Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rip-Off Tuesday

When I got home from work today, my seven-year-old daughter greeted me with the following confusion:

"Daddy, you forgot to rip off Tuesday!"

Uh-huh. I forgot to rip off Tuesday. "What," I asked.

"Today's Wednesday, and you forgot to rip off Tuesday!"

I'm not a thief, I felt like telling the child. And, I thought of adding, it's not fair to attack Daddy with such riddles after an hour and a half commute when he's still feeling groggy -- except for his bladder, which is wide awake, mind you, and expressing an urge to complete some business.

So we read our scriptures. We had dinner. The home teachers came. The kids colored, read books, got into their PJs, went to bed. She went to bed still insisting I'd forgotten to rip off Tuesday.

I sat at my desk after covering the tomatoes, taking out the garbage, putting dinner leftovers away and washing the dishes. I looked at my two desk calendars. One -- the one my daughter doesn't much care for -- still showed us on the weekend. The cartoony one she likes . . . yep. I'd forgotten to rip off Tuesday.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

We Cannot Allow . . .

I have to be quiet about this where I live, but I think Glenn Beck is a loon.

I think a lot of the pundits on the right (and, let's be honest, on the left) are absolutely bonkers. No one else in the universe is better than stirring that kettle of crazy (cue the picture) than political pundits.

Or politicians. Or dittoheads who lean to the right or lean to the left. Anybody who can't stick a crowbar in their brain and open it up to another point of view, or see -- as anybody could see -- that the kids singing about Barack Obama in this Jon Stewart video are just that: kids singing about Barack Obama. My daughter used to sing incessantly this song about George Washington, to which I'd add, because it fit with the meter and cadence of the song, the following:

George Washington was a very good man,
a very good man indeed!
He called for his pipe and he called for his bowl,
and he called for his fiddlers three!

I've never thought she was being indoctrinated. Neither would I think that if she came home singing a song about Barack Obama. He does happen to be our president, you know. Kids are kind of interested in that. Hey, Barack Obama is our president. Neato. But to compare the singing of this song to Nazi indoctrination or the activities of the Khmer Rouge is beyond ridiculous. It even surpasses ludicrous speed. It's plaid, plain and simple.

And it makes you look stupid. Like this:

But back to Glenn Beck. I don't mind that people like him. That's just fine. People can listen to his show, buy products advertised on his show, and all that. Fine by me. Just don't make me listen to it, or insist that what he says is right. Because I don't buy it. I don't buy a lot of what pundits of his ilk, on the left or the right, say. It's their profession to make noise and to stay on the air and to stir up that kettle of crazy.

This kind of thinking and conuming, however, does little to promote the public interest. Here's what Woodrow Wilson had to say about such things:

I have sometimes reflected on the lack of a body of public opinion in our cities, and once I contrasted the habits of the city many with those of the countryman in a way which got me into trouble. I described what a man in a city generally did when ge got into a public vehicle or sat in a public place. He doesn't talk to anybody, but he plunges his head into a newspaper and presently experiences a reaction which he calls his opinion, but which is not an opinion at all, being merely the impression that a piece of news or an editorial has made upon him. He cannot be said to be participating in public opinion at all until he had laid his mind alongside the minds of his neighbors and discussed with them the incidents of the day and the tendencies of the time.

If we exchange the concept of truthiness for cities and city, we get close to what's going on today. We consume what appears to be true, that which has truthiness, that in which we already believe. And we close our mind to everything else. If we think schools are trying to "indoctrinate" our children with Barack Obama, and then we see children singing a song about him, whammo, we have what we're looking for. But it's all taken out of context. Ask the kids what they were doing, and they'd say, well, we were singing a song about Barack Obama. Some would have fun singing. Others would not. Some would get enthusiastic about the song because they get enthusiastic about any song, even one that their Daddy mangles by bringing in a nursery rhyme. But is this brainwashing? Not any more than the activity I performed most mornings when I was in elementary school: reciting the Pledge of Allegiance while standing with my hand over my heart staring at the flag hanging in the corner. Sometimes we sang the pledge. And sometimes we sang the Washing Machine Song. Neither meant I was being indoctrinated. It just meant I was going through the motions at school, with varying amounts of gusto, like any other kid.

So to those who think I should be worried -- to Glenn Beck -- I say, meh.

Freeze Warning

The good news is it may freeze tonight.

Best news is, of course, that it's too early in the year for the freeze to stay with us, but a freeze right now would be a good thing.

In particular, it'll bring an end to gardening for the year. And what a year it's been. For the first time since Michelle and I got married twelve years ago, we had a bumper tomato crop. Our secret this year seems to have been twofold, and included planting tomatoes in a year when just about everyone in the region had a good tomato year, plus we plowed turkey manure into the garden before we planted. I like to give most of the credit to the turkey manure.

The frost will not only bring an end to the tomatoes and zucchini, but will also touch the apples, getting them ready to harvest and process. Not that I'm looking forward to that; it's an awful lot of work. But we do enjoy the applesauce, and it's a good way to get food storage at a good price.

As far as bottling goes, all we have left to do is the applesauce and carrrots, unless something else comes along. We've already done tomato soup, salsa and peaches. We do have enough tomatoes to bottle some for cooking, and we may also get plums this year as well.

I rhapsodized earlier this month about loving this time of year. I do truly love it. I love putting the garden to bed for another year, getting the camper stowed and taking the hoses off the ibbs and putting them in the shed for the year. I may only have to mow the lawn one more time this year, then the lawn mower can be put away until spring. I'll have to get the snow shovels and ice melt out eventually, but that's the price I pay for seeing the lawn get buried under the white stuff.

I'll have to see if we can squeeze in a short road trip this weekend so we can see the fall foliage. Lexie's been dropping hints that she'd like to do such a thing, so we'll see what happens.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Idaho -- No. 1 for Spam

According to the folks at Symantec, who sound like they should know about this kind of thing, Idaho now ranks as the No. 1 state in the union (up from No. 44) for receiving spam e-mails.

Symantec says that 93.8 percent -- or slightly over 9 out of 10 e-mails received -- in the state are spam. A slightly more detailed report (excluding state rankings) is here.

What I'd like to know is this:

1) How do they measure such a thing
2) Who is getting all of these messages
3) What are they doing wrong

Gratefully, it's not me. I may have received a handful of spam messages this year, but the number is small, perhaps less than a couple dozen messages this year, and that's spread over four independent e-mail accounts. That I have filters that target common spam headers and drop it in folders I only see to delete might explain why I don't struggle with spam.

It's hard to say what kind of behavior nets the fewest -- or the most -- spam messages, based on my behavior. On one account -- at work -- I receive maybe one or two spam messages (ironically, I got one this morning) a year. That's likely due to two factors: I use work e-mail for work only, and the company has some pretty strong spam filters.

The other e-mail accounts I have make less sense. We have a "family" e-mail account which we use occasionally when, I don't know, we want to pretend like we're wearing tuxedoes and formal dresses or something. That rarely gets spammed, probably because we don't use it all that often.

I also have a Yahoo e-mail account I use for random things, such as shuttling personal files to and from various locations, registering for e-mail sites, my Twitter, Blogger and YouTube accounts and such. I get some spam at this address, but not a lot, considering the uses I put this account to.

My Uncharted e-mail, for some reason, is the biggest offender. And I can't figure out why. I don' use it indiscrimanently, nordo I use it for any kind of blind and dumb e-mail registrations and such, for which I use the Yahoo account.

Both Uncharted (which is through Gmail) and Yahoo filter out the spam and put it in its own folder, which I empty from time to time. The messages pile up, but I can't say they pile up in massive amounts over time. I can't say that 9 out of 10 e-mails I receive is spam; the number is probably closer to three or four out of ten. That's still a lot, but 30 to 40 percent is a lot less than 93 percent. And since I'm below average in spam receipts in Idaho, that must mean somebody's getting more spam than I am. You can keep it. I don't want it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

This is Reform -- or at Least Smart

A few weeks ago, Jerry Brady, the former publisher of our regional newspaper penned a rather intelligent editorial on health care -- and one that doesn't point to government as the solution or insurance companies as the enemy. Simply put, before he had elective surgery to repair some tendons in his shoulder, he went shopping.

Or at least had his insurance company go shopping to find the least expensive option for getting the surgery done by a reputable doctor. Surprisingly, his insurer jumped at the opportunity to find good, inexpensive care for him. You'd think more insurance companies would do this, after all, they have a financial investment in the outcome as well. Short story, he found a local doctor at a surgical center who could do the work at a fraction of the cost of local and even regional hospitals.

His conclusion:
Some thought what I did was risky, but, to get costs under control, don't we have to ask questions? In any event, I believe I got the best possible surgery at about half the cost.
I don't know why his approach -- shopping around to find good care at a good price -- should sound so revolutionary. After all, on practically anything else we shop for -- cars, food, gasoline -- we hunt for deals. Why shouldn't we do so with health care?

Because of this attitude, which he describes in his editorial:
When I began asking surgeon's offices about fees, they seemed surprised. "It's all covered by insurance which negotiates actual costs with doctors and hospitals. Why are you asking when it's out of your hands?" was the response I got.
Now, if we were buying a car, say, we wouldn't settle for our auto insurance company negotiating the price with the auto dealer. We don't let a middleman negotiate prices when we're shopping for a new camera or computer. We shop around and learn all we can about what options are out there and then make a buying decision based on our homework.

It ought to be the same with health care, Brady points out.

Michelle and I are getting smarter about this. We've found a local dentist who likes better dealing with cash than with insurers, which is good, since we don't have dental insurance. We feel confident dealing with this dentist -- and his office is even in Sugar City, population 1,200 -- (show me another town of this size with its own dentist). So we need to get smarter with shopping around for other facets of our healthcare.

Maybe this is where government could help -- set up some kind of clearinghouse where people can sort through options to find inexpensive health care options. There are a few private efforts that are starting up, but government could help this avoid a patchwork feel. But at the root of it all, we have to be willing to look around and shop for better health care, rather than take the first thing that comes to us. This could even work with emergency services and emergency care.

Update: Here's some great information on "patients as consumers." Surprising: People didn't make better health choices, but just avoided doctors altogether, when shouldered with mroe of the costs of health care. Yikes.

The New Freedom

First a little reading, then a quiz.

We have come upon a very different age from any that preceded us. We have come upon an age when we do not do business in the way in which we used to do business -- when we do not carry on any of the operations of manufacture, sale, transportation, or communication as men used to carry them on. There is a sense in which our day the individual has been submerged. In most parts of our country men work, not for themselves, not as partners in the old way in which they used to work, but generally as employees -- in a higher or lower grade -- of great corporation.

The first two or three sentences you might think this quote is contemporary (which it is not) given the language about how things have changed so much in vital areas such as manufacture and communications. But by the time you get to the end of the passage, it's clear that that change being described is not necessarily the change we're experiencing today.

This passage is from The New Freedom, a collection of campaign speeches by Woodrow Wilson complied in a book published in 1913. What's interesting to me is that at this time, with mass manufacturing and the advent of the gigantic corporation, there wer ample societal challenges, just as we face today, and, frankly, just as large and as vexing as the challenges faced by any generation.

I've heard our modern age described as just about everything from the Age of Stupid, which is, of course, a cynical and completely inaccurate description, to the Electronic Age, which might be more apt but does little to really explain what the heck is going on. By reading this book by Wilson, I think it'll be interesting to consider that in any age, the people facing the difficulties they have to face will think they are in a unique time with heretofore unseen political and social challenges. Those who don't look at history, or those who choose to remain ignorant, while bandying about labels like the Age of Stupid for their own current time are the ones really showing off their stupidity.

I'm a few dozen pages into the book and, frankly, a lot of the things Wilson talked about are still being talked about today. It's interesting to see that fancy rhetoric doesn't solve problems, nor does the ability to place compromise above everything else.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Moon River

Discoveries announced this week kind of make this song have additional meaning, don't you think?

Of course, that water has been discovered on the Moon doesn't come as a big surprise to me; I'd always assumed water would be found there. It's abundant on Earth, so one could reasonably assume that it would be found on the Moon, since both were created in the same general neighborhood. Comets pounding one object, bringing water from the sky, would tend to pound another object just next door.

Of course, the amounts of water found ont he moon -- 32 ounces in a ton of regolith, they estimate -- is not big. One cannot stick a soda straw in the moon and find a handy drink. But the molecule is there.

So the question remains: What will we do about it? When I was a kid -- and this was at the tail-end of the Apollo program -- I expected there would be moon bases by the turn of the century. I've been a bit disappointed in that regard. Maybe someday . . .

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Good News

On the way home from work tonight, I stopped at 17-Mile Cave to make sure the Monster is still there (he's featured in the blog masthead).

Good news. He's still there.

I love that cave.

Before the Internet, Old Folks

You have to remember this: Before we had the Internet, we had old people.

And old people are a great resource for "content," and I'm not just talking about the nutrients that Homer Simpson mentioned. I'm talking about all the great stuff that's in their minds. Sure, maybe it's a lot easier to sort through stuff we can find on the Internet, but we lose a lot of the personal contact interacting, let's face it, with a box on the desktop. (Yeah, yeah, some of you are mobile. So a tinier box in your palm. Same thing.)

Take Barnaby, for instance. Barnaby is a creation of Crockett Johnson, who drew this comic strip way back in the 1940s, when dinosaurs may as well have roamed the earth, as far as most of the young farts today are concerned.

I have Mr. Loertscher to thank for introducing me to Barnaby. Mr. Loertscher taught sixth grade at Iona Elementary. Like many teachers of the time -- I'm not sure if teachers still do this, let alone sixth-grade teachers -- he'd read to us, nearly every day, as we worked on some assignment. He chose to read us the Barnaby comic strips, which he had in book form (this is way before Peanuts and Garfield, but not before publications and mass merchandising). I remember particularly Mr. Loertscher reading the words of Mr. O'Malley with his best imitation of W.C. Feilds -- though I didn't know he was imitating Fields at the time.

What a time that was. We loved eharing about Barnaby, about Mr. O'Malley, and about the Elves, Leprechauns, Gnomes, and Little Men's Chowder & Marching Society. Mr. Loertscher, by reading that book to us, started me, at least, ont he road of becoming curious about the literature of the era. From Barnaby, I became interested in the works of Sinclair Lewis, became familiar with the likes of Archy and Mehitabel. WHo knew a sixth-grade teacher would help me on that wobbly path towards cultural literacy, or at least as culturally literate as one can be wandering down one of the many strange and varied paths that mankind has forged through the wilderness of imagination?

Thanks, Mr. Loertscher.

It was fun to recall the marching society when I learned Richard Nixon organized such a society among freshman Republicans when he was elected in 1949.

We miss a lot not talking to old people. In this age of instant information, we tend to forget that information used to be stored in peoples' heads, not on some cloud computing platform off in the ethers. Maybe this is why I like to read so much. There's a lot more information out there than we think.

I'm done now. Get off my lawn.

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

As a truly gullible individual, I’m fascinated with the facility with which some people lie. I, myself, am a rotten liar; one of those the Irish describe as having to talk through my hat, in order to conceal the smile on my face. As a result, I do not lie often. Oh, lots of lies about little things as we all do, but nothing big or terribly secret.

This is perhaps one of the reasons I disliked journalism the longer I stayed in it – even though I was a rinky-dink reporter working at a small paper doing mostly community news, I got tired of being lied to. My experiences as a journalist can best be described via a quote from Dave Barry: “I knew corruption was out there somewhere, but I had no idea of how to go about finding it.” My gullibility in taking people at their words did not serve me in that occupation, which is why I’m glad I’m not a reporter any more.

But I love reading about lies, half-truths, shady deals and people and organizations working either on the edge of legality or in the heady world beyond what is legal. That may be what attracts me to the likes of Richard Nixon (I’ve read several biographies and have yet another waiting in the to-be-read queue.) Now I’ve just finished reading Don Hofstadter’s Goldberg’s Angel, which describes a pack of lies surrounding the theft, sale and recovery of four mosaics from an obscure Byzantine church in Cyprus. Hofstadter concludes the book with a tall tale of his own, in which he finally concedes he won’t ever “walk through the door” and find the truth behind the story, as he finds it impossible to sort through the lies, truths, half-truths, lies passed on as truths that came to him as he investigated the story.

This is, by far, the best book I’ve read on mendacity, and the intrinsically American chauvinism that leads most of us to believe either we cannot be lied to or that we are intelligent enough to see through the lies we’re told. I’ve learned enough about myself to know that as far as reading others is concerned, I’m a moron, so I don’t trust myself in situations where lies are common; this is why my wife is in charge whenever we go shopping for a new car, and one of the principal reasons I failed as a journalist.

Hofstadter deftly captures the allure of lies in this passage:

[T]he lies guarding all this secrecy had a strange beauty, like the beauty of cypresses watching over a cemetery. There were lies that you wanted to hear because they exculpated some charming person or fit a pet theory, and such tales were always balm for a while, even if you knew at the back of your mind that they were false.
This is how a lot of us, conservative and liberal, get caught in rhetorical traps, and is one of the biggest dangers of the Daily Me mentality that is fueling the rush of news to the Internet and away from traditional media. Not that traditional media is ethical and above board, by all means, but what is presented as news on the Internet goes beyond denying apparent biases and flagrantly wears its biases and lies on its sleeves, displaying falsehoods and the balm of untruth like helium balloons beckoning from some fair booth.

Hofstadter also deftly describes those who live on the fringe of lies:

In this social milieu there were some who didn’t lie, but even they, I felt certain by now, were dwelling in the anxious shadow world of the unsaid. And since they had chosen to live in this world, didn’t they have to love it somehow, didn’t they have to glory in their own compulsive withholding of information, their superiority to the ignorant and uninitiated, their metamorphosis into vessels empty of everything but a few whispering leaves inscribed with prices and phone numbers and guilty names? And since people were so often lying to them, didn’t they have to like, to enjoy, being lied to? Didn’t they aid and abet the mendacity?
In other words, there can be no fence-sitting when it comes to truth or lies. One either lies, tells the truth or abets the liars by remaining silent.

Fortunately, Hofstadter offers no solutions. He admits himself to being gullible, easily swept away by one story or another and, at the end, ultimately willing only to question whether anyone he’s spoken to or written about has told the whole truth.

Hofstadter also challenges several notions that are kind of making up an unintended theme of my reading of late: The American tendency to believe that throwing money, technology/industrial might, or both at a problem will solve it; and certainly the admirable, but misguided belief that with every problem, a successful dig-through of the facts in the case will bring things to a truthful resolution. Hofstadter reminds us that one person’s fact is another person’s fantasy.

“What Peg knows – what all canny buyers in the international antiquities bazaar know – is that every one of those cracked or corroded treasures has its own voice, its own tale to tell,” Hofstadter writes. “You or I may not be able to hear it, but somewhere there is someone who can. The strange and sinister thing is that many of these tales are untruths, for certain objects can lie.”

I found an interesting follow-up to Hofstadter's story here, detailing the fate of some of the people he met. It makes for interesting reading.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Craiglist Spam

I've been reluctant to use Craiglist because of, shall we say, the shadier reputation this classified advertising site has. But as the months drag on and our van hasn't sold, I finally decided this week to post the van to Craigslist in the hopes of getting a little bit more interest in it.


Got an e-mail this morning from Deeanna Floros, who mentions the van in passing, but the goes on with a sob story about how she had to sell her son's Xbox in order to make the house payment and wants to help people in "similar situations" by pointing them towards some Internet-based work-from-home scamathon.

As per usual, the e-mail contains hilariously broken English, viz:
One of my good friends showed me how he was able to earn great income working on your home computer. I couldn't believe he would share this with me, but I am appreciative that I am sharing this with everybody who needs a break and who might be in a similar situation.
So even if I were desperate for some kind of at-home business, this one would be off the list because she uses the word "appreciative," which I regard as a word only because it contains letters from the generally-accepted alphabet. I'm also enough of a grammar nazi to wonder how her friend is going to make money by working on my home computer. (Read it again; that's exactly what she says.)

Add to the irony is that her invitation to work at home arrived under a huge banner from Craigslist advising me to avoid work-at-home scams. Thanks for the advice, Craigslist, but I'm way ahead of ya, sister.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

BYU-Idaho Students are Baaaaaaack!

For eight quiet weeks in late summer, Rexburg turns into a ghost town. Oh, there are a few BYU-Idaho students around, but the majority of this 11,000-strong throng is far from this place. Then Labor Day comes and on comes the deluge. So, here are the Top Ten Ways You Can Tell That BYU-Idaho is Back in Session:

10. Wal-Mart looks like it's been gutted in preparation for a hurricane.

9. The owners of Broulim's have dollar signs instead of eyes.

8. There are a hell of a lot more chicks in short shorts and tank tops walking around town.

7. Kmart has more than five cars in its entire parking lot.

6. Jaywalkers!

5. Sunbirds can no longer hold walker races on Second East due to traffic.

4. The Rexburg City Council once again has come up with the Mother of All Parking Plans.

3. Craigo's almost decided to print its first coupon, but pulled back from the brink yet again.

2. You're no longer nostalgic for your vacation in Oregon because all the bad Oregon drivers are now in town.

And the No. 1 reason you can tell BYU-Idaho is back in session:

1. Shortly after 2 pm on Tuesdays, everybody in town checks to make sure they have their Scriptures handy.


Part of me wishes I were home, once again shoveling cat mess out of the kids' sandbox.

It's the part of me that enjoys fall weather. It's warm, but not too warm, with frosty mornings that make the jacket feel good to have about the shoulders. I like a little chill in the air when I head out to the bus at 5 am. I'd rather feel a little cool than just a bit too hot. Summer wears on me. I don't like that by 9 am I'm already sweating. I like to bundle up.

Fall doesn't threaten with rain. Fall doesn'tobscure the stars, but lets them shine bright and balck against the night sky, which is appropriately dark even still at 6:45 am, when I'm off the bus headed into the office. Not that I mind summer's long evenings. I just resent the foreshortened mornings. Mornings are meant for the stars, not for the upstart sun.

I love that Orion hangs in the sky, landmarking the southeast, stark against the other constellations as the lamppost was to the forests of Narnia. Yes, Orion is a herald of winter, but in the sweet chill of September mornings you can tell he's only wearing a jacket, not a parka.

When I see Orion, I don't mind that my eyes are too weak to pick up the myriad of stars that stretch into the universe behind it. The photo I have here is far too cluttered. I know that space is infinite and that wonders lie beyond what stars I can see, but the caveman in me enjoys imagining the stars hanging in the firmament just above my head are as far as can be seen. It's fun to see the constellations' familiar shapes unhindered by infinity.

The grass is never greener than in the fall. The pall of summer heat stops sapping its greenery and allows it to grow, happy, unscorched, even with fewer waterings. And fewer lawn-mowings, which is even better. My lawn has gone two weeks without a trim, and I'm not bothered.

We cover the garden at night, leaving the carrots and onions to welcome Orion, but covering the squash and tomatoes, which won't last much longer anyway. Such tomatoes we had this year. I know they soaked up the sunlight, storing it for winter. But to see the plants slowly nipped by the frost is no terrible loss. More plants and a bag of turkey manure will bring more tomatoes next year, hopefully.

Side note: The iPod Touch is officially dead. All internal parts corroded by a mixture of water and Sun laundry detergent. At least it was clean when it died . . .

Monday, September 21, 2009

Book List as Mood Indicator

For frequent visitors to this blog, take note: If a Terry Pratchett book appears on my reading list, it's an indication that I wanted something lighter and more entertaining to read than either what I'm reading now or what I just finished reading. Jingo's appearance ont he list today is borne of a double-whammy. I'm currently reading a slightly dull Lloyd Alexander book, which is following up the first Graham Greene novel I've ever read. Thank heaven Pratchett is there with the satire to lighten the mood around here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Beautiful Soup

Before anybody gets indignant over the spiritual implications of making soup on Sunday, let me say this: You can talk to tomatoes all you want about the Sabbath, but if they're ready, they're ready.

So today we made soup. Tomato soup. Almost entirely of home-grown ingredients. We had tomatoes from our garden and from Michelle's sister's garden, plus our garden onions and carrots. The peppers and celery had to come from the store, as we don't have room for celery and we grew only green peppers this summer.

What a year for tomatoes this was. This is the first time since Michelle and I got married that we got more than a dozen tomatoes out of our garden. And this year we got loads. Bowl after bowl -- we only accepted those from Michelle's sister because we wanted to make more tomato soup.

And what soup it is. Lovely soup, not the condensed stuff out of a can, but stuff that actually has flavor not remnicient of Spaghetti-Os. Good tomato, with that hint of onion and celery. Soooooo very good. Last year, we only made seven bottles. This year, sixteen of them, plus one ready to eat in the fridge. Can't wait.

Other news: Had a minor electrical victory yesterday. I was cutting a piece of plywood on the table saw when the saw cut out. I thought we'd tripped a breaker in the shed, and indeed we had, but it would not stay on or off. So I replaced the receptacle where I had the saw plugged in, but it still wouldn't work. So I yanked the breaker and replaced it. Voila. I'm happy I didn't have to call anyone in on that one.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Lesson Learned

A Lesson Isaac learned today:

Dont' expect justice from a man who smells like cat mess because he's spent the past two hours cleaning out the sandbox.

The argument was over who got what snack. I was the one smelling like cat mess. There was no justice served.

Of course, there's probably a lesson to be learned for me in here somewhere . . .

Friday, September 18, 2009

Daddy Culture, or Put de Lime in de Coconut

Today's experiment was to see if you can batch it successfully while towing three children around. Result: Failure. I got to batch it for about a half hour between when Michelle left for the day to take a friend out on the town and when I had to go pick Isaac up from a friend's house and get the other two from school.

Since that batching experiment failed, I opted next to see what kinds of Daddy Culture I could introduce to my children. That was a bit more successful. First, I let two of them play at a neighbor's house for a little while to get it out of their system. Then we went to the St. Anthony Sand Dunes so we could play Lost in the Desert. They loved it. We climbed up the dunes, swam down the steep parts, watched the little sand skippers crawl across the sand leaving their little tracks, hunted for lizards and otherwise found interesting ways to get sand into our pockets. Then we went to McDonalds.

Then, at home, I introduced them to this:

Daddy Culture doesn't get any better.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bad Movie: Pumaman

I guess it's my brother Albert's fault.

Ever since he showed me This Island Earth and Queen of Outer Space, I've had a thing for really bad movies. Maybe bad is the wrong word. Unique. Original. Entertaining, but not necessarily in that slick Hollywood way. Like the gem I present here today: Pumaman.

Mercilessly skewered by the folks at Mystery Science Theater 3000, Pumaman is one of those movies you might find on an obscure cable channel late at night, flick to it for a moment and then not be able to look away because it's so bad.

Watch Pumaman fly. He flies as if he were Superman suddenly afflicted with a central nervous system affliction. But ti's so bad, it's good. I love this movie. I'd love to have a copy on DVD -- but, alas, it's only available via expensive VHS. Yeah, I could buy the MST3K version, but sometimes you want to watch those movies without the snarky commentary. Though you'd lack the words to the Pumaman theme song.

There are still bad movies made today -- just look at the Transformers franchise, or the second in the Pirates of the Carribean series. But nobody makes bad movies like they used to. by today's standards, This Island Earth is laughable. The Queen of Outer Space, sexist, if not hilarious. And Pumaman, well, I'd rather watch him than any modern superhero movie today. Sure, he flies like a moron, but we don't have to get into his personal flaws, or, heaven forbid, identify more with the villain than we do with the cardboard-cutout hero of the movies today.

Catching the Chimp

Why does this comic feel so familiar? It's because I'm a writer, and all writers and artists occasionally feel this way about something they've created.

I can think of several instances where I've worked and worked, andpoked and pawed at a piece of writing and finally got it to the point I felt like it was the most perfect, the best thing I'd ever produced. And than I had to show it to the philistines who also asked questions about the chimp.

Ah well. That's why they tell you as a writer to put what you've written away for a few days so the love and affection you feel for it has time to fade. I know even after a few days of hiding my writing in a drawer somewhere I can pick it up again and look at it with a more critical eye and see through the veneer and makeup all the superficial flaws and underlying faults in the superstructure.

But the philistines do their jobs well, and the writer who listens to them -- even to the inner philistines -- can be better for it. Even though it hurts.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Herbal Report

So Michelle and I went the entire summer without taking prescription or over-the-counter allergy medicines. Instead, we took twice daily a concoction of lemon juice, lemon oil and peppermint oil. And while others of our acquaintance reported an average to mildly severe allergy season, I know personally I went only three or four days when I felt that allergic tingle in my nose, only to have it fade away.

So I think we can call the herbal medicine allergy cure a success.

And it's not all from simply wishing it so. I purposely went a week over the course of the summer without taking the stuff, just to see what would happen. Gradually over that week, my allergic symptoms returned. They never got to full-blown strength, but I could certainly tell the difference that week I didn't take the lemon stuff. That's hardly a scientific proof, of course, but it tells me enough to suppose that the lemon stuff had some curative or preventative power.

Now, as for the rosemary on the warts -- less success. I still have five warts on my thumb. Part of that may be my fault, as I have not been as faithful taking the rosemary as I had the lemon. But I have to grant the rosemary this: It's at least as effective as the OTC anti-wart stuff I tried earlier. Sure, that stuff made the warts disappear. But they always grew back. The rosemary has slowly made them shrink. They're not gone, but they're not growing bigger, nor are they multiplying. So maybe there's something to it. It's not surprising -- rosemary has a salicyclic acid derivative that's similar to the acids in the OTC wart remover.

Side effect-wise, however, I have to give the herbal stuff full marks. With the generic Claritin I was taking for my allergies, I got tingly fingers and the occasional dizzy spell. With the lemon stuff, no discernable side effects. The OTC wart stuff never did cause any side effects, and neither has the rosemary.

Homo Rhetoricus

I’m very confused.

Of course, some confusion is to be expected among those who live in the era of the Daily Me and the era of Truthiness, in which we choose increasingly to consume media and opinion that already match with what we think and believe. New opinions are brought in and subsumed by the Daily Me, but only if those opinions meet our expectations of truthiness – things that a person claims to know intuitively or "from the gut" without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts, as defined by comedian Stephen Colbert.

I’m not convinced this is entirely a new era. The Daily Me and the concept of Truthiness may have new, shiny names in our age, but they reflect the same basic selfishness and wanton adherence to the current sophistry and rhetoric that is as human as armpit hair. Sinclair Lewis, in documenting and satirizing 1920s America, for example, paints in his character of Babbitt the conformist – the 1920s version of the Truthiness-seeker – who would not exactly feel out of place with “postmodern” relativism today.

We need more characters like Lewis’ Doremus Jessup, the journalist in It Can’t Happen Here, who gets fed up with the rise of totalitarianism in Lewis’ fictional America and does what he can to question authority and be civilly disobedient. And that doesn't mean ridiculing those who seek after truthiness rather than trugh, because in the definition of truthiness there's enough relativism to make realists squirm.

All this is coming up because I spent most of a sick day yesterday reading Lynne Cheney’s Telling the Truth, one of more than three dozen books we got in boxes that came to us in a roundabout way from a Teton valley lawyer looking to downsize his collection. Cheney does an admirable job attacking the objective relativism of the day – the supposition that truth can’t be discovered because truth is what appears to be true to whomever seeks to define truth. Reading her book, of course, is ironical, because she’s wife to former Vice President Dick Cheney, who seems to have applied concepts of objective relativism over, say, the past eight years, emulating quite a bit the previous eight years of the Clinton Administration and, perhaps, providing a prelude to the Obama Administration now unspooling before us (if you’ve got doubts, just check out the number of people who are scraping the “Question Authority” bumper stickers off their vehicles since the regime change brought in Nov. 4.

As erudite as Cheney’s book is, it concludes with a contradiction I can’t quite get over. She writes:

As I look back over this book, I am struck by the high level of arrogance that often exists among those who maintain that there is no truth except the one they would have us believe. They redefine our words and our lives for us, and expect us to go along. They rewrite the past and are shocked when we object. And this arrogance is often combined with an amazing lack of thought to the consequences of what they are preaching.
So, which is it she objects to? That people “maintain that there is no truth except the one they would have us believe,” or is it the arrogance behind some of those who believe their truths are self-evident? She spends just over 200 pages attacking relativism – the absence of truth – in academia, politics, journalism, and in the lives of many who consume what is produced – and yet in her conclusion seems to apply a relativist approach to deciding what is true. I hold truths that I believe are the only truth out there. But I am not arrogant about those truths. Am I a relativist, or a realist? After reading Cheney, I’m not sure.

Cheney, by way of explanation, however, seems to rely on “searching for truth,” rather than arriving at that final destination, in her reasoning against objective relativism. But searching without arriving, while opening the mind to many possibilities, does little to resolve the final question. Objective relativism may seek to make the whole world grey, but the realism Cheney subscribes to only narrows that band of grey slightly.

The only way this makes sense to me (and here comes my bit of truthiness) is that it’s the arrogance she objects to, not to the fact that some claim to have the only path to enlightenment. To think otherwise destroys her reasoning, unless I am grossly misreading things.

This might be why I found the philosophy course I took in college to be so boring. Round and round we go, without actually landing at the airport.

But that’s okay. At the foundation of all things, I find great strength in my ignorance on many matters. That doesn’t mean I wallow in ignorance, but that I am aware of my ignorance and am doing what I can (reading, studying, writing and thinking) to get rid of what little bits of ignorance I can. I’m far from the homo rhetoricus that Prof. Richard Lanham of UCLA describes, as quoted in Cheney’s book:

Rhetorical man is an actor; his reality is public, dramatic. His sense of identity, his self, depends on the reassurance of daily histrionic reenactment . . . He thinks first of winning, of mastering the rules the current game enforces. He assumes a natural agility in changing orientation. He hits the street already street-wise. From birth, almost, he has dwelt not in a single value-structure, but in several. He is thus committed to no single construction of the world; much rather, to prevailing in the game at hand . . . Rhetorical man is trained not to discover reality but to manipulate it. Reality is what is accepted as reality, what is useful . . . Rhetorical man does not ask, “What is real?” He asks, “What is accepted as reality here and now?” He is thus typically present-centered. Past and future remain as possibility only, a paradigm he may some day have to learn.
I’m far. Yet sometimes so near.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Few Little Things


2) I got my son's bike put back together. Not by using the parts that fell out of the hub when I took it apart to replace the axle, but by taking the parts out of another rear wheel from a bicycle we're no longer using and stuffing the parts into the new bicycle. A phyrric victory to say the least, as I now have transferred the messy pile of parts from one bicycle to another, but at least the new bike is ready to go.

3) Unfortunately, he's too nervous to ride the new bike, even though I transferred the training wheels from one bike to the other, making necessary the repair in the first place. It's too "wobbly," he says. Sigh.

4) I'm playing hooky from work, but with good reason: a mild case of the flu. I'll spare the details, but suffice it to say I've spent a lot of time in the bathroom today. Wondering if I shouldn't go back on the lemon juice/spearmint treatment, as it's supposed not only to stave off allergies but also aid in certain bodily functions. We'll see.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Unclear Antecedent Sinks Story

Grammar Nazi here.

Got a good chuckle while strolling through Digg a little while ago. I bring you evidence of why you want your antecedents to be clear. Or at least if not clear, as amusing as what I read.

When you're writing a sentence, more precisely a complex sentence, it's good to make sure that as you're piling on the verbiage you're not setting your readers up to wonder what in the world you're talking about.

Take a read at this, taken from a story on a botched development in Dubai in the Independent of Ireland written by James Mclean and Brian Mcdonald:

They were designed to make Dubai the envy of the world: a series of paradise islands inhabited by celebrities and the super-rich reclaimed from the azure waters of the Arabian Gulf and shaped like a map of the Earth. It was called The World.

So, which was reclaimed from the azure waters of the Arabian Gulf: the series of pleasure islands, or the celebrities and the super-rich? So much has been piled into this sentence, it's not clear. So you have an unclear antecedent.

The Grammar Nazi knows about unclear antecedents because the Grammar Nazi is king of making his antecedents unclear. Since I do this a lot and recognize it as a grammar fault, it's easy to pick out in someone else's writing. At least when I see such a thing written by someone else, it hurts a little bit less.

Finding Hope

We watched this video as part of a priesthood lesson today, and I thought it worth sharing around. I like that they don't dwell on the tragedy, but concentrate instead on how this family recovered and became the better for what happened. Too often, commemorations of such events as 9/11 are either maudlin or pessimistic. This one hits the right sentiment.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ludditism and Wall-E

We watched Wall-E again tonight, perhaps the first time we've watched it together as a family in at least a year. The message of the movie really struck me harder this time around, as I've had a little context added in my head on our society's tendency to over-rely on technology, in reading books by Max Hastings and William Langeweische.

It's not consumerism that led to the desecration of Earth in the society Wall-E describes -- it's a mere overreliance on technology. People became too accustomed to having some new gadget be just the thing to fix whatever ailed them. Many of the gadgets they bought did just fine in fixing problems. So effect became cause: Is there a problem? Make up some kind of fancy gew-gaw and voila, problem solved. Yeah, sure, they wear out. But it's just as easy to buy a new gadget to keep fixing that problem. Multiply that my billions, aided and abetted by the BuyNLarge government willing to keep shoveling gadgets people's way, and ka-boom, you've got a trashed Earth. But notice how they try to fix things. They had their windmills, creating power. They had their Waste Allocation Load Lifters, Earth Class, trying to clean things up, while they had their spaceliners and their virtual golf and their meals in a cup. To fix the problem, they depended on technology, while using technology to escape from their problems. That's the problem.

The captain realizes that when, as he's commanding one of his robots to do something, he pauses and then says, "No, I should do it." And he does. Without gadgets.

But note this: I"m not suddenly turning Luddite, nor suggesting that anti-technology is the way to go. Notice how the "Earthlings" go about fixing things: They use technology to help them, but they're not completely reliant on their gadgets any more.

We're not at the Wall-E stage yet. But we're moving further from the technology-as-assistant age into the technology-as-cure-all age. And it's not just technology that's the danger. Overreliance on any one thing -- government, money, technology, religion, reason, science -- whatever you want to call your overindulgence, that's the problem.

But there's nothing that can't be solved by listening to this:

Friday, September 11, 2009

I Have Parts Left Over

So. I've learned today that if you take a bicycle hub apart to replace the axle, it's a good idea to remember where all the parts go so you can put the thing back together again. I really should have bought a new rim, rather than just the axle.

Oh well.

I'll figure it out eventually. Probably by taking apart another axle assembly (on a non-functioning bicycle) so I can figure out where all the parts go. With my luck, however, the one I take apart to learn how to put the other together will be different than the one I've taken apart so taking it apart won't be helpful at all. And then the second one will fall apart and I'll have to figure out how to put it together as well.

And once again, the Internet is no help. Oh, there are plenty of people out there willing to show you how to put one together, but it's never quite the same one that you've got in pieces on the concrete outside. There are forums, of course, but they're populated with know-nothings like me and the snot of the Internet, that being the people who might know how to fix the problem you've got but would rather lord over your ignorance than actually help you out.

It is kinda fun to get my fingers greasy, though.

Google and Gumby

There are many things you should not do when you write a personal blog. First of all, not too personal, or else everyone in the world will know how much ear wax you have. (In my case, a lot, with the right ear producing much more than the left.)

But among the top things you shouldn't do on a personal blog is install Google Analytics. It's all so depressing.

Bounce rate: High. Maybe it'll get better. But I doubt it.

But the bigger question: Should I worry? Long ago when I started this blog, it was for self-expression. If others found this blog and occasionally found it entertaining, so much the better.

I didn't install Google Analytics, obviously, to find out how unpopular I am. I want a one-stop service that'll show me where the folks who visit this blog (and the Cokesbury Party Blog) are coming from and why they might be coming. Google Analytics seems to fit the bill, better than ClustrMaps and Site Meter. And I like the thought that if I see what people are interested in, I might write more in that vein. or not. Because this is my place, after all, and if I want to post a link to a Mystery Science Theater 3000 riff on a Gumby claymation short, so be it:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Will You Please Insure Now!

I missed Obama's speech last night because, ironically, my wife fell down half a flight of stairs and hurt her back, so I had a few extra things to do around the house in order to keep her off her feet. She seems to be doing okay now, albeit a bit sore.

I skimmed his speech this morning, and, well, Dr. Seuss' book, shown above, came to mind. Sure, the time is now. But the time for what?

I still maintain what Obama is proposing doesn't go far enough in reforming the health care/health insurance realm. Until we have costs under control, I don't really care where the money is coming from that keeps getting thrown into that bottomless pit we call a health care system. And until I know what form the "public option" will take and how much it might cost me, premium-wise, I can't get all that excited about it. I don't get a big thrill when I hear a for-profit health insurance company is offering some new whizzbanger of a plan until I know what I get and how much it costs. I mean, sure, it's exciting when Kohl's comes to town, bringing more competition to the likes of Target and Dillards and Macys, but until you know how much the stuff in Kohl's costs, you can't get all that excited about its presence in the neighborhood.

So I'm asking, show me the specifics. Show me the Amigo Money. No Dough, No Show.

What's being proposed may fix some problems. I like what I'm hearing about tort reform. i like what I'm hearing about insurers being reigned in on when they can cancel policies. But I'm still not hearing what'll help me to keep costs down.

Earlier this year, our insurance carrier wanted to shove our rates through the roof. We hadn't had a claim in two years. All we'd done is faithfully sent them money every month for two years. Their excuse: "Health care costs have gone up." I had to ask: For whom? Y'all haven't had to spend a penny on us. We sent you money and did not get a thing in return, not even a wall calendar or something like that. And our insurance rates go up? How does that work? So we told them to pound sand and found a new policy. Which will do the same thing to us in two years: the lock we ahve on price will dissolve, and the premium will go up. And all without making a single solitary claim on the policy. Show me where that is going to be fixed in Obama's proposed reforms, and I'll have something to get excited about.

POV Overload

It's great to hear what everyone has to say. But still, once and a while, I wish people would just shut up. And not because I don't like hearing their point of view. It's just that I get to POV overload, you know?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Writers as Intimidators

Once and a while I'll read a really good book. And I mean a really good book, one that's so full of color and character and detail and emotion and plot and pacing that I don't put it down and I read it from cover to cover.

And then it makes me sick.

There are talented writers out there. The John Steinbecks. The Robert C. O'Briens. the Lois Lowrys. The Ray Bradburys.

And then there's little ol' me.

I take comfort in the Bradbury Defense for Mediocre Writers: He claims that 90 percent of the stuff he wrote is drivel, and that only the last ten percent was worthwile. To write well, he says, you have to write a lot, just, in so many words, to get the crap out of your system. So I hold out hope. When I get to despairing, I pull out The Secret of NIMH or Tortilla Flat or The Giver and just hold out against hope (and the accumulated evidence of my own trash writing) that someday, soemthing might just turn out readable.

Through the Looking Glass

Went through the looking glass today, in search of, all things, the bathroom.

I wrote about our odd little building situation earlier this year. At the time, i wimped out and did not go through into the other building. Oh, I did a few days later, but it was just a few cursory steps into the unknown before a few years of government indoctrination kicked in and i got that eerie feeling that maybe I shouldn't be where I was. Not that i't secret over there, it's just been off-limits for so long.

So today there are maintenance workers repairing the vestibule that is our ordinary link to the outside world. They've got, in other words, our exit blocked off. So I had to go into the other building. Walking into it was weird. Then finding the bathroom was even weirder, because the bathroom is in the portion of the building still owned by the other contractor, so I felt like there was going to be a Donald Sutherland pod-person screeching moment when someone from "the other side" noticed an alien intruder in their midst. Or at least in their bathroom. Thankfully, one of our engineers was in the bathroom when I went in, so I figured if I heard the shreiking, I could at least try to outrun him.


It's canning season again.

Fortunately, it appears this year that we don't have everything hitting at once, as we did last year. Green beans are done. Zucchini relish is done (it tastes a lot better than it sounds). A fungus brought the raspberries to an end, but not until after many jars of jam. The peaches are here, but apparently they're not quite ripe yet. The apples are still on the trees, the tomatoes are still growing and the carrots can wait in the garden for at least another three weeks yet.

Still, canning season is here.

I like that we grow things to preserve. It's healthier for us, less expensive, and helps us add to that food storage. I just wish it weren't so much work. I know: Folks long beore us had to process all of their food in this way so they'd have food through the winter months. They couldn't go to the store to buy cans of such and whichy, blah blah. I know all that. It's still hard work.

At least wer'e getting tomatoes this year. Every year for the past several years we've grown tomatoes and gotten poor crops. It's gotten to the point that when spring rolls around, I try to talk Michelle out of planting tomatoes at all. Still, she persists. This year, same deal. Spring came. I talked. We planted tomatoes anyway. And we're getting a bumper crop. I did nothing to them this year. Only one round of fertilizer when we planted, and only one run through clipping runners. Only tented them for a few weeks. They grew like crazy and never picked up the fungus from the raspberries next door. Weird. So we'll make salsa and tomato soup, if they keep coming on. That's good.

Canning season does mean one good thing: The end of gardening season. Once all the fruits and vegetables are picked, the garden can lie fallow, buried in carrot greens and grass clippings, festooned with apples that have fallen from the trees and rotted, waiting for next year.

I wonder if the turkey poop did the trick this year with the garden. Everything is very lush out there, and this is the first year we did the turkey poop. That's what the garden center recommended, obviously with some reason. Who knew turkey poop was so rich. And who knew I'd be so excited to see turkey poop turned into carrots and tomatoes? It's a good thing Petey Otterloop doesn't know anything about this.

I don't remember that we canned this much when I was a kid. Of course, I was a kid back then and oblivious to a lot of the things that went on in the adult world. Most of the things that went on in the kitchen, aside from eating, homework, and occasionally doing the dishes, went on without me knowing it. Well, there was that time Maaike's friend Melissa couldn't figure otu how to get the spout off the milk bottle and ended up caromming the bottle, her bowl of Wheaties and a few other things off the kitchen ceiling and just about any other surface there, but aside from that, nothing too memorable went on in that room.

I guess we take our oblivion for granted as kids. Some day soon, I'd like once again to be oblivious to the canning of carrots and the making of applesauce.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Bizarre Bazaar

Of the things I've seen on sale at the local Dollar Tree, William Langewiesche's The Atomic Bazaar is probably one of the strangest finds I've seen. And the store had an aboslute ton of these books, too. Maybe somebody figured they'd be good sellers in this nuclear territory. Maybe they just wanted to dump the books. But I bought a copy.

It's somewhat a good read. Most of it I've heard or read before, certainly the stuff about A. Q. Kahn and this Pakistani's ability to sell complete nuclear weapons production packages to any willing buyers. There are also echoes of what Max Hastings writes in Nemesis about the United States' overreliance on technology, rather than street smarts, in controlling what needs to be controlled. Langewiesche's description of technolgy-heavy installations in Russia and former Soviet republics, paid for by the Americans, is almost comical in how the money has been wasted -- trick is, the cameras and computers are there, but nobody seems to be using them. What's more disturbing, as he reports, is that the general attitude of Europe and European companies when nonproliferation issues come up is that if America wants nonproliferation, it's so they can corner the market in nuclear fuel production, not because of the altruistic motive of, say, nonproliferation.

Langewiesche's book is a collection of articles he's written for other publications, and it shows. While they're on the same subject, there's nothing completely writerly about merging them into a whole. And his journalistic profile of another journalist is bland to the point I skimmed most of it.

The book also details one of the most overblown friendly-author back cover blurbs I've seen in recent memory: "One-stop shopping for the future where nations you fear will have weapons you dread. And there is little you can do about it except to read this excellent book and face the facts your government keeps secret and your leaders fail to comprehend," says Charles Bowden, who gets his own book hyped thanks to the quote.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Obama's Speech

Thanks, KVPI.

That's all I can say at the moment.

What did they do? They took advantage of a slow news Labor Day to print, in full it appears, the text of the speech President Obama plans to deliver to school children (mine included, thanks to an open-minded school district) tomorrow.

The text is here. Please go read it. You'll see the radical ideas Obama is spreading to our young, impressionable children:

Teachers, inspire and push your students.

Parents, keep your kids on track. Make sure they do their homework and don't spend every waking hour in front of the TV or Xbox.

Students, show up. Do your work. Figure out what you want to do with your life. Then set goals to do it.

Government, set high standards and support teachers and principals.

I know, it sounds like Communism all over the place. Especially this excerpt:

No one's born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You're not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don't hit every note the first time you sing a song. You've got to practice. It's the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it's good enough to hand in.

Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness, it's a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don't know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust - a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor - and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.

And even when you're struggling, even when you're discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you - don't ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.

The story of America isn't about people who quit when things got tough. It's about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

It's the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.

So, not exactly the Apocalypse, is it?

Time of the Spud

We're still here at Uncharted, limping along a little bit as we wrestle with server issues. Until the issues are resolved -- and we hope they will be soon -- our updates are going to be a little sparse. Trust me, we've got enough material to update the site twice a month for at least a year, so there's no shortage of material. Right now, it's just a shortage of just about everything else.

So to entertain the troops, we've dusted off an oldie but a goodie: Shelley Spud Days, in which hapless folks play a tug-o-war over a huge pit of mashed potatoes and otherwise celebrate everything there is to know about the Idaho potato. Here's the story. Hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Scott Adams has inadvertently provided a very good illustration of faith in today's Dilbert comic strip. Though what Dilbert hopes to accomplish may seem a difficult thing, he has faith enough -- as evinced by his statement in the last panel -- to insist that the vaporous being he's encountered take the approval form.

Of course, cynic that he is, that's not how Adams would interpret his creation. And that's fine. I'll stick with what I like.

Oh. My. Gosh.

Some wingnut on one of our local news channel websites offered the following PDF as evidence that educators are being asked to "indoctrinate" students by having them listen to a speech by President Obama on Tuesday. Some of the shocking activities and questions include:

Why do you think the president wants to speak to you?

What can students do to help in our schools?

Why is it important that we listen to the president and other elected officials, like the mayor, senators, members of congress, or the governor? Why is what they say important?

Students could record important parts of the speech where the president is asking them to do something. Students might think about the following:
  • What specific job is he asking me to do?
  • Is he asking anything of anyone else?
  • Teachers? Principals? Parents? The American people?
Write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short‐term and long‐term education goals. Teachers would collect and redistribute these letters at an appropriate later date to enable students to monitor their progress.

Wow. Frightening stuff, I know. Haven forbid we encourage our kids to think about what they might tell the president, why it might be important to listen to our elected officials (Articles of Faith 12 comes to mind: "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."

The only thing worse than ignorance, I've heard, is the determination to remain ignorant.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


The folks at NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Arizona at Tucson have got a treat for space buffs (I typed "space butts" twice before I could get my finger on the "F" key): High-resolution photos of Mars. They're available in the public domain here. They're not necessarily Google Earth high-res, but they're the highest resolution images we've got of the Red Planet, bringing to pass the prophetic and enigmatic saying of Arthur C. Clarke's spaceman in Imperial Earth. His minor character Robert Kleinman, who perished while exploring Saturn, said "Space is small. Only the planets are big." Looking at these images will remind you of that.

Gullies in Hale Crater

No, I have no idea where Hale Crater is. But looking at these photos makes me want to figure it out.
It's fascinating to see how similar Mars' landforms are to those we're used to seeing on Earth. It's easy to look at these photos and imagine wind or water creating these forms. Sure, they're landforms you might see in the bleakest portions of the Badlands or the Great Basin, but they're familiar landforms (gullies, dunes, et cetera) that you're used to seeing on Earth.

Ridges in the Northwest Meridiani Planum

I've spent more than a half hour screening the images, and each one seems more fascinating than the next. Tie all this in with Google's ambitious but lower-res Google Mars, and you've got some fun tools to play with. I'm ready to go explore on Mars. NASA, when are you going to take me there?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Telling Lies

Mom . . .

One of the more entertaining aspects of being a parent is that once and a while you get to tell some fun lies to your kids. Not lies about really serious, earth-shattering things, of course, but the fun kinds of lies that will kind of mess them up a bit or at least let them think you are a complete genius until they become teenagers, learn everything and thus believe that you as a parent know nothing. Here are a few of the lies I've recently told my children:
  • Earth used to have two suns until the smaller of the two exploded just a few years before our oldest child was born.
  • Lady bugs taste just like M&Ms.
  • The Moon is a hole in the sky through which daylight passes.
  • Mom was a Sand Person (a la Star Wars) before she married Dad.
And that was just this week.

Listen to the Speech, Already

I'm a bit confused by the kerfuffle over a speech President Obama wants to deliver nationwide to school kids with the basic message, as far as I understand, of telling the kids to work hard in school. Don't we, sorta, want our kids to work hard? And if the president wants to take time out of his schedule to deliver such a speech, isn't that, at the foundation of all things, good?

Apparently not for everyone.

The school district I attended as a kid announced today they won't air the speech at all. Other districts in the area are waffling, saying they'll let teachers decide on a classroom-by-classroom basis, basically sending the message that if teachers opt to air the speech and parents complain, the district itself can wash its hands of the mess. That's asinine.

Gratefully, the district my kids attend will be airing the speech. They sent a note home with all kids this week letting parents know of the speech and allowing students to opt out if they wish, but at least they've got the guts to send the message: This is the president talking about education. Maybe it's worth listening to.

I just don't know why there's such angst over a speech nobody's even heard yet. Personally, I like to hear speeches before I decide if they're worthwhile or not.

I firmly believe that if this were a Republican president giving such a speech, there wouldn't be any trouble locally, no matter the message. Nobody here complained when both Bushes gave speeches directly to schools, and they hadn't heard the speeches beforehand, either.

But lest Democrats get too smug about the whole situation, they ought to remember similar umbrage over Republicans "hijacking" the Department of Education to "push" their own ideals. Remember, stupid is as stupid does, Mr. Gump.

This slavish devotion to political ideology weakens public discourse and the republic as well. If one side decides not to listen to the other -- or even acknowledge that the other side might possibly be doing something worthwhile -- then we may as well be living in a dictatorship. Maybe that's what the local Republicans fear. But then again, they only fear a dictatorship led by a Democrat.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Grammar Nazi, Red-Faced

Once in a while, I take something from my blog and paste it into a private journal, because I believe some writing fills multiple functions, and sometimes I'm pretty damn lazy in writing in my private journal.

I should do it more often because it helps me find the typos. I have since gone through yesterday's post on Max Hastings' book and fixed the glaring errors. Hopefully it won't make you wince now as you read it. At least the structure won't make you wince. Maybe the content will.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Max Hastings' Nemesis

Just finished reading a second Max Hastings book -- this time focusing on the battle for Japan during the last years of World War II. And though I understand there's criticism out there about Hastings' assumptions and some nit-picking about how he cites sources, once again I come away from Hastings' book in wonderment at it all.

If anyone, and I mean anyone, tries to tell you that war is a good and a pretty thing, have them read this book. Hastings doesn't shy away from revealing the horrors of war. That's maybe a common thing from modern WWII scholars, but Hastings picks his events carefully, I think, to maximize their effect as he ties them in historically with other events and happenings. The events he describes are not there for the sake of gory description, but rather to drive home his point that while the bad guys may do terrible things, the good guys aren't necessarily stopped from doing bad things either. Ironically, he sums up something Adolf Hitler said about totalitarianism: "The great strength of the totalitarian state is that it forces those who fear it to imitate it."

I've long had an interest in reading WWII history. I grew up with stories from my Dad, who saw World War II as a civilian in the Netherlands. That means, of course, I've concentrated on the European theater. Hastings' Nemesis is the first major work I've read that concentrates on the Pacific theater. He's definitely piqued my interest. Not because I want to read about Mac Arthur, or to revel in the exploits of the U.S. Navy -- though the Navy's accomplishments are legion -- but because Hastings touches on several aspects of Americanism that I find fascinating.

First -- and I see this in myself especially -- we tend to want to see the good in people. Take Chaing Kai-shek, for example. Not necessarily the nicest guy in the world. But because he was nationalist rather than Communist, we as a nation embraced him with open arms. When that happens, we like to think of "our guy" wearing a white hat, when, in reality, whenever we may be in his presence, we really ought to be holding our noses, because the white hat is pretty tainted.

Second, Hastings brings out the American psyche in wartime: Thinking that overwhelming technological superiority is going to win it for us. He writes:
The outcome of the Pacific conflict persuaded some Americans that they could win wars with relatively small human cost, by the application of their country's boundless technological ingenuity and industrial recources. The lesson appeared to be that, if the US possessed based from which it warships and aircraft dcould strike at the land of an enemy, victories could be gained by the exenditure of mere treasure, and relatively little blood.
We've seen time and again how this doesn't work -- we seem to forget about the human element, howthe "liberatees" will regard the "liberators," not realizing that they won't regard us all as wearing the white hat. Just food for thought there, I suppose.

Hastings writes a fine balance of praise and scorn for the nations involved in the conflict. Especially interesting is his treatment of the hand-wringing over using nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He does not belittle the suffering of those who died in those horrific attacks -- nor do I -- but he does illustrate them in the context of everything else -- including atrocities committed by all sides in the conflict -- to show how they fit into the general picture. He also makes this interesting and pertinent assertion:
Not only does the use of the atomic bombs seem to have been justified in the circumstances prevailing in August 1945, but I am among those convinced that the demonstration of nuclear horror, and the global revulsion which it provoked, has contributed decisively towards preserving the world since. If the effects of nuclear attack had not been demonstrated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is overwhelmingly likely that in the Cold War era, an American or Russian leader would have convinced himself that the use of atomic weapons could be justified.
I agree with that assertion. What was a demonstration in 1945 would have been mass slaughter on a global scale even five or ten years later.

Love and Time Served

Because we're a happening, modern-in-the-aughts couple, my wife and I occasionally check in with each other on the status of our marriage. We basically send the message to each other that as long as the laundry (her job) and the toilet scrubbing (my job) are done in a timely fashion, things couldn't possibly be any better. That there's money in the bank, the kids are happy and occasionally tranquilized and there are no obvious screaming fits that make the neighbors open their windows so they can hear better is ancillary.

So I won't be doing what this fellow in Philadelphia did: He robbed a bank and dared the tellers to call the cops so he could serve time in jail to get away from his wife.

The best line from the story:

Miller’s defense attorney, Robert Beyer, said that when Miller’s wife came to pick up his car after he was in custody, she met with the arresting officer. After 20 minutes with her, the defense attorney said the officer confessed,” I was ready for jail, too,” according to the paper.

So to those with any doubts, Michelle and I have a wonderful marriage, full of love and enough gleeful angst to keep things interesting.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Condolences from Harry Reid

At the foundation of all of this, I suppose the bright side is that this increases my job security.

Barack Obama -- whom I voted for -- earlier this year made good on a campaign promise to kill the federal nuclear waste depository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada where, by 2020, high-level nuclear waste from the nation's nuclear weapons program, its nuclear Navy and commercial nuclear power plants was supposed to begin to be stored, long-term.

The site -- which Les Blumenthal of McClatchy Newspapers comically points out has, for its nearest neighbor, a Nevada brothel -- cost the federal government between $12 and $13 billion over the past several years, and now will not be used, leaving the nation's nuclear waste (which, truth be told, would cover only a handful of football fields if concentrated all together) scatered at 31 locations nationwide, but mostly in Washington State, South Carolina, and my home state of Idaho.

I understand the NIMBY desires of Nevada. They haven't grown up with the nuclear industry as we have here in eastern Idaho (though you'd think they could use the underground caverns at the Nevada Test Site, where 100-megaton bombs were detonated to store waste; nothing's going to get through the 15-foot-thick shell of vitrified sand (known as glass) that surrounds those caverns like massive radioactive geodes). But back to Idaho. We've got waste here from Colorado of all places, and, in 1995, the state sudcessfully sued the feds to get it out, with the waste being shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

But there's high-level waste here, now without a place to go. And that's part of the agreement.

So enter soon the lawyers.

That probably means I could retire out here if I wanted to, and make good with that old Steve Martin joke:

"I had something I wanted to tell you, but I forgot what it was," Steve said.

"Well, it couldn't be that important, or you wouldn't have forgotten it."

"Oh yeah," he says. "I remember. I'm radioactive. Shake?"

The reality is that with Yucca closed, the feds still have that big problem: Where to put all the waste? It's got to go somewhere. Both Idaho and Washington state have agreements with the feds to rid the states of waste, and neither state is likely to roll over on the issue. If it came down to it, would I accept the waste here? Probably. But it would have to come with guarantees. You know. Money. Amigo money. No dough, no show.

September, Finally

I know a lot of people don't like the month of September, what with school starting and all, with summer ending.

But I love it.

I love waking up in the mornings and having it cool enough that I need to wear a jacket, but knowing that before the day is over, I can go outside in shorts and a t-shirt and be comfortable, not miserable fromthe heat.

I love that the cooler temperatures mean the lawn gets just that much greener with a little bit less water.

I love that the plants in our garden are huge enough they cast weed-inhibiting shadows over what tiny little bare spots of ground there are out there.

I love that it's too late for raspberries, too early for peaches and apples and way too early for carrots and onions. Not that I don't mind doing the bottling, but it's nice to have that September hiatus.

I love that the woodpile, scrawny in May, is heaped beyond all proportions and tarped for the coming winter.

I love that the mosquitoes aren't as aggressive.

I love that the farmers are buttoning up their grain and hay fields, rolling the hay into those ginormous bales that look like they'd be very fun to push down a steep hill, perhaps with someone riding inside, properly helmeted and padded, of course.

I'd love to see ten days added to September -- taken from February, that waste of a month -- just to make the serenity last that much longer.