Thursday, May 29, 2003

Bush thinks Midwesterners are Stupid - At least, that's what the headline would say if my liberal media was going to print this story. The country club republicans who run this country look out over the so-called red states and see a bovine bunch of morons who'll vote for whoever they tell them to, provided they pick a guy who can aw-shucks his way into their hearts.

There's no doubt that it's easier to get your news off the TV and not put much effort into finding out what's really going on, but when you live in a town with 6.5% unemployment (double what it was just 5 years ago), it has an effect on all that. Clinton was loved as much as he was hated for the simple fact that he was an ordinary guy who managed to work his way to extraordinary things. From trailor trash to the White House. That's the myth, and so the ordinary guys trust him to look out for their interests. The difference between Bush and Clinton is that with Clinton, the myth was more or less true. Sure, there was some bullshit politics, a few smelly deals, and a sexual history most of us would rather not think about, but we knew that if Clinton had some bill on his desk that would close the factory in our town, he at least thought about the families that might lose their jobs. Bush? He's thinking about the plant owner, who might have to sell one of the Jags.

If you want to get elected, you need to find a story speaks to people more than Bush's bullshit, and (here's the tough bit) it has to be true. Because the truth wins in the end, but a good story gets people to stop what they're doing and pay attention. So, what's the right story? Well that depends on the candidates, I guess. If I'm not too lazy, I'll try and take a look at the major candidates to see what their stories are.

Edwards is easy, though: Lawyer who spent his life fighting for the little people, and now he wants to do it on the big stage. Dean's the plain-spoken New England doctor who looks at the way the Republicans are running the country and says, "Look, you're screwing things all up. Give me the keys; it's time to let the grown-ups drive."

Exercise One: Think of the presidential race as a horror movie. Sum up each of the major characters in one sentence, then decide if they live or die. That's who'll be on the ballot next year.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Me: It's not that I think men belong in the back of the canoe, and women in the front, it's just that I think I belong in the back of the canoe.

Dad: You like to be in charge.

Me: Well, yeah.

Dad: Of things that are going to be over in a couple of hours.

Me: Exactly.

Monday, May 26, 2003

Well, I'm home. What? You didn't know I was gone? I guess we can chalk that up to my poor communication skills. To tell you where I'm home from necessitates that rarity of all rarities: The Relationship Post.

Christie took my down to New Orleans to meet her folks. Apparently, we'd reached the point where her parents felt the need to check me out, and Christie felt safe letting me see where she came from. It was illuminating to say the least. Her parents are transplanted Yankees, and she actually lived in Michigan until 6th grade. It's taken a while for the Yankee and Southern elements in her personality to reconcile themselves to one another, but they really have come together nicely, mitigated by the Geek elements of her upbringing. By the way, I'm using Geek in the non-pejorative sense here. I was raised by geeks myself, so I actually consider it a compliment. And no one who's met Christie's folks would argue with me when I say they're members of the Geek tribe.

We spent one day in the city and walked Bourbon Street in the day and nighttimes, which just whet my appetite for New Orleans. The history and culture permeate the city, as does a certain odor that may be unique in its peculiar blend of swamp rot, sugar, pork fat, booze and urine. Like I said, it was just a taste, but I get the impression that New Orleans is stuck in the middle of being what it always has been and becoming a parody of itself. But that's a problem we all have, and I wish it well in its journey. That being said, I'm very comfortable putting New Orleans in the "nice place to visit, but..." pile.

As far as Christie, and the weekend, and her parents, I'm not sure how much detail I want to go into, since several of the relevant parties are at least occasional readers. Her folks are a joy, and things are going well with Christie (I'm finally learning to give myself permission to be happy, finally starting to trust my heart again), so it's not that I have horrible things to say but don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. It's more that if I'm going to write about Christie and I, I want to be able to do so without worrying about what effect my words might have on the people I care about. So I'll do what my kind have always done: I'll write about them in my journal, turn it into fiction, and then let everybody try and puzzle out what parts are about who.

Until that time, just know that things are good, and I'm remembering how to love again.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

I'm glad (in a way), then, that Buffy ended last night. The time was right. Seven seasons ago I was newly married, and Buffy wasn't anywhere on my radar screen, let alone my cable system. By season two, however, I'd started hearing word about this show I absolutely had to watch. Word also arrived that the WB was coming to Columbia's cable system. The first Buffy they ever showed was the season finale of season two, when, in order to save the world, Buffy stabbed Angel, the love of her life, through the heart and sent him to hell. We caught most of the season in reruns over the summer, and barely missed a Tuesday after. Carrie was as big a fan as I was, and Tuesdays were our date night, of sorts. She'd get done teaching just as Angel was coming on, which we'd watch together. The VCR was hooked up to the bedroom TV, so once Angel was over, we'd curl up together in there to watch the Buffy I'd taped while she was teaching.

Since we split up two years ago, the one dependable thread between us has been the Buffy (and Angel, of course) episodes I tape every week. As a broke musician, she can't quite justify cable, so I'm her source for Buffy. Meanwhile, I spread the addiction to Christie, who shows up every Tuesday for her dual fix of Buffy and snuggling on the couch. There's something about a Hellmouth that promotes snuggling on the couch.

So, the show's been through seven seasons, and I've been watching for five years. Buffy's died twice, came back (both times), ran away, came back, flipped burgers, buried her mother, found and lost loves true and not-so-true, learned how to follow, learned how to lead, and, of course, saved the world. A lot. In that same period of time, I got married, bought a house, buried a friend or two, learned how to work eight hours a day, toasted my best friend's marriage while my own was coming apart, started learning how to be a manager (which is so not the same thing as leader), and figured out that saving the world was, for me, nowhere near as important as learning how to get along with the folks in the next cubicle.

I guess you could say I grew up on Buffy.

Can you say "Best. Finale. Ever."? Yeah, it had its flaws. What show doesn't? Like most of the fanbase, I found most of last season almost unwatchable, but tuned in again for the last few eps, just so Joss could break my heart. Again. Unlike most of the folks I've been reading, I actually enjoyed this season quite a bit. Something resonated with me about an incorporeal villain who attacks you by whispering in your ear, repeating your own worst fears back at you. As did Buffy's struggles with becoming a leader, and finding herself responsible for the lives of others.

If you believe Joss, last season was meant to be about growing up and learning to stand on your own. This season's theme, then, was "Okay, so I'm grown up. Now what the hell do I do?" The answer last night gave us was "You keep going no matter what, turn to your friends when you need help, and whatever power you have, find a way to use it well and pass it on."

But Buffy's never been about the theme, or the moral, or any of that boring crap. It's about the connections between the characters, and it's about dialogue. Like Buffy uttering the stereotypical "just killed the bad guy" wisecrack, and then cracking up about it. I think she might have even slapped her thigh. The repartee skittering back and forth like water bugs on a deep, dark lake of love and camaraderie. Or, you know, something like that, but not quite so icky. There was violence, and sex, and wit, and even a few of those icky emotional moments that have been known to make me squeeze out a tear or two.

In short, the finale had all the things that made this series great television, and little of the stuff that didn't. There was loss (anything less would have felt like cheating), but in the end you felt like the characters would walk off with lighter burdens. I can't speak for anyone else, but it was just what I needed.

Thanks, Joss, for seven seasons of damn good TV.

Monday, May 19, 2003

When, in the course of your week, you run across a news headline about those wacky Texans, please remember that, while it has been an entertaining saga, and that the Texas leg has long since given up politics in favor of absurdist theater, this is where Bush cut his teeth. They say that your first job is where you learn what is and is not acceptable behavior in the workplace. That explains so much.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

Rayne's inspired me yet again. She keeps posting mini-movie reviews. For years I've had a page with book recommendations, but I never update it and it doesn't reflect that I've gotten lazy in my old age and watch at least as many movies as I read books. So now it's a blog, and there's even room for comments.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Evolution of a story
Here's where it started. A county in Oregon is drawing up a list of languages they might need interpreters for, with a specific eye toward mental health. Somebody says, "Hey, how about Klingon?" and since it isn't going to cost them any money unless they actually end up needing it, they throw it in. It was a "hell with it" moment, I guess, which are few and far between in county government. A local reporter writes it up, and the officials who wrote up the request come across as practical but slightly whimsical folks, like most of the small-town government employees I've met.

The Next Step. Associated Press picked the story up, but in the process it somehow changed from a whimsical "why not?" story to a "Federal law obligates us to do this stupid thing" story, and whatever sense of humor the folks at Multnomah County has displayed in the first story was firmly excised, to be replaced with dreary functionality. Also removed was the fact that no money had been spent at all, and that this was an attempt to describe every possible need, not a posting for an actual job position to be filled, both facts which had been eminently clear in the first version.

What happened then? Well, word got out that AP was pushing a story that wasn't true, and CNN, MSNBC and everybody else had jumped on because it sounded so damn good. And since this was America, I'm sure the folks at Multnomah County got an earful from the ignorant yahoos that are so foolish as to actually believe our newspapers, television, and radio when they say that something is true. So now AP puts out a new story explaining the actual facts as they have always stood, notwithstanding a deceptively written AP story: That no money was spent, and this was never an actual position to be filled. And the headline? "Search for Klingon Interpreter Called Off".


Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Well, the new 'puter is alive, well, and bloggable from. I'd say the highpoint of the installation was when the UPS told me my outlet wasn't sufficiently grounded, and I fixed it. Yeah, that's right; I'm a genius.

I've been thinking about patience lately, particularly as it relates to my writing. A week or so ago, I wrote a haiku:

Spring's ghost, dogwood white,
glimpsed floating from the highway
among bare branches.

Roughly thirteen years ago, I was heading out of Kirksville for the weekend, looked out the highway, and saw a white flowering tree floating among the still dark branches like a ghost. Thirteen years later, that flash of memory became 17 syllables of words as polished as I could get them. Why should I be impatient with myself, then, if I still haven't processed some of the big stuff in my life, like divorce, death, work, and all that kind of thing?
I finally have my pictures and journal entries from Japan up for your perusal. Well, it's not all the entries, but enough of them to give you an idea of what the trip was like without giving away anyone's secrets. After all, some of the folks I spent time with do plan to run for office some time in the future. Mostly, though, I'm shielding myself. This trip was primarily an emotional detox for me, and so the thoughts that came out in my journal are not necessarily thoughts I want the world to see. At least, not until I've adequately fictionalized them.
Disaster simulation as an RPG

Nickles: Hah hah! I say "This is Mayor Greg Nickels and I order you to go investigate the dirty bomb!"

DM: Okay, roll against Charisma and see if he's convinced. Meanwhile, what do you do, Gary?

Seattle Fire Chief Gary Morris: I grab my Fire Axe of Tor +2 and slide down the pole to my truck...

My brother's done quite a few of these. I'll have to ask him if that's what it's really like.

Monday, May 12, 2003

A Dearth of Drama
Went up to Dionne's folks' place in northern Missouri this weekend. For those of you without a scorecard, that's my best friend's wife's parents (AKA Jan and Jim). It's not where Dionne grew up, however. That would be Kansas City. It's more or less a retirement home, a little log house on a hundred acres or so that they're gradually reforesting. So Saturday was a beautiful drive up two lane highways and a walk in the woods, followed by fried morel mushrooms and lasagna. Sunday morning it was cinnamon rolls and coffee, a 4-wheeler ride through the woods, then more morels, grilled venison and, for the traditionalists, hamburgers and hotdogs. Of course, there was more to the weekend than just playing outside and food, but those were the tentpoles of the weekend, with everything else strung off them. Or is it more accurate to say that good friends and family were the tentposts, and the food and fun came from there?

I don't know that it really matters what comes from where, as long as I can revel in good times with the people I love.

This is three weekends in a row of playing outside. Three weeks ago it was an Ozarks ropes course with Theron's instructors and black belts. Last week was Marni's Mayday party at her place at the edge of the bluffs, near Easley, along the Katy Trail. And this weekend it was the Dulys' place in the hills and hollows of northwestern Missouri.

Years ago, somebody got Jim a bunch of letter blocks. When we arrived on Saturday, he'd spelled out "THE CIRCUS IS IN TOWN" on the kitchen counter. Christie and I didn't know it when we accepted the invite, but not only were Theron and Dionne up there, but also Dionne's two aunts, which meant eight people under one roof. No stress for any of us, though, as we're all big fans of the circus. More people meant more food, more conversation, and, paradoxically, more alone time, as it was easier to sneak off if you wanted (or needed) to. When I got hit with a headache Saturday night, I was very glad of the crowd, since it meant I wasn't abandoning Christie completely, just abandoning her with a bunch of near strangers (and Theron and Dionne). And as much as headaches suck, that meant I was up and walking under the stars at four in the morning.

And then there was the delight of watching tough girl Christie squeal and jump every time she felt a creeping itch. She was fine at first, but after she found her first tick, she got a little jumpy. She was in the kitchen with the rest of the circus when she found it crawling up her arm, which led to a general discussion of ticks, and whether they were worse this year than they have been in the past (I produced some wild-ass theory about fluctuations in the deer population as a result of decreased hunting leading to more ticks in the woods, with not enough large mammals to feed them). Jan's city-dwelling sisters were a bit squeamish about blood-sucking parasites, but Jan was very matter of fact about it: "You just have to do a tick-check when you get back from hiking."

To which I responded, "That's the best part of the hike!" Then Christie, still grossed out from finding her little hitchhiker, insisted we go do a tick-check, which she described as the most unerotic nudity she's experienced since, well, possibly ever. Jim had rejoined the group while we were gone, and asked where we'd been when we came back in the room. "Tick check," we said.

He grinned and said, "Oh, that's the best part of the hike!"

Friday, May 09, 2003

God just smote the Circle-K...
Okay, so tornadoes hit Kansas City, Kansas, and Perry, Missouri on Sunday. Yesterday Christie and I were having lunch, and a quick storm came through town and spent about five minutes blowing the doors of the restaurant open, and when we left, there was a ten-inch thick branch newly torn from one of the trees lining the sidewalk. Christie had a training session later with some teachers from Fayette, where they had marble-sized hail, hurricane force winds, and the pond up the hill from the school flooded, so they had fish flopping around in the hallways.

Welcome to spring in the midwest.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Okay, done grieving. But blogging will still be scarce, as the replacement computer won't be here for a while, which means work is the only place I've got easy Internet access. And, oddly enough, I'm actually working much of the time that I'm here. Weird. How did that happen?
Well, my computer died. It is survived by an Axim handheld, monitor, keyboard, and a wireless mouse. The family has requested that services remain private, but donations made be made in the deceased's name to your favorite charity. Blogging may be scarce for a while, as I will be grieving.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Nice. And on the other end of the seesaw, we have this, which is as wordy as Flyguy is wordless, and as artless as Flyguy is artful. And yet both are equally compelling.
It was time to shakeup the blogroll a little bit. Hope y'all don't mind.
There's a really disturbing discussion going on in a comments thread over at Alas, a Blog. Amp started it out with a post on shoplifting, in which he talked about having shoplifted fake firewood from a chain store during a particularly rough winter in Boston, admitted that he felt no guilt about it, and wondered out loud about the moral issues involved in shoplifting. As you read down the comments, though, there's an interesting shift in tone. At first, it's mostly folks critical of shoplifting, but understanding that sometimes necessity is the mother of moral flexibility. Gradually, though, there's a shift.

[disclaimer: all of the quotes below are out of context and without attribution. If they were bloggers, I'd put links, but they're just commenting in a blog, so I'm just linking to that post, and you'll have to follow the comments link to find out who said what. I considered putting names to the quotes, but that wouldn't really be fair since I'm pulling out the stupidest, most extreme things they said. My goal here is to highlight bad ideas, not hold up to ridicule the morons who mouthed them. *wink*]
I would never shoplift (or condone shoplifting) from an individual, or a small, independent store. From a corporation -- fuck yeah. The bigger the corp., the more I'd support that shoplifting.
Charities, etc. don't work. It takes time, energy, cutting through far too much red-tape, etc. I'm not saying people shouldn't find out what's available and apply for what they can. But, while waiting, take what you need. That's how I feel.
There are still a number of people speaking out against shoplifting, but you've got a lot more of the sort of muddle-headed leftist logic I didn't really think existed outside of Horowitz columns:
Until basic services are provided to our populace sans charge, sans red tape, petty theft for survival purposes will always be with us and will always, on some level, be entirely necessary.

Until such time as those things are available: let the faux-logs flow out the Caldor's doors.
Even the tone of those opposed to shoplifting begins to change: "Now, I'm not saying we should shed a tear for the poor retailers of the world, but we should be aware that it's not simply massive corporations who are getting screwed."

And then we have this gem:
I'm of the opinion that no one has the right to be vastly wealthy when some people in the same society go hungry or homeless. If the government isn't going to redistribute sufficient amounts of wealth from the rich to the poor, then it only makes sense for the poor to do this for themselves.
I don't even know where to start with that.

I'm not an Objectivist, by any means. Fact is, I find Objectivists extremely annoying, but I try not to say so too often in public, because they react to criticism a lot like Scientologists, but without the lawyers. And Objectivists are more fun to tease than Scientologists, though not as much fun as libertarians, who almost all have a sense of humor. What was I saying? Oh, yeah. I don't believe in rights.

Right to life? Yeah, right. Tell that to somebody lost in the jungle or drowning in the ocean. Hell, tell it to the shark that just ate that drowning guy. It's more accurate to say you have a right to death, as at least we know that's going to happen to you. Life is hard, and if you want to thrive at it, you need brains, luck, and hard work. You can still succeed if you've got two out of three, and you can get by with just one, but if you don't have any of the three, well, you're fucked. And no talk of rights is going to change that.

Me, I've done pretty well with brains and luck. But there've been a few times I wasn't so lucky and had to fall back on hard work, and as a result, I feel for those poor bastards that hard work is all they've got. Part of my luck is that I've often benefited from the kindness of strangers. And friends. And family. Because I've been given so much, it's left me feeling like I owe something to the world, so I give back a little, mostly in the form of kindness to strangers, because that's the method that feels best to me. And believe me, this is all about me.

Selfish as I am, I'm more than happy to pay my taxes to support public schools, welfare, Medicare, food stamps, and all the rest of the ropes in the social safety net. Last month I voted to increase my own homeowner's taxes to help the local school district make up for budget shortcomings from the state. Why? Because I love kids? Hell, no. I hate the little fuckers. Shoot at 'em with my BB gun when they walk past my house. But the public expression of ignorance hurts my ears, and, besides, as long as they're in school, they're not walking past my house. BBs cost money.

As far as the safety net goes, those programs promote social stability and give people a reason to hope. All of us. The gazillionaires who shape our world have often come from the lower classes, and when the next Andrew Carnegie comes along, I'd rather see his money go to libraries than militia men. Not to mention the fact that I'm an at-will employee, and could very well be broke again someday, at which point I'll be damn glad that safety net is there.

Or maybe it's just this: At any given point, there is entropy, and there is anti-entropy. Think of it however you like. There are people making messes in the world, and there are people cleaning them up. There are people taking coffee, and there are people making coffee. Now, I drink a lot of coffee, but there are also a lot of people in my office who drink even more than I do. Which means that when I take the last cup of coffee and make a new one, it's almost guaranteed that I will not get a cup of that coffee. It's a peculiarity of the system that I never drink the coffee that I make.

But I still do, because somebody has to, so I might as well be that guy. And I don't want to be the guy who take the last cup of coffee, but doesn't make a new pot. I used to think nobody wanted to be the guy who takes the last cup of coffee, but reading some of these posts, I feel like I've just met a whole bunch of people who would cheerfully take the last cup, but don't even care what drawer the filters are in.

Monday, May 05, 2003

What he said. Well, except the part on kids, since I don't have any. But the rest, yeah.
Okay. So. The Bill Bennett thing. If you're not a political junkie like me, then here's the news: Bill Bennett is an ex-politico who now makes a living writing books about Morals (capital M is compulsory), then going on TV to make cluck-cluck noises whenever somebody famous gets caught doing something bad. Now, it turns out, he has a very serious gambling habit. Probably lost about $8 million over the years.

Now that the story's come out, there's basically a dogpile going on. And who can blame them? He's been an obnoxious prig for years, and it's always gratifying when we get to cluck our tongues at one of the mother-cluckers who like to pray on the street corner.

Bennett's defense, if you can call it that, is that he's more or less broken even over the years, and it's not like he's hurting anybody, he just does it to relax, and he never 'bets the milk money.' Which sounds exactly like the kind of defense we all offer when somebody finds out about our secret vice, whether it's booze, or porn, or gambling, or weed, or shopping, or whatever. And, while some of us are in denial, most of us are probably right. Most of us have something that gets us through the night, and it's generally something the neighbors would frown at, unless they happen to share the same vice, in which case you become quick and shallow friends. Myself, I like to get really stoned, hide in the tree in front of my house with a BB gun, and take potshots at the neighborhood kids as they walk home from school. But I only do it in the winter when they have heavy coats on, and I never break the skin, so I don't think I'm really hurting anyone. But enough about me.

My grandfather didn't drink. A complete teetotaler. And, as a matter of fact, he did drink a lot of tea. My dad, on the other hand, did. And does. He mostly drinks wine these days, but when he was younger, he was somewhat less discerning (as most of us are when we're young). At some point, he was on the receiving end of yet another lecture from his father on the immorality of drink, my dad responded with, "But, Dad, you don't like to drink!" His point (and growing up we heard this story often) was that it's easy to condemn the sins you don't have a taste for. But we all have a taste for something, so when, for example, I look at Bill Bennett's gambling, I should try and think of it not the way I think of gambling (which I have no taste for, thank god), but in terms of how much I enjoy taking potshots at school kids while out of my mind on meth (did I mention the meth? I thought I mentioned the meth.). Until I've hung up the BB gun, I've got no right to judge Bennett for his gambling.

Yes, Bennett's a public scold. All that means is that his taste for self-righteousness is just as strong as his taste for video poker (Jesus! Video poker? What is he, an 80-year-old woman?). And, well, I've got some bad emotional habits as well, though thank god self-righteousness isn't one of them. So, while I appreciate the sentiment that drives other writers to jump onto that dogpile, I won't be joining in. It just wouldn't feel right, letting myself stoop to his level.
More Poetry

Yet Yeah, that last night,
Or taste the guy calm,
fair, in grad
school, Carrie gave him whispering,
telling me the absolute
worst thing for the benefit of
the friend staying with the
short run, and give you better
next time, to mention that taking wartime loyalty to
be and once started skipping across the lives lost
horse. which then you want us realizes that
I aware I gave it fell
on North Korea, I could come out of
things I was just talking about Christie read
looking to build nuclear weapons.
Little more than my payments are worth But
for facing down the best of the
fairies, take Me pictures. me
We did indeed have copied it soon, as
you a nice You have to
be empathizing out the

I didn't write this one. Rob's Amazing Poem Generator did. You put in the URL of a site, and it spits out a poem based on the contents. The results remind me simultaneously of seeing pictures in the fire (of which I did more than a little this weekend) and the old saying, "The remarkable thing about a singing pig is not that the pig sings well, but that it sings at all."

Final Version:

Spring's ghost, dogwood white,
glimpsed floating from the highway
among bare branches.

Sunday, May 04, 2003

A flash of dogwood white
floating among the branches;
a ghost in the wood.

Saturday, May 03, 2003

Normally, I'm able to resist temptation, but this is just too good:
The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Second Level of Hell!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Low
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)High
Level 2 (Lustful)High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)Moderate
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Low
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Low
Level 7 (Violent)Moderate
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)High
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Very Low

Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test

Friday, May 02, 2003

Tell Me What to Read!
I'm looking for summer reading. Any suggestions?