Monday, May 31, 2010

The Critic

I had no idea Mel Brooks did shorts like this. It's a good one. Unfortunately, I've sat next to people like this in the move theater.

I Need Wally's Motivation Fairy to Pay A Visit

So, what motivates you?

Dan Pink thinks he's got the answer. Or an answer. Or at least the ability to team up with folks who can help him do a fast hand at animating a short talk on motivation in the workplace. Watch it here:

One thing from this video immediately catches my attention: He features a software company in Australia that, once each year, allows its employees 24 hours to do whatever they want, in a work-related fashion. All they have to do is report their results at the end of their 24 hours. He says the company sees bug fixes, amazing new products, and all sort of stuff come out of this liberating, 24-hour time period.

I have to wonder, though: How much of what comes out of that 24-hour allotment is crap that never goes anywhere? I know, I know. Why focus on the negative? Pink focuses on the positive and, well, sees nothing but employees who eat coal and poop emeralds.

If this software company isn't pure fiction, I'd kind of like to work there. But they wouldn't hire me, as I'm not a programmer. I do write. And finding a kind of writing that motivates me motivated me right out of journalism. I really enjoyed column writing and light features, not so much the hard news. Really hard news – investigative reporting – no way. Not my cup of tea. Not that I don't recognize its value, nor the challenge of researching and writing it all out. Just not for me. What motivated me wasn't really in the day-to-day journalism that people wanted me to do, so I got out of that. What I do now writing-wise isn't exactly soul-satisfying either (except for a few weeks ago when I wrote that 30-word procedural step that just sang), but it removed a lot of stress from my life and now allows me on my off hours to pursue the kind of writing that is motivational. Not that my writing now is any better – but at least it's writing I like to do.

Ah, but the inner curmudgeon says, “Well, somebody has to do the drudge work. You've seen it at the paper: The “motivated” one is the one off doing what we wants, but for that to happen, the others have to pick up the slack. Chicken-dinner journalism is what The People want. So go to that city council meeting.”

But what do you do if what motivates you is being the first to meet the Sugar Plum Fairy, the inner curmudgeon asks. Pink says, well, do that in your off hours. But what if your on-hours are so motivationally draining that the off hours are just little islets of numbness between separate daily hells? According to Pink, you find something that motivates you. The curmudgeon in me says, well, easier said than done.

So, how do you find motivation in what you don't like, but in what pays the bills – because for the most of us who are not geniuses who happen to work for fictional Australian software companies or who can flit around making motivational speeches on motivation, reality says, chump, there's a reason you get paid to work. Or, as Catbert, evil director of human resources would say, “If we don't hear any shrieks of pain, it's like you're stealing from the company.”

What got me our of journalism was the constant, “That was great. What else ya got?” I know that's the nature of the business, but the “what else ya got” was not what motivated me in the business, as I'm sure any number of my former editors would concur. I don't mind that, in the end, I wasn't geared, still am not geared, to the keep pumping it out mentality, at least for what stories-by-the-yard are wanted in journalism. I wish I'd been in this kind of situation, as reported by a friend still in the business:

I think that the 'what else you got' comes after you've been rewarded and thanked. You shouldn't have to ask for it. It happens when you appreciate the effort that was given.

But, once again, eating coal and pooping emeralds was not an option, or at least an extremely limited option given the environment I was in coupled with my attitude at the time.

Now, things are a lot better. Not that it was easy, nor is easy now. Back then, I didn't know how I was going to get out of it, either. It took a butt-first exit from the paper and a year working as a bricklayer, telemarketer and Target shelf-stocker before I figured it out. And am I pooping emeralds now? Well, an occasional glint of green I see, just like as it was in the journalism biz. But I'm a lot happier. Maybe that's what motivation is all about.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

"Smipley Awesome!"

One of the things I enjoy about my fozzilized fud music is that I was around when most of this music was popular the first time. Whenever I go onto the BYU-Idaho campus and hear one of those youngsters -- now born in 1990 or later; 1990 being the year I graduated from high school (and yes, I'm a young'un compared to many others) -- and I hear them (the BYU-Idaho folk) singing these very songs, I can say, hey, I got to hear that one on a scratchy AM radio. Or on an LP.

Like this one:

And this one:

(The title of this blog post is taken from a YouTube comment on this next one:)

Ah, The Four Tops. "Seven Rooms of Gloom," one of their more obscure hits, is absolutely great for their knackery at rhyme.

Addition of Legos

The next house we buy is going to have a garage. I don't care what else it has. If the bathroom is an outhouse, that's okay, as long as there's a garage.

Why this obsession? I'd like a place to put stuff. I'd like a place big enough to put stuff in.

This came up again today because, of all things, Legos. Our boys have a super abundance of Legos, some of which we bought and some of which came to us from Grandpa, who invested a few hundred dollars in Legos then abruptly said he was out of that business and sent them all hone with us.

The boys love their Legos. So much so that we find them everywhere. Every time I sit down, I find them, squished into couch cushions, abandoned on a kitchen chair, on the floor of the Pilot, or behind the toilet covered in bathroom fuzz. So Michelle got a Lego Desk for them, one Grandpa was going to toss. (Yes, I sense a conspiracy here; he's busily getting rid of stuff by sending it home with us. Even the Pilot used to belong to them.) But of course we have no room for the desk, unless we get rid of the bouncy horse which no one uses but, for some reason, the five-year-old refuses to part with.

Enter the garage. If we add on a two-car garage with a bonus room over it, that might solve the problem. It'll introduce a slew of new problems, of course, namely how to pay for it. So we'll go tomorrow to see some sketches my draftman brother has drawn up for us. Maybe we'll get lucky and we can kill two birds with one stone by building the addition with Legos.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPod Touch, like a pretentious pseudosnob.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Oont: It's Time for A Different Approach

I'm stuck.

Really stuck.

I need a new approach. I'm going to have to plan something out. Having words on paper is good, but having a plan for where those words are going to take me and the story is better. I still think the good approach is to soldier ahead, but at the same time, I need to know where the enemy is so I can head in the right direction. I like the free-form of just writing writing writing, but for this story to be anything more than a collection of blog posts, it's got to go somewhere.

I think what I need to do is have my wife read what I've got -- she's a terrific editor and cold-blooded critic, something every writer should have -- to see what I'm doing right and where I'm going wrong. That is, if she can find the time. And if any of you out there have some ideas, I'm ready to listen.


Sylvester has a conscience. Do you?

I love this cartoon, and not just for the moral, which is great in of itself. I love the noir feel -- the shadows, the light, the action taking place off the screen while the reaction appears on-screen, especially in the beginning. Plus the slapstick of the stairs being slow squeaky on the ascent but fast squeaky on the descent.

Here's the best line, also very slap-sticky: "I'll give myself up. I'll throw myself up . . . on their mercy." Mel Blanc adds that lice little pause to emphasize the possibility that Sylvester feels like barfing, a good description of a conscience in the throes of guilt as I've ever heard.

This episode is actually a parody of Alfred Hitchcock's 1929 film Blackmail, which has a history of its own. It's considered the first full-length "talkie" made in England. The story is basically the same: A woman commits a crime and tries to conceal it, but at the end is driven to confess. Her confessees, however, don't believe her, so she is set free -- although her boyfriend, a Scotland Yard inspector, knows the truth. Quite a good film.

My Hope for the Future

My hope, after Idaho’s primary election concluded Tuesday, is that soon we may see a brisk reduction in the number of campaign signs along our roads and byways.

Additionally, I hope within the next few days to get an answer to this question:

Where’s the Tea Party in Idaho?

The Associated Press has this answer, claiming that Tea Party members helped to oust four moderate Republican state representatives in Moscow, Twin Falls, Hayden Lake and Cascade and replace them with Tea Party members or sympathizers, and that Tea Party courtiers Rex Rammell and Chick Heileson gave Butch Otter and Mike Simpson, respectively, more of a primary challenge than they’ve expected in the past, but I still have to ask: After all the complaining about TARP, whining about Obama and everything else the Tea Party has done in Idaho, this is the best they can do?

No, they did a little better than that. In Western Idaho, they got Raul Labrador elected to challenge Democratic Representative Walt Minnick. The AP makes hay that the local Tea Party favorite won over Vaughn Ward, the national GOP favorite, but I think there’s more to play in Idaho’s west than mere Tea Party Politics.

This is the senate district, remember, that brought Idaho the likes of Helen Chenoweth and Bill Sali, both of whom make your average Tea Party candidate look sane. This is also the same district that narrowly elected Democrat Minnick, so to say that the majority of folks in that district are Tea Party enthusiasts is a stretch.

The AP tries to paint Simpson’s primary polling of “only” 58 percent of the voters as a show of growing Tea Party strength in Eastern Idaho, but that’s hardly indicative of anything aside from a race that attracted four Republican contenders, two of which tried to make Tea Party hay out of Simpson’s TARP vote. His closest competitor, Heileson, won 22 percent of the vote, leaving Simpson with still nearly a 3 to 1 margin over his closest foe.

National media are speculating that the “divided” GOP in Idaho might lead to Democratic victories for Minnick – which is not outside the realm of possibility, given that Minnick is already in as a representative – and to Simpson’s Democractic opponent Mike Crawford, but they’re displaying a fundamental misunderstanding of politics there. Idaho GOP adherents are quite capable of holding their noses to vote for a Republican they opposed in the primaries, rather than to cast protest votes for a Democrat.

Tea Party activist claims that more moderate Republicans like Otter and Simpson need to pay more attention to Tea Party views is also misguided, given that both Otter and Simpson – highly likely to win re-election already have the majority of GOP voters on their side.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Til There Was You

There are some singers who rock every single song they sing. Take Peggy Lee, best known, perhaps, to this generation, as the torch-singer mutt in "Lady and the Tramp." Listen here to her sing "Til There Was You," from Meredith Wilson's "The Music Man."

Magnificent, from the sultry voice to the minimalist arrangement. She sings it like she means it.

Here's the original for comparison, with Shirley Jones singing:

This is definitely her song in the musical, and she does it well, and it's always entertaining to watch Robert Preston's facial expressions as she sings.

Then there are The Beatles, who also sang this song:

Now I like The Beatles, but this version is absolutely lifeless. Paul McCartney may like the song, but nobody else does, and their sad little rock arrangement of this wonderful ballad -- and his delivery -- are spineless. There are many songs The Beatles sing well. I did exercises to "Penny Lane" when I was in elementary school -- evidently the instructor was a Beatles fan -- so I have fond memories of their music. This song, however, they deliver terribly.

So points here to Peggy Lee, best to deliver "Til There Was You."

Designing a Stop Sign

There's something twisted and wrong about this little video, but I like it.

I know this is exaggeration. Hyperbole. But at the root of all exaggeration and hyperbole, there is truth.
I've kind of gone through this, but in a different way, at work. There's a certain emergency response procedure that's been my burden since I got to my current job four years ago. It's come a long way, and in fact is a lot better in many ways than it was when we started. But we keep tinkering. The last time we tinkered, one of the tinkerers didn't like the finished product, even though he was involved in the tinkering. So we tinkered some more. I think we've got it in good fettle now, though you can never be sure. I try hard to strive for perfection but never to bring the concept up, lest someone decide that perfection has not been achieved and things need more tinkering.

Playground Wanderer

I was a playground wanderer, when there wasn’t a swing to play on.

I’m not trying to feel sorry for myself. I survived. I found friends, even back then. Not many. But enough. In junior high and high school, things got better. Even better at college, where many days I craved the sociability of my companions. I went on a few dates. Not many, but enough. I got married. We have three children.

Our oldest son is a playground wanderer.

His one close friend moved to Monterey. Kids in his cub scout pack tolerate him, but he prefers to hang with his siblings, or with Mom or Dad. Some kids at school and in scouts are rude to him – but that’s normal. Rain falls on the just and the unjust.

I remember the hurts, as I’m sure most kids do. The bullies. The one kid you thought was a friend but laughed at you once so you were never friends with him again. The one kid you thought was a friend but turned out to be a bit of a perv, so you weren’t friends with him any more. Kids change friendships as often as adults change their socks. It’s normal.

I recently encountered one of my elementary school friends. He’s one who used to come over once in a great while when, I don’t know, he wore me down enough that I decided playing with him rather than my brother and sister would be okay. I still felt that awkwardness, that feeling of I’m glad you’re here, but when are you going home?

I recently blogged about this – feeling socially awkward now in two languages, rather than just one.

I’m still a playground wanderer, though I’m not on the playground any more.

The playground is the world and I’m a wanderer in it, though I’m not alone. Wanderers are never alone; we’re just there on the fringes, on the edges, pretending to enjoy most company but really preferring, at heart, the company of few.

And I miss the swings.

Swinging is parallel play. You swing, someone else swings on either side of you. You talk. You talk about swinging, and pumping legs, and swinging high enough to see on the roof of the one-story, four-classroom building next to the elementary school. There are combs and Frisbees and I swear at least one pair of boots up there, and you talk about them and who threw them up there and whether you could kick your own boot off at the right moment and send it sailing, sailing, sailing through the air onto the roof, where it could wander with the other lost objects on the gravel-covered tar paper.

Then the bell rings and the swingers keep swinging, laughing and scoffing at the bell even as they drag their feet on the ground to slow down their momentum so they can go get into line.

But then the play stops. Alone again, naturally.

They say you lack empathy, those of the playground-wandering ilk. Then why is it they’re the ones who treat you like turds, because you’re shy, a little different, “active, but odd.” I did not understand that then, nor do I understand it now. Give them the puppy dog eyes and they poke them. Sometimes pretty hard.

And that’s okay. Part of being human is being treated like dirt or finding some dirt to treat. But let him who is without sin cast the first stone, I say.

Playground wanderers aren’t any more sad or melancholy or angry than any other kind of kid. We still laugh and play and sing and have fun and go to school and read and think and date and get married and have kids who are all the things we are and aren’t.

We have fun. Sometimes, it’s just different.

I could go for a bottle of Rhubarb Delight right about now. After all, everyone is different.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mobile Computing and Me

Everyone is excited about mobile computing. So-called smartphones are less important for the ability to make phone calls than they are for the ability to send e-mail and connect to the web. HP scooped up Palm in the hopes of using that platform to launch themselves into the smartphone market where competition is already pretty fierce as Apple, Microsoft, Google and others vie to create the hardware and software that will propel their products and their profits into the outer stratosphere.

Then there’s me. I sit here wondering at it all, screaming just like the humbug Wizard of Oz as the smartphone balloon takes off with me in it: “I can’t come back! I don’t know how it works!”

First of all, I don’t need the phone component. I’m also content to use my iPod Touch where I can get a free wi-fi signal, or on my home network. I just don’t see that I need to spend gobs of money for a constantly connected mobile device. I do use my iPod Touch when I’m not connected, however – mostly for music and movies, but sometimes for apps, as I’m on the bus for the 1 ½-hour commute home every day.

There’s a lot of chatter out there about open platform (everyone else) and closed platform (Apple). There’s a lot of chatter out there about how advertising will work on smartphones and other mobile devices. Always the revenue stream – which I realize is important, as at Uncharted we’re considering a mobile app to help spread our gospel and maybe get a little revenue ourselves. But I have to ask myself: how much of this is real money, Amigo money, and how much of it is just connected to the empty Internet words that make venture capitalists swoon?

For the kind of service we offer, free is the way to go, or, at maximum, maybe the 99-cent app route. The cost to develop the app – even if we do it in-house – isn’t likely to be recouped quickly by that amount. And why would anyone buy the app, when with web browsers, they can see and use our original website for free? Yes, custom apps make web sites easier to use, but I still think we’ve got some limitations that are pretty significant:

Flash vs. HTML5. Uncharted uses Flash. On my iPod Touch, I get the Blue Lego of Jobs every time I visit the site. To get around that on the iPhone platform, we have to go the HTML5 route. According to Brandt Dainow at iMedia Connection, HTML5 while fancy and rad and cool, is hardly settled. (Yes, he has his detractors, notably those who criticize him for not realizing the revolutionary potential of HTML5. I’m all for revolutionary. We went revolutionary with Ruby on Rails for Uncharted. Now we’re thinking about switching to PHP because it’s cheaper to develop. Revolutionary is fine, but revolutions are costly.) Develop an HTM5 app or website now, you redevelop it when the protocols for HTML5 change. That’s money we just don’t have.

Audience. We’ve got a pretty sophisticated web site that is not being utilized by the number of people we’ve hoped and dreamed for – and we still lack the ability to have consistently working hyperlinks and video embedding. I don’t care that we don’t host videos; I think we can use YouTube for hosting. We just need the ability to embed that HTML code from YouTube in our stories. That’ll make the video situation a lot better. I think our money and time would be better invested in making our site better, rather than making a mobile app – two apps, one for Apple, another for the rest.

Revenue. Our site is not making money. It’s costing money. Unless someone can show me how a mobile app or two will reverse that situation, slow, it, or whatever, I’m not convinced revenue will increase if we have mobile apps.

What do our users want? We don’t really know. We think we know that our users are using smartphones and Facebook and such, but we don’t really know. I guess I need to give in with my threat to do a little audience research, using the tools we have and a few I can probably think up, to see who our users are, what technology they’re using, and what they’d like the site to be like. Directly asking them won’t work – we might get one response from every ten people we ask. And we don’t have many people to ask.

Hardware limitations. I do not have a camera on my iPod Touch. I know many smartphones do have cameras. What will we have to do to our mobile app to make uploading photos to the site easy and worthwhile? Facebook seems to have a handle on it, so I know it’s doable. But will our users use an app for uploading photos? Probably. For photo captions? Out of necessity. For stories? Hardly. All that typing on a little screen? No. Short stories will get even shorter, or be lost completely as people opt for the photosets only. Mobile apps seem best for managing small amounts of text – I know, I’ve entered text with my iPod Touch and it’s always short bursts – and for viewing. Maybe that’s what our audience wants out of an Uncharted app. But it’s just, well, uncharted territory.

Yes, I know we’re offering a service – that’s what we have to emphasize with an app, one people pay for or not. So I study how I use the apps I’ve got:

Games. Mostly what I have are throwaways. They’re all free. I play some of them consistently, most of them occasionally. A few I’ve deleted simply because the GUI between me and the game is terrible. Namco’s Galaga – a game I loved at the arcade – is too hard to play, with the little direction buttons and the fire buttons. I need three fingers to do this, rather than two hands. Two hands was easier.

Social networking. Twitter I do almost exclusively on the iPod Touch, because the entire platform is geared towards the short and peppy. I can zing through two hundred new tweets in less than a minute. Facebook, now that’s a little bit different, because the content is different. Mostly on Twitter it’s, well, twits. On Facebook, it’s people I know and may want to be in contact with more often. So I use it on my desktop and on the iPod Touch, but mostly on the desktop because I can multitask there a lot better, and I still haven’t perfected the new cut-and-paste options on the Touch.

Email. Well, that’s easy enough on either platform. But it depends on what I want the email for. If it’s just to read or send, the Touch works just as well as the desktop. But for other uses – transferring photos and large blocks of text to the blogs I run – the desktop wins.

Web browsing. I do a lot more of it on the desktop, just because of screen size.

I’m not a representative sample, however. But examining how I use these devices will help me frame questions as I ask Uncharted users how they use their devices.

What Motivates Me as A Voter

The 2010 primary is winding down, and after having gone to the polls to decide between conservatives and freakin’ conservatives with nuts and cherries on top, I have a few thoughts to share with would-be politicians out there.

Want to get my vote?

. . .

Um, can I get back to you on that?

In the meantime, I can offer this:

Want to lose my vote?
  • Have little kids sing a jumbled song in your radio commercials
  • Robo-call me*
  • Put up more than two campaign signs in quick succession. Do you hear me Mack Shirley Mack Shirley Mack Shirley?
  • Try to out-conservative your opponent, because I already know that nobody hates the communists more than Roy Ridnitz
  • After you lost your last bid for office, chastise voters as stupid for not voting for you, then go back to those same voters and ask them to reconsider voting for you
  • Be chauvinistic to my wife when you’re her drivers ed instructor
  • Be photographed eating a banana when you already kinda resemble a monkey
  • Hire (or allow the hire) of the single wealthiest business owner in this portion of the state to narrate your radio commercials in which he laments about your lack of personal fortune to pay for advertising
  • Lie to me
  • Say you’re running “because a lot of people asked me to.” Name five of them.
*Unless your opponent is a complete loon. Then again, I may just skip the race entirely on the ballot.

Okay – I’ve come up with one way to get my vote: Come to my door. This works for local, state and national politicians, unless of course you’re of the Hitler caliber. And unless you’re the aforementioned former drivers ed instructor.

Physically resembling your photo on your campaign literature is also a big plus. Nobody wants to vote for Sweet Polly Purebred and find out in reality they’ve elected Bib Fortuna.

Good Job Interview Prep

Next time I have a job interview, I'm using this response when they ask me what my weaknesses are. Then I'll get all clammy and sweaty and probably wash out of the interview process.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Grinning Ghosts and Running Mice

One of the things I enjoy the most about Disney -- and yes, I can enjoy Disney, get off your high horses and get that pole our of your kiester -- is the music. But not just the big-time Sherman Brothers music from Disney's Golden Age, nor even the Broadwayized schtick we get today. I'm talking incidental music, from the theme park rides to the cartoon shorts.

Take "Grim Grinning Ghosts," by Disney composer Buddy Baker. An awesome piece of music and narration for one of my favorite rides at Disneyland. Never knew that until today. And there's more -- he did music for films like "The Fox and the Hound," the Apple Dumpling Gang series, and Hot Lead and Cold Feet. He also was a professor of music at LA City College where he taught another of my favorite composers, Jerry Goldsmith. (And it's also hard to miss Thurl Ravenscroft's distinctive voice as the narrator.)

He earned an Academy Award nomination for the score to "Napoleon and Samantha," Jodie Foster's first film, which I've never even heard of.

That's not all of Disney's musicians, however, just doing their jobs without really gettting the kudos or the fame that others have received working at the studio.

There's Artie Butler, who penned the music for this scene, the best one from "The Rescuers."

(I know that's a partial. The full embed-disabled scene is here.)

Even as a kid I would want to watch this scene over and over and over again just for the music. I even wanted to pick up piano lessons again just so I could learn to play it.

Butler, of course, was a composer and arranger outside of Disney, too. He arranged music for the likes of Barry Manilow (the unforgettable Copacabana) Helen Reddy (You and Me Against the World), and worked with the likes of Louis Armstrong and Barbara Streisand. Maybe it irks him he's best known to me as the composer of the "Organ Scene" in "The Rescuers." No matter.

Miranda Rights and You -- Odd Todd

All I can say is:

No es bueno!

Mark Twain, More Bile

Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
If you consider that quote unusual, it’ll be more unusual after you consider the source: Clive Staples Lewis, famous for Christian apologetics. It comes from Lewis’ 1948 book “God on the Dock,” and is, in many ways, a fitting description of not only the eye-rolling do-gooding we see today both from the religious and non-religious (note he says moral busybodies, not religious busybodies and identifies merely “tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim,” a tyranny certainly employed by many of any political stripe) and the constant battle over what it means to have a free will. I pondering this quote, I feel that Lewis is saying that if someone is forced to do something for his or her “own good,” rather than because they believe it to be an acceptable thing to do, ya got trouble.

Thinking of these moral busybodies, one of the most egregious examples that comes to mind is the protagonist in Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” Almost nowhere else in literature is the essence of this concept by C.S. Lewis captured so vividly than in the story of Hank Morgan, a do-gooder who tries to impose modern American monetary policy, education and other concepts onto the people of medieval England, for their own good – and how he comes a cropper doing so.

Thus is the conundrum of Mark Twin, and the conundrum of politics, ancient and modern. Everyone’s so busy doing something for the good of others they’re too busy to check to see if they’ve become a moral busybody. (Still don’t believe what you espouse falls into the camp of moral busybodiness? Read the definition of “morality” here. And pry that mind open as you read.

I think of any author, Mark Twin probably recognized this conundrum in society and in himself, and that is why his writing – especially in the latter part of his life – is filled with such bile.

We’ll soon get to hear more of it. His autobiography – which he wrote out longhand prior to his death in 1910 and forbade to be published before a hundred years had passed – will be published this year, and according to historian Laura Trombley, is likely to be bilious, even for Twain. She told the UK’s Independent:
There is a perception that Twain spent his final years basking in the adoration of fans. The autobiography will perhaps show that it wasn't such a happy time. He spent six months of the last year of his life writing a manuscript full of vitriol, saying things that he'd never said about anyone in print before. It really is 400 pages of bile.
Lewis’ quote is certainly open to debate, as there are some moral busybodiness that needed, and needs, to occur, which Twain also recognized:
Another potential motivation for leaving the book to be posthumously published concerns Twain's legacy as a Great American. Michael Shelden, who this year published Man in White, an account of Twain's final years, says that some of his privately held views could have hurt his public image.

"He had doubts about God, and in the autobiography, he questions the imperial mission of the US in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. He's also critical of [Theodore] Roosevelt, and takes the view that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel. Twain also disliked sending Christian missionaries to Africa. He said they had enough business to be getting on with at home: with lynching going on in the South, he thought they should try to convert the heathens down there."
All of this certainly makes me curious to read the autobiography once it’s published, though I hope they put out an easy reader version for folks like me who won’t want to pore through its three volumes. And I'm not sure I can pore through 500,000 pages of more Mark Twain bile.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Reading the Immigration Debate

Since Arizona passed its stringent new immigration law, I've pondered the situation quite a bit.

I'm the son of an immigrant -- my father, his brother and their parents came to the United States from The Netherlands in 1950 and were among the last wave of immigrants to pass through Ellis Island in New York City. They traveled by train as far as Chicago, Illinois, before they ran out of money and wired their sponsor -- an Idaho Falls real estate developer -- for assistance to finish the voyage to Idaho. Once there, they found work -- they were among the crews that built the Civic Auditorium and Idaho Falls High School. Dad went on to become a bricklayer. His brother became a concrete finisher. Their parents worked a small farm, and found a happy life here.

Some of Dad's family's immigration papers. The rest are here.

They immigrated to the country legally. That helps me frame part of my opinion on immigration. Those who want to come here ought to do so legally.

Those who work here ought to either have the proper work or student visa or become a citizen of the United States. Maybe that sounds harsh and heartless. That doesn't mean that there can't be people or organizations that work to support those who are working on legal immigration/working status before that stat us is obtained. I just know that the same rule of law ought to apply to everyone. As I was applying for the job I have currently (working as a subcontractor to a federal agency) I had to verify that I was a citizen of the United States, or duly documented to work in this country. I had to do so again as I filled out paperwork with the company after I was hired -- and to lie on the application meant I acknowledge that I could be fired if a lie were discovered, even an inadvertent one.

Arizona's immigration law has gotten a lot of press -- but as far as I can tell, it doesn't go beyond what federal law already states, except in the fact that it's more likely that Arizona, which is dealing with illegal immigration on a scale most of the rest of us in the country cannot fathom, will actually enforce the law.

Unlike some of the higher-profile opponents of the law, I've read what Arizona has approved. Text of the bill is available here.

Reading the bill would seen requisite to criticizing the bill, but apparently we have folks in high places who either don't read or can't find the time to read or something. Amusingly, Arizona has a reply to that situation:

I'm probably a soft touch on immigration. Shoe me immigrants who are struggling to make ends meet while they're working to legitimize their immigration/working status, and I'm likely to help them out as I can. Are there things we can do to help and encourage immigrants to become legal without threatening them with deportation or worse? Absolutely.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Grocery Store Mythology, Part II

 NOT our grocery store. Yet.

Earlier this month, I penned a screed against mythologizing the local grocery store, little knowing that our local grocery store would announce that they're likely to close within the next six weeks due to a general lack of customers.

There may be many reasons they're not getting the customer base they need to stay open. One of them may be the 91-cent onion we purchased there earlier today. As much as I'd like to support our local businesses -- and we've got a few of them, even a dentist, a rarity these days in towns of 1,200 -- part of me also wishes they'd do a little more to support us. The 91-cent onion is, of course, indicative of the prices there -- when we can drive a bit further to find an onion that's only 33 cents, and a lot of other things that are also significantly less expensive, shopping locally makes less sense, even if we have to spend more on gasoline to shop further abroad.

So I guess what we'd miss if the local store closes is the convenience -- and maybe that's the kind of thing they need to focus on. One thing that might help is if they kept more than banker's hours -- if you need groceries after 6:30 pm, you have to drive further afield as the local store is closed. Maybe back when they set the hours people weren't shopping after 6:30. But maybe part of the reason is that the store is never open after 6:30, so the shoppers just assume they have to go elsewhere. I remember a few years ago when my wife suddenly got a migraine at about midnight and I had to drive fifteen minutes outside of town to even find a vending machine where I could get her a Diet Coke. Would have been nice to have the local store open as an option then. They could interact with the community more, find out what they want to shop for in a local store, and why they might shop elsewhere. Maybe they can't beat the bigger stores in price, so they've got to stress the convenience, and stock their shelves in a way that makes the place a convenience center, not a price-beater. Maybe I should get off my duff and offer my meager services to them.

Sugar City's pretty unique among small towns. We drove through many small towns from Wyoming to Illinois and back a few years ago, and never saw a town as small as Sugar with its own grocery store. Maybe for good reason -- there are bigger cities with bigger stores. But surely there's a niche Sugar's grocery store could fill that the big guys can't. My wife, for instance, grew up in a small town very similar in size to Sugar, which also had the advantage/disadvantage of close proximity to a larger community with more food shopping choices. All they had, however, was a gas store that tried to masquerade as a grocery store by stocking really old, brick-hard brown sugar and crackers that came with free ants. Our store in Sugar, even with its warts, is a lot better than that.

So, wonderful folk in Sugar City -- what would it take to get you to shop more at our local grocery store? Fill me in on the details.

Making A Fool of Myself -- In French and English

Just when I think I'm over my shyness, something happens to remind me that, in another life, I was the kind of prairie dog that NEVER poked its head out of the burrow to see what was going on, unless everyone else was in the burrow then I was the one outside sitting alone in the rain just so I wouldn't have to talk to anyone.

Me in another life. But even then, my butt was covered with soft fur.

Think you know the pain of being shy? Try being shy in two languages. Tonight, we went to our eight-year-old daughter's ballet recital. One of her classmates has a French father. I happen to speak French with the same facility with which I speak in English -- meaning I'm a shy sack o'reluctance whenever I have to communicate with another human being using my voice and my brain (fingers and brain, via typing, seems to work a hell of a lot better for me; I half wonder if some of those brainium connections weren't completed when I was a developing fetus.). But my wife, who is not shy in some circumstances, insisted we had to meet. So we did. He spent a lot of time talking, and I spent a lot of time nodding my head like some deranged, unchaven bobblehead. I think (I hope) I responded enough to reveal that I am in fact semi-sentient behind the glazed look of fear which I'm sure was in my eyes as we talked. I did e-mail him after the encounter (after Michelle got his e-mail address) to apologize for my timidity. I also had to reveal I used to be a journalist. He'll probably scratch his head over that one for quite a while: A shy journalist? But then he'll understand when I tell him I left that industry to go sit in a mobile home that sits about a kilometer away from a vast collection of buried, radioactive Cold War relics. If anything else, I can blame the radiation for my total lack of social graces. (It does mean I fit in pretty well with the engineers out there, which is a good thing.)

Johnny, Roberta, and Susan: More Fossilized Fud Music

As much as I do not like driving on snow, shoveling snow and having to stare at snow six months out of the year, I love Christmas. Something like this is a principal reason why. Don't be squeamish, it's Johnny Mathis singing the Bach-Gonoud version of "Ave Maria." You rarely hear this song -- any version of it -- on the radio, even on those all-Christmas all the time stations. I don't know why. It's such a beautiful song.

But that brings me to the man singing the song -- Johnny Mathis. He is one of the top artists that say Christmas to me.

But let's moe on to something else: A Johnny Mathis/Roberta Flack Song-Fight with "Killing Me Softly." First, Johnny:

Now, Roberta:

Now, as much as I like Johnny Mathis, I have to give this one to Roberta Flack.

True, the next artist here isn't necessarily a fossilized fud. But I'm going by the song here, not the artist.

I know Susan Boyle's hot in musical circles now, but I still have to give the song to Mrs. Flack.

Just a note on Susan Boyle, though. Proof you had damn well not judge a book by its cover. I love watching and re-watching the video linked here, just to see first the rather snotty reactions from the audience as she announces her intentions, followed by their reactions after they hear her sing. It's a powerful reminder to me to listen first, get to know first, consider first, and such, before making any decisions, hasty or not.

Friday, May 21, 2010

An Explanation

I'm channeling a few different things as I write "Oont," as is (I hope) clear from reading it. I'm trying to avoid the ambiguity certain big-in-the-britches folk seem to think people of my ilk can't handle. And I'm also writing by the seat of my pants, trying to avoid planning so I can see where the writing and the story will take me. Perhaps it'll take me straight to Bum Town like the Itchy and Scratchy parade, which was not well thought out.

In other words, I'm trying to have fun with my writing. That will continue.

Our Obsession with Celebrity

Mel Brooks, long ago, spoke to Johnny Carson about meeting Cary Grant -- and I think it's a good parable on our obsession with celebrity.

I just get that we need to treat celebrities as we do our friends -- or maybe better; I've seen how some of you treat your friends. Just treat them as just another person. Respectfully and truthfully. Be a friend, not an acolyte.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Transylvania 6-5000

As kids, we'd wander around the house putting little magic spells on each other just like Bugs Bunny does to this hapless "Count Bloodcount." Never, ever mess with the bunny.

Asleep yet? Nope!

Just try to find a Bugs Bunny cartoon that's better than this one.

Areva Snags $2 Billion in Loan Guarantees for Eagle Rock

This is a big deal for the nuclear renaissance in the United States, and even a bigger deal for Idaho – The U.S. Department of Energy today announced a $2 billion loan guarantee to help Areva, Inc., build its uranium enrichment plant at Idaho Falls.

In today’s announcement, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said:

Increasing uranium enrichment in the United States is critical to the nation’s energy and national security. Existing reactors will need additional sources of enriched uranium soon. New nuclear plants that could start to come on line as early as 2016 will also need a steady, reliable source of uranium enrichment services. Areva’s project will help to meet that demand.

More information on Areva’s Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility can be found here.

This announcement, coupled with proposals in the American Power Act, could help Idaho and the Idaho National Laboratory further cements a role in the future of nuclear power in the United States, which is significant not only because of eastern Idaho’s nuclear heritage, but because of the expertise and facilities that exist here in handling and processing nuclear waste.

The award of the loan guarantees is conditional on Areva getting a combined construction and operating license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That license is expected to be granted next year.

Areva, to use Dan Yurman’s word, is “ecstatic.” From his blog, a quote from Areva:
“Areva is elated by this decision which will enable us to continue development of our Eagle Rock facility in Idaho and contribute to rebuilding America’s energy infrastructure so we can produce more CO2-free electricity,” said Jacques Besnainou, CEO of Areva North America. “Areva has considerable experience building and operating enrichment facilities and is putting that experience to work with the Eagle Rock project.”
The news is good for current nuclear industry workers, both on the construction and operation sides, in Idaho. The Idaho Cleanup Project (where I work) is likely to resume workforce reductions as money provided for waste cleanup through the federal stimulus program dries up. Areva’s promised 1,000 construction and operational jobs will help soften the blow there.

Areva’s arrival in eastern Idaho is also significant as it adds another feather in the area’s small but growing alternative energy feathered cap. Hoku Materials, a major manufacturer of silicon solar panels, is building a manufacturing plant at Pocatello. The presence of both companies here could act as an attractor for other similar companies.

The $2 billion loan guarantee is just that -- a guarantee that $2 billion will be loaned to Areva as it builds the $3.3 billion plant. The money isn't a grant -- it'll have to be paid back. The guarantee, however, does make it that much easier for Areva to construct its plant and then sell the enriched uranium to pay back the loans it obtains.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Legitimizing the Blogosphere


Say that word in most newsrooms and you get sniffs of derision or jokes about the fat guy in his pajamas living in his Mommy’s basement or, at best, a concession or two that there “may be a few good ones out there,” but most of them are trash.

I’m firmly in the third category. Most of the blog posts I read, and certainly most of the blog posts I write, are throwaways. Little men and women with little minds sharing their little thoughts with a world that will get along just fine without what they think, thank you very much.

There’s no original reporting, some of the sniffers say. They’re just riffing off articles they’ve read. Like this blog post, naturally.

This is one riff you ought to read. Among many you ought to read, especially if, like me, you want to avoid the herd mentality that comes with any kind of group activity, be it reporting, Scouting, church-going or what have you.

Here’s a man thinking. Maybe his thoughts on most things aren’t worthwhile. But he has his Psycho Milt moments.

Psycho Milt is Internet pundit Clay Shirky’s answer to the newsroom and boardroom scoffers-at-the-Internet. Psycho Milt, in Shirky’s example, is an Iraqi war veteran who posted, at the time of the lecture, one photo on the photo sharing site Flickr pertaining to the war. One photo. He’s not a massive contributor. There are a few who have posted thousands of photos of the Iraq war on Flickr. Psycho Milt, just one.

But what if you really, really liked his photo? What if it were so telling of the war that it made it on the cover of Time magazine? Is the volume of Psycho Milt’s contribution to photojournalism as important as the potential impact? No.

Same with bloggers. Maybe, once in a blue moon, one of those pajama-wearing basement dwellers really has something interesting to say.

That’s the premise of Suzanne Smalley’s article at Newsweek, in which she outlines how, as a mainstream reporter, she looks to specialized blogs that treat on the same subjects as she does to inject a little skepticism into her reporting and to help insulate her from the herd mentality that exists among journalists. Read:
The summer of Chandra Levy seems like yesterday, though almost a decade has passed. I'd like to think I'm a better reporter now, less likely to follow the pack. More important, the media landscape has changed. Blogs barely existed in 2001. Now, when I cover any high-profile crime, I make sure to check out Web Sleuths, an Internet forum for armchair detectives who analyze cases and post court filings. When I followed the Duke lacrosse rape story, blogs—many written by people with expertise about North Carolina politics, the law, or even, say, protocol for forensic nurses collecting rape kits—were the best source for appropriately skeptical reporting. The herd mentality of the mainstream media still exists, but it is no longer in control of the narrative. That's a good thing.

Bloggers are unrestrained by the orthodoxies of the professional reporter. They don't need to follow the conventions of the 800-word newspaper story and can instead toss out an idea in two sentences that will nonetheless spur national discussion. They can ask questions without necessarily supplying an answer. Critically, bloggers also do not typically rely on official sources for information. Reporters and their anonymous sources both benefit from the relationship. Reporters get exclusive information, which earns them promotions; sources weave narratives that serve their interests. This corrupting symbiosis makes the reporter all too quick to take an official's word at face value.
There are legitimate arguments to be made that bloggers are not professional journalists. That I will concede. But many bloggers out there do not fit the article-riffing, pajama-wearing stereotype most in the mainstream press insist on slapping them with. There are legitimate experts out there blogging not in the expertise of journalism but in the expertises of law, police procedure, ethics, nuclear science, and other disciplines. What a treasure trove of informative sources for professional journalists to tap into, rather than deride.

Incentives Included in the American Power Act

The American Power Act, as proposed by Senators Joe Lieberman and John Kerry contains significant incentives for new nuclear plant research and construction that could have a broad impact on the Idaho National Laboratory and could spur construction of new nuclear power plants with the expansion of tax credits and the addition of a grant program that could fund up to 10 percent of a new nuclear power plant’s costs.

The full text of the nearly 1,000-page bill can be found here.

As provided at this location, a summary shows what the bill could do for nuclear power generation:
  • We have included a broad package of financial incentives to increase nuclear power generation including regulatory risk insurance for 12 projects, accelerated depreciation for nuclear plants, a new investment tax credit to promote the construction of new generating facilities, $54 billion in loan guarantees and a manufacturing tax credit to spur the domestic production of nuclear parts.
  • We improve the efficiency of the licensing process.
  • We invest in the research and development of small, modular reactors and enhanced proliferation controls.
  • We designate an existing national laboratory as a nuclear waste reprocessing Center of Excellence.
The last bullet is of particular significance for the Idaho National Laboratory, because it’s likely either the INL or Hanford would be designated as the “nuclear waste reprocessing Center of Excellence.” And, given Washington State’s reluctance to see an expanded role for Hanford and Idaho’s continuing support of the INL, politically it makes sense for the INL to receive this designation.

Additionally, the INL currently has a highly-trained workforce already familiar with nuclear waste handling and reprocessing.

Other significant nuclear-related mileposts in the bill include:

A new research initiative meant to explore modular and small-scale reactors (think SL-1 but without the subsequent hijinks), cost-effective manufacturing and construction, licensing and proliferation controls. The last item is highly political but an interesting inclusion, as the proliferation genie already seems to have escaped the bottle.

A requirement that 180 days after the bill is passed, the Department of Energy develop and publish a 5-year strategy to “lower effectively the costs of nuclear reactors, with yearly follow-ups.” Appropriates $50 million a year fro 2011 through 2015 for this plan and research. Again, significance here for the research side of the INL, where similar research efforts are already underway.

Puts in place a 10 percent tax credit for new nuclear plants – 10 percent of qualified power facility construction expenditures. The credit would be received in the year the plant it put into service. To qualify, at least 80 percent of the cost of the plant must be borne by the company building it.

Includes nuclear power facilities in the advanced energy project credit, which has offered credits of up to 30 percent of the costs of building or modifying plants to generate electricity from sun, wind, geothermal and other renewable energy sources. That act established a $2.3 billion pool for the credit, it’s unclear at this time if that amount would be increased or how much has already been spent.

In lieu of the tax credits, the proposed bill would establish a program for grants of up to 10 percent of project costs instead of tax credits. No appropriation limit set, but the bill does say “there is hereby appropriated to the Secretary of the Treasury such sums as may be necessary to carry out this section.”

So there appear to be significant carrots tossed to those engaged in nuclear power research and construction. It’ll be interesting to see how the bill plays out and how it survives the legislative process.

More significantly, it’ll be interesting to see how the nuclear industry can defend inclusion of these items in the bill and to emphasize nuclear’s role in reducing carbon emissions while at the same time addressing the legitimate problem of waste control. That waste reprocessing is included in the bill is significant, as that topic has been off the table politically for more than 30 years. It’s a significant carrot nuclear proponents can use as they stress the renewability of nuclear as a power-generating option.

What’ll be interesting to see is if the reprocessing is left to the government do handle through the Department of Energy – which seems likely as a reprocessing “center of Excellence” is to be designated if the bill is passed – or if private enterprise will be allowed to enter the game. Certainly companies like Areva, which is poised to build a $2 billion uranium processing plant in Eastern Idaho, are supremely placed to engage in reprocessing. The nonproliferation aspect, however, is one that will drive whether reprocessing is kept in government hands or opened to private enterprise, as is the question – albeit unlikely – of terrorist strikes.

Careful -- He Knows Karate

In the Sandra Bullock film "While You Were Sleeping" -- hey, given that this film features Michael Rispoli as the hilariously innocent yet lecherous Joe Fusco, Junior, this counts as a guy movie -- Bullock's character Lucy Moderatz wants nothing more than to spend her honeymoon in Italy. She does eventually get to go, but not with the man she intended.

Explorer Lisa Dickson harks back to that wonderful 1995 film as she takes us on an Uncharted tour of Rome, Florence, and other points in Italy, showing off the romantic and Romantic splendors of these ancient cities. Makes me want to go there in a terrible way. Also, I want to visit Maude Larrabee's house in Tuscany. She does have one there, you know.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Explaining the Law of Moses Using Wrestling Masks -- And Failing

Remember, it does say in the scriptures not to wrestle your neighbor!

You know, we're trying to do what The Bretheren have asked. We're reading the scriptures with our kids, and trying to "liken them unto ourselves," as Nephi tells us.

Then I try to explain what it was like for the Nephites to live the Law of Moses (hear that evangelicals?), as described in 2 Nephi 25, verses 24-27:

  24 And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled.

  25 For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.

  26 And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.

  27 Wherefore, we speak concerning the law that our children may know the deadness of the law; and they, by knowing the deadness of the law, may look forward unto that life which is in Christ, and know for what end the law was given. And after the law is fulfilled in Christ, that they need not harden their hearts against him when the law ought to be done away

I thought I'd be clever in explaining about the Law of Moses in saying "How would it be if every time you left the house you had to wear a Mexican wrestling mask -- you could only be seen outside in a mask. And then one day someone said we didn't have to wear them any more, because the commandment that made us wear them had expired?" They thought that was pretty cool. I was losing them.

Then Dumbass Dad comes up with this: "Well, how about if all of a sudden someone said we didn't have to wear pants any more?"

We had to stop scripture study right then. Argh.

Who Reads A Mormon Novel?

So, there’s some hand-wringing going on at the Deseret News, at Dialogue: A Journal for Mormon Thought, and now, thanks to Dialogue, it’s spilling over to, over the absence of a “Mormon” novel.

Mormon novelist Barry Udall seems to suggest, as reports, that it’s fear that is stopping the Mormon novel:
We have always been threatened by anything that doesn’t fit squarely within our system of belief. Good art will always be complex, contradictory, and will resist easy judgment – all things that would make any good Mormon nervous.
Really? And as a life-long Mormon, can’t I say that Mormonism itself is complex, contradictory, and resistant to easy judgment? I can and will, because it’s true.

Slate says Deseret News columnist Jerry Earl Johnston, says Mormons “are too uncomfortable with ambiguity and imperfection” to write a great novel.

To that I say: What? Any society that can struggle through the Isaiah Chapters in Second Nephi, the Allegory of the Olive Tree in Jacob and other ponderous writings of Nephi take ambiguity in stride.

So they’re missing the mark in pondering the question.

Ironically, it’s from kinda someone Udall and Johnston are looking for that I think the truth comes out. Paul Bailey, who wrote the wonderful book “Polygamy was Better than Monotony,” has this to say:
The rents and patches are there because of me, my flounderings, and my continued and unorthodox toilings. I have found that whenever I too snugly tighten my cloak, it becomes a strait-jacket. . . . By wearing the cloak a bit loose, by opening it to the wind and the storms, I have frayed its edges, and have weather-spotted it a little more than it should be. But it is a good cloak, and I am proud of it.
To that, I respond:

Yes, he admits, he’s gone astray. But being the big-minded cultural Mormon he is, his astrayness is OK because it makes his cultural Mormonism that much better. While I myself have been known to wear my cloak a bit loose as well, I’m not foolish enough to think that keeping core aspects as tight as I can bear. That tightness, that unwillingness to bend – which his beloved Grandfather Forbes displayed as he first served jail time for being in a polygamous relationship, then fled to Colorado and New Mexico to avoid capture by federal authorities – might be the true store of the pugnaciousness that Bailey claims is missing from the church today. But that’s just me.

But, more importantly, I’m drawn to the words of Sydney Smith, who, in reviewing a written history of the United States in 1820, had this to say:
In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book? Or goes to an American play? or looks at an American picture or statue? What does the world yet owe to American physicians or surgeons? What new substances have their chemists discovered? Or what old ones have they advanced? What new constellations have been discovered by the telescopes of Americans? Who drinks out of American glasses? Or eats from American plates? Or wears American coats or gowns? or sleeps in American blankets? Finally, under which of the old tyrannical governments of Europe is every sixth man a slave, whom his fellow-creatures may buy and sell and torture?
Though what he says is too often taken as a slam against everything American, what Smith was trying to point out is that is it really important that books – or any other article or item – be labeled as “American,” or “Mormon,” or anything else.

The screaming desire for a great Mormon author is nothing more than a desire to enter into the world of popularity contests. There are plenty of mediocre authors out there – Mormon and not – who haven’t yet been identified by the intellisnobstia as “great” for good reason: They’re not great. Chaim Potok writes Jewish novels. I’ve read them. Yes, the characters are Jewish. But does that make him a Jewish author? Do Mormons have to write about Mormons and Mormonism to be considered Mormon authors?

I also look at whom I consider to be great authors and I have to wonder: Do I care if they’re Mormons, Presbyterians, Atheists or whatever? Not really. I like them for what they write. Sinclair Lewis. C.S. Lewis. John Steinbeck. Richard Rhodes. And many others.

"Great" novels are great because they're a rarity. Some writers are able to produce a few great novels, but they're rarer still. Only Steinbeck could have written "The Grapes of Wrath." Only Lewis could have written
"Babbitt." When we encounter a great novel, we do as did a reviewer for Richard Adams' "Watership Down":

I announce, with trembling pleasure, the appearance of a great novel.

At least that's what I do. I don't immediately take out my Great Author Bingo Chart and cross off another X.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Freedom from Pornography

Dear Steve Jobs,

If Valleywag’s Ryan Tate is to be believed, and the e-mail exchange he touts between himself and you is real, I have this to say:


But it’s a qualified bravo. Does Apple’s App Store still sell what I consider pornography? Yes. I have to say, however, since the App Store purge of a few months ago, there’s a lot less there, or at least a lot less visible. That’s certainly a step in the right direction, but the App Store is hardly porn-free, at least by my definition of porn. I’m willing to concede that my definition – coming from an adherent to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – is narrower than what Apple is using. Nevertheless, thank you for what you’re doing.

I’ve seen many ironies circulating around the App Store porn debate. One supporter of Mr. Tate cites L. Ron Hubbard in defining what freedom is as Mr. Tate takes on your desire of a world “free of porn.” Considering how hostile the Internet is towards Hubbard’s Church of Scientology, the tautology there is more than striking.

I have to admit I’m holding my breath for an upsurge of people desiring the App Store to be “free of religion,” as a backlash to the freedom from porn. They’ll try to frame it as an apples-to-apples debate, which it most certainly is not. From what I’ve read, there are many like me willing to concede to a certain amount of risqué apps as long as their icons and descriptions don’t go overboard, or, as I’ve suggested earlier, they were offered in a section for risqué business only. I’d hardly expect the anti-religionistas to offer the same concessions.

To them, I turn their own idea upon their own heads: Don’t like it, don’t look at it.

Now, I have seen people – including members of my won family – become disaffected by religion, or become hurt by it, or bristle when the subject is even brought up. I know there are people out there who truly do desire freedom from religion. I do not shove my religion into their faces because I know it bothers them.

Why, then, should they insist on shoving pornography in my face even though they know it bothers me? I’ve written before about the effects of pornography in my family. It’s certainly had a much more negative effect in my circle of friends, family, and acquaintances than religion has had.

I laugh at their arguments that since Apple’s products come with web browsers, pornography is only a few clicks away, so Apple may as well allow pornographic apps. That’s just like saying since AK-47s can be obtained outside of licensed gun shops, they should be available everywhere, or, since religious symbols can be seen at churches they also ought to be prominently displayed on public property. Turn the argument on its head enough and they’ll see how faulty it really is.

Apple has the right to conduct business as it sees fit. If Apple desires to exclude pornography, or religion, or whatever topic you could choose, that is Apple’s right. Freedom to protest is also a right. Freedom also means that freedoms do not necessarily have to be reconciled. To stray from quoting L. Ron Hubbard to quoting Mahandas Gandhi:

All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.

Maybe in the future, Mr. Jobs, I’ll find myself on the opposite side of the fence when it comes to Apple touting “freedom from x.” I won’t deny the possibility. But for now, let me say thanks.

Wimp or Shrimp?

I am very, very worried.

If Chick Heileson, running for the U.S. Representative seat currently held by Mike Simpson, did one simple little thing, he might win my vote.

I just read his biography earlier today, and am now fixated on this:
He later owned and operated an indoor swimming pool and recreation area east of Idaho Falls.
That could only be the swimming pool, waterslide and miniature golf course at Panorama Hill. How many times did we take the trip as kids to that wonderful place, go swim, go down that slide and then go to the snack bar to eat honey-butter bread and play video games while waiting for Mom and Dad to show up to bring us home? A rhetorical question, obviously.

Re-open the pool complex, Mr. Heileson, and I’m your man. Never mind that he wants to shut down the Department of Energy, for whom I work indirectly. I want back my childhood swimming pool.

Then I have to ask myself: Is that what it takes to get a vote and, possibly, a position in the U.S. House of Representatives? I don’t really know any of the man’s views aside from the fact he’s committed to Family with a big F, grew up in Iona and owns a collection of blue suits and red ties. Yet I’m considering writing a letter to him and asking him to re-open that pool and thus earn my vote.

Then I have to ask myself another question: What am I getting out of voting for his opponent, other than a vaguely fuzzy feeling that voting for him is in line with what Esquire magazine – where I always go for my Idaho political news – thinks of the man?

I think I’ll go back to my original voting strategy, which is to vote for the guy with the most amusing name. Chick Heileson wins again.

Welcome to Cliche Heaven

Here’s the thing about clichés: There’s even a cliché about not using them:

Avoid clichés like the plague.

That is often said or written by writers writing guidelines on writing – yet another professional writers’ cliché – and is apt to get titters from the all-knowing audience who, wrapped in the warm embrace of the obtuse fuzziness that is most writerly advice, go home and continue to bang out clichés as if all those Shakespeare-writing monkey were on a banana break.

I know. I do it, too.

Read Oont, and I’m afraid you’ll find a thousand and one clichés. Of course, I justify myself in thinking, this is a first draft. It’ll get better. It could hardly get worse.

I’m not one of those who believes creativity or originality is dead. Nossir. They’re alive and well, mostly in the talented possession of others. The exercise of recognizing and exorcising clichés won’t a great writer make of a shoddy one. At best, it’ll make a shoddy writer just a little less shoddy. Again, I know, because I revel in my shoddiness. And in my case, shoddiness is not a mask for humility, false or not. I’m just a rotten writer.

But back to the clichés: if I must be a rotten writer, at least I can avoid the familiar stink of others’ shoddiness.

Which brings me to this.

Oh the wondrous joy that is journalistic cliché. I was there with the best of them, extracting those well-worn phrases from the polished cedar souvenir Yellowstone jewelry box, in which all writers in the Intermountain West store their clichés. I probably used many of the clichés mentioned in this article. Certainly “concerned residents.” Most likely “outpouring of support.”

I don’t know why. Shorthand, most likely. Residents are always concerned. Support is always poured. I’m not proud of my use of clichés, nevertheless they are there. And, as is pointed out in the article, new ones are always coming:
"What happens is that somebody, somewhere coins a nice little phrase to describe something complex that is happening. Other people pick up on it and the first few times it sounds pretty good. But then everyone jumps on it."

However, [journalist Chris] Pash says he dislikes clichés less than he hates "meaningless corporate speak" such as "going forward" and "downsizing".

"I stick to the proposition that in reporting you should try to stay away from clichés . . . but I know how hard it is to stay cliché-free. And some clichés are quite descriptive," he says.

Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease, of course. Replacement of one hackneyed phrase with another. With shoddy writers it’s sometimes easy to feel out where the clichés have been removed, because some of the tells remain. Just read the stuff I write. You’ll see what I mean.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Monday, Monday. Morne Plaine.

I am, betimes, an imperceptive soul. It took me until I was in my early twenties to realize that my father, immigrant, bricklayer, gardener and dreamer, didn't like to go to work. Especially, he didn't like to think about going to work on Sundays. One evening we were sitting on the porch as the sun set, listening to the robins and the meadowlarks. He gave a big sigh. Someone asked what the sigh was about. "I don't like Sunday evenings," he said, "It means I have to go to work in the morning."

He wanted to be a farmer. He became a bricklayer. Damn good one, too. I can still drive around the area and point out the brick work he did. Still, he didn't like to think about going to work on Sundays. Neither do I.

Another Monday song. I'm getting depressed. So on to the social commentary. This video is so '70s. The lights. The soft focus. The awful, awful hair. Then there's the Mamas and the Papas -- so sixties, right down to the minimalist set -- I kept waiting for Krusty the Klown to emerge to begin discussing the modern labor movement with George Meaney -- and the goatee.Whee, looka mee, I gotta goateeee. And the little Nehru jacket. This man is too cool to be kept anywhere but the freezer.

Don't whine. I love the M&P and the Carpenters. It's just odd looking at this stuff and thinking it passed for cool. Grampa Simpson was prophetic:

"I was with it, then they changed what it was. Now what I'm with isn't it, and what is it is weird and scary. It'll happen to you!"

Thoughts on the Lesser Beasts

All of you pause to admire the snail
He never leaves home, never forwards his mail.

Spare no attention, though, for the box turtle
To his spouse and his children, he is rather brutal.

In plain black and white, magpie is beplumed
disguised as a clown, he'd look rather stupid.

The robin is shabby, wears only worn tweed
Fat dons on the quad is how they're perceived.

Part of me pities the magnificent horse
from little girls' attention I'm happier divorced.

Flight enters the minds of those the skunk family scampers at
I wonder why coats of arms never show them en rampant.

Incongruous at admiration of tigers accordant
every tiger I've met sorely needed deodorant.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Random Babblings About Twitter and Facebook

Thanks to Twitter, I've been eavesdropping on a rather interesting exchange tonight involving the possible futures of Facebook and Twitter.

It has been posited that Twitter's users, or Twitter itself, could be absorbed, Borg-like, into Facebook as -- granted I'm only speculating here -- Facebook brings in more flexibility than does the 140-character micro blogging site.

I do, however, wonder if the difference in audience and purpose might keep Twitter and Facebook decidedly seperate, at least for the bulk of each service's users. I'll explain what I mean by that, and offer the caveat that it may simply apply to how I use each service and may not necessarily apply to everyone else. Or anyone else, for that matter.

So, who is my audience on Facebook? I can more sincerely say that on Facebook, it's friends, and I include family in that category. Now, it may simply be because I have many more physical, I've-met-them-before friends who use Facebook than use Twitter, so, It Stands to Reason, if I may invoke that storied and most respected college of common sense and knowledge, that Facebook is going to naturally be the place I go to share stuff with friends and family.

So who, then is my audience on Twitter? I do have a few friends. There. A few I actually will see on a week-by-week, or month-by-month basis. But most of my "followers" there are people I have never met and likely will never meet. Many of them seem to be practitioners of that sacred rite of multi-level-marketing, but that's probably my fault because I will typically follow back anyone who follows me, unless they are a Twitter Bimbo or introduce swearing or other questionable material to my Twitter feed. But I have many more contacts on Twitter than I do on Facebook, but it's less likely that I'll ever meet or interact with the Twitter folks than the Facebook folks.

So what purpose do each of these sites serve? Well, aside from begging my bishop's blood pressure up because I use them -- and I'm not sure he knows about the five blogs for which I"m a contributor or the sole author -- there are distinct uses.

Some uses intersect. I use both Facebook and Twitter to promote my blog posts and Uncharted, a travel and adventure website I'm involved in. I use both services for the occasional bout of nonsense. But that seems to be where the common uses cease.

Ends are where I see the most difference. On Twitter, promotion is an end, but it's rather one-sided and shallow, because I have no real measure on who is reading and, more importantly, who is clicking on the links I send out to be read. A lot of Twitter metrics sites point to retweets as a good measure to gauge how effective your tweets are. If that is the case, then the nonsense I tweet is received with much more enthusiasm than is the stuff I hope to promote.

The opposite is true on Facebook. While the nonsense does receive some attention, I can tell by Google Analytics that I have many more visits coming to my blogs from Facebook than I do Twitter -- so the promotions I'm doing on Facebook are more effective? Why? Because most of these people know me, see me occasionally, or at least remember me as one of the fat geeks who roamed the halls of Bonneville High School, looking pitiful. So there's a lot more human contact on Facebook than on Twitter.

And that just may be how I'm using the sites, once again biased because I have fewer actual physical friends on Twitter than I do on Facebook. I can see the dynamic being much different if my circle of friends on both sites were similar. As it is, my Twitter followers are probably a more diverse group of people from more areas in the nation and world, but it's my Facebook friends with whom I have more meaningful interactions. (Sad reality is that I'm so durn shy that I interact better with people I know on Facebook than I do face-to-face, but it's interesting that because of the stuff I put on Facebook those face-to-face interactions are becoming easier because we can chuckle about the things we "say" on Facebook.)

Note I don't speak much about my blogs here. While I'm pleased with the traffic coming to my blogs from Twitter or Facebook, I'm loath to shut down the blogs and just use Facebook for the postings and both Facebook and Twitter for the promotions. I like that I can control the look and feel of my blogs, which adds to the overall 'oss 'oldin' hexperience.

So overall, I see room for both Twiter and Facebook in my Internet experience at the moment. And my blogs. Sorry, bishop. At least I don't do Farmville . . .