom that oozed bubbles from decaying vegetable matter beneath the surface. Further out into the water, clear to the bottom, the river scoured away the dirt, leaving rocks. Larks and cranes and one solitary bald eagle looped and twirled above the water, above the forest to the south.

We fished along a graveled bank of the river, getting there by walking along the shore and underneath one of the highway bridges that gives the island its name. The only sound, that of gently trickling water.

Until the rooster crowed.

While there are houses nearby, the rooster’s call was close. Somewhere, in this tangled forest, a rooster lives. We were not the only fishermen who heard it – maybe, the others said, the animal was washed down to the island when the river flooded in 1997, knocking out the bridge we’d walked under to fish.

We saw no fish, but fed the river plenty of pastel marshmallows, which bloated with water and slipped off the barbless hooks as the hapless fisherkids watched. Our youngest boy chased a water snake, wriggling through the water on the shore. The sun, gentle in August, shined on the rocks and the water, turning them to gold. The rooster crowed.

I grew up in a town that straddles the Snake, taming its shores with conifers, green grass, Canadian geese and modest park benches. This was my first visit to the wild Snake, disorganized, brambled, muddy, and altogether twisted and meandering and looped as I imagine the Mississippi to be. Here a person could walk on the shore and have the only sounds be the gravel underfoot and the trickling water. Here a person could sit on the shore, silently, and wait for the animals to emerge – deer, voles, badgers, skunks, perhaps the elusive rooster – just to watch, until the startled animal sees the person sitting on the shore and flees.

Dad would have enjoyed that. Though, like me, he would have hoped not to catch any fish, because neither one of us know how to clean them. You don’t have to clean herring from the market. You just eat it, with onions. So tasty.

Getting there: From Idaho Falls, travel northeast on US Highway 26 to Ririe. Follow the signs in Ririe directing you to Rexburg. Travel north on county roads from Ririe about three miles. Cross the first bridge over the Snake River, and you’ll see the Twin Bridges campground to the left.

From Rexburg, travel south on Old Highway 191 to the Archer Highway, following signs directing you to Archer/Heise Hot Springs. Travel on this curvy farm-to-market road for about 15 minutes until you cross the first bridge over the Snake River. Watch for the Twin Bridges campground on the right.

Things to know: The campground is divided into two areas. The first area, set aside for camping, is maintained by Madison County, and is free. The campsites are very dusty. The second area, at the far end of the island, is maintained by the Bureau of Land Management and features a picnic area, restrooms and a boat ramp. This is a fee area.

To walk along the river, drive or walk south on the main (paved) road from the campground to the next turnoff, then follow the gravel road to the shoreline. From there, you’ll see one of the bridges to walk under along the river. From there, enjoy exploring. It’s common to find people camping in tents along the river; just be respectful and quiet as you walk through. Remember you’re on an island, so there’s little chance of wandering too far, but be aware enough of your surroundings to find your way back.