Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Adventures in Weird TV
Last week I tivoed an episode of CMT's Controversy on the Johnny Paycheck song "Take This Job and Shove It." I suppose I could write something on the parallels between the late seventies and our present economic situation, with a hopeful note, something about how the Republican party can only go so long screwing the working man while still counting on their votes. But right now my brain is fried from seeing Ralph Nader on CMT, so that post will just have to wait.
So here's the pencil box:

And here's the quilt:
How I Chose My School (because it's that time of year, and because Patrick reminded me of the story):

My entire high school career, people were telling me how much I was going to love college. "It'll be so much fun!" "You'll learn so much!" "You can study whatever you want!" that sort of thing. Usually this was in response to my asking why I couldn't be studying something I was interested in, rather than doing the same busywork as everybody else. So when it came to applying for colleges, I applied the same conscientious effort that I gave to the rest of my academic career: virtually none. I test well, so I got info from a half-dozen or so colleges every week. And then there were the college fairs, yet another source of brochures.

Financial considerations made me limit my scope to Missouri schools, where I knew I could get $2,000 per year (the Bright Flight scholarship). MU sent me an invitation to come up for the weekend, so I did. They said, "would you like to attend a class?", and I did. Philosophy. 200 level as I recall. There were about 25 students in the class, and when the teacher asked a question of them, I sat back and waited to see what they'd say. Nothing. They looked at their notebooks, out the window, down at the floor, anywhere but at the instructor. Finally, I tentatively raised my hand. For the entire class, I, the high school student, was the only one participating. So MU was off my list. In fact, I put big question marks next to all the big schools on my list.

I asked around my circle of friends where they were going, but the answer I was really looking for was from a particular girl I was "just friends" with. She said "Northeast." I said, "Hmmm." My folks had heard good things about it, the price was right, and their brochures were very impressive. Lots of big words and pictures of people who looked like they were thinking very hard, but still happy (this is harder to pull off than it sounds). I sent off for an application from Northeast (BTW, Northeast is now Truman State) as well as a few other schools that made my short list. Unfortunately, deadlines aren't really my strong suit so I only made the early application deadline for one school: Northeast. A month later, I got the letter telling me I'd made it in, and that they were offering me a scholarship which, in addition to Bright Flight, would amount to a full-ride. Cha-ching! A week later, a $750 stipend. A few weeks after that, $2,000 from my dad's company. I read the fine print and, yes, I was going to be paid to go to college. What a country! Why bother even looking at other schools?

By this time it was nearly February of my senior year, and I'd never actually been to Kirksville. My parents gently suggested that a campus visit might be in order while there was still time for me to change my mind. We made the trek. It was a long drive, longer than I thought you could make and still be in Missouri. The land was flat as hell, but my grandparents lived in southeastern Kansas, so I was used to flat. The dorms stank. But the campus was fairly pretty, the people friendly, and there was a vibe there I felt fairly comfortable with. Since we were visiting on a Saturday, though, there was no chance for me to attend a class. After my experience at MU, I was just a little worried.

Our tour ended in the Administration/Humanities building. I was feeling the effects of a high fiber breakfast and lots of walking, so I left my parents to chat up the tour guide while I hunted down a restroom. I ended up in the social sciences division. The stalls were a pale off-white color that showed off graffitti quite nicely. My eyes were drawn to a column that started at about arm's reach and curved gently for almost three feet, terminating by the toilet paper. There were two handwritings and multiple pen colors in evidence as two people, apparently over the course of several days, if not weeks, debated the merits and flaws of the ontological argument for the existence of God.

The first words out of my mouth when I rejoined my parents were "I'll do fine here."

Coda: My first week at Truman I was in the library researching some damn thing or another when nature called. I sat with my pants around my ankles and perused my surrounding. Prominently featured on the inside of the door was "Buy a friend; join a frat!" and the erudite rejoinder, "You just can't hold your beer, fag!" Sort of a bait and switch thing, I guess. Oh, and the girl went to MU.
I'd like to wrap this year's Christmas up in a box with shiny paper and give it to you. There were exactly 24 hours of drama, and I got them out of the way nearly a week ahead of time. After that it was all cookies, companionship, laughter and lights.

No Christmas post would be complete without a catalog of gifts, so here it is: I got tools for the kitchen and the workshop, a couple of Sarah Susanka books I've been craving, and a flannel quilt that Christie made for me. It's soft, warm, made of rich, masculine colors, and makes me very happy. Quilts, like good furniture, are one of those things that seem to live primarily in the past, handed down or found at a swap-meet, maybe occasionally purchased new for exhorbitant prices, but so rarely coming from the hands of people we know. It's a nice reminder that history is still happening. On the giving front, I gave a pretty wide assortment, from an Airzooka and book for my brother to a sketchpad and colored pencil set for Christie, along with a case I built for them. Pictures of the case and quilt will show up soon, I promise.

But the gifts, so dominant in the preparations for Christmas, were peripheral at best. The real joys were experiential, like joining my parents for their traditional Christmas Eve trip to Pryde's (what's not to love about kitchen stuff and complementary margaritas), or watching my niece and nephew banter/bicker over pizza before they headed off to their choir concert. Christie squeezing my hand when we crested the hill on Wornall, and the Plaza lights came into view, or the way she held her program up to her mouth while she sang hymns at my parents' church. It took a while for my to find my niche, but in the end, I fell into the season the same way I found my key in the third verse of "Gloria In Excelsis Deo", and my singing went from labored and self-conscious to a simple, joyful noise.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Sedalina got me thinking this morning about planning. And faith. Anybody that can scroll down'll tell you that I had a bad day last Friday. But I took the night off and am feeling much better. I even made Christmas cookies with Christie on Sunday, and had fun doing it. Fun or no, eight hours of baking really takes it out of you, so when the last cookie was glazed, we collapsed on the couch for some HGTV. They were showing a renovation in San Francisco, the kind of renovation where you can barely even tell what the original house looked like, and at some point they mentioned that it had taken more than three years to complete.

"Three years?" the voice in my head said, "I can't imagine..." and then it went into that vague, tricky business thoughts can manage that language can't, where simultaneous and contradictory things piled on top of each other, but the whole seemed to make sense. Something about relationships, trusting your spouse to still be there, holding down a job, counting on being the same person, health issues, all the things that can go right or wrong to make planning pointless, and in the end it added up to "I can't imagine."

A friend of mine used to say the best way to make God laugh was to tell her your plans. And I've seen a lot of evidence for that over the years, as the rug got yanked out from under the feet of wonderful people by death, divorce, infertility, job loss, health problems, you name it. So if I stand back and look at myself objectively, it's no wonder I'm averse to planning. But my aversion isn't based in reason, it's based in fear. And I don't like being the guy standing on the edge of the pool saying, "Is it cold? It looks cold." while everybody else is splashing around and having fun.

I didn't want this to be a New Year's Resolution post, but it's starting to look that way. My goal for the next year, then, is to make God laugh. There are worse things to be than God's fool.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Finally, a quick and easy way to get rid of those pesky frequent flier miles! Go. Give. Seriously. Help a soldier come home for the holidays.
This is worth reading the next time you find yourself believing Newsweek. In their article on tort reform, they gave the example of Ryan Warner who ran a softball tournament in which someone was injured. According to the article, the tournament was cancelled for this year due to fear of lawsuits. Newsweek didn't mention that Ryan is actually immune from lawsuit, or that he works in the insurance industry. There's more here, if you're interested, like the fact that the "$70 million verdict" listed in the article, because it is being paid out over an extensive period of time, will actually only costs the defendants $8.3 million.

The media is broken.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Bush finally does something right. Well, Bush and Blair. It's weird. I read this story and hear that our government actually worked hard, behind closed doors, to make the world a safer place. They actually got something accomplished something, and didn't brag about it until after it was over. It's almost like we have an actual government run by grown-ups. Weird.

Okay, sure, this is a brand-new story, and those almost always change, but for now it's kind of nice.
I was in a foul mood most of yesterday, and it stuck with me overnight. Yesterday was our annual holiday lunch, so maybe it was the result of eating slimy stuffing alone at my desk. Or the evil corruption they served us in the guise of pumpkin pie. But I think it's more that Christmas is coming, when the little voices go up to eleven, talking about things I used to have, or, more to the point, who I used to be.

I remember tossing the bow saw in the car and driving north of town to cut a tree. I remember gleefulling fashioning a tree-topper from a stuffed cartoon reindeer. I remember ornaments, garland and lights. And laughing. Sweeping up pine needles and smiling at the smell.

A few nights back, I went into the neglected corner of the basement where the decorations sit in plastic tubs, labeled with masking tape in a woman's handwriting. There were spiderwebs and dust, and scattered bits of fiberglass insulation from where the cat would sit on top of them and tear at the basement ceiling. The tub in front was labeled "Large Ornaments" which I set aside, unopened. Inside, I knew, were the hallowed Hallmark ornaments, each meticulously boxed and bagged year after year, such a contrast to my own mental picture of a tree like my parents' covered with clumsy, child-made ornaments. The next tub said "Small Ornaments, Garlands and Lights", and that one I set on the dusty weight bench and opened. The garland I wanted was at the bottom, as were the electronic lights she'd hated for their high-tech, flashy crassness. Once upstairs, I wrapped the one around the other with the set jaw of a convict braiding a rope from his torn up sheets, and hung them on the mantle in defiance of my own mind.

My thoughts are so loud these days that I walked flat out into a display at the hardware store last night. So loud that I can't structure the data queries I need to do my job. So loud that the characters in my head are drowned out, and I'm left unable to write anyone but myself. The novel is languishing as a result, as is my resolution to keep plugging away at it. But the gifts are purchased, soon to be wrapped, and some of the baking is done. The fact that I spend at least two days a week wanting to punch someone is just collateral damage.

I feel like this is something I should try and solve, but it happens every year as the demands of friends, family, and the season tighten around me. I worry that the people I love will read this and try to give me space, but when I get like this, I prefer their company to my own, provided I take the time to take care of myself. The problem is that I too often don't, which is why I usually end up with a migraine right after Christmas.

I feel like I'm writing a half-dozen entries at once, but I'm not sure my brain is capable of being coherent just now. Which means, I guess, that this dijointed entry is actually a pretty good evocation of what it's like inside my head today.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Watching you sleep, I can't quite believe
in the philosophers' German watchmaker god,
precision piecing our lives. But when
the wind is right I can almost talk myself
into a shade tree mechanic picking out parts
from an old oily crate, holding them one
to the other, scratching his head for a fit.


Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Overheard at the Mall
Him: Didn't we just pass Abercrombie?

Her: No, that was Abercrombie and Fitch, this is just Abercrombie.

Him: And the difference is what?

Her: Abercrombie is their kids store.

Him: And they had to change the name because Fitch isn't allowed within 100 yards of children?
Something new to get pissed about. It's a Salon article about police conduct during the FTAA protests in Miami. The headline says it all: "This is not America".

Monday, December 15, 2003

Is This the Right Room for an Argument?
I got into a week-long email argument with a friend last week. There were two threads to it: computers and politics. As always happens when I argue with Billie, I learned a lot, but I don't think either of us budged much, if at all, from our original perspectives. Rather, we settled in to our stances even more solidly. I'm a big believer that you don't really know what you believe until you're forced to defend it, so this was a valuable exercise. What did I learn? Read on, dear readers, for the story of how my head got lodged even further in my own navel.

Billie's a big proponent of defenestration, in the figurative, rather than literal sense. Most of us have experienced a yearning to throw a computer out of a window, but Billie wants to get Windows out of computers. He feels about Microsoft the way I feel about Wal-mart (i.e. the social costs are too large to be ignored, but often are), which gave us a common ground to work from. In the end, we agreed on quite a bit: that Microsoft is often a bad corporate citizen, that Windows isn't all it's cracked up to be, competition is good for software, and that Linux isn't just for hardcore geeks. But there were a couple of gaps we couldn't seem to bridge. For one thing, an old, dear friend of mine works for Microsoft and is vested there, so I want them to do well because I want her to do well. When I think of Microsoft failing, the first thing I think of is Michelle's retirement, and that takes all the fun out of my schadenfreude.

The other gap had to do with my personal behavior. In the abstract, I think Linux is great. But I bought a new PC a while back, it came with Windows XP installed, and I've left it that way. The fact is, I looked at Lindows PCs, I looked at blank PCs, I even looked at building my own from spare parts. The cheapest, best deal I could get was a Dell with lots of installed software, including XP. Of course, I could have wiped and partitioned the hard drive then stuck Linux on there, but I didn't. For the past six months or so, I had had a dual-boot system running Linux and Windows 98, and used Linux all the time. Or at least it seemed like I did. But when I took the hard drive out of that machine and stuck it in my new one, I had a choice: install Linux so that I could read the stuff I wrote to those sectors, or just wipe the drive after I took all the data I needed off the Windows partition. I went with door number two after realizing that there wasn't a bit of data on the Linux partition that I really cared about.

So, while I'd recommend Linux to someone setting up their first computer and to anyone for whom their computer is a hobby, I'm not sure about those of us in the middle. When I'm not at work, about all I use a computer for is writing and processing images (apart from the usual stuff like porn, stealing music, and games), and Linux doesn't have that much of an advantage over Windows in those areas. I'm sure it would use my computer's resources more efficiently, but I'm more concerned with my time and energy than my computer's and it takes a lot of time and energy to learn a new OS.

Let's say there are two ways of doing a thing, Method X and Method Y. If I'm already familiar with Method X, then Y better have some sort of competitive advantage if it wants my attention, because there's significant personal inertia to overcome. Linux' advantages are either abstract or aesthetic, which doesn't have enough pull to draw me over the wall from WindowsWorld, where I've been for many years. Reminds me of the old saw that it takes four times as much information to change a person's mind as it did to make it up in the first place.

Now, onto politics, and, again, too much personal context. Long time gone, I was doing advanced studies in literary theory at the same time the woman I was living with was doing advanced studies in molecular biology. It was a charming, magical time. We'd sit down for dinner, and neither of us would understand a word the other had said after 'So, what did you do today, dear?' I'm sure somewhere in my notebooks from that time is an attempt to merge our disciplines in a poem, rhyming mimesis with electrophoresis. But I digress.

We both had plenty of drama in our lives, but hers was about research results and grant proposals, maybe the occasional lab fire. Mine was all faculty feuds and ad hominem attacks. Nobody in Science called their opponent a bastard (the most they'd say is that their methodology was questionable), but PMLA articles got downright nasty. Having a sweet disposition at heart, I envied the collegiality of her chosen discipline, and wondered why English couldn't be that way.

In the end, I pulled a metaphor from biology and decided that it was all about available resources and territory. Biology, being an actual science, gets funding from government and corporations, while the humanities, for the most part, don't. So our resources were limited, and getting more so every year. Biology had the entire biosphere as its territory, and since each question answered produced five more that needed answering, the territory was expanding every year. The territory of literary theory, on the other hand, consisted largely of imaginary roads connecting castles built in the air. Or, at least, that was what we called it. In reality, the ivory tower we wanted to imagine ourselves standing atop was bricked with human beings, and it took a good deal of clambering and clawing just to hold your position.

And then there's the fact that biology is hard, while English is easy, so that there are many more English majors pumped out into the world than there are available resources for them. And since we don't taste very good, we were forced to cull our own herd. That's a recipe for a nasty and contentious environment.

All this is compounded by the fact that biology is, ultimately, grounded in a world that is very much real, while English is built of words on top of words, so that it takes quite a bit of digging before you hit terra firma. When two biologists disagree, they go to the data. If the data is ambiguous, they design an experiment to clear up the ambiguity. In literary theory, there is no unambiguous reality to which we can appeal, so we have two choices: attack the reasoning, or attack the person. And then the postmodernists discovered a wonderful technique: If someone attacked your reasoning, you attacked reason itself as racist, or classist, or whatever. That pretty much left the adhominem as the only available weapon, poor one though it is.

What's the connection to politics? Power, the resource politicians feed on, is bleeding into the media, technology companies, corporations and god knows where else. So we have diminishing resources. But the money is growing as our economy grows, which draws in the corporations, who hire lobbyists who are, in essence, unelected politicians, who then try to get their hands on as much power as possible so that they can then extract as much money from the system as possible. So we have a growing population.

But what's the territory? As we watch politicians comment on everything from commerce to education to entertainment, with side trips into technology, religion, medicine, etc., and it's pretty clear that the territory of politics is whatever the politicians say it is. In other words: words, words, words.

Sure, you could argue that there is a real world out there being effected by politics. Heck, I'd even agree with you. But our political reality is one that dismisses stories about the unemployed as "anecdotal evidence", discounts economic statistics as "fuzzy math" or cooks their own version of the books using wildly optimistic assumptions, invites industry-supported "independent" scientists to respond to decades of research by reputable scientists, or, if nothing else works, lie. And they've learned that if you tell a lie loudly enough, and get enough people to stand behind you and nod, then the media will report it with the weight of truth.

That's a recipe for some ugly fights, so it's no surprise we're getting them.
Not exactly a surprise.
For the Record
I'm glad we caught Saddam.
I'm glad we caught him alive.
I'm glad we're lettign the Iraqis try him (at least nominally).

Of course there's a "yes, but", but Josh Marshall lays it out so well I could just as well say, "Yeah, what he said."

We've got the most effective military in the world, and I never doubted they could find Saddam. I also have confidence we could find Osama Bin Laden if the administration made it a priority.

Friday, December 12, 2003

This is cool. It's a video game based on bio-feedback. In order to move through the game, you have to be able to control your emotional state. And at $130, it's a lot cheaper than any of the other biofeedback equipment available. Steven Berlin Johnson has a column in Discover on the game if you want more of an introduction than the site itself gives.
Bits and Pieces
I. Cringely's got a nice couple of columns on the voting machines issue. Here's the first, and here's the second.

I just got word that Silvatica passed her thesis defense, and is now officially a geographer. Or a forester. Geoforester? Possibly a ranger. But definitely the Mistress of Her Domain, and not in a Seinfeldian sense. At least, not exclusively in the Seinfeldian sense. I wouldn't actually know about that, and if I asked, her boyfriend would probably give me one of those looks. Anyway, she's the closest thing I've got to a sister, and she's been working her tail off on this thing, so pop something bubbly and toast her success.

Another side to those job loss stories.

I'm sure there's more, but I'll be damned if I can think of it right now. Must be Friday.
My Mr. Picassohead (via kottke)

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

So, which do you want first? The funny news, or the depressing news? Okay, funny it is. Researchers have actually found empirical evidence that men become less rational in the presence of beautiful women. Well, that's the headline, anyway. Actually, the experiment just tested whether we're less rational after looking at pictures of beautiful women. My favorite part is that they used pictures from hotornot.com.

Now for the depressing. Texas leads the nation in the uninsured, and Galveston leads Texas. Well, things have gotten so bad in Galveston that they're actively rationing health care based on the ability to pay. A friend of mine in the field used to joke about "a negative wallet biopsy", but people in Galveston take bank statements with them to the hospital to prove that they can pay for their care. Or, alternately, to prove themselves "medically indigent".

Meanwhile, I'll just sit here, looking at hotornot.com and trying not to think about the good $87 billion dollars could have done on this side of the ocean.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Doug Neiwert's got a great post up on his transformation from a pretty typical rural conservative to the liberal he is today.

I wrote a couple of pages on this topic, and then deleted it because, well, it didn't say what I wanted it to say. Doug's post touched something off in me, and I'm going to have to sit on it for a while to see if I can make. Somewhere along the line, that changed. I don't know if it's me that changed, or politics. Doug's take on it is that a man can only be called a traitor so many times before he starts to take it personally. I think he may be on to something.
Here's a little something I almost got somebody for Christmas. I'm pretty sure my niece would have loved the bunnies, but I wasn't sure how I felt about her getting mail from a guy who also sells pickled mice*. And Christie's not quite a stuffed animal person. Oh, she's girly all right, just not in that way.

* Mice not actually pickled, just preserved. So please don't buy them, eat them, and then blame me for the intense intestinal distress sure to follow.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

On Monday, a friend send me the link to a Newsweek story on Dean's "records problem". It's a nice, impartial piece by Michael Isikoff with the calm, neutral headline, "What's in Howard Dean's Secret Vermont Files?" All in all, it's an example of everything that's good and right with our media today.

If you still care, here's a column on the topic by Peter Freyne, who's been in VT politics for years and knows the woman who got this story rolling by whispering in Isikoff's ear. I'm sure you'll be surprised to hear that she's a Republican and lost to Dean in two elections. Freyne also provides a nice bit of context by telling us what other states do with their comparable records:

"According to a 2002 study by Professor Charles Schultz, 28 states have a law requiring governors' records go to the state archives. Only 20 states, however, actually make it a practice. In Colorado they’re sealed for 25 years. In Maryland it's 30 years."

As for Bush, while his records are nominally available, they haven't been indexed, and since the only way you can access them is with a written request for a specific piece (which can be rejected for any of 29 exemptions to the open records law), that availability remains nominal rather than actual. In Vermont, however, any member of the public can go into the archives and rifle through the box, without even giving out their name.

I agree that, in an ideal world, Dean should release all of the records and let us make up our own minds about what's in them. Instead he made a political decision to keep possible ammunition out of the hands of his opponents. But Isikoff makes it sound as though sealing his records was virtually unprecedented, when it's more or less the norm.
For those of you in and around Columbia, MO, I've gotta put in a quick plug. Joe Benevento is reading at Legacy Art & Bookworks tonight, starting at six. I took his creative writing class in grad school, and he helped me sift through the jumble in my head and find the silver in amongst the tin. It's been forever since I've heard him read, but he was a hell of a writer back in the day, and I'm sure he's only gotten better.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

The Daily Show's Stephen Colbert on lessons the Bush administration's learned from his recent jaunt to Iraq: "When it comes to planning...have one!" Watch the whole thing, it's worth it. The clip you want is "Thanksgiving Surprise".

Update: The video was down for a while, now it's back up (as of 4:15 CST).
Go. Read. Unless you're allergic to outrage, that is, in which case, STAY AWAY. Basically, we're about to release 140 prisoners from Guantanamo because, well, they're innocent. Turns out that driving through the countryside giving money to people for informing on their neighbors results in a lot of innocent people getting locked up.

And we're not talking about just 140 innocents. That 140 are just "the easiest 20 percent". Even so, the military told Time magazine that the administration was waiting for "a politically propitious time to release them."

Just so we're absolutely clear on this, our government, acting in our name, kidnapped at least 140 people with no evidence of guilt other than the word of a paid informant, denied them any contact with the outside world while, at the very least, subjecting them to regular interrogation (violence and torture have been alleged, but anybody can allege), and now, after two years, our government has acknowledged their mistake and plans to release these prisoners as soon as it helps them in their quest to get to do this kind of shit for another four years.

Morals and ethics aside, how is this helpful? I'm becoming convinced that we would have been better off if, after 9/11, Bush had just hid under his desk in the Oval Office and sucked his thumb for three years.

Monday, December 01, 2003

My kitchen and basement sinks have connected drains, so when something somewhere down the line got stubborn, and my kitchen drain got very, very slow, that meant water rising in the basement sink. Nothing bad happened, but I got nervous, and spent some quality time with a plunger and some Drano (not at the same time, though). This was last Wednesday, just before Christie and I left town.

The drain was still glug-glugging last night when I got home, so I ran to the hardware store over lunch and picked up more Drano and a plumbers snake. Put the Drano in the basement sink, and it cleared very quickly, but the kitchen sink was slow and noisy, so I went to work with the snake. Unfortunately, it seemed to get stuck a few feet in. I pulled it out, pushed it in again, but it still stuck in the same place. I gave it a good shove, and now not only would it not go forward, but it didn't want to come out, either. I opened up the cabinet to see if I could figure out where it was stuck, and there it was, sticking through the bottom curve of the trap.

So I know what I'm doing tonight. Yay. Plumbing.

The bitch of it is that these two sinks have never drained well, because the last person to work on them (before I bought the house) cut off the vent, presumably because it was easier than doing the job right. So now I have a choice: fix the trap without fixing the vent, or try and do both. One's faster and easier, but doesn't really fix the problem, while the other involves roughly twice the number of joints, including attaching PVC to a steel drain pipe, which I've never done before and have only a vague idea of how it is done. But how boring would life be if we stuck with doing what we know?
We could see our breath as we loaded the car in Mississippi, but it had been in the 30s and 40s all week, so I thought nothing of it. It was still chilly when we stopped for gas in Arkansas, but somehow St. Louis, our next stop, was 60 degrees and sunny. It was nice to get back up North, where it's warm.

You would think that four days in a town eight hours away (though only 350 miles as the crow flies) would bring out stories, but somehow this little string of moments never quite coalesced. Nevertheless, here's what happened:

We ate the bird. The mandated animal sacrifice was performed as our ancestors have performed it. As far as I can tell, there was no brining, and certainly no deep frying in peanut oil, just a turkey, baked competently and without fuss.

Shopping. The house was all atwitter Friday, as there was a soccer match in Memphis, making it easy to shoehorn in a visit to Target. I am happy to report that Target in Memphis is not noticeably different from Target anywhere else, except for a disproportionate number of people with southern accents. I was, however, disappointed to find a significant difference between the World Market in Kansas City and the one in St. Louis. Namely, the one in St. Louis had no Private Preserve, though they had all kinds of other silly stuff that I apparently needed. Still no Christmas presents, though. But that's a completely separate challenge.

Secondhand Nostalgia and "When Did They Build That?" Christie went to Ole Miss, and her uncle teaches there, so not only did I get the drive-through tour, but her uncle drove us around campus on his golf cart. I was in the bag seat, however, and could only catch about every other word, so please don't ask me to tell you anything about the history of the University. But I now have a visual setting for Christie's Ole Miss stories, which was, I think, most of the point.

Literary History. Oxford's got a little more of a literary pedigree than most small towns, thanks to Faulkner. Of course, I accidentally avoided Faulkner in my undergrad years, and purposefully kept it up in grad school out of a desire to distinguish myself from a doppelganger who had gotten his MA in the same program just a few years before (and wrote his thesis on Faulkner). I am in the book business, however, and Square Books looms large in that landscape. So we killed a few hours there, and I picked up a book of essays and a Moleskine. And, of course, there was dinner at City Grocery.

Dysfunction Junction. The first two years out of college, Christie taught in a little Mississippi delta town, and yesterday she drove me through it. There's money in this town, as you can see right off the highway. But keep driving past the sprawling houses and pillared porches, and you quite literally end up on the wrong side of the tracks, where the school looks like a prison, and most of the houses are about the size of my bedroom. When the schools were desegregated, a private school sprang up, and the white school building was donated to them by the (all white) school board, keeping things exactly as they'd always been. In Christie's time there, state funds for the public (and therefore all black) school were still finding their way into the coffers of the private (and therefore all white) school. From the look of things, that hasn't changed.

I've seen plenty of poverty in my day, so it wasn't the poverty that struck me. Rather, it was that there was plenty of money in the town, it was just all in the hands of a small group of people. In _____, Mississippi, there are rich folks, and there are folks just scraping by, with few if any people in the middle. You can tell one group from the other not by the callouses on their hands, the clothes on their backs, or the way they talk, but simply by the color of their skin. This isn't a documentary on the History Channel, this is right now, and these are real people, working as hard as they can to stay alive and feed their kids, every drop of their sweat turned into money in somebody else's pocket.

This is no oratory, and so there is no exhortation of action. I'm just telling you what I saw yesterday in the hopes that it'll pop up in your head the next time somebody tells you that racism "isn't a problem anymore."

Okay, so maybe there was one story in there.