Thursday, April 29, 2004

Good news for drunken lunatics with too many fingers: The Missouri Senate is poised to legalize noodling. Don't know what noodling is? Then you simply must follow the link; you're in for a treat. God, I love this state.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

You may have heard that the president of Westminster University wasn't pleased with Cheney's speech. Here's the local angle if you're interested in such things. The headline: "Cheney scolds and is scolded". Kerry's people are in talks about scheduling, and should be stopping in Fulton sometime soon. I hope it's not before my bumper sticker comes in the mail; I'd like to have it on my car when Kerry's in town.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Friday was spent in full Terminator Mode. As soon as word got out that I was taking the afternoon off, my inbox was full of requests for suddenly essential reports that had to be done before I left, no matter that most of these could have been done a week ago had I gotten the necessary data in time. A department secretary at Truman used to have a sign over her desk that said, "Procrastination on your part does not create an emergency on mine." If I had any brains, I'd apply that rule here, but I enjoy playing the superhero, so maybe not. I hit the vending machines for lunch, mainlined coffee, and was out of the building by 1:30 or so. Unfortunately, that was just the overture.

I've lived alone for the past three years, Christie for at least five. Before that, both of us had been married. So we each have a full complement of household goods with a generous assortment of extra crap on the side. We thought about looking for a house big enough for all of our stuff, but it doesn't really make sense to do so until we've built up some equity and some savings, both of which will be made easier thanks to my miniscule house payment. Besides, on what planet does it make sense to buy a bigger house to make room for stuff you neither want nor need, that has simply gathered over time, like dustbunnies? No, we must shed!

Luckily, Billie and Emily are just starting out, so they bought a good number of the things we have too many of. Of course, they live in Springfield, so we had to get it to them somehow. That's where U-Haul comes in. And once we had the trailer rented, why not use it to move some of the larger pieces of furniture. We're selling my dressers in a garage sale, to be held at Christie's (all resemblance to Christie's is coincidental), along with a great old writing desk that just doesn't fit anymore, and is impractical to store. We had to get my dressers to her place, her dressers to my place, and an assortment of furniture from both of our places down to Springfield. I spent some time letting the pieces flip around in my head, hoping for a miraculous logistical solution to materialize, but there was no way around it but hard work, heavy lifting, and multiple trips across town pulling a trailer.

It was 1:30 in the morning by the time we got to Springfield, after three and a half hours of driving through the rain.

Thing is, it was actually pretty peaceful. Every once in a while, the visibility would go to hell and I'd get nervous, but we couldn't safely go over 50 mph, so there wasn't even a question of hurrying. And while there was an appropriate amount of "are we being stupid?" introspection, there wasn't really any question of stopping while there was still work to be done, either. I joke a fair amount about being lazy, and it's true that when I've got a choice between laying around and doing work, I'll take laying around, provided there's some kind of diversion available to keep me from getting bored. But I learned a long time ago that nobody's going to step up and do my work for me. All the bitching and moaning in the world isn't going to get it done, so I tend to just step up and slog through it.

Christie's got the same attitude, but she's met enough people who don't to appreciate it in others. So it was that when I finally hit the pillow, head and ears ringing from the road, my hands still half-cradling the shape of the wheel, I drifted off with her voice in my ear, calling me a super-hero.

Every man should be so lucky. Every woman, too. So, Christie, don't go thinking I haven't noticed your cape.
C.W. Gusewelle's the sort of columnist that, if you sent him to Baghdad, you'd get 1,500 words on the life history of the old man selling Turkish coffee down the street from the hotel. But every once in a while, he lifts his head up from the human story to look at the big picture. (subscription required, link may expire)

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Christie and I spent last weekend at the Dulys' tree farm up by Gallatin. I've been up there before, but this was a working trip; Jim had a couple hundred trees to get in the ground and Billie and Theron volunteered to help, then talked Christie and I into helping them help. We were fill planting, which meant walking through a field that had a clump of grass and weeds every six feet. In the middle of that clump there was either a tree seedling or there wasn't. If there was one, we checked it to be sure it was rooted, if there wasn't, we planted a replacement. After about four hours of that, I'm fairly confident in my ability to tell the difference between northern red oak and walnut (good trees) and cottonwood, milkweed, and other undesirables. There's a poem in here somewhere about kneeling in the rough grass of a mown field, looking over your shoulder to find the row, and drawing a line in the air to the next row over, hoping to find a tree at the intersection.

The problem is that there are so many layers that I'm not sure where to anchor it. All afternoon I found myself marvelling at the trees I was finding and the ones I was planting. They were little more than rooted twigs, but they already had the rich dark color that will make their wood so valuable when Theron's new son, Kelyn, is a middle-aged man, just as Kelyn bears on his face and in his movements tiny flashes of his parents, as well as of the man he will become. Then there's the farm itself, started by Dionne's parents in their retirement and planted with "crops" that won't mature for thirty years or more. Usually more.

Could I ground it in action? The walking, dragging a bucket of trees and a planting tool behind. The kneeling to look sideways across the ground, hoping to see something in profile that you didn't from above. Digging through the grass with gloved hands, knowing a seedling will bounce back upright, while the stems of last year's weeds break off at the earth. Sighting off your neighbors to know where to look, or where to plant.

Or is Kelyn the heart of it all? Lord knows he was the highlight of the weekend. Nothing makes a man feel quite as helpless and useless as a baby that won't stop crying, so I certainly had my misgivings when I was holding him and everybody disappeared to other tasks in other corners of the house. He started to fuss, but I rocked him gently while walking laps around the stairwell and singing a low, wordless tune. He settle back to sleep, and I thought, "I could do this. Not yet, but I could do this."

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Clotilde has posted her father's recipe for vinaigrette. Reading it, I recognized a kindred spirit, which I'm sure you'll understand if you've read any of my recipes.
Here's a fun read about a geek-girl's impromptu afternoon with Quentin Tarantino. It's a good story well told, apparently true, and provides a nice segue. Last night, the Indigo Girls came through Columbia and played to a sold-out house. It was the kind of hugely crowded show you just don't see at the Blue Note. To give you an idea of the crowd, the doors opened at 7:30, and we didn't get in the door until eight. Women outnumbered men about five to one, but that was pretty much the only distinctive thing about the crowd, which seemed to cover every conceivable demographic, from punks to Rotarians, and every age group from six to sixty. If ever there was a band I'd follow around the country, it'd be the Indigo Girls. Not for the music (though I love their stuff), but for the fans, who are the nicest goddamn people you could ever hope to meet.

They played for around two hours and managed to play a good sampling of their new stuff and a good sampling of old favorites. Based on the reactions of the crowd, I think everybody got to hear their favorite song, which is a nice trick for a pair that's been putting out music for more than 15 years. If the last song ended, the lights came up and that was the end of the evening, it would have been a great night. But just before the lights came up, a tall, skinny guy came up beside us and handed us a couple of green fabric stickers. "Hey, stick around after the show! Here's a couple of backstage passes. Emily's my cousin, and I've got a bunch! Have fun!"

Of course, it was the Indigo Girls, not Insane Clown Posse, so the scene backstage was less snorting cocaine off a groupie's stomach and more, "Hey, how's your mom been? Give her my love, will you?" but that's more Christie and I's scene as well. It was just a few minutes, really, but we had a chance to get our tickets signed and I got to thank her for the music, which was a little vague, I guess, but what else can you say to a woman whose music you've been listening to in the best and worst times of almost half your life?

So, yeah, it was a good night. Oh, and buy their new album. It's worth it.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Everybody else is blogging this, but it's important, so I will, too. Follow this link, hit CTRL-F, and search for "Bandar". For the lazy, this is what you'll see:
But, it turns out, two days before the president told Powell, Cheney and Rumsfeld had already briefed Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador.

"Saturday, Jan. 11, with the president's permission, Cheney and Rumsfeld call Bandar to Cheney's West Wing office, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Myers, is there with a top-secret map of the war plan. And it says, ‘Top secret. No foreign.’ No foreign means no foreigners are supposed to see this," says Woodward.

"They describe in detail the war plan for Bandar. And so Bandar, who's skeptical because he knows in the first Gulf War we didn't get Saddam out, so he says to Cheney and Rumsfeld, ‘So Saddam this time is gonna be out, period?’ And Cheney - who has said nothing - says the following: ‘Prince Bandar, once we start, Saddam is toast.’"

After Bandar left, according to Woodward, Cheney said, "I wanted him to know that this is for real. We're really doing it."

But this wasn’t enough for Prince Bandar, who Woodward says wanted confirmation from the president. "Then, two days later, Bandar is called to meet with the president and the president says, ‘Their message is my message,’" says Woodward.

Prince Bandar enjoys easy access to the Oval Office. His family and the Bush family are close. And Woodward told 60 Minutes that Bandar has promised the president that Saudi Arabia will lower oil prices in the months before the election - to ensure the U.S. economy is strong on election day.
Other highlights of the interview include the president approving taking $700 million dollars earmarked for Afghanistan and using it to prepare for war in Iraq.

To be fair, Woodward is the only person 60 Minutes talked to for this story, though he did share tapes and transcripts of interviews with them. So there are two possibilities: either Woodward's completely lost his mind and started hallucinating in the middle of interviews, or the White House misappropriated funds, compromised national security, and conspired with a foreign power to fix gas prices specifically to affect the presidential election. I wouldn't believe this crap if I heard it on talk radio, or from the clerk at the local food coop, but this is Bob Woodward, and I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. Still, I'd like to hear the tape.

Friday, April 16, 2004

This Sunday at the Missouri Theatre, the Missouri Symphony Society Youth Orchestra is premiering a cantata inspired by the works of John G. Neihardt. I'd totally be going, but my ex-wife is the conductor, and the composer is her boyfriend, which would sort of get in the way of my appreciating the music. But it's the sort of thing the world needs more of (talented young people, new works of music, cross cultural influences, etc.), so I'm encouraging everybody else to go and give the kids some props.
Family code word foils kidnapping.
Howtoons - Way cool cartoon instructions for projects for kids. My favorite is the ice-board, but I have a special affection for the "how to count on your fingers in binary". My parents were programming computers back in the days of vacuum tubes and card-readers, so they did this all the time when I was a kid. The number four had special meaning between them; click here to see why.
Matt Yglesias hears the rumor that Kerry might pick Franklin Raines as his VP and says, "Plus, he went to Harvard, and so could help dilute the overwhelming Yaliness of Bush, Kerry, and Cheney."

I love the idea that having a Harvard grad and a Yaley makes it a diverse ticket. Reminds me of the lady in The Blues Brothers who said, "Oh, we have both kinds of music: country AND western!"

Thursday, April 15, 2004

"I could not resist posing the tiresome but still mysterious question: Where do jokes come from? 'There are two classic theories about the origin of jokes,' Dundes said. 'One is that they come from stockbrokers, who have time on their hands between sales and a communications network to send jokes around. The other theory is that they are made up by prisoners, who have a lot of spare time and a captive audience.' He added, "Lately, these two theories have merged.'"

It's from a New Yorker essay on the scholarly history of jokes, and well worth a read if you're into such things, which, of course, I am.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

The New York Times Magazine profiles a group of D.C. Log Cabin Republicans and their struggle with loyalty to a party that increasingly treats them as less than citizens, if not less than human. This quote leapt out at me:

"This is definitely a more closeted city than some other places," said David Catania, a Republican city councilman in D.C. who is gay. "We're in conservative professions here. If you work for someone, your job as an aide is to be in the background, not part of the story and certainly not part of some whispering campaign. But oh, my God, this town could not function without the gays and lesbians who by and large don't have responsibilities for children, who can work 80 hours and who sacrifice everything on behalf of their careers."

Oddly enough, David and I went to the same high school in Kansas City, and came up through the same debate program, though he graduated before I started debate. We met a couple of times and had a number of friends in common, which is how I heard this (probably apocryphal) story about his coming out to his parents: "Mom, Dad, I have to tell you something. You'll probably want to sit down. I'm...a Democrat." Much gasping and grasping of chests by his parents. "No, no, I'm just kidding. But I am gay."

Later in the article, he says, "People say to me, 'How can you stay a Republican,' and I just have to laugh... How could I be anything but? It's a congenital part of who I am." I know for a fact that's true, and it's a sign of the moral bankruptcy of the Republican party that they'll cheerfully sell out true believers like David to secure the votes of a bunch of bigots. Read the article; these people have worked their asses off for Bush and got betrayal in response: more evidence that the famous "Bush loyalty" is a one-way street.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Christie's got a nice post on the hypocrisy of Bush fans accusing Kerry of being a bad Catholic because he's pro-choice.
Wow. Imagine being able to print out a t-shirt. And I don't mean just the graphic that goes on the shirt. I mean the whole shirt. Or a dress shirt, sweater vest, pair of pants, and a hat. The possibilities are mind-boggling.
Scenes from a weekend:
Talking politics with Christie's conservative brother-in-law and having him agree that what we really need in this country is an "empiricist party" that would put aside ideology and just do what works. Seriously, it was fun to hear his thoughts. His instincts are conservative and he'd very much like to vote Republican, but he's a scientist and a rationalist and can't stand much of what they've done to the country. Apparently it sucks to realize you've been conned.

Starting Saturday with Turkish coffee. Great stuff. Really, really great. When I was still wide awake at 4 a.m., though I was questioning its greatness. Or maybe just questioning my ability to handle its greatness. Christie suggested that a significant portion of the strife in the Middle East is due to sleep deprivation. A bonus effect to insomnia is that you get an extra seven or eight hours in the middle of your weekend, making it, in effect, a three day weekend.

Cleaning the kitchen. And I mean cleaning. We took a truckload of garage sale stuff to Christie's place and through away three full bags of trash.

New futon. We're joining two households, and that means lots of stuff. Like two couches and a loveseat. But none of them were quite what we wanted, so they're all going, and we got a futon to replace them that's very much our style, and suits our needs just about right. Unfortunately, Christie fell in love with a rocking chair while we were there, and I think we're going to have to find room for it somewhere.

Not going to church. I know I talk a lot about God in this blog, but there are a couple of reasons why I'm glad we didn't go to church this weekend. For one, Easter's never done it for me. I grew up in a guilt-heavy Lutheran church for which Easter was mainly the day that followed Good Friday. As you'd expect, The Passion of the Christ is very popular there these days (my parents have moved on, but my brother and his family still attend Calvary, as my old church is, naturally, named). So I associate Easter with death, guilt, and stomach aches. Not my thing.

Not going canoeing. This was a bummer, actually, but every forecast I saw said that area was going to see rain from sunup past sundown, and that's just not the kind of thing I want to do on purpose. If I'm out camping and it starts to rain, I'll stay out and have a good time, but if I haven't even left yet? No way I can get excited about that.

Update: I forgot this one: The phone rings. Caller ID says "Unknown", but I answer anyway. Him: "Hello, this is so and so from Such and Such Surveying. What would you say is the number one priority facing Missouri this year?" Me: "Oh, that's easy. Voting the damn Republicans out of office." Him: "Oh. Okay. Um, thanks." Click.

Friday, April 09, 2004

This time tomorrow, I hope to be gliding down the Jack's Fork river. Unfortunately, the forecast isn't looking good. Dammit! Look, I enjoy video games and cleaning the basement as much as the next guy, but I want to get out and play in the woods! It's not much fun playing in the woods, though, if it's raining from sunup to sundown.

I'm starting to think God really wants me to clean the basement.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Monday, April 05, 2004

I blame my mother. Christie and I were in KC visiting my folks and everything was going fine, in that nothing was getting done. Oh, sure, Christie tried on a couple of wedding dresses, but that was a fluke, and it's not like we actually bought one. It was a completely non-practical Saturday, preceding what I hoped would be an equally useless Sunday in which to recover from the trauma of losing an hour. And then Mom suggested we stop by the nursery on the way home. Soil Service to be precise.

I was fine until I saw the tomatoes. Every year, I put a couple of tomato plants in the ground sometime in May or June, water them faithfully through the heat of the summer, and then they either just barely produce right before frost kills them or they produce so many tomatoes (again, all in the last few weeks of summer) that most of them end up rotting on the vine.

But it's barely April! And it's been weeks since there was even a little frost, let alone a killing frost! This year can be different! I can have wonderful, fresh tomatoes any time I want! I'll take care of them this time! I promise!

Of course, if we were going to put tomatoes in the ground, why not replenish the thyme patch? And the area in front of the kitchen window is in pretty sad shape as well. Maybe some flowers would spice it up, once we dig out the weeds and put in a border. Which brings to mind the steps down by the street. Do you think a juniper would do well there? And then there's the lawn...

In no time at all, this went from a lark to the kind of project that absolutely, positively must be finished, or else tomorrow's promised thunderstorms would turn the front yard into an apocalyptic mass of mud. And finish it we did, not merely saving the daylight, but wringing every goddamn drop out of the day, mowing in the twilight, watering in near darkness, then dragging our cranky asses in the door to become lactic acid-laced lumps on the couch, almost too tired to order takeout.

But the front yard looks great.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Things you don't hear everyday:
"Here, have a sandwich."

"Why? What's wrong with it?"

"Nothing, it's just that I'm going out to lunch, and ____ just dropped it off. She'd just picked it up from the deli when the hospital called. She's getting a kidney and needed to leave right away."
In The American Prospect, Neal Gabler lays out a clear, cogent explanation of the emotional undercurrent of 20th century politics. His argument, in a nutshell, is that liberalism was an inherently optimistic ideology during its years of ascendency, but lost its optimism following Vietnam (and, I would add, the Kennedy assassination). Reagan picked it up. He doesn't map the elections following, except to point out that Bush is riding that wave of optimism, but it seems to me that Clinton's chief appeal to the electorate was in being "the man from Hope." Gore didn't quite find an emotional heart to his campaign, so Bush trounced him by running on a "what, me worry?" platform. Kerry seems to be doing a better job, at least, and Bush, having used fear of terrorism so often to hold down dissent, is particularly vulnerable on this front. Here's hoping Kerry and his people have the EQ to take him on.
If you're wondering what's up with the Plame scandal, Josh Marshall has posted a memo that lays out a fairly strong case that Karl Rove is prosecutable, just for the actions he's admitted to publicly. He's made no effort to hide that he talked to a number of media outlets about Plame's work for the CIA after Novak's column was printed. Unfortunately for Rove, the "everybody already knows" defense is only valid if the the government has officially confirmed the identity of the agent being outed, which they had not yet done. I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again: I'm not a lawyer. But the folks who wrote this memo are, and they make a good case (PDF).

In slightly lighter news, how about that Letterman? Campaign Desk rehashes the story better than I could, but I won't let that stop me from trying: Letterman shows a video of the president boring some poor teenager, makes a lame joke about it. CNN picks up the video, then runs a correction, saying that the White House has contacted them and said that Letterman's people edited the kid in. Letterman calls bullshit. CNN runs another correction saying that the White House says, yes, the kid was there, but somewhere else, not up on the stage. Letterman calls bullshit. CNN says, well, actually, the White House never calls us. Letterman calls WTF? and then later comes back to say that his sources have told him that, yeah, the White House called CNN. CNN's offered an apology, but no real explanation, and the White House isn't saying anything.

First of all, this is undeniably trivial. It's hardly news that a teenage kid got bored at a political rally. But if the White House really did call CNN, then it may well go down as the most boneheaded maneuver in political history, since it gave a highly visible entertainer famous for his ascerbic wit the opportunity and motivation to call the Bush White House a bunch of damn liars over and over again. And Letterman's not the kind of guy to let go of something like this.

As far as the question of who's telling the truth, my money's on Letterman, and I'll give you odds. First of all, the White House is keeping silent. Secondly, I have trouble seeing why two different CNN anchors would make something like this up. Finally, it fits an established pattern for both the White House (respond to every slight, try to socially construct reality) and CNN (repeat bullshit uncritically, be willing to look stupid if it'll protect administration sources).

Letterman's audience is broad, with no particular political alignment, and loyal. The White House, meanwhile is skating on a paper-thin layer of credibility. Having Letterman on the "they're a bunch of damn liars" bus with the rest of us is bound to be a serious problem for this White House. It's one thing for the late night comics to rag on Bush for being stupid. Given the vein of anti-intellectualism running through our culture, it probably even helps. But if the jokes switch from "he's an idiot" to "you can't believe a word he says", these guys are toast.