Sunday, November 29, 2009

Down the Slippery Slope to Primary

Around our house, we have lots of little (and big) bits of paper that look like this:


This is, of course, because we have children in the house, who produce art like this on a massive scale. Truth be told, however, this is not art produced by any of our children. And thus lies the quandary. Our kids are older, and produce art that's mostly recognizable. Liam draws his won comic strip, Scooter. Lexie draws lots of horses and princesses. Isaac, being the intensely stubborn male that he is, draws scribbles and stick figures.

This art, as I mentioned, puts me in a quandary. It's the first of what's likely to be a long string of art that's going to be coming into the house form a new source: Primary.

Up until a week ago, I was Elders Quorum instructor, teaching out of the Joseph Smith manual, looking forward to diving into gospel principles next year. But now I'm in the Primary, class as yet unknown. Today, I acted as a substitute teacher for the Sunbeams, home to children 1 1/2 to 3 years of age, and pepperpots all of them. I had two little girls crying for their mothers (they both eventually settled down once they figured out I'm a nice guy) and one little boy who really wanted his momma but really, really, REALLY just wanted to run around and poke his nose in everyone's business and try to rip the glasses off my face.

And then they drew art. Sophie -- I don't know her last name, so I'll call her Sophie Tucker; I like the idea of teaching a nascent plate-twirler and Vaudevillian -- drew the art I present today.



She insisted I take it home with me, "to hang on my wall." Five minutes later she was upset because she couldn't find her drawing. I gave it back to her. She didn't recognize it, and started crying again. I think the Elders were a much easier audience. Sure, you had to prod them awake once and a while, and they could also be irrational in their own little ways, but at least they kept the crying for their mommies to a minimum.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Theory of Junk




I began developing my Junk Theory as a teenager, when I accompanied my Dad and younger brother up to the Kilgore area so Dad could find some rocks. He wanted rocks. Lots of rocks. Lots of big rocks. We had a new house and we had some landscaping to do. So we drove the old '48 Ford up to Kilgore where rocks, big rocks, abound. We loaded up at least a ton of rocks, fifty to seventy-five pounds at a time.

As we arranged them around the property, my Junk Theory came to mind:

The value of one's property increases not with the monetary, sentimental or functional value of the items therein, but by the sheer weight of the items thereon.

It certainly held true in Dad's case. In addition to the rocks, we had at least a hundred pounds of random nails, screws and bolts in various buckets and boxes in the garage, a bevy of articles ranging from skis to beds stored in the attic above the garage and behind it, a defunct mortar mixer, a large stack of cinder blocks and other sundry items ranging from a pile of brushwood to a stack of bricks and a pile of dirt with which Dad intended on building an adobe oven.

He was never happier than when he was actively increasing our property's weight, whether it was with a green Cadillac we called the Possum Squasher or any number of trees -- at last count, he had planted about 80 on the property, which covers only a third of an acre.

I realize there is a lot of utility in some of the weight the property bore. He never had to go to the store for a nut, bolt, or screw, for instance.

I've picked up some of his proclivities. I have my own nut, screw and bolt collection, although I have to confess it is much smaller than his. I also have a rather impressive collection of plumbing and electrical parts left over from past projects. Each year we haul in about a ton of firewood, one trailer load at a time. We have about a thousand books on the property. I don't have anything that rivals Dad's collection of rocks, but I've started one. I have scoffed at the lightweight sandstone landscaping rocks the previous family brought in and have been slowly replacing them with much heavier chunks of lava and rounded river rocks. I have also planted five trees which are growing nicely and have the advantage of adding weight to the property both above ground and below. If I could hire dwarves to mine under the house and bring in their collections of lead, I'd do it.

So it is as Sanford and Son said: Blood is Thicker than Junk:



(Note: Fred also cooks like I did as a bachelor. Maybe that's where I got the inspiration.) Yes, I'm sure both Dad and I would put the crusty piece of toast in our pockets. To do otherwise would lessen our property's weight.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday




Black Friday is getting to be more like a plane crash every year in that it's the bad experiences that get reported. Planes take off and land every day; folks do their Black Friday shopping every year. It's just the crashes and the bad behavior that get the ink.

I guess you find what you look for, or at least figure in that demented journalistic way that it's what isn't normal that gets reported. This, unfortunately and I think intentionally, creates a warped view of the world as a whole, as the bad stuff gets emphasized. If one sees nothing but bad behavior in the news, one assumes that the only kind of behavior out there is bad behavior. One's own sense of superiority and entitlement on looking down on others also kicks in. If you're looking for the bad in humanity and get a confirmation of what you expect to see, then you are absolutely right, even if the view you're being presented is skewed incredibly towards the bad. It's a rare occasion for a plane to crash, but when it does, it's news. The planes that take off and land without incident aren't news, apparently. So good behavior on Black Friday isn't news, because -- let's face the truth here -- it's the norm.

Michelle and I went to our local Wal-Mart this morning because of on item -- a $18 microwave. We have a microwave, but we live the sheltered kind of life that leads us to believe that if an appliance is broken it can be repaired. We've got a good repairman, but apparently the part he needs to fix the machine has to be ordered from Elbonia and they can't get the plane out of the mud. So we decided to buy an emergency backup microwave so we can do the sundry things that a microwave allows: Heating food and popping popcorn. Personally, the latter is much more important to me than the former, but that's just me talking.

So we got to Wal-Mart just before 5 am, expecting bedlam. There was no line at all. They let the hordes in a half hour early so they could begin their shopping. Some weren't after the hot-ticket items and so were happily perusing the aisles. Those who were after the biggies were waiting, patiently, by the piles of bounty for 5 am and the starting whistle of the Wal-Mart crew, before the grabbing began. Yes, I said actually waiting. Some had their hands on the merchandise, others did not. But no where in the store did I see anyone grabbing anything early. It was all being guarded, of course, by associates with no more weaponry than stern looks, roped-off aisles and hand-lettered signs saying "Not available until 5 am. This was civility personified. People were laughing, helping each other, for example, find the right size of kids' boots they wanted. Nobody was mad.

Even after the whistles blew, bedlam did not ensue. Sure, people scooped stuff up, but civilly, without hitting or elbowing or body-checking. Nothing at all like that. Friendly-like.

Waiting in line was the worst, just for the wait, not because of any bad behavior. We happened to be in line just in front of the lady who bought our van about a month ago. We talked about the van and other topics, joking with those around us about the crowds and the frenzy, but nobody got mad. Nobody shoved in line. We got through quickly enough Michelle decided she wanted to dive back into the store for another item.

I took our stuff out to the Pilot, encountering on the way a young couple trying to squeeze a 50-inch LCD TV into the trunk of their very small sedan. Soon enough we had the TV loaded in the Pilot and I was chatting with the guy as his wife drove us out to their apartment complex on the other side of town. So there were good vibrations and happiness and flowers and rainbows coming out of everyone's bums this morning.

Capitalism, I have to say, behaved exceptionally well for us this morning. Take that, Karl Marx.

Update: A day later, CNN.com grudgingly admits that shoppers and retailers behaved themselves, though it appears they, too, were waiting for the bloodshed:
Although Black Friday seemed to be missing the usual mayhem associated with it, the good news for merchants was that shoppers eagerly spent money on toys, cashmere sweaters, Snuggie blankets and gadgets at juicy discounts.

Compared to previous years, Cohen said the Black Friday atmosphere appeared to "be more tame."

"Look, retailers have been educating consumers for days before Black Friday on what their deals are going to be and on what items," said Cohen. "That's partly why we're not seeing the frenziness."

To his point, although the Toys R Us flagship store in Times Square had lines that were hundreds deeps for its midnight opening on Black Friday, it wasn't unruly at any point.
At least one can assume since they use New York City as an example, they were anticipating an urban or at least a suburban ruckus. More to the point, however, I'd like to point out that once again those writing and being quoted in the story are assuming that bad behavior -- perhaps not bloodshed, but shoving, screaming, cursing, et cetera -- is the norm, which, as I have already said, it is not. And some may sneer at the Snuggies, but at least people weren't buying Bumpits.

From what we saw: Gigantic packages of picture frames, big-screen TVs and digital picture frames (at $54 a pop, no less; why I have to ask) were the most sought-after items. And towels. Cartloads of towels at our local Wal-Mart, in Rainbow Brite colors.

What drives me to participate in Black Friday? The uniqueness of it all. Seeing all those crowds filling the stores, piling carts to the ceiling, waiting bored in the checkout lines. And that thrill of the bargain. It kind of harks back to our hunter-gatherer days, though it's hard to imagine why our ancestors would have hunted and gathered digital photo frames and cheap towels. But I have to imagine that some of the H-Gs came home with some meat and also some worthless junk -- skulls, feathers, horns, et cetera -- that they could "find something to do with" at home. Maybe hang it on the wall.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Follow-Up: EAR of Doom!

A few weeks ago, I presented this post for your delectation and delight. I thought now would be a good time to follow up on the events outlined in this entry, in case y'all were waiting anxiously to find out how things came to pass.

Frankly, it was a bit anticlimactic.

The EAR is done; I no longer have it looming over my head. It is out there being used and, I assume, must be working adequately enough that no one is flipping out about it yet. Of course, we put so many anti-EAR triggers in our procedures, tossing in loopholes and obstacles to ensure that it is never used that, perhaps, it will never be used. (Start at 7:02 for the pertinent section.) (Bonus: Tune in at 3:14 for the "Incompetent Bad Guys" scene; one of my favorites.)



It took more than a year to accomplish, for what boils down to less than five pages (in the EAR and in the procedures) of writing. It feels good to have it done. But the elation I thought would come with it's completion isn't there. But that's to be expected, as I'm not the kind of guy who gets really excited about stuff anyway. I'm just a boring, even-keel kind of guy, most of the time, and this was one of those most of the times.

We are going to do a potluck in December to celebrate, but as it's coming so far after the fact and so close to the holidays, that, too, will feel anticlimactic. But that's okay. At least the EAR is done and I don't have to worry about it any longer until it gets used and somebody figures out it's broken. Not that such a thing will happen. What's more likely to happen is that we'll find out one of the loopholes or obstacles is broken and that the procedure will have to be re-jiggered. That's fine, because I do not own the procedures.

The EAR will stand like a rock; just like the Response to Fire EAR I wrote a few years ago. That thing was so tetchy beforehand every time they used it we had a rewrite. No more. That took about six months and six iterations and a lot of drilling, but we've finally gotten it to the point it's the favorite drill EAR we've got because it works so well and the operators respond so well. That's a good feeling. The only way we know that what we write works is if we never hear about it again.

Thanksgiving Tetchiness




Just in case you're having a rotten Thanksgiving weekend that even superheroes get tetchy at holiday time. Be nice to the folks around you, but remember, if it gets too hot, go outside for a walk or something.

Honestly, though, I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving. I've got a good family on both sides, so there's not much to worry about when it comes to infighting or getting slapped around because somebody's dead. I hope y'all have a nice day tomorrow. I know I will. There'll be pie.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Uncharted Meets the Geek Atlas



At heart, I suppose, I’ll always be a geek.

My best friend in high school lamented, in my presence, that he was a “geek magnet” at Bonneville High. I have a collection of rocks that look like pig noses. I tell people I work at a landfill. A radioactive landfill. A radioactive landfill where the stuff sometimes blows up or catches fire on its own. And I love my job.

But this confirms it: John Graham-Cumming, author of The Geek Atlas (available in book form here) has noticed me. Not me per se, but a video I put together a few years ago about Experimental Breeder Reactor-1, a decommissioned nuclear power plant, the first to create useful atomic power, which I pass to and from work four times a week. I posted it to uncharted.net’s YouTube channel and promptly forgot about it. (The video, obviously, is embedded above.)

Now it’s featured at www.geekatlas.com, coinciding with Graham-Cumming’s own visit to EBR-1, one of 128 stops “Where Science and Technology Come Alive,” as Graham-Cumming subtitles his book.

And it does. EBR-1 is, to me, a fascinating place. Atomic – now nuclear – research has always been in the background here in eastern Idaho. That I work within a mile of EBR-1, however, makes the place special to me. I love to visit the decommissioned reactor and to inhale, if briefly, the air of the heady days of atomic research when scientists were optimistically hoping to tame the atom and make electricity “too cheap to meter.” Though technology has advanced, fear of nuclear power has stalled those dreams. But it’s fun to think this little bit of Idaho history – and my video, which Graham-Cumming describes as “quirky” – are getting their moment in the sun.

You can, of course, read about Idaho’s atomic history at http://www.uncharted.net/, here. Enjoy.

Christmas Song Watch, 2009

Just a heads up for y'all: Christmas Song Watch 2009 is officially operational.

Last year, as you may recall, I blogged occasionally when a particularly offensive Christmas song came on the radio. As the local pop station has begun playing 24-hour christmas tunes (as of Monday) that time of year has come again.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not one of those Christmas grumps. I love the season. I love it when stores pull their Christmas stuff out and put it on display. To some it's a display of crass commercialism masquerading as participation in an ancient Christian holiday, but to me it's a display of crass commercialism masquerading as participation in an ancient Christian holiday with bright, shiny lights and catchy tunes and snow and that feeling that, yes, despite humanity, there is still good in the world today. I put up our outdoor Christmas decorations a week ago. The Christmas tree will likely go up Friday, if my wife sticks with her tradition.

It's just that sometimes a Christmas song gets to me, that's all.

This one, however, won't bug me:



Johnny Mathis - Johnny Mathis Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire .mp3



Found at bee mp3 search engine


Nor this one:



Peter, Paul & Mary - The Marvelous Toy .mp3



Found at bee mp3 search engine

Monday, November 23, 2009

Facepalm, Part II

As expected, the Internet heated up over the weekend about hacked/leaked e-mails and other files from the Climate Research Unit in England.

Trot over to RealClimate.org at this link for some interesting information on consdiering the context of the purloined e-mails. Keeping things in context is always an excellent rule of thumb when trying to understand what's going on, especially when, s in most communications you and I send out, we write in shorthand, expecting the recpients of our messages to understand what we're talking about without having to go over everything in excruciating detail. So it's good to read the context that's beign provided, though the haughty "We don't have to respond to this because it's false" attitude generally being taken isn't the way to go. You don't get converts by essentially saying "You all are too stupid to understand what's really going on here" to those posing the questions. You offer context. You explain. A lot. You just gotta HAVE PATIENCE, man (start at 4:59 for the proper scene).



Of course, it also helps if you're not throwing horseshit at the wall to see what sticks (which is what your opponents on the opposite side of any argument expect you to do, and you them).

Meanwhile, over in England, there's word of an inquiry into the matter of the purloined e-mails and the (maybe) hack science. I don't know that it'll go anywhere.

Meanwhile, over in Germany, there's discussion that global warming may have stalled out, or at least that there are other factors besides human activity that are playing not-quite-understood but demonstrable roles in global climate change.

So it's a complicated matter, one that won't be solved here on this humble blog.

What Am I doing to save the environment for the three kids I've broughtinto the world?

We recycle aluminum cans. We re-read (and then burn) newspapers and other paper in our woodstove. (Yes, that puts carbon into the atmosphere. So do I and my wife and three kids. You've got to allow us some carbon, y'see. Besides, we burn waste from a log-home-building company that they would burn anyway. And we use less natural gas in our furnace as a consequence. We don't waste water. We grow a garden and bottle the excess. No guilt here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Nuclear Bugaboo

A few weeks ago, an explosion at an oil refinery near Woods Cross, Utah, damaged millions of dollars of equipment, shattered windows more than a mile away and blew at least one neighboring house off its foundation.

Yesterday, one sensor at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island nuclear power plant showed a slightly elevated radiation sample while two neighboring sensors showed no problems whatsoever.

Which incident is going to stir up more gloom-and-dooming about our energy future?

I don't disagree that nuclear power has to be treated carefully. I disagree, however, when doomsayers use minor incidents such as what happened at TMI yesterday into a bigger deal than it has to be. The only thing that irritates me about TMI is that no one has posted the Saturday Night Live-Mutant Jimmy Carter sketch they did of TMI in 1979.

I've worked at a nuclear facility for almost four years now. Part of my training includes recognizing radioactive hazards and being monitored for any radiation does I might pick up as I go about my daily business. The building I work in is checked monthly for its radiation levels. And in the nearly four years I've worked there, I haven't picked up even a millirem of radiation. I've gotten more radiation from dental x-rays and sitting in my basement breathing radon than I have from the nuclear industry (and I'm not in power; I'm in legacy Cold War waste).

What do I worry about more? All summer, not four blocks from my house, the railroad all year stores tankers that are either filled with liquid fertilizer or are partially empty. I'm much more concerned about one of those blowing up than with anything untoward happening at work, or at a nuclear power plant.

This Can't Be Good



I tried to turn my computer on this morning and it wouldn't.

The monitor would. All the little fans inside the CPU and the DVD drive would, and I could hear the hard drive spinning, but the computer wouldn't.

Sweating bullets, of course. At first I thought, well, maybe I did something wrong, because despite enjoying computers and technology avidly, I have a luddite streak that occasionally prompts me to leave the broken-down vehicle on the side of the road and go purchase a horse and cart (which I would also have to abandon on the side of the road because horses and I don't get along). I also did the standard Guy Repair technique, which was to pull the side panel off the CPU to see if I could spot any parts holding and waving little "HELP ME" signs. Nothing but a bunch of dust bunnies, which I dutifully blew out. Thankfully, in my infirmity, I was able to go to the other computer, still happily churring away and connected to the Internet to "diagnose" the trouble. Nothing but horror stories about blown motherboards and melted video cards and other various computer parts hexed and bedemoned, so I abandoned any appeals to the Internet for help.

Then a few minutes ago, my wife came to me in a quandary. She wanted to use our ancient laser printer which was networked through my computer (since mine is the only one with a serial port; who makes computers without serial ports?) So I thought, well, I'll try it one more time. Pushed the button. Five minutes later I was working on this blog entry. Go figure.

Possibilities:

1) Dust bunny in the on-switch area fell out.
2) Demon left to go inhabit the Christmas lights outside.
3) Computer was in fear of my wife needing to print.
4) ?

I'll stick with No. 4. That's the only one that makes sense.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Finding Inspiration

I needed some inspiration this evening. I found it here:



And here:



And here (and the guy directing is my brother-in-law Kevin Brower):

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bums Stuffed with Tweed



The Editors

I just got a rejection e-mail from a Utah literary mag to which I submitted a few poems. I'm fine with that. I've gotten my fair share of rejection notices over the years. That not everyone likes what I write is something I've know for a very long time.

But why do all the rejection notices have to sound, as Terry Pratchett wrote of editorial writers, as if the writers' bums were stuffed with Tweed?

Here's the rejection in its entirety:
Thank you for submitting your poems for publication in [redacted].

Unfortunately, your work doesn't quite match our current needs, but we wish you the best in future poetry endeavors.

Regards,


The Editors.
That always sets me to wondering: What are their current needs? Obviously, they don't want poetry that sucks. That eliminates, in my experience, an awful lot of poetry. Do their needs include hamster-cage shavings? No, because in order to do that, they'd have to print out my poems, which I submitted electronically. It would be easier to just use other sources of paper.

And "future poetry endeavors," which is, of course, code for "anything that doesn't involve future submissions to us." Ouch.

But then I realize, "Hey, this is the Internet age. The age when any hack writer can start his own hack literary magazine to show off his writing to everyone in the world who may be interested in it. Or not." So back in 2006, I started this blog.

{Climatoligist Facepalm}



First off, I have to confess: I'm not a scientist. I don't even have PhDs in psychology and parapsychology. The "kids" do not love me. And there is no way I'm being moved to better quarters on campus.

I do know this: If, as a scientist, a researcher, a journalist, a writer, a whatever noun you want to insert, if you falsify your data because you're not getting the result you expected or wanted, then, indeed, you are a poor scientist, Dr. Venkman. (Go to 3:36 for the "Poor Scientist" speech from Dean Yeager.)


I'm speaking here, of course, of reports that hacked files and e-mails from The Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England reveal researchers, including some top=flight folks at the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration have colluded to falsify and cloud some climate data in order to support their theories ot anthropogenic climate change (or climate change caused by human activity).

Does this mean Global Warming, with the proper capital letters, is dead? No, I think reports of ACM's demise is premature, at least until, as Gen. Turgidson would remind us, all the facts are in.

If, indeed, the CRU folks have falsified their data and colluded across the Atlantic to do so, their research is at best questionable, at worst, completely worthless. I'm curious to know, however, how they hope to build or retain credibility in the scientific community if their research and methods are called into question. If they have indeed lied, which, it appears, they have, at least to some extent. I'll watch this unfold with much interest, to say the least. I just know that anything that even stinks of impropriety means that there's something rotten in the refrigerator.

Do we need legitimate research into mankind's effects on the environment? Absolutely. However, it's just as foolish to think that mankind's activities have no effects on the environment as it is to falsify data to make that appear to be the case. If these reports (here, (that's the one I recommend) here, (an even better one) and the leaked documents here (it's The Pirate Bay, so don't open this up on work computers and be prepared for safe-for-work but eye-bleach worthy photos of bimbos)) are true, then shame on those who falsified their data. That's not science. That's dishonesty. That's doing your science a disservice. That's telling the world that you are, frankly, a poor scientist.

What will also be interesting to watch is how the climate change true believers take this news. So far, as far as I can tell, there are a lot of folks saying, wow, these creeps ought to be jailed for what they did. And they're speaking of the hackers, not the scientists. Of course, what the hackers did was illegal. What the scientists are accused of doing is merely unethical. There seems to be a bit of denial out there -- this time on the part of the true believers. They may find crow tasty. They may not. It'll still be interesting to watch.

The International Association of "W" Lovers


Frankly, this is one of the reasons I decided to join Facebook, so I could start an International Association of "W" Lovers. After nearly a year on Facebook, I decided this was the morning to do it. Of course, this is also the morning to put up the outdoor Christmas lights, and I'm trying to put that off until it warms up a bit (it's 17 degrees F outside).

So if you're on Facebook, toddle over to the W page there. If you're not on Facebook, join up just to join the International Association of "W" Lovers.

Don't worry. Or despair. This is not a shadow group for the International Association of "Dubya" Lovers. You can pronounce "W" as "dubya" all you want, just don't bring up politics. Come, explain why you love the letter W, post videos and links (G-rated, please) about your favorite letter of the alphabet and enjoy the association of people just like you.

And share your most embarrassing W-related stories. Mine is this: I and another young fellow once belted out the "National Association of W Lovers" song in the parking lot of an Auchan supermarket in Blois, France. We got the attention of quite a few people, a few of whom said "Listen to the crazy Americans." That's the kind of world image we need to promote as a nation.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Be Careful What You Tweet

Be careful what you tweet. It could get you sued, or it could make you look stupid in front of millions.

Sure, 98 percent of what is tweeted is so banal that it doesn't get the attention of your followers, let alone anyone else. But Twitter has been in the news enough to make one think twice -- well, at least once -- about what one tweets just to make sure feet don't suddenly start flying into mouths all over the globe.

And journalists, be careful how you use Twitter. I can see it quickly becoming a lazy reporter's tool for monitoring various attitudes, certainly on les trends du jour, as in this story here.

I get concerned about lazy reporting because I was a lazy reporter. I look back on some of the stuff I produced and think, "Well, yeah, I phoned that one in." Tweeting one in isn't any better. Sure, it's easy to justify in a puff piece like the one I mention, but I have to ask myself -- is Twitter the kind of social platform a reporter can wander into, cull a few quotes and then leave without really doing any more work than cutting or pasting? I'm working on the assumption here, of course, that the reporters don't ask the twits if they can use their tweets in their stories. If reporters are asking, kudos to them. But I'm certain most are not asking at all. Folks on Twitter put stuff out to be heard, so what does it matter if someone in the mainstream media uses a tweet as a quote?

I fell into this trap often as a reporter, using quotes said in public that really weren't meant for public consumption. I pissed a few people off doing that. I learned quickly that for the sake of credibility, it's best to ask. Always ask. Asking almost always saves you from looking stupid, and can certainly help you recognize enough red flags to avoid being sued.

Then there's Courtney Love, who's being sued for libel because of something she tweeted. What's laughable in this situation is that there are experts out there parsing the legalities, saying that the law hasn't kept up with technology. This is what CNN is saying about the situation:
Legal experts say Internet-related cases are being watched closely because they confront new and unaddressed areas of American law.

For example, how should a libel case be handled when it comes to social media? How can society balance accountability with free speech? And if information -- from private thoughts to public datat -- is so readily available, how do we define what constitutes privacy?
Then CNN goes on to cite examples that have nothing to do with libel, accountability, and privacy, such as the passing on of digital property (Facebook profiles, passwords) when someone dies, to deciding what law apply if, for example, someone in England sues someone in Australia for libel. (Read the whole thing here.)

Libel is libel as far as I'm concerned, whether it's written on paper or tweeted into the ethers. If you put something on the web, you cannot argue it's private -- so the social media argument doesn't apply. And the defenses -- truth being the best, opinion being tenable but shaky -- ought to be as applicable to what's written in a newspaper as to what's typed on Twitter. Thankfully, there are folks out there who say the same thing; folks much more knowledgable about the law than I am.

This ties in nicely with the post I wrote yesterday. We sometimes forget in our rush to tell the world what we think about everything that, sometimes, the world really is listening.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Did I Really Write That?

One of my favorite Simpsons epidoses is a parody of Stephen King's The Shining, in which Marge, hoping to figure out if Homer is going to murder everyone in their sleep, decides that "what he's typed will be a window into his madness." I offer the YouTube clip here:



Occasionally, when I read this blog, especially the old entries -- and I have to call them old because, taking the Internet into consdieration, April 15, 2009 IS old -- and occasionally when I read my journal, which, since it stretches back to the year 1993, is ANCIENT per Internet standards, I get a peek into my own madness.

Cultural anthropologists ought to have a field day with the Internet in, say, 30 or 50 years if we don't suffer the same fate as GeoCities. Of course, I'm sure there's someone out there catalogging and archiving the terabushels of crap that the Intertubes produces, so maybe containment and storage of the beast will be one of the specials of the future. This is why I archive my stuff as PDFs every month or so, becuse for posterity to have to live without my Internet remblings would be a sad thing, indeed.

It's a wonder, this Internet thing. In a small way, it's allowing the common man to leave his mark on society in a way that, in the past, has been matched only by graffiti. Yes indeed, not since the days of the scribbling on the walls of Lascaux has the ordinary man been able to leave his mark on society and know for certain that it would be available for the Men of the Future to read, even if 1) The Men of the Future didn't really care to read what's written, 2) It was overwritten by other Men of the Past, or 3) It consists mainly of things like "Me too!" "LOL," or [Insert snotty and gramatically poor invective on religion, politics or the Great Pumpkin here].

Who, for example, is going to care about this (taken from a journal entry of 4 June 2009):
I am such a geek. Part of my onerous preparation for our trip to Oregon is making sure my blogs can handle my being on the road. Yes, you heard right, I’m worried about keeping things updated. That sounds so weird. The Cokesbury Party Blog I’ve got ready to run on autopilot while I’m gone, so I don’t have to bring the book with me. Mister Fweem’s Blog I’ll just update on the road. Whee. Nerd that I am. Because I can’t disappoint my audience. Which consists mostly of me and my brother-in-law Carl. So why do I do it? Because it’s the thrill of owning my own printing press without getting my fingers dirty.
Having read it again, I'm not sure I even care about it, and I wrote it. But it was so important at the time. And so nonsensical. But that pretty much sums up the Internet, right? Thing is, my brother-in-law isn't even reading this blog any more. He's got a teriffic excuse: He's given up blogging himself in order to write his doctoral thesis, which has something to do with Syriac languages. Don't ask me what, because I don't remember. But I might read it. Might be fun. Might be more interesting than reading what I've written.

Leave Sarah Alone


I don't admit to being a fan of Sarah Palin, but at least I don't take every opportunity given to slam the woman.

The mainstream media (and a plethora of idiots on the Interntubes) are ahving a field day with this woman. While I will concede she's not, in my opinion at least, presidential material, likely cost John McCain some votes in 2008 and is, for the lack of a better phrase, not the most mature person in the universe, I have to wonder if the constant attacks on her by the media and by many on the left are really, actually and truthfully warranted.

Sure, she's a lightweight. But the way she's treated in the media, you'd think she was a serious contender for any number of pending, future honors, inside or outside the hardcore group of Republicans who think she's the cat's pajamas.

What gets me most is the media double standard on Sarah Palin. Take Newsweek's treatment of her this week. The rag, if you haven't noticed, published on its front cover a photo of Palin to go along with their cover story on what a liability she is for the GOP. Now, because she's a Republican, Newsweek and the rest on the left can titter and laugh at this photo. If, however, the Weekly Standard or another conservative publication used a photo of, say, Michelle Obama that cast her in an unappealing light -- say it was sexist or a racist caricature, those ont he left would be screaming for blood. But because Sarah is their favorite punching bag at the moment, they can use a sexist photo and get away with it, because, well, you know those on the right are going to scream over whatever photo we use, right, so may as well use the funniest one. And thus the mainstream media continues its struggle to show that they produce fair and balanced reporting.

Now, if I believed Sarah Palin to be a lightweight, I'd treat her as such. By ignoring her. So she wrote a book. Or ghost-wrote a book. So what? Is it going to get her elected to any kind of office, or is it going to be one of those books that I'll find en masse at the dollar store in about six months? I think the latter. So of course the MSM and the left-leaning Intertubes have to pile on the attacks and vilification and sexist photos and everything else as if Palin were a Richard Nixon or a Henry Kissinger, which she most certainly is not.

Their treatment of Palin is obsessive and juvenile. Juvenile is even too kind a word; I should use childish. Yes, she's a public figure. Yes, she's thrusting herself into the limelight. But does that mean that her every breath, her every Facebook post, has to be parsed and discussed and filed in the "Right-wing loony" bin. You, the mainstream media and the left-leaning Intertubes, appear just as childish, obsessive and -- honestly -- stupid as those on the right to cling to Palin as a savior, believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya or believe fluoridation of water is going to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids.

Grow up, folks. Leave Sarah alone.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

One Step Closer to Mr. Fusion?


The New York Times' Green Inc. blog today featured nuclear energy research at the Idaho National laboratory  that could help increase the position of nuclear power on the national green energy radar. In an article titled "A New Reactor Concept Inches Forward," the blog writes about development of a high-temperature reactor that uses graphite-encased uranium to heat steam to 1,500 degrees, a temperature needed to finish refining many chemicals at the nation's chemical processing plants. The reactors, if built, could replace gas- and oil-fed burners used at the plants for chemical refining, thus helping manufacturers cut downo on their carbon emissions.

The graphite-encased uranium has the added bonus of being provided in a vessel that virtually contains all of the waste proudcts from the fission process.

Matthew Wald writes:
Actual construction of such a reactor would depend, in part, on the future cost of the fuels that would be replaced and of the carbon dioxide emissions that would be avoided. The idea of new research and development on small, advanced reactors has considerable support in Congress.

The research is part of the nuclear industry’s efforts to recast the technology as a tool to combat global warming.
Sure, that still leaves us several steps away from having our own Mr. Fusion home energy reactors, but the concept of mini-reactors explicityly being used to provide power in a way that cuts carbon emissions is a leap forward for the industry. I'm excited that research like this is ongoing, because it does say to those worrying about our overreliance on foreign energy sources that we do have home-grown possibilities that can provide the power we need and reduce carbon emissions to boot.

I have to admit that I'm baffled that we here in eastern Idaho don't have nuclear power as an option. Baffled even more that the INL hasn't generated its own nuclear-sourced electricity for decades. That seems a shame at the lab chosen as a nucleus of nuclear research. We ought to be doing more here to bring to pass that atomic-era dream of having electricity "too cheap to meter." I find it hard to believe there wouldn't be enough support here for a nuclear power station. With Areva planning to build a $3 billion uranium processing plant in the area, having a power plant to use some of that fuel seems a natural fit. Maybe with Areva in the area, such a dream can come to pass.

But it's all baby steps, I suppose. We could try explaining the atom in two minutes.

Nosferatu!

Though I’ve yet to read anything in the Twilight series (and, frankly, I don’t plan on it), have never seen Christopher Lee as the count, think Anne Rice is a twit and otherwise don’t care much for vampire films, books, lore or, frankly, any mention of vampires outside of Otto Chriek (okay, Nosferatu. But only because Terry Pratchett probably named his vampire after the actor Max Schreck, who plays Nosferatu in that movie), I may as well be one.

With the end of Daylight Savings Time, I rarely see the sun. I board the bus for work shortly after 5 am and get to work shortly before 7, just as the sun is barely beginning to peep over the horizon. I board the bus to go home shortly after 5 pm where, if I’m lucky and it’s cloudless, there’s just enough time to read a page or two in a novel before the sun sets as I’m waiting in line for the bus transfer. And I’m a desk jockey. I do have a window, but it has a view of the trailer next to mine, plus debris from the staircase they tore up but have yet to replace. I get a little sun that way. I try to take a walk every day at lunch. But other than the sunlight I get on a few trips to the bathroom in the building next door, I don’t get to see the sun much.

November and December are the worst, as the days are shortening away on their march toward the vernal equinox. Plus there’s the cold. But maybe that’s good and bad. Sunlight, at least for me, tends to intensify the cold, since it’s typical of an Idaho winter to be very sunny but butt cold, as if the sun were there just for light, not for warmth. I swear there are some days the rays from the sun don’t even make contact with the ground; what light we get is mere reflection from all the cold molecules flying around in the atmosphere.

I do have a bright spot of sunlight shining on some papers I have scattered on my desk right now. It’s very bright, and I love it.

And i love that I have allies in working "the night shift." Behold:

Monday, November 16, 2009

Oh How Spoiled We Are



So Digital Bridge Communications, my internet service provider, gets a B from pingtest.net. Or a C. Or a D. Depending, as General Turgidson would say, on the breaks. One particular server in Orem, Utah, I get the B. Another, the C. Cheyenne, Wyoming, however, D territory.

Download and upload speed, half and half. Slightly better than average download speed, according to speedtest.net. Upload speed, however, I won't be changing fuses faster than a jackrabbit on a date.

Everything these days is measurable and measured. And doesn't really tell me much of anything, with results vascillating so much. With speed and reliability basically relying on a Las Vegas-style slot machine pile-o-randomness on which server I get, quality will vary from excellent to really, really poor. Wish it didn't hafta, but that appears to be the case.

So should I worry that my Internet isn't as powerful as others? Probably not. Because I'm spoiled. Heck, a few years ago we were still on dial-up. Dial-up, for heaven's sake, forcing ourselves to listen to that patented modem squeal every time we wanted to check our e-mail. So, definitely, my Internet is fast enough for what purposes suit me. I could use a bit better speed and quality to make iVisit work a bit better, but I don't think I'll get it, not at the prices I'm willing to pay.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Elusive Dog, Exclusive Pictures

I've written some on this blog about the dog we're caring for this winter. He showed up earlier this year and has proved to be rather gun-shy, and that's saying something because we don't have guns. He lives in the alley behind the house in a little dog house I built for him a few weeks ago. (His house is the little slanty shanty you can see in the first photo. Just in time, because the snow and cold weather has come, and we both hate to think of the poor thing sleeping in that patch of grass out in the weather.



He runs from Michelle, tolerates me but still won't let anyone get close.

Today, Michelle took pictures, just so we can prove that we are caring for a dog, not just a figment of the imagination. Here he is. We may, in another year or two, gain its trust enough to see if he's got a name and number on the collar he wears.


He is a rather handsome dog, if you ask me. His elusiveness makes me wonder what's ahppened in his life to make him so shy of humans. I hope before the year is out that he'll trust us enough to allow a pat or two. If he plays his cards right, he could spend Christmas indoors this year.


I just know it's cold enough out there that if I were a dog, I'd be sucking up to whomever I could, just to get that warm spot by the fire.


So, if anyone you know is missing a dog that looks like this, let us know.

The Davidson Lexicon: A Primer



 You'll Shoot Your Eye Out, Kid. Merry Christmas.

It's a Davidson thing, I suppose, to communicate by metaphor. Or at least in cipher, using one idea to convey a completely different idea that is only discernable to those who have the key. For us, most of the keys lie in movies. If we want to communicate an idea, it's easier to use the shorthand of film than to launch into a lengthy explanation. So to clear things up on this blog, I'll offer a bit of a primer for the Davidson Lexicon. Hope you enjoy it.

Vinz Clortho. This is what we call any of our kids when they're handing us stuff, over and over and over again, like a movie they want to watch or a book they want read to them. Named, obviously, after Rick Moranis' character in Ghostbusters. Mostly shortened to "Vince," as in "Thank you, Vince." Also, if we see something that's utterly gross, of course the first line that pops into our heads is "Ugh. Disgusting blob!"Another great Ghostbusters line is one we use if we're engaged in some activity of an official capacity and we say or do something that gets us rejected or otherwise opened up for further abuse: "Ray, whenever anyone asks you if you're a god, you say YES!" One final line: If we tell each other not to do something but end up doing it anyway, we have to say "I looked at the trap, Ray."

This movie is rich in the Davidson Lexicon. Other lines:

"You're right. No human being would stack books like this." Used mostly by my wife on me when she sees my attempts at cleaning out the shed.

"That's a big Twinkie." Used any time something very big is being discussed.

"You will perish in flames!" That's one we use when we're embarrassed because we just did something stupid (like kicking over a lady's groceries) and want to cover our tracks.

Mr. Hilltop. Mostly, we don't call each other Mr. Hilltop, but instead use Gene Wilder's line describing Mr. Hilltop from Young Frankenstein -- "Nice hopping." -- whenever we want to describe someone in a pyhsically awkward situation, such as falling off the couch (this happens in our house more often than you'd think). And, whenever we're in a situation where people are either getting too formal or are arguing about how to pronounce something, Michelle and I just look at each other and say "Eye-gor!" "Froederick!"And it goes without saying that any time we want to emphasize just how scary we want ourselves to be, we simply say "Blucher!"

"Good. Take him into bowels of hotel in case of screaming." This line, from the Bill Murray film The Man Who Knew Too Little, is used most often when one parent is forcibly removing a child from the presence of the other, so the other can get a break from the, well, child in question. Another great line from this movie is "Forget about Nikita. He was vicious. He's in a better place." That's one we use whenever we're discussing a sad or disappointing situation in which someone or some thing has left our lives.

"I am a championship kick . . . box . . .errrr." This line, spoken by Spongebob SquarePants' Patrick Star, is used whenever we're not having luck trying to explain something complicated to someone who doesn't have a clue or didn't really want as much detail as we're offering.

"It's uh, Mr. Uuatsum. He, uh, frrrrpt." This is both a line and visual, because as you deliver the "frrrpt," you have to make a slashing motion across your neck, just like Tim Conway does in The Private Eyes. Any time we have a defunct appliance, a broken toy that cannot be repaired and thus must be relegated to the trash can after the kids go to sleep, this is the line we use. Another favorite from this film is one I don't get to use very often because it grosses Michelle out. Whenever she's tasked with doing something unpleasant, I ask her, "Do you want another glass of pus?" Not often, though, because she REALLY gets mad.

"I like the dark. I love the dark. But I hate nature. I HATE nature!" This line, delivered by Chunk as he's scrabbling through the wilds of Oregon trying to find help for his buddies who just went after the buried treasure, is one of the highlights from The Goonies, and a line we use whenever we're going about an unpleasant task.

And, of course, there are the lines from A Christmas Story, such as:

"Not a finger!" I'm the one who uses this mostly, when I'm upset about something and want to come up with a real crusher.

"Dad gummit, blowout!" Again, one of my favorites. Whenever soemthing int he house breaks, this is my line.

"Shaddup, Ralphie." Dad gets all the good liens in the movei, so I get to use them in real life. Whenever one of the kids is being slightly more than really annoying, they get a "Shaddup Ralphie." They just laugh and keep on talking.

And the best one: "You'll shoot your eye out, kid. Merry Christmas." This is one I use on my kids all the time when I tell them no about something. Usually, this isn't the first no, but comes after at least a dozen nos have been issued. I only wish I could push them down a slide with the toe of my boot after I deliver this line.

"The whole world has to know our business!" Again, this is a verbal accompanied with a visaul. One must fling one's arm in a large clockwise circle when saying this, to evoke the proper Fiddler on the Roof vibe. This is used particularly by myself and my older brother Albert when family secrets are being told. A companion line, of course, is "We'll be staying with Uncle Avram. We'll be staying with Uncle Avram!"

And three final lines, this time from the Star Wars canon: "Can someone get this walking carpet out of my way?" Used mainly by my wife when I'm in the way and walking slowly. "Hurry up, Goldenrod, or you're going to be a permanent resident!" I use this on my kids a lot when I need them to hurry. "We're fine, we're all fine. Everything's fine here. How are you?" This is one that's leaked out of the Davidson clan and is now being used at Uncharted mostly -- in both cases -- to describe a situation that's getting out of hand but over which we want to maintain that illusion of control. It's not much of a credit to George Lucas' writing skills that these three lines were ad-libs, not part of any script.

Thanks for reading. I don't know if this'll make dealing with me and mine any more comprehensible, but at least you can join in the fun.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Yzma's Plan



Once and a while, as I'm pulling a plan together for something, Yzma's plan comes to mind. One of these days I'm going to find the perfect plan that somewhere along the line allows me to put something in a box, that box inside another box, then mailing it to myself and smashing it with a hammer.

Update: Unfortunately, since this kind of thing enters my brain, occasionally I get sidetracked into going over Yzma's plan over and over again and I forget to plan my own plan. Sometimes, I swear my brain is working against me.

Ennis Cafe, Montana



Next time you're in southwestern Montana -- and let's face it, in this day and age, we're ALWAYS going through southwest Montana for some reason or other -- stop to eat at the Ennis Cafe. It's a great, clean greasy spoon that's actually pretty light on the grease. And your kids will love the sign. Even the big kids. Especially the big kids who drive the little kids there. Read about it here.

I Want A Moonsicle



NASA photo shows a plume from the LCROSS crash

NASA researchers are all ecstatic this morning, announcing that the LCROSS crash into the Moon on Oct. 9 revealed there is water on the Moon's surface.

Somehow, I feel like this announcement is coming a bit late. After all, science fiction writers from John Christopher to Arthur C. Clarke predicted -- or at least wrote about -- water on the Moon. One has to wonder, however, how Matthew Looney and company feel about the discovery, seeing as they distrust water almost completely, except as a cleanser for murtles. Some of the Moonsters up there are probably still upset about the bad Earther driving, crashing those two satellites into the Moon in the first place. Freeholy has got to be looking better and better.

Yes, I'm babbling.

It's exciting to find water on the Moon. It means available raw material for scientists if we ever get a Moon base going up there. Not that it's going to happen in my lifetime, but a guy can dream. It's like knowing you can go halfway across the Earth and not have to mail yourself cinder blocks in order to start building as soon as you get there.

Uncharted Goes to Virginia City



Virginia City, Montana, is a cowboy town full of names. Kiskadden. Buford. Dance and Stuart. Sauerbier. And a town full of old-timey textures, from weathered planking to bleached, mortised logs. It's a fun place to explore if you love the shantytown, put-em-up-quick buildings that epitomized frontier America.

It's a fun place. Go read about it at Uncharted here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

'Grassroots' Bend With the Wind

Citizens for a Clean Idaho is turning tail.

The Rexburg-based group, opposed to disposal of about 50,000 tons of rock and soil lightly contaminated with radioactivity from Missouri at a state-regulated facility owned by Boise-based American Ecology, has pulled its website in the face of defamation lawsuits filed by the company. You can read about that here, and my blog post about the group and its odd behavior here.

I still have my suspicions about the group. It seems odd to me that they should be so worried about a radioactive waste landfill all the way across the state, yet be willing to ignore the 70-plus-years nuclear legacy at the Idaho National Laboratory (where I work) just on the group's doorstep. Nor do they oppose Areva, Inc's plans to build a $3 billion uranium enrichment facility in Bonneville County, even closer to home.

If you're in the right, you don't shut down your website just because someone's suing you, at least in my opinion. Citizens for a Clean Idaho's organizer, Stephen Loosli, says the website has been pulled on the advice of his attorneys, who plan to countersue the company for infringing on CCI's First Amendment rights.

Aye, there's trouble. Because defamation, if American Ecology can prove it, isn't protected speech under the First Amendment. Thus CCI is being pretty cagey in stripping its site from the web. The Idaho Statesman reports, additionally, that CCI hasn't responded to a federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission report that called into question some of the group's claims about American Ecology's proposed plans.

I salute Citizens for a Clean Idaho's efforts to keep an eye on nuclear waste in the state. There's just enough off about what they're doing, though, to make the situation stink.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Variation on a Theme of Mice, Part III

Palco wore the waistcoat
Palco wore the feather
Palco stabbed the tabby cat
Hiding in the heather

Palco with the swishing tail
Palco with the eyes so bright
Palco singing arias
Singing through the starry night

Palco twists his whiskers
Waxed into a great mustache
Palco fears no dogs or cats
Just tips his purple, gay panache

Palco lives on farms in fields
Palco lives on water
Palco knows the backyard ways
Palco does not falter

Palco loves the peasant
Palco loves the lord and lady
Palco loves his bread and jam
But Palco hates his Swedes in gravy

Call for Palco, call for help
Palco comes a-flying
Palco never fails to come
When the mice are crying

I have to confess that I have no idea who Palco is, or what he is doing inhabiting a Brian Jaques/Redwall world, but he's there nonetheless.

Variation On A Theme of Mice, Part II -- Or Yet Another Writing Exercise

OK, I admit the first two paragraphs of this are a mess, but I subscribe to the Ray Bradbury theory of writing: Most of what I write is crap, so I have to write a lot in order to get something good.

The sun shone cold, and the field was white ice. Stubborn stubs of leftover wheat poked like naively optimistic spring shoots out of the frozen earth and through the windblown crust. Where the wind had found enough snow, there were drifts; piled up against irrigation furrows, sweeping like sand dunes around abandoned bales of straw and built into icebergs in ditches and canals. Tracks of errant rabbits and hungry housecats crisscrossed the narrow corner of the field bunched into the armpit formed by the highway and the county road. Tiny sparrows sunned themselves on the rotting scaffolding holding up the faded billboard that faced optimistically to the southwest. Under the drifts, mingled with discarded beer cans and broken v-belts and dead roadside weeds, the mice carved their world.

After the spring thaw, their furrows and burrows and pathways and crossroads, carved out of the wood-hard drifts and lined with soft dead grass, their traces resembled the odd Indian writings under pine bark that turned out to be the freeways of burrowing insects and grubs that thrived between skin and flesh. Spring, the time of rebirth, renewal, regreening and preening, is also a time of cleaning up, of closing up the frivolous entries to the underground world that were opened in winter to facilitate surface travel. How the tiny mice longed to be able to carve their protective surface tunnels through the clear bright warm sun of summer, fearing not when the leaf or cigarette packet crackled underfoot; to be able to continue along the path with a normal pace and heart rate when the shadows of birds passed overhead. To enjoy year-round the muffling effect the deep snow had on the noise of traffic and little boys and cats and bb guns. Safety. Bliss. Yet mixed with uneasiness and discomfort. As painful as it can be, losing a relative or loved one to the occasional cat, owl or foot was nothing as compared to the relative misery of the long white darkness imposed on the tiny kingdom. Warm dark is pleasant; the press of the neighbor's fur, the smells of familiarity, the full stomachs and the long tails twitching sometimes in dreams. Cool dark, the white dark of snow-carved tunnels that link burrows and traces that fill with the stuffiness and dank and dust of winter; cool dark is a different matter altogether. Occasional floods that swept away the familiar smells, the poor offerings of a stingy Mother Earth, and the whiteblind anxiety that greeted any mouse who ventured to the surface in hopes of finding something a bit fresher to nibble on for dinner.

Theeg was that kind of mouse. Born the summer before in a feather-lined burrow under a discarded corner of plywood left in the vacant lot near the Red Tower, he longed for the warmth and plenty of summer. Vague memories, half-remembered dreams of that dark warm place; soft everywhere with the smell of pigeon and blistered wood glue and his brothers and sisters clawing over him to crowd their mother when her plump shadow blocked all the incoming light. That bright blue hole, where his mother went sometimes in the morning but most of the time in the late afternoon, fascinated Theeg. Mother said the world was indeed much bigger than the familiar, cozy burrow she had built, and that everything did not smell of pigeon. "What is the blue? What is the blue?" he had squeaked (and a baby mouse's squeak has got to be the most pathetic noise on the earth, except to a mother mouse).

"The blue is the blue, that's all I know," his mother said as he and his seven siblings quibbled and scratched each other for access to her nipples.

"Is it big? What does it look like?" Theeg had his full (he was an aggressive child, more willing to pose questions than anything else). He knew his mother knew everything: when the cat was gone, how to line a burrow, how to sneak and how to paw at seeds to see if they were ready to eat.

"Ouch!" mother peeped, and gave one of her tiny daughter a swat. "The blue is rather big; the biggest thing out there, I'd say. As for where it is, that's difficult to say. It's everywhere and nowhere. You can touch it with your whiskers but never reach it by walking. It's above, mostly. Above the Red Tower, above the Arch and above the Blocks, sort of like this wood is above us now, but then again,"

"But mother, I can touch the wood," Theeg whined, stretching on his hind legs until his tiny fingers scraped at the burrow ceiling. "I can smell the wood. Does the blue smell?'

"I tell you, you'll never touch it. I'm not sure, but I don't think it likes mice. Wipe that milk off your chin, Ezmerelda." She stared until Ezzy complied. "Something smells up there, but I'm not too sure it's the blue the source. Do you remember the smell last week, Theeg?"

"Um, I think so. That heavy smell, the dry one that made our fur all tingly. Sort of like dust, but a bigger smell, a cooler smell. And it got darker. And louder. And wetter."

"That's the only smell I could honestly say comes from the blue," his mother said, pushing Ronssasance and Phred, their stomachs bloated, away from her feet. "Of course, the blue was different. Darker, like you said. That blue, I swear it was closer, though still too far away to reach. It curled and rolled as if it were alive, and great blobs of it formed and seemed to come closer, turning from white to black. But then the grass started moving and crying, so I never did get to see if that blue came any closer.

Theeg loved that circle of blue he could see out of the burrow entrance. "Don't you go near that door, Theeg!" his mother warned him every time she left the burrow. "You're much too small for exploring as of yet."

"You tell me that every time you leave, mother!" Theeg complained. "I'm getting bigger, you know! I'm no longer a child."

"Child you are and will be for a while," mother chastised. "I tell you that every time I leave, because every time I leave, five minutes later I see your little face edging up the tunnel, seeing everything but your old mother hiding not six scampers away in the Rubble. I've whiskers in your cheeks, and will have for a time to come, little Sneaker!" Her speech over, mother scampered up the tunnel, casting a final "Don't you go near the door, any of you!" over her tail as she went.

"Whiskers in my cheeks, indeed," thought Theeg as he combed his bristly face. Ezzy pulled limply on his tail, her eyes already half-closed for their evening nap.

"Come on, Teeg," she yawned. "Bellin's already 'sleep on Ronssas-Ronssa-Rons' belly, and yours makes th' better pillow. You're all squishly." His nose wrinkled in disgust at the cutsey manner of his little sister, but he followed her to the heap anyway. He lay on the far side, watching Ezzy's head bob in rhythm to his breathing. He stared out the door; stared at the blue.

Theeg had been born earlier than his mother's present litter. His had been a litter of five, but he was the only one to be named. He really didn't know what had happened to his brothers and sister, but he did remember the air suddenly getting cooler and louder and fuzzier. An odd weed, a bouncing, frenzied creature had levered the plywood off the ground and thrust its probing snout, horrid black nose, smelly breath and white teeth in the middle of the burrow. Mother had grabbed Theeg, the nearest child to her, and shot like a sparrow through the grass. She dropped him unceremoniously a thousand scampers off, next to a wilting cardboard box. She returned a few minutes later with his sister and left again. His sister was wailing, silently wailing through vocal cords not yet developed enough to make more than a hoarse rasping. Something was wrong with her; her pink skin was all red, but Theeg was too frightened and disoriented to do anything but silently wail himself. Their mother came back and hunched in a ball next to the only two of her litter she had managed to save from that enormous, ferocious weed that had turned their burrow topsy-turvy. They spent the night under the cardboard box, and left his sister there the following morning to slowly return to Mother Earth. The burrow was disheveled, but the plywood was back in place and some lucky bits of rubble had fallen on top of it from the nearby pile, thus rendering it more impervious to another attack. Father was there as well, fidgeting at the new entry hole he had dug. He and Mother had spent a frantic, tearful night reconstructing the rubble of the burrow and re-lining it with new, unstained feathers. They cowered most of the day, all three of them, in their strange new burrow that smelled more of bird than of mouse, and there his parents named him Theeg, the Remainder. Theeg had stopped his wailing, and soon after, stopped asking after his brothers and sister.

"Is that what Mother is so frightened of?" he wondered as his little brothers and sisters slept in bliss around him. "It wasn't the blue that killed my litter. It wasn't the blue that made Father never come back. There must be something else out there, something bigger, something meaner, something we can touch." He tried to reconstruct a picture of the beast that had destroyed his burrow, three months but so long ago, but all he could recall was the smell and the teeth and the frenzied noise it made. His spine shivered, and Ezzy murmured in her sleep:

"Teeg, quit farting. It makes your belly wigglish."

He thought non-spine shivering thoughts as his gaze returned to the circle of blue, slowly turning crimson, that he could see out the tunnel door.

Save The Clock Tower . . . Uh, I Mean the Teton!



A cross-section of the failed Teton Dam

I love the Teton River. I love it from the smelly little meanders it makes through Rexburg to the site of the failed Teton Dam to the wilds of the river upstream that I've never even seen. One of these days when I'm braver and the kids are a little older, we'll float the river, like I did a loooooong time ago when we floated the river as a church group and ended up coming out near the Driggs sewer lagoons.

I'd rather not see the Teton Dam rebuilt, and not for the scaremongering reasons so many bring up. I'd just like to see the river remain free in its confining canyon, a wild little spot I can go visit when I want to.

Now Trout Unlimited is pushing an effort to get the river declared a wild and scenic river. Good on them:



I've got to be honest, the Teton really resembles Patrick F. McManus' description of a crick rather than a creek, especially the parts I'm most familiar with:
First of all a creek has none of the raucous, vulgar, freewheeling character of a crick. If they were people, creeks would wear tuxedos and amuse themselves with the ballet, opera, and witty conversation; cricks would go around in their undershirts and amuse themselves with the Saturday night fights, taverns, and humorous belching. Creeks would perspire and cricks, sweat. Creeks would smoke pipes; cricks, chew and spit.

Creeks tend to be pristine. They meander regally through high mountain meadows, cascade down dainty waterfalls, pause in placid pools, ripple over beds of gleaming gravel and polished rock. They sparkle in the sunlight. Deer and poets sip from creeks, and images of eagles wheel upon the surface of their mirrored depths.

Cricks, on the other hand, shuffle through cow pastures, slog through beaver dams, gurgle through culverts, ooze through barnyards, sprawl under sagging bridges, and when not otherwise occupied, thrash fitfully on their beds of quicksand and clay. Cows should perhaps be credited with giving cricks their most pronounced characteristic. In deference to the young and the few ladies left in the world whose sensitivities might be offended, I forgo a detailed description of this characteristic. Let me say only that to a cow the whole universe is a bathroom, and it makes no exception for cricks. A single cow equipped only with determination and fairly good aim can in a matter of hours transform a perfectly good creek into a crick.
That doesn't mean I don't like the "creek" part of the Teton; it's just that I can't really walk alongside the creek part. I'm not much of a fisherman or boater, you see. I like my rivers from the shore. But I like the idea of the creek part being held in reserve, because of how sometimes the crick part looks. In Rexburg, for example, the south fork pretty much dries up, becoming a poor chain of pools as the water is diverted for irrigation. Rexburg likes to brag about its little pathways along the river, but until there's water in the river year-round, who wants to take the pathways to see huge stinking piles of dead fish? You don't need the pathways anyway; you can just walk on the dry river bed.
 
So let's save the Teton River. Don't dam it up.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Variation on A Theme of Mice, Part I

Years ago, I wrote a poem similar to the one you will soon read in this post. It has since, unfortunately, been lost, though whether that's unfortunate or not is a matter of conjecture. Here is the poem, as I have recreated it: What remains of the original is the general meter and the first and last lines of the first stanza. The rest is of new cloth.

When a mouse gets et by a cat
and don’t return to its homes
does the widder come a-lookin’
and scrub the poop from his bones?

When a mouse is digested and lumpish
all femurs and tibias and fur
does the family seek out the turd he’s in
while cursing the evil-fanged cur?

And mourned for its sad, brief existence
grieved for as Mother Machree
lost, and sorely lamented
as a sailor dead and buried at sea?

Or is the mouse, quietly defecated
blamed for its messy demise
and the bones left to moulder with feces
with no tears in the widder’s wide eyes?

I don’t know, I don’t know hisses Tabby
while Tiddles and Morris just laugh
When I eat, I just eat, don’t be churlish
I don’t think on my meal’s sad behalf.

Maybe this poem is better off lost. But it is part of the mouse-themed writing I've done for years. Don't ask me why. Well, go ahead. It's Robert C. O'Brien's/Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH's fault. I read that book in the fourth grade and since then have been entranced with mice that talk like humans. But this poem seems a bit dark for anything child-related.