Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Our Huckleberry Friend

Yes, I know there are other versions of Andy Williams singing this song on YouTube that include a live performance – but they all cut off the first few moments of this song. And that’s something you shouldn’t do to Andy Williams.

I don’t want to launch into one of those “they don’t make them like they used to” blog posts, because there are some singers these days who are just as mellifluous and mellow as he. And I’ve got to admit that Williams didn’t age well, at least as far as my ears go.

I’m not sure I heard Williams sing a lot as a kid – I grew up in a home where there were few records or tapes, just lots and lots and lots of stuff coming in over the radio on the ol’ AM dial. But I’m sure, somewhere along the way, I heard my mother humming some of his standards, humming along when he was on the radio, and that memory of the humming along with that voice from the radio have stuck like coal dust to the wallpaper. So that’s why I cherish Andy Williams – because he reminds me of “back then.”

There are other versions of these songs, just as lovely as this one. But I never heard my mother humming over them, so they don’t count.

That's how the Hermit of Iapetus feels, as he hums these songs to himself as he prowls the wastelands of his chosen hom e-- far from the memories that he thought he could leave on Earth, but the memories followed him. And haunt him.

Here’s another one:

I may play these songs now and then – from YouTube, not from the radio – and my kids may hear me humming or singing along. And I hope, somewhere in time, they find those memories comforting as they too sing along to a song they heard their daddy sing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Let's Hope Gentry Lee Isn't Involved Here

Good news -- unlike Arthur C. Clarke novels about Rama -- is supposed to come in threes.

So with three bits of good news today:

1) I turned in paperwork to get my ID badge at work renewed this morning.

2) The Department of Energy officially extended CWI's contract at the Idaho National Laboratory through Sept. 30, 2015.

3) Layoffs ended today with me still not laid off.

you'd think I'd be in the pink. Well, there are four bits of news that are in play, so still waiting on that last steel-toed shoe to drop: How much funding will there be?

Today's press release from CWI/DOE does offer a hint: They say the value of the three-year contract extension is $730 million spread, I assume, over those three years. So not big mojo, year-to-year. Not tiny mojo either, but we'll have to see how the bean-counters interpret the numbers once everything's settled and once the monkeys in Congress calm down enough to come back off their interminable banana breaks and actually pass a budget. For this year at least.

I choose to remain optimistic because, hey, optimism has served me well so far. But you never do know when that one icicle is going to fall off the garage . . .

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Dying Art Form

And with that, we bid adieu to Alice and Petey Otterloop, the best comic strip pair to walk out of the newspaper pages since Linus and Lucy.

Few comic strip artists -- and I mean few; I think only Charles Schulz understands children, or at least the oddly adult way kids think they understand themselves and this world they live in, as well as this -- ever capture the essence of childhood ekeing out an existence in the adult world as well as Mr. Richard Thompson.

Mr. Thompson is giving up the comic strip business with some reluctance today, as he fights Parkinson's disease -- a cruel disease no matter who gets is, but crueler still for one who relies on brain and hand to create such art.

Having three kids of my own, I know they approach understanding this world through different lenses than adults. They may have an adult grasp of concepts and consequences, but there's always something oddly childish about their interpretation of those consequences and how they may apply in situations where an adult wouldn't see them at all, as we see Alice here bringing so much angst to the comics pages.

This rerun of Thompson's is a fitting end to his strip. If only it didn't have to end.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Gonna Make It, Part II

First of all, remember this post.

A little bitty update:

First of all, at our company picnic today, they pretty much announced that the contract extension will be signed, though they're still saying "within the next week or so," so whether it'll be done by the time the 30th rolls around, I don't know. I'll be watching the news all atwitter this week.

Second of all, Congress is set today to vote on funding the federal government for the next six months, so the question will be how much will DOE get and how much will we get from DOE, not will DOE be on the street corner saying "Spare armadillo, ma'am? Spare armadillo?" So I could end up like Dusty Bottoms in this clip, rather than poor ol' Ned Nederlander:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Pants. That is All.

For your viewing pleasure, an animated history of "pants" from a fourth-century saint to Edgar Allan Poe.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Gonna Make It . . . Gonna Make It . . . Gonna . . . Make It!

The good news is, I’m no longer concerned all that much about October layoffs.

Bad news is the bad news is potentially so bad that it makes October layoffs seem like child’s play in comparison.

Example No. 1: Got a call from my boss’ boss today saying, in effect, if the contract extension between CWI and DOE isn’t signed in the next week and a half, there’s no authorization for work for any CWI contractors, of which I am one of, to quote MASH’s Radar O’Reilley.

That in of itself is bad news. No authorization to work means, technically, I still have a job but I can’t go to it and I can’t get paid because the authorization to pay me is in limbo. That’s bad. That’s like getting frogurt that’s cursed.

Example No. 2: This is where it gets really bad. Rumors are that there’s no money. Nooooo money for either the research or cleanup side of INL, because DOE’s shoving all the money it has at Hanford over in Washington state and since Congress can’t find their butts with both hands and approve a budget, there’s trouble with any new money forthcoming. This is like finding that not only is your free frogurt topping cursed, but that it also contains potassium benzoate.

I know that I, Jeffe, do not have the superior intellect and education of those folks in Washington who pay the bills, but at the same time while they’re wrangling over who to pay and how much to pay them and where the money is coming from and who they can take it from to give it to, well, me, there are lots of people like me who are starting to feel like Lucky Day these days.

Maybe it seems silly to use these movie clips to explain my frustrations. But given how much attention is being riveted on other movie clips as of late – that thing about the Muslims that we’re not really sure is the movie they’re all upset about, but hey, let’s tar and feather the guy anyway just so we can say we did something; and that thing with Mitt Romney washing his hands of the 47% or whatever (of which I happen to be one of too, thank you, Radar) – I feel like it’s the only way to get attention these days. Answer useless street theater with useless YouTube clips, and maybe – just maybe, mind you – someone will pay attention. And feel repentant. Like Professor Hinckle:

But it’s easy to pay attention to things like the Innocense of Muslims or Mitt’s 47%, because, in general, it costs the chattering class – the media – and the ruling class of politicians virtually nothing. It lets them escape from actually having to report on a government that’s kicking problems down the road – and I’m not just saying Obama’s government does this, every government does to some extent – and actually looking at the can and seeing what’s inside it, being kicked around.

Of course, anyone who criticizes mainstream media or the current (or past) administration, ends up looking like Ralphie’s Old Man in the view of those accused, so they can just go on leaving the aroma of turkey hanging in the air, not worrying that they’re going to get worms.

Of course I’m just substituting street theater for street theater. The signal to noise ratio is so high it’s impossible to get anything but pop culture through to anyone.

So Aldous Huxley was right after all.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sheltering Old Media?

I’ve made it clear that I’m pleased I’m no longer a journalist.

Not that journalists don’t do valuable and noble things. They do. For me, other things, ranging from career fatigue to a perceived lack of support, got in the way of valuable and noble. I’m mostly to blame, I admit. But the allure of a journalism career, for me, got in the way of what I wanted to do as a writer. So I quit. I’m still writing as a technical writer, and I like that just fine and find myself doing valuable and noble things in my new career.

So I like to see what the Columbia Journalism Review is doing to encourage folks like me – consumers, but not producers of news – to support the value and nobility that is local, original journalism.

To a point.

First, there’s this.

Watch the video. It’s good. It reminds us all that most of what we see on the web in regards to news is recycled by people who don’t do original reporting of their own.

Then there’s this. Boiled down:

Notice who is doing original reporting and support them through our consumer choices. And, oh, donate to non-profit journalism/reporting outfits.

Ohh-kay. Great. So, support the status quo: Newspapers and local TV. Subscribe to the paper. Buy from the folks who advertise with the paper and with the local news. Gotcha. Doing that. With the exception of the subscription. I get the paper passed on to me. Most days.

But guess what?

For the local original reporting that interests me the most, I’m turning not to local news, but – surprise – to independent journalists – both professional or not – who do original reporting outside the venue of traditional news outlets.

There’s Bizmojo Idaho, a local blog produced by Paul Menser, whose Shoptalk column used to be the first thing I turned to when it appeared in the local paper. There’s also Idaho Falls Projects, another blog that’s done some original reporting. Not necessarily in-depth, muck-raking as the CJR video promotes, but it’s stuff that’s of interest to me.

Then there’s Dan Yurman’s blog on nuclear research and nuclear energy that occasionally hits news that’s of interest to me, locally.

I’ve seen all three of these outlets featured in traditional media reports locally, and know that they’re watched carefully by at least our local TV station for news tips and such.

So maybe the CJR should, in addition to encouraging support of traditional news outlets, encourage readers and consumers of news to seek out local, independent news producers who are doing original reporting outside of traditional news outlets. But that doesn’t fit in with the status quo that the CJR appears to promote: Old media.

Don't listen to me from here on out. I'm a burned-out, lazy former journalist you should not listen to. But journalism, as I see it, is a young person's game. A young, single person. There are plenty of those. But in most media markets, that's about all you're going to get. Becasue of the pay and the demands on time. That's what killed journalism for me. But don't listen to me because I'm lazy and undisciplined as far as young, single journalists go. Or went. Or whatever. I'm bitter too. I need to buy two shopping malls. It's the cart before the horse, see. Local journalism doesn't pay well. It doesn't pay well because the advertising money is drying up. Readers can find news -- regurgitated and original -- elsewhere, produced by parroting mimics or dedicated professionals and amateurs alike who have a passion for what they're reporting. Originally.

I don't know what the solution is. The CJR doesn't know, beyond the blinding obvious, which isn't really working all that much, if you haven't noticed. Clay Shirky doesn't know, and he gets paid to think on these things.

Monday, September 10, 2012


I read it in a book, so it must be true: When interplanetary travel becomes commonplace, the bounds of Earth will cease to pull on the hearts of men.

We are natural explorers, the futurists urge. Cite the Vikings. Cite Columbus. And cite the unlikely Gagarin, Armstrong, and those who followed from the groundbreaking to the routine.

Explorers all.

My great-grandfather felt like that.

He wrote, expansively, in his journals, of his time as a soldier in the Dutch colonial army in Indonesia – he was not a colonialist himself; he was just there to fulfill required national service and spent his money, with a compatriot, on local food. He once demonstrated how to cross a river and keep his gun dry at the same time by leaping into the current, gun held high over his head. He lost his footing, was swept away, nearly drowned, and, of course, lost his rifle.

Then he emigrated to the United States, once his service was done, and left the green of Indonesia and the green of the Netherlands for the dusty tawny grey of the high desert of eastern Idaho.

His home became a beacon to other Dutch immigrants, settling in the unlikely place of New Sweden, a jovial Dutchman surrounded by taciturn Swedes.

And still he explored.

He wandered the desert steppe, explored caves, climbed mountains and followed creeks from where they chortled into the lava sinks and back up into the mountains where they drained tiny lakes held in the granite scree.

And still he explored.

Farm prosperous, he willed it early to his oldest son and traveled to the far southern reaches of Australia, where he discovered the green of his youth.

There he died, aged 102, on a wild night of storms, chasing sheep, trying to bring them back to the barn.

The family still holds deeds to his properties in trust.

I have no deed to add.

But I have deeds.

It is written in the book:

“There are no ghosts in this place. Those who gathered here once were already voyaging on in spirit, even as they sat here, eager to be gone. They have left nothing of themselves behind.”

But the bemmy Zicti, in Andre Norton’s “The Last Planet,” told a lie. There were ghosts left behind, ghosts who came to worship at the Place of Leaving once a year, to worship the gods who left them behind. Those left behind fell into primitive barbarity, though the gods left functioning cities filled with wonders and robots and flashing lights behind.

But I tell a lie. The primitives are not the ghosts of the gods.

The gods – the mortal explorers of the outer stratospheres – left no ghosts. Those who stayed behind chose to remain. Later on, perhaps, there were some who grew ashamed of their staying – maybe through cowardice, or avarice, they realized they sold their birthright for an uncluttered world.

And perhaps, in their cocoons of steel and plastic, or as they tramped the wonders of their new-found worlds, the gods of the outer stratospheres thought regretfully not of those left behind, but of things they took for granted when they lived on their good green earth. Sky of a certain blue, never achieved again no matter how many worlds they visited.

Petrichor never the same. Artesmichor of the desert never achieved again.

They left no ghosts.

Only regrets.

And as they gaze across the sky into the stars, perhaps, with their youngsters, pointing out the star around which their home world orbits, orbits, orbits, their youngsters – and their youngsters youngsters – wonder why they ever left such a wonderful, magical place as that for some orb as common as the one they trod upon.

The bounds of earth are weak.

The bounds of regret, of knowing the unknown, can never be severed and grow only stronger as distance is achieved.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


That's how I'm feeling right about now, with less than a week to go before I start teaching two sections of FDENG 101 at BYU-Idaho. I'm ready for the money, ready for the students, but by golly Bob, I'm not sure I'm ready for all the preparations that've got to take place this weekend. Add to that the camping trip with the scouts and the 25-mile bike ride we're doing, and I'm going to be plenty busy this weekend.

But I'll get ready. That's what Saturday and Sunday evenings are for: Getting ready.

Sometimes I wonder if I should feel bad for working on Sundays. Well, given what else is going on during the week -- including a new calling as first counselor in the Elders Quorum -- Sundays are going to become about my only free time anyway, so I'll just have to do it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


No. That did not happen. Your memory is bad. That did not happen.

Silence? Really?

So it didn’t happen in that way.

So it did happen, just not as you recall. I can’t help that. I can’t help that your memory is tainted.
I can’t help that your memory is tainted.

By her.

By her.

You speak to wound, sir.

It is her memory? Then it is still tainted. By her. That is out of my control. I cannot help that she remembers it that way.

I remember it in my own way.

Yes, it is painful. Such memories usually are. It is their nature. It is why couples separate, why families crumble, why I am here on this rock tens of millions of miles from home, arguing with you about it. And what stuns me is that though you never met her, you take her side.

The side of righteousness, you say?

I didn’t listen to her. I do not have to listen to you. You with the grey skin and the pockmarked face and that pole stuck up your rear end. If I turned you twenty degrees to the right – twenty degrees – you would never feel the sun on your face again.

I would like that memory.

I do not know his.

I do not know his thoughts. How can I know his thoughts, I am not him? I am not inside my head.

He remembers it. He remembers it her way. He remembers it her way. He remembers it.

Freudian slip, yes. I am not inside his head, as you are inside mine. And I know she planted you there to grow like a marigold. Evil, she was, to plant marigolds in my mind. Dandelions I could uproot. Crabgrass I could kill. But marigolds. Marigolds. They grow in the full light of the sun and do not shirk from the heat if they are properly watered. And oh, she waters these marigolds every day. They spill their seeds after the flowers ripen and fade and more marigolds grow, in the profusion I remember in the back garden as a child, marigolds growing up among the gravel by the spigot, spilling out of the flowerbeds below the brown painted beams of the windows.

That they grow here, so far from the sun, where there is only dust and ice, is a cruelty. It is why all hermits fail. They bring with them that which they flee.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Ah, Bach . . .

I think I've shared this video before:

I've listened to Bach's music -- and this piece in particular -- since I was old enough to tune in NPR on the little transistor radio I got for Christmas all these years ago. This piece particularly captivates me in how Bach uses the same motifs, stretches of tune and other bits and bobs over and over again, changing them in pitch, speed, et cetera -- you can tell I'm not really musically inclined -- to make a wonderful bit of music out of some pretty basic parts.

Tonight, as I watched this video and listened to the music again, it dawned on me how similar writing music is to writing in general.

All regular readers here know I'm writing novels. And as all novelists, I have a few set pieces I may use over and over again, some to great effect, some to lesser effect, but they're always there, in the foreground, in the background, changed a little but always recognizable.

There are some writers -- like me -- who handle such repetition clumsily. But there are others, ah, the others, the Steinbecks, and Proulxes, the Clarkes and such, who re-use to great effect as they take familiar material and stretch and pound it a bit until it's something new.

I strive to become such a writer. We shall see.

For Isaac

Being baptized is a beginning.

When we are baptized, we make promises to our Heavenly Father, and He makes promises to us.

One of the promises we make is to help each other. David O. McKay, a prophet of the church from long ago, reminds us of that promise: “Man’s greatest happiness comes from losing himself for the good of others.”

What does it mean to lose ourselves? It means that we look first at what we can do to help others be happy and to be obedient to the commandments of God before we worry about ourselves.

It means serving other people – and service can come in many simple ways, from helping do chores around the house not because we want to get paid for the work but because the work needs to be done.

It means comforting other people when they are sick or when they are sad. None of us like to feel sick and nobody wants to be sad, but getting sick and getting sad is something that happens to everyone from the littlest baby to the oldest adult. We were reminded recently of what simple things can be done to help another feel better when we visited my mother. She’s not able to get out of the house much, so she writes lots of letters. The letters are simple notes of love, sent sometimes with jokes and cartoons. To keep the letters coming, we brought her a present of notepaper and pens, envelopes and stamps. We shared a little ice cream with her and had a pleasant visit.

As we drove home that night, I thought, checking things off on the list in my mind: Well, that’s done.

But then I was reminded of a scripture:

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my bretheren, ye have done it unto me.

We did more than remember the promises we made to Heavenly Father when we were baptized. We did more than bring a few trinkets and company to a lovely lady who needed them. We brought the spirit of Christ with us, to increase the spirit already in that lovely lady’s home.

I said baptism is a beginning. It is a beginning, as we learn to show the love our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ have for us as we fulfill our promises and help others who also need to feel that love.

I know Heavenly Father loves us. I know he wants us to do what is right. I know he will help us do what is right as long as we remember what we promised when we are baptized: Obey his commandments and love one another. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.