Sunday, May 30, 2004

The Rev.: So how is your current relationship like your previous marriage?

Me: Alike? Well, they're both passionate, intelligent women. They both like to laugh, and, um, well, they both have brown hair? And now that I think of it, they both wore it short when we first started dating.

The Rev.: Let me guess. Your mother has short brown hair?

Me: Well, now that you mention it...

The Rev.: Hey, I've been doing this for a while.

Christie: Can we have a new subject now?

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Watching Troy again this weekend, a question kept coming to the front of my mind: "Why do I love this story so much?" It's bloody and violent and pointless, and everybody in it who's worth a shit dies, except Oddyseus, and he's hardly in it at all. But I have three different translations of the Iliad on my shelf, and have gone to see Troy twice now, tearing up at all the right moments. So. Why?

Maybe it's because this is where we came from. Achilles may have been descended from the gods (or may not, as both the Iliad and Troy are ambivalent at best about his divinity), but he thinks and feels as a man does. His role in life is to be a weapon of kings, and he acquiesces to his fate, but rails against it. Three thousand years later, our lives have less bloodshed, more freedom, and better hygiene, but at heart we are more or less the same.

There's plenty to dislike in Troy, even for a lover of the Iliad. The accents are a smorgasbord of the English speaking world, with no consistent rhyme or reason. Agamemnon is killed, leaving Clytemnestra's thirst for his blood unquenched, and some of the foundational dramas of classical literature untellable. Ajax dies in battle rather than by his own hand, an ending less tragic, but also less poetic than his traditional one. And most notably, Troy lasts at most a few weeks before falling to the Greeks, as opposed to ten years.

But they got the characters right, which is so much more than you can generally count on from Hollywood that I'm more than willing to forgive the movie-izing of the story. Besides, there's a millenia-long tradition of tweaking this story.

And then there's the honor. Right now, our young men and women are fighting and dying far across an ocean at the service of a civilian leadership who seem to have forsaken honor. It's therapeutic to hearken back to a time when the most powerful weapons available were the bodies and minds of skilled men, and when it was more important to fight with honor than to survive the battle.

Christie hated it by the way, and a big part of what I'm struggling with is how I can enjoy something that leaves her feeling beaten up. I generally think it's reductive to say "It's a guy thing", but I also think it's undeniable that there is something in men that hungers for violence. The Greeks certainly recognized this, and like most cultures, developed an elaborate ethos to keep it at bay.

It's tempting to think that we've grown past the savagery of our history, but the ancient Greeks will tell you that building a fence to protect your flock doesn't mean you've killed the wolves. Killing the wolves, even, just makes more room for lions. What's more, fences break down over time, and have to be kept in good repair.

I'm the optimistic sort at heart. I know violence is down in our culture, and we generally seem to be headed in the right direction. But one look at the prison crisis in Iraq tells us that our policy of denying the savagery in our hearts isn't working.

Friday, May 28, 2004

NEC admits to defrauding schools through the E-Rate program.
If saving the world seems like more than you can handle, how about saving someone's senior year while cleaning your closet? The Glass Slipper Project takes old bridesmaid's dresses (and other formalwear) and repurposes it them as prom dresses.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

This afternoon, Christie and I are meeting with a minister to talk about wedding stuff. If you're divorced and want to get married in the Episcopal Church, the local bishop has to sign off on it, which means having a sit down with the minister to talk about your divorce and what you've learned from it. So how do I feel about that? The irony is unescapable, given that divorce (or one divorce in particular) was the catalyst for the founding of the Episcopal Church. The good reverend has a sense of humor, which will help, and a more philosophical bent than some clergy I've known, so that bodes well. But I'm most comfortable with churches when I'm a tourist, camera in hand. I'm there for the art and the music, not the religion.

How is that possible? I was a devout Lutheran when I was a kid (it's easy to be devout when all you've ever seen of the world is what they choose to show you), and sat on the Board of the local Unity church for a few years after college (because they asked). Looking back, the times I was attending church coincide with the times when I was in the worst shape, spiritually speaking. Of course, those times also coincide with my first marriage and a lousy job on the one hand, and my childhood on the other. There's alternate causality, therefore no reason for ecclesiaphobia.

Why can't I treat churches the way I treat Thai food? I've had Thai food probably a dozen times in my life, and never really had a meal I enjoyed. But whenever somone suggests Thai food, I think, "Hey, why not? Maybe this time..."

The odds are that I won't be going to church anytime soon. Hell, I have trouble getting out of bed on Sunday mornings to do things I want to do. And I won't be motivated by guilt; I think it's one of the basest motives we humans have contrived. But when I'm face to face with clergy, up wells the guilt. Even if they don't ask, I can hear them asking, "Have you been to church lately?" Well, it's easy for them isn't it? I mean, they work at church. They're there all the time. Church is just down the hallway! And besides, they're not giving up a weekend. They just shift it a few days down. Sunday's like Friday to them, so where's the sacrifice?

I know this is not healthy. I know it's not sane. But it's what happens. Every time. So, you might ask, why go through a traditional church at all? There's Unity, Unitarian, interfaith centers, covens, mosques, The Universal Church of Life,, and a host of other options. I could write a hundred pages on why that route has no appeal and never get closer to the truth that "Been there, done that, no thanks" so that's where I'll leave it. Maybe in another post, on another day.

So. Day to day, I follow an eclectic spiritual path, and am agnostic at best when it comes to the Christian idea of God. But that's still the dominant metaphor in my personal landscape, and when it comes to the big rites of passage, nothing else feels quite real. So, church it is.

And the Episcopalian attitude about divorce (that we're all human, but divorce is still a failing, and we should do all we can to avoid it) is emblematic of what makes it appealing: judgement wrapped up with compassion. And what that translates to in the world of actions is that Christie and I have to sit down for an hour and talk with a stranger about our relationship and about the biggest chunk of pain either of us has ever faced down.

I'm looking forward to that about as much as I'd look forward to a root canal.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

William Raspberry's latest column tells me something I didn't know, that until 1980, Illinois' state legislature were elected, not in a traditional one rep, one district set-up, but according to proportional voting in "super districts" with three reps each. Even more interestingly, the system was adopted in response to escalating partisanship that disgusted the Illinois electorate.

There are significant barriers to implementing this nationally (no reason not to try if you've got the gumption, though), but why not the state level? Missouri's got the same problem right now, and allows ballot initiatives, which provide an end-run around our pain in the ass legislature. The big question is whether this would be an amendment to existing law, a new law, or a constitutional amendment.

Any Missourians out there interested enough to try and make this happen?

Monday, May 24, 2004

I've joked with friends that if Bush's people told me it was raining, I'd leave my umbrella at home. Apparently, the White House didn't realize I was joking. The bright side is that at least they're helping me keep a sense of humor about them.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

A Most Excellent Weekend
In this order, roughly: An evening spent with good friends. Late night talks with the best best friend a man could want. Christie moved all the way in to our house. Returning a trailer to U-Haul when most folks were just picking theirs up. A good book (Neal Stephenson's Confusion. Troy, which did a good job adapting one of my favorite stories to the screen. Videogames. Getting to talk about Greek mythology and epic poetry with smart people. Laying on the bed with an unhappy baby, watching (and helping) him turn into a happy baby.

Sometimes I feel like a prospector who spent his life looking for gold, only to find that the river flowing past his campsite is paved in gold dust.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Crooked Timber has posted a nasty bit of pro-war verse written by some poor demented classicist, along with an apology from the poster on behalf of classicists everywhere.

Awful poetry is funny enough on its own, but the comments are even better. At first glance, I wanted to give the Best Comment prize to "Vogons have infiltrated the GOP", but then I ran across one that simply said, "Saddam Hussein wrote worse", which has the dual advantage of being true and a note-perfect parody of every comment thread I've read in the last six months.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

I have on occasion been told that I think too much. While I don't particularly agree (and couldn't do anything about it if I did), it is true that I like to think through how I do what I do, and is there a better way I could be doing this?

For instance, I figured out many years ago that when you're carrying a full cup of coffee, it's best to walk as arhythmically as possible, otherwise you'll get a little wave going in your cup, and end up with hot coffee all over your hand. Being a geek and all, I thought of this as Fremen-walking, after the tribes in Frank Herbert's Dune that walked so as to avoid making rhythmic noises that would attract the sandworms. It's a little thing, I know, but it gives you some idea what kind of man I am. It's also a private thing, in that I don't think I've ever told anyone else about it. Till now. I mean, why would I?

Christie, on the other hand, after almost three years of coming to my house, still turns on the wrong street from time to time. And when we go out for coffee, she always puts so much coffee in the cup, that she practically has to overflow the cup to get enough cream. Every. Single. Time.

It makes us a good match, I suppose, that I put all the thought into a trip across town that some people would put into a cross-country move, but tend to leave the big stuff (like an actual cross-country move) largely in the hands of fate, while she lets the little things take care of themselves, but burns stomach acid late into the night over big maneuvers.

Anyway, the other day we're having breakfast at our usual coffee and danish spot, and she catches me smiling at her as she's walking (slowly, carefully) back to our table with her too-full cup. "What?" she asks.

"Nothing." My smile broadens. "Cup too full?"

"It's no big deal. You just have to walk like a fremen."

How does she do that?

Monday, May 17, 2004

There's no telling what kind of crap you'll knock loose when you're moving somebody. In the quest to make room for her stuff, we've emptied out dozens of old boxes, cleaned closets, sold a desk (how did I end up with so damn many desks?), and sold, donated, or scrapped at least six linear feet of old books. With all that junk going out the door, what did I decide to keep?

Notebooks, my darlings, notebooks. Steno pads, mostly, filled with page after page of my scribblings on every imaginable topic. I filled six of them cover to cover in the year after Carrie and I split, but those are a little too fresh; I'll browse through them in a few years. I did run across an interesting one, though. All but a few pages were blank, and the rest held lists, not narrative. Weird lists, too, not grocery lists, unless I was shopping for virtues: Courage, integrity, humor. Or hobbies: Restore the house, cook great meals.

The notebook was from a "prosperity" class I took back when I was a church-going man. At the time, I was in debt up to my eyeballs and though that was hardly my only problem, it was the most visible one. So we decided to take a class on money. The approach was distinctly Unity, though, in that there was little emphasis on actual money management, and a great deal of emphasis placed on "healing your relationship with money". So we started by making a list of the people we loved, then listing their virtues, then seeing how many of the people we loved had each virtue. Now, of course, I'm thinking, "That'd be so much easier with a database!" But I digress. Once we had our list of core virtues, we were to write a list of all the things we'd like to do, money being no object. And then the list of things we'd like to be. The point of the exercise was to help us write our personal definition of wealth and prosperity, so that we'd know it when it got here.

My eyes flicked over the list, and I found myself making a mental checkmark by each item. Flipping back to the previous page, the list of "things I'd like to do", I found more than half that I had done in the past few years or was doing on a regular basis. Even the credit card debt is very nearly a thing of the past. Wealth has entered my life the way water comes into my basement, undetected, except for a slight change in the air, until I go looking for it.

It's still not what most folks would call wealth. Christie just moved into my 1,000 square foot house with her two cats, and it feels a bit crowded for the time being (though it's getting less so as time goes by). I drive a ten-year-old Tercel. But I'm worth more than I owe, and I own a little piece of earth that will be a better home when I sell it than it was when I bought it. I have the respect of the people I work with and for, and the love of the smartest, sanest, kindest woman I know. I write every day, and occasionally produce something that feels worth the trouble.

Life is good.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Blaming the Messenger
There's a significant stream running through the right wing press these days that says, in essence, "The media never should have released these photos because now the Arab world with really hate us." Mickey Kaus may have been one of the first, but I couldn't really tell you because, as I've said before, my personal bullshit threshold is set at about 30%. When I'm reading, watching, or listening to somebody, I make a mental note of "facts" to check up on later. And if more than 30% of their "facts" are wrong, I don't bother tuning back in unless they're extraordinarily entertaining. Most of the right-wing media (and a lot of the left) fails this test, and Kaus is particularly annoying with his "I'm a liberal, but the Republicans are right about everything, while the Democrats are wrong" schtick. Not to mention that he's way, way, way above 30%.

Anyway, I've been running across this idea that the media is to blame for Nick Berg's death because they published the photos, and they're to blame for every other bad thing that happens as blowback because apparently the Iraqi resistance all stays home on Sunday night to watch Sixty Minutes II. Here's my refutation. For the link impaired, it's a statue, carved in alabaster, of a naked prisoner with a bag over his head, bearing the inscription, "We are living American democracy". It was created over two months ago, well before the pictures came out.

Based on what's in the public record so far, we know that the torture has been going on for at least six months or so in Abu Ghraib and has probably been happening in Guantanamo and Afghanistan before that, based on the very similar stories told by people who have been released from those places, which tells us, if there wasn't already enough evidence, that this is a top-down problem, not a grassroots one. We know that individuals and organizations ranging from the Afghans to the Red Cross to members of the military have registered their objections at various points in the chain of command, but the torture kept happening. It's only since the pictures came out that there's started to be a public accounting.

We also know, according to the experts in the field, that torture doesn't get you more accurate answers, it just gets you the answers you want to hear. Given that the civilian official who put the guards under the command of the intelligence people, Stephen Cambone, was also leading the search for WMD, which we only thought existed because the Bush crew picked only the answers they liked out of a sea of dubious intelligence, there's a certain symmetry there.

You guys are smart enough to fill in the blanks, but I'll connect the dots in case you're having a slow day:

1. The Arab world already knew, in graphic detail, what was going on in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

2. The people behind the torture only stopped (if they've stopped) because of public pressure.

3. Setting morals aside, the torture has caused inestimable damage to our credibility and standing worldwide, and has likely made any rapprochement with the Arab world impossible for at least a generation. The gain? Little, if any.

Summation: Certain of our leaders were engaged in a course of action that was immoral, contrary to our values as a nation, and counterproductive to our goals and interests in Iraq and in the war on terror. They disreqarded numerous warnings and attempts to halt their behavior, increasing the danger to our military and civilian population, until these pictures were released to the media.

Rather Obvious Conclusion: The problem is the torture, not the pictures of the torture. To try and place blame on the media for this is not just wrong but completely ass backwards. But when you're trying to support a president who says the secretary of defense that oversaw all of this is "going a superb job", I guess "up is down" may be the only defense open to you.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Conversations You Only Hear in Missouri

Him One: Can I borrow your pocketknife?

Him Two: Don't have one.

Him One: You don't have a knife on you? You always have a knife.

Him Two: I kind of stopped carrying one.

Him One: I don't even know you anymore.
Clearing some tabs:

Surprise! The new Medicare prescription drug cards are a clusterfuck.

John Zogby's got his money on Kerry, for some convincing reasons.

And on a lighter note: A picture's worth a thousand WTF?s.
Another must read. It's not a new story, but given recent events, it's worth remembering that on three separate occasions, the Pentagon drew up strike plans to take out Abu Musab Zarqawi and his organization, each time based on legitimate and distinct reasons, and each time the White House nixed the plan because having Zarqawi alive and active in northern Iraq (outside Saddam's zone of control, I might add) bolstered their case for war.

Just a little something to remember when you hear somebody peddling the "Republicans are the only party that can be trusted when it comes to national security" line of bullshit. If that's taking national security seriously, then, please, send in the clowns!
I'm a little worried that somebody's going to ask me about the nasty looking cut on my hand. I can imagine the conversation:

"What happened to your hand?"

"I hurt it fixing the bed."

"What happened to the bed?"


"On second thought, never mind."

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Mark Bittman's been one of my food gurus for years, so I did a little happy dance when Salon chose him as one of four taste-testers for low carb, prepackaged foods. The whole thing's worth a read, but if you don't subscribe and can't take the ad, here are the best Bittman quotes:

"I like the noodles. They're not noodles, but there's something I like about them."

"I like the second sauce. What is that called? [Grabs jar.] 'Meat flavor'? Why is it called meat 'flavor'?"

"You know, if you put these flavors on it, it actually masks the sawdust."

"[Turns to reporter.] Please note that she would eat them for $50, but not for $25."

"I think it's one of the least horrible things so far."

"They need another base. I wonder if they've actually tried sawdust."

"I wonder if years from now when we all die they'll figure out we were all in this room together once. I can see the headlines: 'Deaths all over the country from a previously unknown form of cancer. Doctors have only been able to discover that they were once in the same room together.' [Chews contemplatively on a snickerdoodle.] That shit is nasty! There's butter and cream, and it's still bad!"
Oh. Come. On. You're kidding, right?

Monday, May 10, 2004

Dale Keiger quotes one paragraph of Michael Ignatieff's "Could We Lose the War on Terror?" essay in New York magazine. It's a great paragraph, but if you've got time, read the whole thing. (Warning: PDF)
TPM introduces us to the man who came to Abu Ghraib from a questionable career in the U.S. prison industry. Maybe, just maybe, we can finally take a look at some of the horrible things that happen in our own prisons when we're done cleaning up the ones we've set up in other countries.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Ronnie and I have been going back in forth in the comments over Kerry's character. Here's my stance: I don't care. Sure, he's a politician. He dodges tough questions and equivicates over his less popular stances. But I prefer that to Bush, who rarely if ever even agrees to be in the same room as someone who disagrees with him and does everything in his power to stop tough questions from even being asked. As far as his unpopular stances, he flat out lies. Do a Google search for "patient's bill of rights", Texas and veto for a clear example. Or research stem cell lines, funding for AIDS, or, well, pretty much anything you hear him say.

I don't listen to Bush's speeches because his presidency is like a bad cable descrambler that shows you the video from one channel but the audio from something else. There's very little connection between what he says and consensual reality, and even less relationship with what he does.

That's the thing with politicians: if you pay attention to what they day, but not what they do, you're asking to get screwed. Bush has nearly bankrupt the US, taken us into an elective war on false pretenses, imprisoned US citizens without any public airing of the evidence, trashed our worldwide reputation, fucked up Medicare, cut the flow of information in and out of government, ignored verified, working economics in his strategy for dealing with job loss and the economy, opened our national treasures up to mining and logging interests, rewarded his largest campaign contributors with federal appointments and no-bid contracts, established an atmosphere where human rights is given lip service, if that, and accountability is just a word in a campaign speech, leading to military prisons where our soldiers are encouraged to use whatever means necessary to get the answers our leaders want to hear, never mind the truth and never mind that it's made winning the war in Iraq impossible.

Kerry, boring, unprincipled politician that he is, has detailed written plans for our foreign policy that are as in accordance as is possible with both realism and with the best ideals of our country. He proposes domestic policies based on sound economic principles instead of soundbites. His history in government tells that he won't put his ass too far out on the line for anyone but himself, but that he seems to recognize that we as a society are only as strong as the least of these among us, and his history as a person tells me that he probably genuinely believes that having been lucky enough to be born into wealth and priviledge obligates him to some sort of public service.

Bush, on the other hand, was best summed up by Molly Ivins as "born on third based, and gone through life thinking he hit a triple." He's never made a hard choice in his life, never questioned his good fortune, and never run a successful business that wasn't made so by his connections in government. Since he took office, his hands-off "CEO" leadership style has led to disaster after disaster. He's proven, once and for all, just how much damage a president can do to a country. I shudder to think what he might do with four more years.

So I don't have a lot of patience for "Kerry's a liar, too" or words to that effect. The time for that was before the nomination and it will come again, as soon as he's elected. But we can't afford another four years of a self-justifying, silver-spooned preppie moron in a cowboy suit, so I'm supporting the candidate I dislike the least: John Kerry. I'm not hugely enthusiastic about him, and I'm not saying that Kerry should be above criticism, even temporarily but parroting the RNC talking points that show up on TV news and the Sunday morning talk shows isn't helping our country get back on track.

If you hear some talking head spewing "facts", treat it with the same skepticism you'd treat an email from Nigeria wanting your bank account numbers. If you read it on a blog, check it out. And don't just follow their links. Check it out yourself. In this day and age, there's no excuse but laziness for taking someone's word for a convenient story. Billie likes to say "trust, but verify". Good advice, but a step too far when it comes to politics. Just verify. Don't take anyone's word for anything, and assume that any story that sounds too good to be true probably is.

And don't treat "liar", "politician", or even "patrician asshole" as binary categories. Read up on fuzzy logic and recognize that Aristotle was wrong: everything is both A and Not A to a certain degree. The world is filled with shades of gray, and perfect is very rarely on the menu. Democracy is messy, the choice is usually between "bad" and "not as bad", and the only way to keep things going in the right direction is to stay informed and stay loud.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

In the comments, Ronnie suggests that I'm being a bit of a Monday morning quarterback in my criticism of Bush's handling of Iraq. One of the advantages of a blog archive is the ease of saying "I told you so". Though I have to say I'd have rather been wrong.

Posting on a blog has about as much effect on the course of government as screaming at the TV has on the course of a football game. And yelling at the screen doesn't do much to invalidate the "Monday morning quarterback" charge.

But this is supposed to be a democratically governed country, and I was hardly the only person talking about this sort of this. Bush seemed (and still seems) to feel that his refusal to listen to dissenting opinions was a virtue. In November, Americans get to tell him whether he's right.

I've got it easy; I made up my mind about him when I watched him tell a bald-faced lie in the debates, and I haven't seen anything since that would lead me to change my mind. The folks he managed to con have a tough choice: keep buying the bullshit, or admit they were conned.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Tuesday night was a headache night, so I spent it laying on the couch while Christie read. Wednesday, I woke up feeling great, but about 1:30 or so, I felt a twinge, and by 3:00 I was fully immersed in a migraine. Again, I treated it, and again, woke up feeling fine. This time the headache didn't come back until almost 6 in the evening.

So today my thoughts hold their breath, talk in museum whispers and slink through my head on stocking feet, hoping not to wake the bear.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

I was on the phone with my mom last night, and she said, "I feel ashamed to be an American." I couldn't have said it better myself. More than 500 of our soldiers have died in Iraq, while every credible person agrees that we were in no danger from Saddam Hussein, or that Iraq was in any way involved in 9/11. But no apologies from the administration, no admission of error, and no claiming of responsibility. A CIA operative is outed for purely political purposes, hurting our national security and, quite possibly, world stability. No apology. No responsibility. The deficit is through the roof. No apology. No responsibility. Our alliances around the world trashed. Thousands detained on no basis but the word of the administration that they are a threat, and no oversight into their treatment. No apology. Nobody loses their job. Nobody takes responsibility.

And now they've turned our young men and women into torturers. The response? Bush "hasn't read the report." Rumsfeld "hasn't read the report." The supervisor of the prison? "It wasn't my responsibility." And what does the administration actually do? They put Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller in charge of the Iraq prisons. Miller, in case you don't know, ran the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay and in September wrote a report on Abu Ghraib that recommended "Gitmo-izing" it, which included blurring the line between jailers and interrogators. Many people think Miller's report was a big factor in things getting as bad as they did at Abu Ghraib, and there have been allegations of similar abuse at Gitmo. No pictures, though, which I guess is what counts as success in this administration.

I see in the news now that Miller has apologized to Iraqis "for the small number of soldiers who committed illegal or unauthorized acts". That's a good start. Now can we please have an apology from the Commander in Chief for creating an environment in which responsibility is something to be ducked, not taken?

Update: It's been brought to my attention that I am a no-good, dirty rotten, blog-post-stealing fiance for not properly crediting Christie as the person who first told me about Miller having written the September report.

Monday, May 03, 2004

There's plenty of actual work to be done, but this weekend sits in the front of my mind and won't let anything out past it, so I'll have to write it out.

Friday was a day off work, ostensibly to prepare for a garage sale that got rained out, but who want to spent a gray, rainy day sticking prices on the dusty detritus of previous lives? So instead we ate breakfast out, puttered a bit, then frittered away the afternoon with the help of the Playstation 2. Friday evening started out as friends coming together to play a few boardgames and eat one another's food, but come 10:30, we turned on Nightline and watched the somber parade of names and faces.

None of us knew anyone personally who appeared, but we're each at most two degrees of separation from someone stationed in Iraq, a few of us were ex-military, and all of us have people we care about deeply who are or were in the military, National Guard, or Reserves. That lent a strong scent of "there but for the grace of God" to the whole experience. As I expected, the dead were overwhelmingly young, mostly nineteen to twenty, with a cluster in the mid-twenties, another in the mid-thirties, and only a handful past that.

We're a pretty anti-war, anti-Bush crew, and the broadcast only made us more so. I expect it'd be the same for those who support the war. You can't look at all those faces and still think of the war in intellectual terms. For my part, I just kept thinking that we didn't sign on for this. Those of us that supported the war did so because they trusted their president when he told them they were in danger. I'm sure some of them would have said yes to a war with the defined goal of "reshaping the political landscape of the middle east and bringing freedom to the Iraqis", but that's not the war we were sold.

Christie and I left the party a sleep-killing mixture of pissed off and sad. She officially moved in last weekend, and the cats came over this week, though they're still mostly living in the basement. Friday night, though, we switched them, so Jewel was in the basement and the two new stressed-out bundles of nerves were upstairs with Christie and I. Bailey and Maddie spent most of the night striding up and down the bed making "meep meep" noises, while I lay there having bizarre half-dreams about the Senate Apropriations Committee and financing for the war. Not fun. Christie lured the cats out into the living room, and I took a Benadryl that dumped me unceremoniously into catatonia until almost one the next day.

Saturday was my friend Marni's last Mayday/Birthday party. For twenty years there's been a party on or around the first of May on the same patch of land at the edge of the Missouri River bottoms south of Columbia. No more. Marni's living in Santa Cruz and coming all the way back here to throw a party has started to feel more like work than play. This year was also her fiftieth birthday, so it seemed like an ideal year to go out on top.

Every Mayday party, I think this'll be the year I find a way to capture it on paper, and every year I fail. It's good beer, great vegetarian food, fireworks, watching sunset from the bluff, live music all day and an eighteen foot bonfire to cap it all off. It's good people who haven't seen each other in a year and sometimes don't even know each other, people who've known each other for thirty years or thirty minutes. It's most of what I love about life, about Missouri, and about the people I've been lucky enough to share space with, all in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Sunday the plan was for a shopping trip into either Kansas City or St. Louis. We opted for St. Louis, since that's where REI is, as well as Borders, Whole Foods, World Market, Best Buy and a few more such stores, all within a few blocks. Being the emotional acrobats that we are, we spent the first thirty miles or so talking about money. What's hers, what's mine, and what's going to be ours. If you think that's an easy conversation to have, then you've never had it. Of course, it was easier the last time I did this, as we had so little money that it was never really an issue. But we talked it out, and know what we're going to do until the wedding and after. It's like one of my teachers used to say, "If you've gotta eat a whole bunch of frogs, eat the big frog first."

The big surprise, actually, was how little we really needed. I'd had a picture in my head of all the little wants and needs that have cropped up over the last month or two, but I hadn't accounted for the psychological effects of the moving, sorting, and evaluating both of our possessions that's been going on as well. So in the end we bought a mess of books, a new pillow, and a vegetable peeler (mine was abducted by aliens). Not exactly worth a trip into St. Louis, particularly once you factored in the lousy Macaroni Grill dinner and 40 minute traffic jam outside Wentzville.

It was a classic lesson in "nothing ever goes as planned", but that hardly stopped us from laughing our way through Whole Foods, or making fun of the mouth-breathing moron with a brown cardboard sign tied to the back of his truck reading "Osama for Kerry-Fonda '04".

There was a time in my life that normal day to day chaos drove me up the wall. An unproductive trip followed by lousy traffic compounded by stupid drivers would have had steam coming out of my ears. But now I keep my list of goals short, and my list for the day had one item: have fun hanging out with Christie. Given that she was cracking me up in the emergency room a month or so ago, I really can't imagine what could keep me from being able to check that off my to-do list.

So there you go. Three days, and three completely different activities with completely different emotional tones. No wonder I was mentally constipated.