Wednesday, December 13, 2017

"What Else is On?"

Remember the triumphant, feel-good ending of The Truman Show, where Truman sails into the wall of the massive television studio that’s been his home and his prison? He talks with Christof, the show’s director/God through the clouds and is unconvinced that remaining in his sheltered life is a good thing.

“In case I don’t see ya,” he says with a grin, “Good afternoon, good evening, and good night!” He then walks through the open door into the darkness, and the audience watching cheers.
Then they ask what else is on.


Or at least these guys do. Because to them, The Truman Show was entertaining television – but just that: Entertainment. Show’s over, folks – so what else is on?




I fall into that trap a lot. And I don’t even watch much television.

We all do it, to a certain point – what wildlife biologist Jeff Higdon calls “five-minute activism” in an article at Slate.com on whether a polar bear photographed by National Geographic is starving due to climate change or is starving due to the multitude of other reasons animals starve in the wild.

“What I would like to see is people learning more about these issues,” Higdon tells Slate. “It infuriates me, it’s a five-minute activism kind of thing for people. The photo gets thrown around and two days later it’s forgotten about and no one’s behavior has changed.”

I see a lot of this. I indulge in some of it – armchair activism, but little else.

Like what’s going on at the FCC re: Net Neutrality.

I’ve seen the problem – bogus comments, spammed comments, weird comments, bot comments – touted as a problem on the FCC’s part in filtering or managing comments. However – I think a lot of this trouble (and it is trouble) is linked to the kind of idiot Internet behavior that leads us first to believe a photograph of a starving polar bear shows evidence of climate change and then second to forget about said polar bear five minutes later: The Web is entertainment, it’s for trolling, it’s for making a point without technically doing anything about the underlying problem.

The Internet is the quickest way to do something to feel good about having done something, rather than doing something to actually do something. (Want an example of the feel good/do nothing activism? Click on the link to “knowyourmeme.com” in the Wired story linked above. It takes you to this, at least for the next day or so:


Yes, filling in a few info boxes and then shooting off this email makes you feel good about doing something. But what did you actually do? Did you read the letter they suggest the whole way through? Chances are you didn’t, because you don’t have the time because you’ve got to see what’s on next!

Yes, Internet activism is easy. So easy bots can do it. So easy pro-net neutrality activists can do it. So easy the Russians can game it, and you know they’re gaming it because come on they’re totally gaming it.

What did I do?

During the FCC’s first comment period on net neutrality, back in 2014, I told them, in a unique letter, I favored net neutrality because I have cable internet and already see my ability to use the internet on a nightly basis squeezed by poor capacity on the cable provider’s system. I cautioned them that failing to keep the net neutral, my ability to teach classes online – my second gig – would be hampered if suddenly teaching were designated as a second- or third-tier Internet activity.

Then sometime between April 27 and Aug. 30 of this year, I sent them another unique letter – electronically – reiterating my desire to see the net remain neutral.

Mindlessly using any commenting system to send a message to a government entity gives such entities fuel to say, “Hey, the people just don’t care.” Think otherwise? Read this, and look at the table where the top most common names are provided. Nobody is taking any of those messages seriously.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

December 12, 2017


Ten years.

Ten years blogging.

Ten years wasting your time and mine.

I’m writing this post right now during an idle moment at work in late June, so I can’t as of this writing give an official count of the number of posts I’ve published.

Comments, now, tallying comments are easy. Meaningful ones: Less than two dozen, and that’s being charitable. There was for a time I was on the Random Translated from Chinese Comment Bot’s radar, but those moments have long gone.

Purpose? Plenty of that. This blog will be a treasure-trove to my descendants, providing any of them are interested and the Wayback Machine still functions. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll deliver the username and password to this blog to my descendants in my will, out of fear they’d take one look at it and delete the whole thing.

I have also considered using one of those blog-to-book services, however given their inability to capture linked material and to play YouTube videos, their utility seems limited.
Perhaps, of course, I could hand my credentials over to my estate, or the university library or presidential library to which I bequeath my papers.

Or I could just go on babbling since NONE OF THAT IS EVER GOING TO HAPPEN.

And to tell the truth, I have blogged before.

I started a blog briefly around a Thanksgiving break some time before 2007, but the effort petered out and I have since lost track of it. It’s in the blogspot/blogger blogosphere somewhere. Perhaps I might look for it. (I’ve tried a few times to search for it, but it’s a tiny needle in an ever-expanding Internet haystack, so I’ve given up finding it. Maybe you’d care to look for it – I recall I began blogging in the 2003-2005 year range at the time I was working at a local newspaper and thus hated writing with a passion.)

There were also copious amounts of blather posted while I was a university student in the late 1990s. The year 1997 plays prominently in my memory. So this should, by rights, be a 20-year anniversary post.

But I won’t brag up my credentials. Ten years of consistently bland writing is enough to celebrate, is it not?

Monday, December 11, 2017

"Why, He's a *Licensed* Driver!"

By the end of the week, our oldest will join the ranks of even the great Lord Morley in becoming a licensed driver.


Our son took his written test today, and will do the skills test Wednesday. Then sometime after that our insurance agent will contact his RV or boat dealer (or both) and say the purchase is a go.

I don’t want to know what it’s going to cost us to insure our son. Boys in general get a (deserved) bad rap, insurance-wise. I’m fairly sure this will be my reaction to the insurance company’s quote.


Nevertheless, we’ll pay. My Dad paid for me for the first little bit – and I recall myself, on my own, having to pay roughly $500 a year for insurance on a 1976 Chevy Nova that was in the final stages of Rusting Rigor Mortis. That would nearly double what we’re paying for insurance, and I’m sure prices have gone up since the mid-1990s.

We have visions of him doing errand-driving for us. But given his homework load, his impending mission, and his general desire to remain motionless in the basement, it’s likely we’ll still have to do a lot of driving, mainly taking his sister to ballet lessons in Rexburg – because that burns up an evening, with the thrilling monotony of driving bookending the repetition of the seven basic ballet movements.

I hope our son can avoid the misery of auto accidents. I was in two of them in my formative driving years, one of them minor, the other major in terms of damage but minor in terms of injury. I can still remember the pattern on the shirt I was wearing for the latter one – ludicrous spoked steering wheels from a boat, with “Anchors Aweigh” underneath them in script. I see the pattern once in a while at the fabric store and I feel nauseous, although as time has passed, it’s mostly because I’m in a fabric store.
I do remember this: Never heard a cross word from my parents about it. Although I’m sure plenty were said behind my back. Yeah, that nausea is coming back; it never really goes away, does it?

But let’s not focus on that.

Focus on his successes – and the worry that the panic we saw in him in the kitchen this weekend when he forgot to spray the pan he was putting the brownie mix in never kicks in while he’s driving and oh God he’s going to get into so many wrecks . . .

But let’s not focus on that. Focus on the positive. He’s learning. Developing skills. Problem-solving and problem-anticipating skills. They’ll be honed over time. I mean, look at me: Knock on wood, not even a speeding ticket in twenty years of marriage. I’ve slid off the road a few times in winter, including one bladder-stressing moment when my truck spun right through the only gap in a long stream of traffic on a slick road. But not a dented fender nor a visit from a policeman. Let’s hope that keeps up, and is our son’s future.


For I, too, am a good driver. A licensed driver. Just don’t hand me any cigars at the gas station . . . I wouldn’t mind being brought in on the Wookalar case, though.

Friday, December 8, 2017

A Weird Contrast in Books, Part II

Richard Nixon the Man Behind the MaskRichard Nixon the Man Behind the Mask by Gary Allen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In reading Gary Allen’s “Richard Nixon: The Man Behind the Mask,” we get a peek at the right-wing nastiness that’s now in the fore.

Let me say I don’t believe the right-wing has a corner on nastiness, as there’s plenty of that to go around in the extreme fringes of any political party. It is telling, however, to see the paranoia, the disdain for the media, and the veiled and unveiled racism inherent in right-wing Republicans of the 1960s and ‘70s, which we recognize today in the right-wing we’re seeing in power.

In reading about this author, I see an irony. He mocks Nixon as an opportunistic politician, willing to bow to whatever winds blew to get him elected. Yet Allen was a speechwriter for George Wallace, a politician who started out as a Democrat on a crusade for race reconciliation in the South and who ended as a right-wing Republican who sang the graces of segregation because he saw in it supporters enough political power to get him into office. We all have our blinders, I suppose, but for most of us, we don’t get the chance to have them displayed so prominently.

Allen and his supporters lament a party that slipped slowly to the left. Not that the party ever would become eponymous with the Democrats. What one perceives as a shift to the left can really be a shift to the center, where more and more voters find themselves due to the ugliness of the party purists on either end of the American political spectrum. Ronald Reagan would also probably be labeled as a squishy liberal by Allen et al’s standards, and might find it hard to fit into the Republican Party of today, which is slipping now to the right.

Allen is somewhat schizophrenic – lionizing conservative firebrand Barry Goldwater for his unsuccessful run for the presidency in 1964 and then, in the same chapter, lambasting him for being a tool of the grassroots wave that took him through the nomination and to the election, but without the fire to do anything more than put his shoulder to the wheel after it was all over:

[Goldwater] was propelled into candidacy by the zeal of the grass-roots to capitalize on the great depth and exuberance and loyalty felt by his hard-core supporters all over the country. Instead of continuing the crusade Goldwater went back to his ham radio. The ’64 election was water over the dam – Goldwater over the dam.

No wonder Allen then fled to the firebrand race-baiter Wallace – here was a man who would follow through! Blinders fully on, of course. The desire to win – no matter the moral quality of the bedfellows – is what the right-wing seems to want, then and now. The ilk of Trump and Moore may have questionable morals and standards, but by golly they whistle the right tune!

Allen is consistent in his schizophrenia. In the chapter entitled “The Pachyderms Return,” he laments that Nixon avoided patronage of many who helped get him elected, and then concludes by castigating Nixon for appointing several long-time friends and aides to his cabinet. Patronage only works for Allen, it seems, if those getting the plum jobs are conservative Republicans.

And see, you get this on the left too. Nobody’s immune.


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A Weird Contrast in Books. Part I

The Associated Press and Labor: Being Seven Chapters from the Brass Check; A Study of American JournalismThe Associated Press and Labor: Being Seven Chapters from the Brass Check; A Study of American Journalism by Upton Sinclair
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Slate.com, I’ve now read Upton Sinclair’s “The Brass Check,” his critique of the “concrete wall” of early 20th century journalism.

Sinclair might be pleased to know that with the passing of a century, American journalism has improved. Somewhat. Though he might find some situations the same, albeit with different characters.

(This is an interesting contrast to my other read this week, Gary Allen’s critique of Richard Nixon from the right-wing. Surely if Allen and Sinclair were to find themselves in the same room, some kind of matter/anti-matter explosion would occur.)

The journalism Sinclair describes reminds me of the “fake news” phenomena we witness today on the Internet. I have to wonder if it’s gullibility of the reader, the gall of the fake news producer, or a combination of blissful ignorance and “I don’t have time for this” that makes such fake news proliferate. Facebook (something I’m sure Sinclair would find appealing and appalling at the same time) is working on a fake news detector so we can see, sometime soon, whether we fell for or followed fake news on our feeds. The question is: will the detector be fake news itself?

I feel we’re in the same kind of quandary Sinclair found himself in when newspapers were sending and receiving fake cablegrams on his behalf in order to get the story, or writing pure fiction about him running a ranch for ne’er-do-well boys in Nevada while he was living in Bermuda. There’s such a proliferation of news and “news” thanks to the Internet, he might even find himself wishing for the halcyon days when the press was a “concrete wall” or symbolized by the metal bars of a prison cell. The mainstream press may have much higher ethical ideals (somewhat) than in his day, but in our day, who wants to listen to the mainstream press?

It’s interesting, too, that Slate would publish this work as a literary-critiquey message to the new owners of the LA Weekly, who apparently are Trump supporters (!) who have fired most of the paper’s writers and want free contributions from the unwashed masses. (Had they been liberal owners, I suspect Slate wouldn’t be reacting this way; rather they’d briefly lament the state of modern journalism and leave it at that.)

But it doesn’t matter. It got me to read Upton Sinclair, something I’ve been meaning to do since I found a copy of The Jungle at the thrift store who knows how long ago. (I’ve read plenty by Sinclair Lewis, whom I often confuse with Upton Sinclair, however.)

I suppose the bottom line is we still have a national press controlled by business interests, a national press that often fakes ethicality as long as some political line is toed (and again, both sides of the American spectrum do this) or if there’s an element of sensationalism about the story to be told. Not that we don’t have reporters and organizations with high ethical standards that are worth far more than the powder it would take to blow them up – it’s just that the elements Sinclair decried in journalism are pretty much intact in the broad spectrum of what we call news.


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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

"The Meadows"


You remember the guy from “So I Married an Axe Murderer,” the one who went on about “The Pentaverate” and how he hated the Colonel, with his wee beady eyes?

I’m reading a book about Richard Nixon that was written by him. Or at least someone who thinks an awful lot like him.

I know there was a right-wing of the Republican Party that was convinced Richard Nixon wasn’t conservative enough. This guy apparently belongs to that wing – Gary Allen, author of Richard Nixon: The Man Behind the Mask”. Or something like that. Looking at the cover, it’s hard to tell what the title is.

Colonel Sanders hasn’t yet come into the picture, but I expect his arrival any minute.

Gary Allen doesn’t like liberals. He does NOT like journalists. He does not like the Council on Foreign Relations, nor the Rothschilds, JP Morgan, and many, many others (thus the SIMAAM reference). And surely, he does not like Richard Nixon, and I haven’t even gotten to the part of the book that discusses Watergate yet. As the book was published in 1971, however, I suspect Watergate is not covered extensively.

Most of the books I’ve read about Nixon or relating to Nixon – even the one by G. Gordon Liddy(!) were relatively historical (if we can put the self-serving of Liddy’s book aside). The Man Behind the Mask may be the first purely political book I’ve read about Nixon. And it’s weird. W. Cleon Skousen, so far, features prominently – not surprising, as the author was a member of the John Birch Society.
So, lots of weird little triggers. I may or may not finish reading it. It seems written for that specific kind of audience that wants MOAR EVIDENCE that Nixon is a “squishy liberal,” rather than a conservative. I’m sure the audience did a lot of nodding while reading, while the more critical observer might look at Allen’s equation of pragmatism=betrayal as a tad off-kilter. Give no quarter to the liberals is the core of this book, and as Nixon gave quarter, wharrgarbl Goldwater or something like that.


Kind of sounds familiar these days. What we might give for the stability(!) of a Nixon White House today.

Beauty, Clark


I’m not sure you could call it my first day as ward membership clerk, but it’s what I’ve got.

In typical “sandblasting a soup cracker” style, I got some training. I may or may not remember how to log in to the computer, and I sure hope I remember that other password because the ward clerk says there may not be a reset password option. Hoping I got it written down well enough I can read it. I should probably get a notebook or something.

One important thing to note: I’m *this* close to getting a key to the filing cabinet containing the candy bars. Oh, and also the records.

There’s apparently a training video I need to watch. Should have watched it last night, but we went to the Wesley Bell Choir at the Methodist church instead – one of our holiday traditions. They do a good concert. Also, the first blizzard of the year. We had to crawl through it to get to and from the church. And I was glad when we got home to think that my truck was (finally) tucked away in the garage, out of the elements. I had the garage cleaned weeks ago, but the truck, wouldn’t fit in until we got the tailgate fixed so we could close the garage door. That only happened Friday.

But back to clarking, as I’m going to call it.

Basically, I’m a stalker. I’m supposed to find out where people go and where they come from and where they’re supposed to end up. That’s about all I’ll say about it, as I’m dealing with a lot of personal information.

I may also want to read the church handbook, re: Clarks. I’m sure there’s revelatory stuff there.

And as long as this post is going to be somewhat biographical our journal-y in nature, I’ll add this:

The Nutcracker is halfway over – last performance is tonight. Another sign, along with the Wesley Bell Choir, that the Christmas season is sneaking up on us once again. Lexie did her (first, I think) solo in the show – as the ribbon candy dancer. I should probably have taken some pictures, but we will have a video of it coming shortly. Isaac also had a first in this round – I missed the leaping part, but he ended up holding a ballerina as part of the opening act – which they call the “Party Scene,” which takes up HALF of the entire show. It was fun to see, particularly as his face was, typically, pretty expressionless. But the more I watch this show, the more I understand why Tchaikovsky didn’t much like the music he did for it. (The music’s fine, but the story for the show is pretty dull. Girl dreams, hero saves her from the Rat King, and sweets dance for a very long time for their amusement.)

Monday, December 4, 2017

Eyes On, Tentacles Ready

Item: Elon Musk announces plans to put a midnight cherry red Tesla Roadster in orbit around the planet Mars.

“I have news.”

Goom looked up from the display table. One tentacle continued to twiddle with the image of a supergiant red star on the screen, but the others stilled.

“Announce your news.”

Frop bubbled as the brain strained to remember the protocol of such announcements. Delivered correctly, they were automatically recorded by the station’s systems. Delivered incorrectly, they required much time and labor to correct.

“Inhabitants of exoplanet Suchoi-Sonambli-Kotol-Three have launched a vehicle. Apparent destination, S-S-K-Four.”

The system pinged as it recorded Frop’s report. Frop bubbled deeply.

Without looking at the screen, Goom snaked tentacles across the table, grasping at galaxies, then stars. A smear of light whirred past on the screen until the view slowed and settled on the image of an uremarkable star halfway up a galaxy’s spinning arm.

“S-S-K-Three,” Goom burbled as a tentacle poked the third planet from its star – a twinned planet; the larger a blue jewel, the smaller a grey, pockmarked disc.

“Longest outward launches: Two small radioisotopic-powered probes that entered the interstellar medium, still communicating – feebly – with home. Coming shortly after the first meat landing on the twin. Twin revisited five times. No permanent visitations,” Goom chirped from memory.

“S-S-K-Four visited by non-meat, both on the surface and in orbit,” Goom said, this time staring at characters zooming by on the display. “Varying successes. Some crashes.”

Goom tapped the screen, bringing S-S-K-Four and its two orbiting moonlets into close view.
“Nature of newest vehicle?”

“Insufficient data at this time, though deltas indicate this vehicle ranks among the heaviest ever launched from S-S-K-Four,” Frop said.

Goom’s tentacle twiddled the planet on the screen – a rusty planet pocked with extinct volcanoes and gouged with immense canyons. Smaller than S-S-K-Four, but reasonable for . . .

“We will watch this vehicle,” Goom said. “Make note.”

The system pinged and the display zoomed out to show both the rusted planet and the blue jewel, with an icon indicating the estimated location of the vehicle.

“Eyes on, Lieutenant Frop,” Goom said. “Tentacles ready.”

“Tentacles ready,” Frop echoed.

Frop slithered back to the home station, bubbling. Those passed turned an eye and bubbled in return as the system relayed the news to all watchers. Some watched the new vehicle for a time while others turned their eyes and tentacles back to their own watch stations, a bit jealous, perhaps, at Frop’s good fortune. Though launches and vehicles were many, launches capable of carrying meat were fewer.

Any launches of meat were noted and recorded and passed along to the higher authorities, but it was rare when news trickled the other way – often it was only in the popular media that those at the stations saw what came of their reports, if even the longest-lived of them were alive when the reports bore fruit.

“To launch meat requires a long view,” Frop recalled from lectures during years at the academy. “To launch meat, a species must see a purpose that takes them from their home planet, a purpose that sustains the departures, a purpose that builds destinations. When a species builds a destination that lasts generations, that species is noted among the great ones. It is essential – and feckless – to launch machines. But effectual when the launches of meat follow, and are sustained. This is what you will watch for. This is what you will report. Species leaving behind infancy and taking on the responsibility of maturity.”

Besides, the lectures intoned, sending meat and retrieving meat and giving meat a home shows the meat is moral and ready for the long view.

Frop watched the vehicle launched from S-S-K-Three, and made the requisite reports.

As expected, the further from home, the smaller the vehicle became. Though the planet was small, its gravity well was deep enough to make launching in stages the only way.

Those in Frop’s subgroup discussed the vehicle, and the meat’s choice to land on the twin, then seemingly abandon it.

“This is not the long view, not the long view,” said Thorp, leader of the subgroup.

“Yet not unprecedented,” chimed in another. “We’ve seen it many, many times.”

“It could be a longer view,” Frop said. “Skipping one in favor of the other. And why not – landing on a planet much closer in size to their own, with more resources nearby – the planet’s moons are made of metal! Natural for them to go where the resources are plentiful.”

“Could be, could be,” Thorp bubbled. Thorp liked to keep optimism among the watchers.

And Frop watched.

Then the vehicle blossomed and shed parts and the observations came back and again Frop stood before Goom, going over the report protocols.

“I have news.”

“Announce your news.”

“Report on the vehicle launched from S-S-K-Three.”

“How much meat?”

Frop’s tentacles drooped to the floor.

“None.”

“None?”

“None.”

“Nature of the probe, then.”

Frop hummed. “Not a probe.”

Goom hummed, twiddled at the rusty planet on the screen.

“What has arrived at S-S-K-Four?”

“It appears to be a ground vehicle.”

“Set to descend?”

“No,” Frop hummed. “To orbit.”

“A mistake, then? There have been others.”

“Apparently not,” Frop said.

Both Frop and Goom hummed.

“There are many such ground vehicles on S-S-K-Three,” Frop said. “Of the nature that require, at times, oxygen to function. There is little oxygen at S-S-K-Four.”

“And none in orbit,” Goom said. He tapped the rusty planet and the vehicle orbiting it changed from a red, meaty color to a cold blue, matching that of the other failed vehicles in orbit or crashed on the planet.

“And the long view?”

“Unknown,” Frop said.

“Return to your station. Eyes on, Lieutanant Frop. And tentacles ready.”


Frop slithered and hummed back to the station, as those at the stations passed pretended to monitor their own planets.

Personal Essays and Family History

And now, my beloved bretheren, all those who are of the house of Israel, and all ye ends of the earth, I speak unto you as the voice of one crying from the dust: Farewell until that great day shall come.

So writes the prophet Nephi in 2 Nephi 33, verse 13.

In this chapter he bears a powerful testimony of the value of the records he keeps. He expresses the hope that they would be preserved, and be found valuable to us in the latter days.

We, you and I, will never write scripture.

But I testify to you with the same assurance that Nephi testifies to us that what we write will speak to those who follow us as a “voice of one crying from the dust.” We may not speak to millions; we may speak only to those of our descendants who do family history and bother to dust off the crack open the paper and electronic files they find with our names on them. But we do speak.

I have many photos of my father, from those taken of him and his brother as boys at their Dutch village school, to a photo I have of him on my desk at work, where he poses next to his beloved 1948 Ford pickup.

But the things of his I value the most are the words he wrote. Some were written to me, in the form of letters and father’s blessings. Others were written to the family at large. But in his words I hear his voice and feel his love.

And he was not an educated man – his formal schooling stopped at the equivalent of the sixth grade, due to World War II. And English is not his native language.

But in his beautiful script, learned at that Dutch school, I can hear his hopes for his children, his love for his children. His love and hopes for me.

Don’t think of writing as something you do to pass a class – like this one.

Don’t think of writing as something you’ll do now, but never again.

Writing things down is how we communicate with those who come after us. And while we can communicate through photos and recordings and video, what we record in writing carries more of our voice, more of ourselves, more of our loves and cares and dreams, than any other medium.

So please write. Write for yourself, your children, your future children. Don’t write just for me or for any other instructor – because we won’t remember what you’ve written, to be honest. Your descendants, however, will.


Drown them in your writing, no matter how trivial it may seem. Someone down the line will enjoy reading the things you write. They’ll enjoy hearing your voice out of the dust, even if you’re around and not so dusty.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Moving Cheese -- Union Style

As I write this, I’m still in my normal work cubicle. Whether or not I’ll finish this after a successful move or not is questionable.

Because of my current work location, I have to cross union lines for this move. Both unions apparently have to be involved, or they would not be unions. Unions aren’t apparently built for efficiency.

Best yet, since I’m the one who has to cross the lines, it falls to me to negotiate the complexities. And guess how excited I am about that, given my general excitement about the move in the first place.
I do have one box packed. I should probably finish the other. But I’m not anxious to do so.

[Insert a couple hours of whargarbl]

It’s quieter here, I’ll give it that. I don’t have our Criticality Safety engineer shouting at me from halfway across the cubicle farm (he rarely shouts in anger; they’re happy shouts).

Getting moved was, well, okay. Not as complex as I thought – but I did have to go back to my old office to pick up my phone. I thought about bringing it, but they kept saying “turnaround office in 637,” so I left it. But then I would have been phoneless here. And while that might have its advantages, I have let my cell phone number slip out so they’d find me eventually, like the Libyans.

It felt weird leaving. I’ve been at my current location for I’m thinking six years, and I’d gotten used to the people around me and they’d gotten used to me. I did have a few goodbyes with people, though I’ll still work with them. It is different, though, when you can walk to their cubicle and ask a question, rather than have to send an email or pick up the phone because of the distance.

I’ll also have to figure out when it’s time to leave so I don’t miss my bus. And whether or not I want to catch the buses on this side, which I understand are free but require me to be here early, somewhere in the neighborhood of 6:15 or so AM. I’m not sure free is worth that, as the extra time I’d just have to eat; there’s no overtime for showing up on the bus, as it’s shift turnover time.

My new cubicle is smaller. Briefly, it had an undercabinet light that might help me deal with what I think is growing Seasonal Affective Disorder. If we get to put together a laundry list of things we’d like as we settle in, that’s what I’ll ask for.

Also, I’ve already seen a mouse in the building. Not that a mouse scares me off. My first home at RWMC had marmots in it.

I am NOT underneath an air conditioning vent. That’s good.

I cannot poke my head out of the cubicle and glance out a window to see what the weather is. That’s bad.

The move did inspire me to clean up all the folderol I had on my cubicle walls. That’s good.

I didn’t do any cleanup of the folderol until I got here. That’s bad.

I’m no longer area warden, since I left my old building. That’s good.

I have no idea who the area warden is here, where our assembly area is, where we go if we have to evacuate, etc. That’s bad.

I did manage to get two procedures done for ARP, so they can happily go back to work and not bother me until the next fire. That’s good.

I’m pretty sure my Frogurt toppings contain potassium benzoate. That’s bad.


Can I go home now?

Monday, November 27, 2017

Cheese Moving


Late last week I got an email at work asking for a list of things we wanted to take with us for our office move.

I dismissed it. I knew the writers at AMWTP were being moved to a different part of their building because of issues in their current location (noise, cold, stuff dripping on their desks). No one had talked to me about moving – I’m in a different building, serving a different group of workers.

Then today I got another email about “the move.”

So. I decided to make enquiries.

Apparently, I’m moving too.

It’s a real “who moved my cheese” moment (thus the video of Frank’s rat trap). While I’m still grappling with the newness of the idea (and I’m not yet sure I’m sold on it yet) it’s becoming more apparent that there’s not much I can do about it.

So the cheese will move.

It’ll make it more of a challenge for my customers to drop in on me. Which will probably mean more emails and phone calls, as I’m being moved about a twenty-minute walk (round trip) out of their way. I’m not sure what purpose the move serves other than getting all the writers together, because we can communicate via email and phone just as easily as anyone else.


The wheels will turn and I’ll find my cheese again. And probably have to get fitted for an additional pair of glasses.

Or this.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

First on the Moon

First on the Moon: A Voyage with Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr.First on the Moon: A Voyage with Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. by Buzz Aldrin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It takes a talented team of writers to know when to step back and use original material and firsthand accounts, and when a bit of storytelling is needed to weave it all together. That's present in this telling of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

And really, that was the only way to tell this story, as the documentary evidence was strong in the NASA record and the world was waiting to hear more from the astronauts themselves. So while I'm sure Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins worked hard on their contributions to this book, Hamblin and Farmer should also get their due.

Their inclusion of a glossary at the beginning of the book was handy, and I referenced it often enough until I refreshed the lingo in my head. (Being a big fan of the Apollo 13 film helped too.)

To be avoided is the epilogue by Arthur C. Clarke. This is a book of science, not science fiction, and as with most hard sci-fi authors, Clarke is good at envisioning the future but guesses poorly when it comes to connecting the future to the present. Many of his predictions depended on public support and political will extending into space exploration long after the Apollo moon landings, when it should have been clear even at the time that the support and political will were going to be fleeting. Kennedy's promise to land on the moon and return before the decade was out had been reached, and there were no more public or political goals to accomplish. There's a reason the only reason we know of Apollo 18 is because of They Might Be Giants.


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Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Easter Bunny

I’m not a perennial optimist; I think I’m more the fatalist – what’s written is written and I don’t know what it is. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong in acting as if things will work out. I mean, if I tell my wife I believe in the Easter bunny – well, why not? Either he exists or he doesn’t and I choose to believe. I think that is much more pleasant. But if you really cornered me, I’d have to admit reluctantly that there is no Easter bunny.

Michael Collins, p. 174 First on the Moon

“Bernie.”

“Yeah?”

“Ever listen to those old recordings?”

“Which ones?”

“Apollo.”

“The Moon landing? Yeah.”

The Hermit of Iapetus shifted in his seat and sneezed. A fine dust dribbled from a crack in the ceiling, particles floating in the Brownian motion of the chill refuge. “Not the Moon landing. That’s too dramatic. I mean the bits in between the excitement.”

“Can’t say that I have,” Bernie replied.

“You should. Did you know their air pressure was too low for them to whistle? Wally Schirra had enough air to play the harmonica, but Aldrin – he couldn’t whistle.”

“No whistling on the way to the Moon. Tragic.”

“We take it for granted,” the hermit said. He took a sharp breath – more dust shook from the crack in the ceiling – and whistled a long, sharp note.

Bernie, in the Mars/Titan express above, had to remove his headphones as the note blasted through space like an iron rock. “Mission Control probably did that on purpose,” he muttered. “You almost cost me an eardrum.”

“We’ve never met, Bernie.”

“That’s true. I don’t even know your name.”

They both laughed. Saturn joined in, buffeting their radio frequency with a burst of static.

“How do you know I exist?”

“I hear you just fine,” Bernie said.

“That can’t be enough. I could be a figment of your imagination.”

“No,” Bernie said. “My imagination isn’t this dull.”

“A charlatan.”

“Come again?”

“I could be spoofing you, Bernie. I say I’m on Iapetus, but I could be –“

“No, you couldn’t,” Bernie said. “Because when we talk – at least on this part of my milk run – there’s no delay. Communication with Earth, the Moon – there’s a delay. Noticeable, but bearable. A little less of a delay with Mars. But with you, when Saturn’s big in my window, there’s no delay. Maybe you’re not on Iapetus, but you’re clearly in the neighborhood.”

The Hermit paused.

“Clever,” Bernie said. “But you’ll never be consistent enough. I have an ear for it.”

The Hermit laughed. “Charlatans could do it,” he said.

“That I don’t doubt. But why?”

“Does a charlatan need a reason?”

“I guess not. But there is other evidence.”

All quiet on the radio.

“I have a telescope here. Just for fun,” Bernie said. “For looking at things. Sometimes when I’m close enough to a moon, the rings, or whatever, I watch. I’ve been close enough to Iapetus to see.”
The Hermit looked up at his cracked ceiling.

“Tracks?”

“Greypeace is pretty upset about it. You’re a menace to Iapetean wilderness.”

“And how do they know?”

“They’re pretty anxious to buy the pictures I take.”

“Thanks for that, brother.”

“Hey, I do what I can. I tell them you don’t actually exist.”

“You do?”

“Sure. Because I’ve never actually seen you. You hide well.”

“And the tracks?”

“Aw, they could be anything.”

There was only one path he followed regularly. The one out to the plana. The one out to Her. He balled his fist and pounded the table lightly, making the microphone dance. “How much do you get per picture?”

This time, Bernie paused.

“Bernie?”

The only sound: Iapetus itself, where the moonquakes make the sound of fresh cheese curds.

“Bernie?”

Silence. Suddenly silent as the Easter bunny.

“Sorry. Talking with Titan,” Bernie said.

The Hermit jumped at the sound.

“What was your question?”


“Never mind,” the Hermit said.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Reckoning

How long will it last – and how deep will it go?

The reckoning, I mean. We appear to be having one in the United States, spurred on by what I’m not exactly sure.

Fellows who practice the bad behavior winked at in popular culture are sweating. Nobody seems immune. It seems they go from pointing out the motes in others’ eyes to finally plucking the beams from their own.

Is anyone immune?

Politicians are bad boys, from former presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, to senators and Senate candidates Al Franken and Roy Moore.

Entertainers, too, from Harvey Weinstein to – gasp – Pixar’s John Lasseter.

There are some claiming distinctions should be made, that some sins are forgivable, others are not; or are at least present on a sliding scale of depravity based on severity and location (assaults at the workplace are no-nos, but at a bar? Welllll . . . Seriously, that’s been brought up).

Ought there to be a scale?

Careful. Making a scale is akin to putting the slippery soap on the slippery slope. From the article (Sorry, one swear word ahead):

When women stand up to say “keep your hands off of me” there’s a good chance they’ll be called prudes. Saying there’s a sex panic is a fancy way of saying that women’s bodies don’t completely belong to them the way their cars do. Someone can damage a woman’s car in a very small way, and insurance companies take it seriously and pay for the repair. She owns that car, and has every right to protect it. But if someone grabs her butt without her permission, she needs to lighten up. What is she, a frigid bitch?

All animals are equal, of course. But some are more equal than others.

Forgivable?


Probably. But not based on some arbitrary sliding scale. Contrition, the suffering of consequences, the refutation of behavior, that’s part of forgiveness. Apologies are the beginning, not the end. And the sorrow must be for the sin, not the act of being caught.

Seven Chapters In

Back in January, I put Doleful Creatures away.

I’d completed 17 edits, and while it was getting closer by degrees to what I wanted the book to be, it was time to give it a rest.

Then today, a slack day at work I knew about beforehand. So I brought both electronic and hard copy manuscripts, complete with notes and fixes.

I’m through the first seven chapters. I’ve cut two chapters of 2,144 words, added 616, for a cut of just over 1,500 words. And I can finally see the story coming out.

I’m going to go about this slow. No more promises of having the book ready by the end of the year. Because ha ha ha ha ha I’ve been saying that for four years now. The book will be ready when it’s ready, and not a second before that.

But that’s okay.

I want this to be the best book I can write.

Inspiration has shifted a little. I’ve gone from Robert C. O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH to Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s Book of the Dun Cow. I’m not as hopeless without guarantees as Wangerin, but I’m not as crisp as O’Brien.

What I’ve got to figure out is this: Humans or no? In which period does this book take place – on the evening of the fifth day [of Creation] or on the morning of the sixth? The more I look at it, the more I need humans involved in this. And they can be. Just in the peripheral way they’re involved in Watership Down or NIMH. We shouldn’t know any of their names. Just what they do intersecting with the animal world I’m creating. That was the big hangup that made me put the book aside in January. So maybe I’m past that.


And maybe one of these days I’ll write a funny book. But funny books, they seem hard. This is a serious book, and it’s taking me forever. I may not be cut out for funny.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

More Things Found in Books

Scored seriously when I found these three books at the Rexburg DI this morning:

First on the Moon, by Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin Aldrin, Jr. (which explains why he went by "Buzz";

Overlord, by Max Hastings;

Nixon" The Man Behind the Mask, by Gary Allen.

The Nixon book should prove interesting, as it's written for the crowd who felt Tricky Dick was too much of a squashy liberal, rather than the stone-squeezing conservative they wanted him to be. To wit, note the two bits of paper being used as bookmarks in this book:



Clearly, this book was being read by a patriot.

Note a few interesting things:

  1. State government took a bite of a whopping nineteen cents in 1972, from wages earned for 41.5 hours of work.
  2. This person earned $1.85 an hour (minimum wage then was $1.60 an hour). The wage represents just under $10 an hour in 2017 dollars.
  3. Rogers Brothers was a seed company that operated in Idaho Falls from 1911 to 1986 and was rather a mover and shaker in seed research nationally. I vaguely remember seeings signs for this company around town when I was a kid.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Friday Night

Friday night, my sister and I sat behind Mom’s garage, sipping diet sodas, watching stuff burn.

They were the last bulky objects to come out of the house and garage: A particleboard cabinet with a broken door, a wooden shelf from the basement suffering from a little rot and hasty craftsmanship. Albert’s truck was already full of junk and the transfer station was closed, so burning these objects – along with a small random collection of other wooden junk – seemed appropriate. The house is out in the county where no burn permits are required. The night was cool and windless, the patch of ground bare.

We sat on a log lumpy with burlwood, something Dad brought home from some adventure somewhere. It had always been at the house. I remember it posted in the back yard at our other house, near the sandbox. It had always been there. Now it was shorter, its bottom rotted. We probably should have thrown it on the fire too, but it was the only place to sit.

Everything else in the house and garage was either loaded up in cars and trucks or hauled off long ago.

The house is sold. The garage swept, the tools bundled up in my truck. The only resident of the house now, a lonely recliner that nobody had room for (my house, stuffed with stuff from Mom’s already looks like a consignment shop). A gift, then, for the new owners.

Footsteps, and a flashlight, to the side of the garage. I was standing because the burlwood was uncomfortable. We thought it was Albert, back from the dump.

“You got a phone? My radio’s not working.”

A sheriff’s deputy. Not Albert.

“Somebody saw your fire and called the cavalry,” he said. Indeed, across the field behind the house, we can see a lit-up fire engine approaching, sirens shouting into the darkness.

“I can see you’ve got a controlled burn here. Can I borrow a phone to call dispatch?”

I hand him my phone, and, like the rest of us, stumbles to dial the area code, a new requirement. He makes his call, hands back the phone, then wishes us a good night.

The fire truck arrives, lights still in Christmas glory.

I wander to the front to meet the deputy and a fireman coming back. The fireman, too, looks at our fire – much diminished from whenever the call was made – and agrees there’s nothing to worry about. “Just make sure you’ve got a shovel and a hose ready, just in case,” he said. They leave. I retrieve a shovel and a hose from the back of my truck, and we watch the fire grow dimmer.
The fire truck and deputy leave; the neighborhood has had its last bit of excitement from the Davidson family.

Mom, of course, died on August 18, seventeen years and seventeen days after Dad passed, or about seven years after he built the new house about a quarter mile from the one he built in the 1960s. We’d signed the paperwork to sell the house the day before the fire, and were there that day getting two sisters moved out and the rest of the stuff of generations boxed up and either taken home or to the dump.

It was my job to claim the tools. Should have been pretty simple, as Dad pared down the number of tools he had when he moved. But it took two loads in my tiny Toyota to claim it all, including the table I decided to take home to my own garage so I’d have somewhere to store all the new tools I’d collected. I am suddenly rich in socket sets and drill bits, and I need a place to put them.

So the tools are loaded. Next comes the bottles of automotive chemicals: Wiper fluid, fuel treatment, motor oil and paint polish. And can after can of spray paint. The county does a yearly chemical disposal day. I’ll have to store it all until then. I wanted to leave it to the new owners, but the drive now is to clear the garage of all but the bundles of shingles that match the house. So the chemicals come home with me. Maybe I can use some of them.

The firewood, too, is loaded up – Albert brings his trailer and his two boys, and we toss wood into the trailer until the garage is empty. Then with brooms native to the home and those brought from afar, we sweep the garage, inhaling dust from leaves and wind and mouse nests in the firewood. Far more dangerous than the fire that gets the fire department there. We throw the debris on the fire.

Albert and his boys leave. So does my sister. I sit in the dark behind the garage, watching the fire, embers now.

There’s the yurt. Albert and I agree it’ll probably be torn down by the new owners. That seems sad. But the round shed built by Dad, capped with half a five-gallon bucket, is showing stress cracks in its brick walls – Dad was a bricklayer, building a brick shed was natural. Inside it, a wheelbarrow. 

Between Albert and I, we have five wheelbarrows. So the wheelbarrow stays for the new owners.
The embers are dim. I’m tired of waiting. The hose from the truck won’t reach the pit, but I have a five-gallon bucket and I fill it ten times, dousing the embers. Then with Dad’s coal shovel I shuffle the coals to make sure there’s nothing glowing. Only a few little spots remain in the black beneath a sky washed of stars by the lights from the high school football stadium across the field.


I’m the last one at the house, and it’s quiet. The windows of the house are dark and the only light comes from the empty garage. I turn the lights off and drive my truck, loaded down like the Clampetts’ jalopy, home where, decades in the future, my own children will eventually have to do a similar cleaning out. I should probably teach a few of them how to use drill bits and socket sets, as I have plenty of those.


Monday, November 13, 2017

My Time

In a way – a big way – failing to weather this particular storm was my fault.

I felt it coming for years. But like the brave newscasters who have to get out from behind the desk to report the news when the hurricane is coming in only to get blown over or have to cling to a power pole as the winds buffet them.

So in 2005, about ten years after I entered the world of newspaper journalism, I left. Rear-end first. I screwed up a court story that could have landed the paper in hot water – partly because for years I’d been burned out on journalism, didn’t like the job any more, and didn’t care.

So to quit/be fired, was a relief – and was rattling.

I had a wife and three kids. My wife worked part-time as an office manager and was having her own struggles with difficult bosses. My job brought the health insurance and the bulk of our income. I should have stayed. Should have tried to fix my attitude.

But I walked away.

We were living in a town of just under 2,000 people, next to a town of about 20,000. Job prospects were few. So my brother, who was doing a brick job nearby, came by with a pizza. I didn’t want to see him, or anybody else for that matter. The copy of the paper announcing my rear-end exit was underneath the bed, and I felt its righteous indignation zooming at me through the mattress.

We ate the pizza. He talked to me about working, and jobs, and how God would help take care of us.

I didn’t even taste the grease. And I didn’t want to hear about God. If God cared, he’d have helped me feel better about being a journalist, rather than sending me to work all day feeling sorry for myself.

So I became a hod carrier again – a bricklayer’s assistant. My brother gave me a job right there. He didn’t have to. He did because I was his brother and I needed the job.

I still felt sorry for myself, though it meant I still could collect a paycheck.

That was April April first. And I was the April Fool.

He was working on a better job of his own. He’d worked before for a contractor making tank armor for the United States government, and it was looking good that he could get on with them again. That meant my reprieve from joblessness was temporary.

So I had to apply for lots of jobs. And soon.

On my own. Because, you know, God didn’t help me out before. So why bother him?

I applied for lots of jobs, both locally and out of state. Got invited to quite a few interviews. And always got to that spot where we talked about my employment history and I had to tell them what happened. I never got a call back.

My brother got his job making armor, leaving me jobless again.

I wasn’t jobless for long. Quickly, I was working mornings stocking shelves at a big box store and afternoons and evenings doing telemarketing. The first job showed me I might be able to organize things. The second job showed me there were things I was worse at than Journalism.

And God wasn’t part of my equation.

Especially the rainy morning when, on the way to the box, my truck broke down – turns out it threw a rod – and I had to call my wife using the last ounce of juice in the cell phone so she could come get me. And take me to my loser job and then pick me up from my loser job and take my loser self home to stew about getting the truck towed somewhere to get it fixed – though we couldn’t afford to. 

Probably.

So I sat in that truck and talked with God. It was the first time I’d talked with Him since I lost my job. I wasn’t pleasant. As the rain splattered the windshield I had to tuck my glasses into my pocket to try to wipe off the tears.

As my wife pulled up behind me, I heard two words: My time.

My time.

My time.

I thought about those words on the way to work.

That was November.

December came. Still the big box and the call center.

January. Still the big box but a different call center, one with vastly better health benefits.

February. More jobs applied for, more jobs rejected for.

March. My wife saw a camper for sale. Three thousand dollars. We were still paying off the $1,500 for the rebuilt truck engine. Her Dad had to buy me tires.

Three thousand dollars, she said. We’ve got it in the bank. We can afford it.

I have two jobs that suck, I reminded her.

My time.

My time. The words kept coming. I hadn’t talked to God since that rainy day in November. I had no faith.

Mid-March. No job prospects.

We bought the camper. “It’ll work out,” my wife said.

I didn’t see how.

Then the blessed Tuesday. We walked our kids to school and decided, since I had the day off, to continue our walk in the spring sunshine. My wife had our cell phone with her. She decided to check messages – something she did only once or twice a month.

There was a message.

A job offer.

My time, the voice said again in my head.

I called the number and set up a time to talk. Friday, my next day off, wasn’t fast enough. So Wednesday, during my lunch break.

“The job is yours if you want it,” the man said.

If I wanted it? A job where I’d have health benefits, make 2 ½ as much as I was now, and have three-day weekends in perpetuity?

Damn hell I wanted the job.

We shook hands.

On the way home, the calendar popped into my head.

April Fools Day.

I was still a fool.

“I never stopped praying,” my wife said as we walked, after she checked the messages and after I made that phone call.

“I did,” I confessed.

“I know,” she said. “I talked to God about it. A lot. I knew you were hurting. But you kept going to church. You kept looking. You should have involved God more. But He never left.”

My time, I remembered the voice saying.

I’ve talked a lot with God since then. I don’t wait for the storm clouds to come any more.

I also thanked my brother for that pizza. And that job.