Wednesday, February 22, 2017

“I Figured it Out”

I hate W-4s.

These deceptively simple forms play with my head – and my livelihood.

How many exemptions? How much to withhold? And how quickly do you have to change things when they go awry and you realize you’re letting the Feds hold onto way more money than you should?

One good thing: The company I now work for allows you to change your federal W-4 withholdings online, rather than via submitting a new W-4. That’s helpful. And while it’s less helpful that to change state withholding you have to submit a paper form (why, I have to ask) probably leaving that level pegged a bit higher is better, as we owe the state $59 in taxes for 2016.

A second good thing: I am effectively getting a raise in take-home pay, though insurance with the new company is spendier than it was with North Wind. That is, after the new withholding kicks in. Even then, it was more money, but now it’s even a little bit more additional money. Less I have to hide in the cast on me leg.

One bad thing: Still haven’t received that first paycheck. It’s all academic until the money actually starts coming in. All signals point to it arriving this week. Though you never know. And then I have to sweat as to whether the direct deposit thing is working or not afterward.

Life Held Home

On February 22, 2017, all eyes turned to TRAPPIST-1.

And then squinted a lot. Because this star, you can’t see it. It likes about 40 light years away in the constellation Aquarius.

The water-bearer. Remember that.

Because orbiting TRAPPIST-1, NASA has identified 7 planets, three of which may be warm enough to be home to liquid water.

The planets orbit in a tight group around their star, all well within a circle representing the orbit of the planet Mercury, in a clumpy, resonant configuration similar to that of the Galilean moons of Jupiter.

And I’m not surprised at all.

And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten.

Moses 1:33

We know there are worlds out there. That some have been found is exciting. But not surprising.

And yet so distant.

Who can visit them? No one, not form our solar system. Not with our present technology, not with our present lifespans. We haven’t been back to Earth’s own Moon for more than 50 years, and it lies a mere 248,000 miles away. The fastest objects ever created – the Voyager and Pioneer Probes, along with New Horizons – are barely beyond the orbit of Pluto, or barely beyond the shock wave that marks the beginning of interstellar space.
We are no closer to these planets than were our ancestors, starting up at the lights in the sky and watching them dance.

And it does not make me melancholy. Because they are not ours to have.

Nor are our planets for others, perhaps looking up at our distant star, much bigger than theirs. They may imagine life in a hostile solar system, where the light and energy put out by our star is so much more intense than theirs. Maybe they look at that third, possibly the fourth planet, as places where water and life may exist.

But they, too, never will visit. All life is held home by the vastness of the spaces between the stars.

Monday, February 20, 2017

"I Gots Millions 'o Emenies. And You is Ten or Twelve of 'em"

Donald Trump says the news media is the enemy of the American people.

A statement, which on the surface is complete trash and, even after deep introspection, is deep trash.

Neil Mackay says social media is “detestable” and represents “everything that is wrong with the world . . . I think it de-intellectualized us I think it has robs us of introspection, which is the most important thing a human being can have.”

Mackay is editor of the 18-year-old Glasgow, Scotland-based Sunday Herald, which, in an unrelated twist, is celebrating its 18th anniversary with plugs tied in with writer David Sharman’s reportage on Mackay’s comments.

I guess it might be fair to say Sharman or his editors saw an opportunity to smash the dull reportage of the paper’s 18th anniversary together with Mackay’s click-ready comments – but you’ve already seen the irony.

(Something else odd: says Mackay himself penned the missive at, but I’m finding it in an article by Paul Trainer at that website.)

So why, you’re aksing, did I bring Donald Trump and his asshattery on news media into this?

Because just as the news media isn’t the enemy of the American people, social media isn’t the enemy of introspection, or intellectualism. Oh, I suppose it can be. It does get pretty echoey. But for the most part I use social media to connect with other writers, to gather research and information for books I’m working on, and, at times, for introspection. I don’t even need German music to introspect, much to the horror of Sherlock Holmes.

Social media is a tool, and depending on how you use it, it can be both good and bad. But those who want to introspect can do so with or without social media, while those who don’t gaze at their own navels from time to time can ignore their bellybuttons to their heart’s content whether there’s social media around or not.

Says Delta1212 at, commenting on the story (summing up pretty well my thoughts on the subject):

It didn’t rob us of introspection. It just made introspective people aware of how many people around them aren’t.

The problem with social media is not that it changed anyone. It’s that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we tend to assume that the people around us are more or [less] like us. Social media opens a window into the thoughts of every person who uses it, which means that we have all suddenly discovered that we are surrounded by crazy people.

That the world didn’t seem to be like this before is a function of our former ignorance, not a result of the medium of our enlightenment changing our natures in any fundamental way.

Thus, Mackay can still be introspective in a world where social media exists, and those who weren’t introspective to begin with can go on being self-oblivious with a new platform to do it on.

The pity here, of course, is that we could all have a conversation on the detestibility and absence of social media introspection along with Mackay – but to do it, we’d have to get on some kind of social media platform. Oh, I guess we could all travel to Glasgow and try to meet up with the man and gaze out the train windows together, but that’s fiscally impossible and rendered grossly inefficient by the social media ties that could bind us all together if we could get beyond the roadblocks that exist in our own heads and are only mirrored on social media.

All of this, of course, was explained centuries ago – in an era devoid of today’s social media – by Plato as he described his Allegory of the Cave.

We are all of us watching the theater, the shadow of the spectacle, going on inside our own heads. Occasionally, we may rid ourselves of our ties and walk to the daylight, and thus see the spectacle in reality, not as shadows on the cave wall. Social media users aren’t all captives, and those prone to introspection aren’t all those who’ve escaped and are walking toward the natural light.

Still doesn’t explain Trump, however.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Spoon and Carrot

NOTE: I don't know what this is. But it might be related to this and this and could definitely be related to this. You never know.

Widdershins of the Mountains of Stone, yonder of the river Lage, and a half hour north of the village of Splut lies my misery.

It sprawls on the leeward edge of twenty acre of meadow, rock, swamp and forest. Twenty rooms it has, each less grand than the last and only six of them with running water because the thatch there is a bit thin and the rain gets through.

The Spoon and Carrot, my inn.

Well, I say ‘my inn,’ but it belongs to my father. He says I’ll inherit it one day, but Mam says I’ve enough misery in my life he’s not to say such things when I’m within earshot.
Misery includes my older brother Hamlet, whose straw stack hair resembles the thick thatch on the roof of the inn.

You might wonder why Hamlet won’t inherit the inn, being the oldest, and a boy. Life works in mysterious ways, my father says, and when he says that Mam says good thing, leastwise he never would’ve found anyone willing to marry him. Then he says oh ho woman, there’s mystery too in a man who can put up with a born spinster like thee, and that’s when they usually tell me to go slop the pigs.

And I go, not because I don’t enjoy hearing them fight – anyone with a room next to theirs would be a fool not to spend nights with their ear clamped to the wall listening to them fight and talk and carouse and then do what sounds like making the bed all night (that’s usually when I get bored and go to bed myself). I go because the pigs need feedin’ and Hamlet’s probably out there counting the chickens and he gets upset if he can’t get to thirty.

But back to Hamlet, speaking of the pigs.

Mam says he’s simple. Father says he’s daft. All I know is his days are all off if he can’t go into the swamp each morning and count the snails before he starts his chores. 

Twenty-eight he counts each day, and I have a hard life replacing those the birds et or the ones who get sick of being counted and slide away. But a Hamlet who has counted only twenty-seven ere the morn comes is a Hamlet who steps on the chickens or upsets the pail under the cow’s udder and the world’s not right in that endless head of his until the twenty-eighth is counted.

That’s why father says the inn is mine, if I want it.

And I want it.

First thing I’ll do is change the daft name. Whoever heard of the Spoon and Carrot, with the idiot sign carved in oak of the loony man holding a carrot behind him and a spoon afore him, as if that’s a sign of good food and hospitality. And the men laugh because they say the carrot looks like those the Widow Sharp grows in her garden, the one she shows to the young ladies before they go to their wedding-beds. I don’t see what’s so funny about it, but the men – specially the old ones – laugh so hard they end up coughing up their beer.

I won’t have them about when I own the inn, drinkin’ beer and pissin’ it out and doing nothing all day but that. That they occasionally remember to scrape a coin across the bar is a miracle, Mam says, but Father, well, Father doesn’t mind because he says they lend color, and color is what the regular guests of the Spoon and Carrot seek.

Now here I have to be careful. I have to count to twenty-eight myself and make sure Mam isn’t listening.

Because the Spoon and Carrot’s regulars ain’t exactly regular.

Ponyboy, Whoever You Are, I Hate You

Crisis Part One: On Monday, the 12-year-old remembers/discovers (we’re never quite sure with him) that he’s got a massive packet of papers to complete (for today(!)) on his English class’ recent reading of S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders.”

Crisis Part Two: We’re pretty sure we own the book. Good thing, since the teacher won’t let school copies of the book go home in order to complete this assignment. Except it’s not on the shelf. A quick scouring of the shelves in the study and the shelves in the kids’ rooms (we could insulate our house with the paperback books we own) reveals nothing S.E. Hinton-related. No problem, it’s a perennial favorite at our local thrift stores. So off we go . . .

Crisis Part Three: It’s not at the Idaho Youth Ranch Thrift Store. And the other local thrifts are closed. As is the local used book store (out of business, due to exceptionally high prices). They do have a copy at Barnes and Noble (inexplicably filed in “New Teen Fiction”). Good news, though: I find a copy of Theodore White’s “The Making of the President 1960, adding yet another to my collection of Richard Milhous Nixon-connected books, which causes much eye-rolling on the part of my wife. I pass up a hardbound biography of Gerald Ford, however.

Crisis Part Four: The copy Barnes and Noble has is a 50th Anniversary edition. Of course. Which probably explains why it’s in “New Teen Fiction,” I suppose.  That also explains why it costs $10; one dollar more than we can buy the ebook. Because the publishers know this is a perennial favorite among high school English teachers and why not profit from that?

Crisis Averted: We make an appeal to the Internet and of course find so many study guides and helps and hints on the book that (as far as I know) the homework packet is completed and we have enough time to do dishes and send everyone to bed. Good thing I didn’t need/want an evening.

Confession: I’m pretty sure I’ve never read the book. Nor have I seen the movie. I know vaguely it’s about gangs, I think, and includes someone named Ponyboy. Lest ye think me uncultured in the way of must-reads in high school, I am versed in the works of Robert Cormier. Though I’m not sure that’s something to brag about.