Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sheldon and Benji

Some boob tubers from a couch potato....

- How long before the TV picture tube goes the way of the 8-track tape (and the term "boob tube" becomes even more arcane)? It’s already hard to find a new one. Wal-mart has vast rows of flat-screen TVs, but only a single model of the old type. Our 27-inch TV seems like a relic, our 13-incher even more so. I have tried calculating what size 16:9 TV would provide a similar screen height to the bigger set (sometime I should research the origin of measuring screens diagonally). I think something in the 34-inch range will do it, but I’ll probably take a measuring tape to the store when the time comes.

- It was neat to hear Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory mention that Jesus was actually probably born in the spring, and that the celebration was put at its current time by the early church to coincide with a Roman festival for greater popular appeal. Yes, it was done in a comic context – Sheldon also said that the Grinch’s position on Christmas was much more courageous and sound until he wimped out and caved in to societal norms - but you don’t often hear statements like that on mainstream network TV, especially on a lightweight sitcom.

- I came upon the movie Benji the Hunted on TV the other day while my wife was watching a DVD of the movie Santa Buddies on her daughter’s computer, and I couldn’t help noticing the contrast. In case you’re not familiar with those cinematic works, Santa Buddies is a typical modern movie using live animals with voices (complete with moving mouths) digitally added. Benji the Hunted, on the other hand, is a movie (one of a series) in the classic mode with no talking animals (in this case no dialog at all for most of the movie). It’s funny to recall that the Benji movies were considered cute kid’s fare at the time (Disney products, no less); compared to Santa Buddies and others of that type they’re Apocalypse Now. In particular the long shot of the wolf falling off the cliff and hitting the ground would have no chance of being in a current kid’s movie, at least done like that. I guess the movie makers hadn’t quite given up on the idea that kids don’t need to be sheltered from anything resembling intense reality. Now it seems that they just moved that stuff to full animation, where it seems to catch less heat.

I tried to imagine what the Benji movie would look like if it were made like Santa Buddies, with the animals all having voices, the cougar kittens high and squeaky, the wolf deep and nasty, etc. To my mind it would take away what little edge the movie had. It’s hard to get too caught up in the peril of a talking dog. Lassie and Rin Tin Tin wouldn’t have been the same. My two favorite animated dogs, Snoopy and the dog from the Grinch cartoon, didn’t have voices. To me the lack of animal voices gives Benji a realistic feel that is decidedly lacking (in the case of Santa Buddies, probably intentionally; I’m sure the producers were going for a cartoonish vibe) in most modern animal-related dramas. It’s closer to the documentary feel of films such as March of the Penguins. That feel does, as one reviewer said, make it a bit tough to watch at times. But it avoids that extra layer of sweetness that I find annoying in any movie that is supposed to have some drama, the layer that keeps me away from movies like Santa Buddies.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Following is Not a Paid Advertisement

Ruminations from an indecent hour.....

The number and variety of "paid programs" - those 30-minute commercials poorly masquerading as TV shows – on in the middle of the night amazes me. It's hard to believe they can all make money. When I was at KEVN Companies paid a flat fee to have them aired, which was easy money for the station and filled air time. (Some didn’t get much bang for their buck. I once got a call from the answering service for one that had just aired asking to confirm that we did actually broadcast it; apparently there was no response.) I liked them because it was 30 minutes without worrying about commercial breaks.

Unfortunately, to make sure they aired properly we still had to pay a little attention to them, and they could be tough to watch. For me the low was a spiel sponsored by Jerry Falwell’s organization offering to sell you a copy of what they alleged was evidence convicting the Clinton Administration of every sort of nefarious deed, up to and including the "murder" of Vince Foster (remember that?), all for a low, low price. I remember thinking, "If you’ve really got the goods on the President and most of his people, why haven’t you acted like a conscientious citizen and given it to any willing prosecutor, investigative reporter and Congressman (of which there would have plenty), instead of peddling it like a sidewalk tabloid hawker?" I really hadn’t given Falwell much thought up to that point; he was just part of our Sunday morning gasbags-for-God lineup. But that shameful piece of hucksterism (which I should point out was separate from his regular show and in which, if I recall correctly, he did not actually participate) wrote him off as a credible person to me.

Over the years I took a number of telephone calls about station programming choices such as that one and the frequent preempting of Meet the Press, with viewers frequently accusing the station of bias of some type. I always told them that as far as I know there was no non-financial agenda at KEVN. As long as your check cashed and you didn't violate any laws or cause too much trouble for station management you could get on the air, and at just about any time you wanted if the check was big enough. (I once had to start Matlock 30 minutes early to accommodate a paid program, which meant tape-delaying an early feed by half an hour instead of taking it right off the satellite. It also meant that it was already half over at its usual start time.) TV preachers were just like any other paid program as far as the station was concerned. What mattered was that they paid very well; well enough for the station to preempt NBC’s NFL pre-game show when necessary.

That anything-for-a-buck philosophy is probably necessary to some degree in small-market TV, but it did become tiresome after a while, particularly when I had to answer the angry calls. (Those Matlock viewers were a loyal and vocal bunch.) I personally found the frequent preempting of the weekend NBC Nightly News for a paid program to be somewhat unseemly. Since I left I understand they occasionally did the same thing to the weekday NBC News; the local news crew must have been just giddy to have an infomercial as a lead-in instead of Tom Brokaw. They eventually sold their soul to Rupert Murdoch and became a Fox affiliate, which I’m sure happened purely because FOX wrote a large check, but it seems like a good philosophical match as well.

Night Notes

Ah, another stretch of overnights; time to wander around the gray matter.....or is it grey matter? Merriam-Webster says that grey is a variant of gray, so either is apparently acceptable. Grey somehow seems more classic, more Olde English.

- The cable TV music feed is a nice change from the radio. They play a different mix and don’t have commercials. On the other hand, they played the full-length version of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, reminding me that it is possible for even a decent rock song to be too long, at least without the aid of recreational chemicals.

Speaking of recreational chemicals, the gentleman who works next door gave me two chocolate-covered peppermint sticks, which I’m sure have been around a long time but didn’t come into my life until recently. It does make a nice combination, but I can’t help wondering if it was one of those accidental ideas, most famously expressed in the old Reese’s candy-bar-dropped-into-chocolate ad campaign. I suppose it could have been a spontaneous idea; someone just decided to try it to see if it would work. A great deal of my cooking skill has come from that concept. I think my best idea came when, lacking lettuce for tacos, I substituted dill pickle slices (again, I’m sure it had been done, but I hadn’t seen it). My daughter liked it, and lettuce has not reappeared in tacos at our house.

- Perhaps I’ve just become jaded, but this year the "holiday" season hasn’t seemed as interminable as in past years. We’ve actually gotten to what I consider an acceptable time to be pushing crap-for-Christmas without me experiencing an urge to assault anyone or anything mentioning it. I guess I’ve been too occupied with more important things to pay much attention to the preseason hype. We’ve also gotten the family gathering arranged, which is usually a large headache. Whatever the reason, it is refreshing to see December on the calendar and feel something besides fatigue and the desperate desire for it to be over.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Imagine That Ten Years Have Gone By

I've noticed ads for end-of-year TV specials, but I haven't seen anything recognizing the fact that we've had 10 years starting with a 2. I guess it's the lack of millennial excitement this time, no Y2K (an abbreviation that can't pass into history fast enough) computer anxieties. Still, it's been a pretty eventful decade; you'd think there would be bit more hoopla. Perhaps it's the nature of those major events; large-scale terrorist attacks, ongoing wars and economic stagnation don't make people want to dance in the streets. I think if anything there's a feeling of Good Riddance, as John Lennon said about another decade, "Weren't the 70's a drag?" Of course, he then said, "Let's try to make the 80's better" and was killed shortly thereafter, reminding us of the fleeting nature of optimism, and that things can almost always get worse.

When I mentioned this passing of years to my wife, she said, "It doesn't seem that long ago", which is a common reaction, but one I don't share about that time frame. When I think back to my life at the end of 1999 and all that happened since, the bad - 2 divorces; an ill-advised job change requiring relocation to another town; lingering financial chaos brought on by those decisions - and the good - meeting my wife; seeing my daughter grow up to be a good, sensible young adult; Grandbaby - it's definitely been 10 years' worth.

As I look at that last paragraph, it occurs to me that most of the bad for me happened between 2000-2005 and most of the good from 2005-2009, which I guess is a reminder of the fleeting nature of pessimism, and as Lennon said in that same tragically ironic interview, “while there’s life, there’s hope”.

Mercantile Melee

Well, I finally did it. I’ve been avoiding it for years, but this year special circumstances eliminated the usual excuses. I went to an early day-after-Thanksgiving sale. My wife had targeted some Christmas presents she felt were worth pursuing; my daughter had to be at work between 4:30 and 5:00 AM, so I was up; and I had to work at 7:00 so there wasn’t much to be gained by going back to bed. I sighed and remembered a quote from the great philosopher Red Forman of That ‘70s Show: “Being a man means doing a lot of crap you don’t want to do”.

So we were at Wal-Mart shortly before 5:00, along with a significant percentage of the area population. Happily the store doesn’t actually close, so there was no standing around outside waiting for the chance to trample a little old lady (or be trampled by one; some of them can really move, especially under those circumstances). Although there was a certain herd mentality that was a bit unseemly, it was actually quite civilized for such a large number of undoubtedly sleep-deprived people. The aisle traffic was aggressive, but not rude. Only the areas around electronics and the $2 DVDs were really jammed. Wal-mart had employees handing out certain high-demand items (32” flat-screen TVs seemed to be the star attraction; I saw several carts with 2 or 3) rather than just allowing grab-and-tackle, and most of the other sale items were in sufficient supply that fisticuffs were unnecessary. There were some hardcore shoppers (we overheard someone talking about having been at ShopKo and Toys R Us in Rapid City at midnight), and quite a few multi-shopper expeditionary forces communicating by cell-phone while fanning out to various sections of the store, but in general it wasn’t that much worse than other busy days I’ve seen there.

Of the items on my wife’s list, only the microwave oven was a possible problem, and it turned out to be on a side aisle and unmarked, so once we located them procurement was easy. I suspect people thought they had already been snapped up. I had considered checking out the $200 e-machines laptop, but it looked like they were nabbed at the start (later I found out you needed an advance ticket to get one), and even at that price it would have been a budget-buster right now.

We got what we wanted and into a checkout line ahead of most of the rush, and were out the door and home by about 5:45. On the way home we drove past the mall, where most of the stores were opening at 6:00 (although I heard JCPenney’s had opened at 4:00 and I don’t know about Kmart). I imagine many of the people we saw at Wal-mart would go there, but I was done and happy to be so. I compare the experience to my recent root canal; not as bad as I had heard it could be, but something I hope to avoid repeating.

Answering the Call

I watched most of WWII In HD on the History Channel, and generally enjoyed it, which wasn't a big surprise, as I usually like WWII programs, especially with new material. This one did seem a bit disjointed, as though they either couldn't decide what narrative theme to use or they didn't have enough for just one, so they tried to integrate different themes that had been produced separately. I also noticed that the closed captioning frequently differed from what was said in ways that indicated last-minute editing, which hints at a bit of chaos in the production process, another possible explanation for the slapdash feel. I would like to see a program with that material where they just gave the context of a piece of footage and showed it.

One consistent theme in the program, as with most shows like this, was the ability of people, either individually or as a group, to step up and do things they may have never previously considered. These things may have been extremely unpleasant (the man who found himself almost spontaneously having to kill a German soldier by slitting his throat, and immediately afterward went to a ditch and threw up), or more positive (the reporter who first expressed doubts about the collective fortitude of Americans to handle the rigors of war, then admitted to being wrong), but the overall notion of successfully performing beyond expectations, especially one's own, is usually uplifting; indeed, it's the basis for heroism.

I still recall an example of this that I witnessed which, while not nearly in the same league as combat, is much more typical. I was the student manager for my high school's football team. During a game one of the linemen went down. Happily he just had the wind knocked out of him, but he had to come out. My school was small, but at the time we had the luxury of being able to rotate linemen, so we had a couple of experienced seniors available to fill in. As we were helping the player off the field, I asked the coach who he wanted as a replacement (and I mean The coach, as in the only one, and I was asking him about such things because we were the staff) and he said, "Have Todd get in there." I can't say definitely, but I'm sure my eyebrows went up; Todd was a sophomore who had never been in a game. I ran to the sideline and yelled for Todd, and saw for the first time a graphic demonstration of the phrase "eyes as big as saucers"; I thought he might need a bag in which to breathe. But he collected himself, filled in ably for a few plays, and then came back out when the other lineman had recovered.

I'd like to say that Todd went on to become a star football player, like the man in the recent movie The Blind Side, but it wouldn't be true. On the other hand, he didn't become Al Bundy either. He did eventually become a good high school football player, then - like most of the soldiers in that program did after the war - moved on with life. Todd's experience, however, is the kind most of us are much more likely to face; a sudden, singular, usually momentary development to which we have to react instantly, as opposed to the sweeping change of war. It's the kind of thing we all hope we're up to handling when it comes, as we all know it will. It's the Character Builder, and like many things, a few are good, but we'd prefer not to overindulge.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Waking Up

Eight minutes. Not too bad. From shutting off the alarm to backing out of the driveway in eight minutes. It reminded me of my days signing on at KEVN, when I regularly got up and out in 15 minutes. Of course today I took a few shortcuts I couldn't then; no shower, shave or breakfast. I didn't even comb my hair. What was the point? It was 4:30 AM, I wasn't going to get out of the car, and I'd be back in bed in half an hour.

What prompted this? Money, of course. More exactly, my daughter's job at the Holiday Inn, getting the breakfast bar ready, which occasionally requires her to be there at 5AM. It also entails a drive from the northeast side of town to the southwest, which at that time of day only takes about 10 minutes, thanks to all but one stoplight being in flashing-yellow mode, and presents an opportunity to see the town at an unusual (for me) time.

There may be cities that never sleep, but Pierre isn't one. Among businesses, only Wal-Mart and Marlin's (a truck stop) are open 24/7 here; even the convenience stores close. Only the hospital has enough vehicles in the lot to approximate daytime traffic. The vacant parking lots around everything else combine with all the lights that are left on in buildings and on lots, (I assume this is done for security, but it seems like too many lights are left on at most places. I think at least half could be shut off without affecting the purpose, saving a considerable amount of money.) to create a weird sense of unneeded space, as though the builders had been overly optimistic about growth prospects, or that the businesses are open in anticipation of commerce that isn't coming.

However, it's also apparent that this is just about the time the town starts to wake up. The drive over was almost devoid of traffic or other signs of life. Coming back just a few minutes later I saw people waiting to get into work at various restaurants, more lights on in homes and many more vehicles on the road; the first stirrings of civilization. As I undressed to get back into bed (only then noticing that I forgot to zip my fly; my quick get-up isn't as precise as it once was), I thought that being up and out at this time of day isn't all bad. But I'm glad that I don't have to do it regularly anymore.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Baby Bumblebee

As promised......Her Majesty the Drama Queen in full award-winning regalia. I think the black background, which made her black tights disappear, really makes the photo.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

What is Your Emergency?

This poor neglected blog. If it were a houseplant it would have died a long time ago. I just can't seem to find the time and/or material. Even typing this is a struggle due to Grandbaby's insistence on assisting, which is not as helpful as she thinks. She has become quite the drama queen, putting on a show whenever one of her excursions into mischief gets interrupted. She also now officially possesses award-winning cuteness; a picture of her in her Halloween costume entered in a contest at the Wal-Mart portrait studio brought home the hardware. Of course this picture will be posted as soon as I can get it scanned; I have a grandfatherly duty to uphold.

I do have something of an excuse for the last two weeks. I attended (and passed,happily) the 911 telecommunicator certification course. This hadn't been required of us until recently since we're not an actual 911 center, although we do many of the same things. I had fairly low expectations for it since it is intended for people new to the job as opposed to a veteran like me. It had also been 25 years (almost exactly....sigh) since I had been in a classroom setting, and I hadn't missed it. But I must say it turned out to be a good experience. It provided a formal basis for some of the procedures we had developed on our own and some good background information that will be useful. It also allowed me to recharge a bit and shake off creeping burnout.

The best part was the chance to meet people who do what I do, under wildly varying conditions. Some work for fairly large, well-organized operations that offer at least adequate compensation; others are employed by outfits that barely meet the minimum standards for wages that are usually associated with french fries rather than public safety. People tend to think of 911 service as being consistent everywhere, and would be appalled if they knew how many centers have only one person handling not just 911 but all law enforcement dispatch duties (as well as other duties; some also assist with jail operations) for large - if sometimes sparsely populated - areas of the state.

The reason for this, as usual, is money; local jurisdictions don't like to spend any more than absolutely necessary, and complain loudly about any attempt to require better service. Some places closed their 911 centers and contracted the service out rather than upgrade to the latest standards, and a proposal to require two people on duty at all times at a 911 center - if passed - will probably lead to more consolidation.

To a certain degree this is understandable. As the population concentrates more into certain parts of the state, other governments are left with a smaller tax base from which to pay for expensive and sophisticated equipment and the trained people to use it. It's often cheaper and easier to pay someone who already has the facilities to handle it. It may even be advantageous to the public, who get a more consistent level of service.

What is lost is the same thing that is lost when you go to Wal-Mart instead of the small grocery store. The person who answers the call, however conscientious - and I can say that everyone I met at this class has a sense of dedication to public service that I found inspirational; the woman who sat next to me is not only a dispatcher but a volunteer firefighter and EMT - is less likely to have an intimate knowledge of your area and circumstances. This can be upsetting to rural folks used to the Mayberry type of public service. But it is the trade off for the type of emergency service most people have come to expect.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Doing Nothing For Fun

It was one of those innocuous questions everyone hears or asks in casual conversation all the time, the kind of not-too-deep ice breaker most people can answer without much thought, so of course I stumbled all over it. "Do you have any hobbies?"

I didn't have a ready answer, I think, because I really don't do anything that fits the stereotype of a hobby. I don't collect or make things or participate in any leisure activity or sport with regularity. I don't garden or paint or hunt or fish. In general I don't do anything of which people usually think when the word hobby is mentioned. This humble and neglected blog probably comes closest to a "normal" hobby, which says yet more about me that I probably shouldn't ponder.

It wasn't always so. Growing up I was a huge fan of the space program. I kept a scrapbook of every article I could find on the subject, and built a large model of the Saturn 5 rocket. I also used to draw regularly, usually cars, especially after acquiring a draft pack for a college class. But for quite a few years I haven't done anything like those.

Once again, Merriam-Webster: "hobby - a pursuit outside one's regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation". By that definition I do have hobbies. Perhaps another reason I didn't casually say so is....well…I feel slightly embarrassed when I mention them.

- I watch a great deal of TV.
- I think a lot.

Not exactly mountain climbing and skydiving. I can see "LAZY" run through a person's mind, and it often strains that person's politeness reflexes to not say "that's it?", although I never blame anyone who does. The conversation usually moves on to another topic quickly.

TV has always been scorned as being not so much a hobby as a way to suppress brain activity. But growing up long before the internet in a town too small to have a public library, television was an important information source for me, limited as it was then (no cable), not so much about classic academic subjects (although PBS was good for that), but about the wider world. I eventually made TV my profession for 16 years, and if I had it to do over it would still be. As it is, even with the internet TV is still my old favorite window on the world.

As for thinking, that seems a bit like saying breathing is a hobby. Many people would probably consider daydreaming a more appropriate term for what I do. Here again I cite my upbringing; for all its limitations, it was a great environment for quiet contemplation of whatever came to mind. I always tell people that I don't bore easily; even when I look bored I'm usually fine, just thinking. This does contribute to a vicious circle, in that my antisocial tendencies cause me to drift off, which (along with a tendency to look like I'm not paying attention when I actually am listening) makes me seem more antisocial. Thinking does have the great advantage of being readily doable anytime, anywhere, with no accessories required.

My hobbies are cheap: roughly $87 a month for cable and internet supports them nicely. Compared to what some people spend on their pastimes this is a bargain. They also feed each other: TV gets me thinking, which provides material for the blog, the production of which often leads me off on other tangents, and so on. I suppose I could add internet surfing to the list, but lately I haven't had time to do that for much more than to feed thought and the blog. Besides, compared to the others, which have been lifelong, the internet/blog is a newcomer.

Maybe someday I'll take up something more traditional, but I like what I have now. They meet the definition above, in that I find them relaxing, which is what hobbies are about.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Random TV Thoughts

Ben-Hur was on the other night. I wonder how many people think that's a true story?

I'm glad CBS moved The Big Bang Theory from opposite Antiques Roadshow to follow Two and Half Men. Each has something that tickles me. Two and a Half Men is crude and rude and starting to age a bit, but it is well-executed, and Jon Cryer's twice-divorced character's comically disastrous life helps me look back and laugh a little at my early-2000's marital train wrecks. As for The Big Bang Theory, I went to college with guys like that.

So far The National Parks on PBS is pretty much vintage Ken Burns, which will delight some and drive others crazy. I have liked most of his past work, and this looks to be of the same caliber.

Fox's Sunday night animation lineup had a so-so start. The Simpsons is aging nicely; not the juggernaut it once was, but still capable of some solid laughs. The Cleveland Show had its moments, but seemed a bit uneven. I wonder if it can hold up without resorting to the same shtick used in Family Guy, which itself did OK by going with its strengths, Stewie and Brian. American Dad was definitely the edgiest of the bunch; a send-up of war reenactments was a decent idea, but going heavy on the PTSD angle dragged it down a bit.

More New Tricks for the Old Dog

In the space of roughly a week my house has gone from bare-minimum computing power to a small network. My wife and both daughters have each acquired a laptop to accompany the hopelessly outclassed family desktop, requiring me to dust off the LinkSys wireless router and hook it back up to my ancient cable modem, which has just been declared obsolete by the cable company. Another relic from my first marriage gone. I shouldn't have been surprised; none of the other computer equipment I purchased at the same time (early 2000) is still being used. I could buy one from them (their prices don't seem too bad - $65 for a DOCSIS 3.0), but I plan on doing a little shopping first.

I am the designated household computer guru despite my education and experience having mostly occurred in the misty past when "portable" computers weighed 40 lbs. and 1200-baud modems were pretty kick-ass. (Although a few years ago when my second wife took a Visual Basic programming course I was happy to discover that I could still write a little code.) Personally I think that a great deal of what computer savvy I do possess is simply due to a willingness to fiddle with them. Many people who claim they lack the smarts to understand computers and other electronics actually just don't have the nerve to try. Of course it's possible those people may just have the good sense to avoid really messing things up, while people like me are the ones who give IT professionals nightmares.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Not Infinite Variety, but Variety

I can't honestly say I recall what brought this to mind - when you daydream as much as I do you lose track -but it recently occurred to me that while South Dakota isn't exactly a beacon of diversity, each of the cities in which I've lived as an adult has a distinctly different rhythm.

Rapid City is a summer tourist town. Yes, it has a military base nearby and is a regional hub of year-round commerce, but the pace picks up noticeably during the summer. Hotel rates go up (the sheer number of hotels is a big indicator of the nature of life there), the smaller attractions that close during the off-season dust off the shelves, and the traffic gets silly with people trying to find the road to Mount Rushmore, which thanks to past political shenanigans doesn't connect directly to I-90 and requires people to run a gauntlet of local businesses. The ridiculous growth of the Sturgis motorcycle rally has made August almost impossible to handle, and indeed many Sturgis residents leave during that time, renting their homes out for enough money to make a few house payments.

Vermillion has a much more intense, but completely opposite, seasonal contrast. It is a stereotypical college town; it consists of USD, the necessary support system, and a few miscellaneous businesses. It's a small city during the school year and a small town during the summer. This has advantages; when I moved there the gas company waived their deposit when they found out I wasn't a student, and being a steady customer built a good relationship with the local merchants. However, there is a sense that the town is geared for the students, not the residents, which rankled a bit on occasion and contributes to many people who work at the university not living in Vermillion, adding to the contrast.

Pierre's swings are relatively minor. The annual influx for the legislative session is the only event that shakes things up a bit, but it's only a few weeks. There are seasonal activities that affect certain businesses (fishing, hunting, boating), but the overall pace of life is fairly consistent for most people. There isn't anything that completely changes the character of the whole community, unless you count the annual goose migration, which definitely adds a certain, shall we say, texture, especially to the sidewalks around Capitol Lake.

Overall I have to say that I don't have a preference. Each city has it's ups and downs, but the local rhythm wasn't really a factor for me. If I had to choose, I'd probably go with Vermillion as a small town close to larger ones, but I have no serious qualms about any of them.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Prose Production Au Naturel

Jon Carroll tells me something of which I could have remained blissfully ignorant for the rest of my life.

I have actually written naked, for the usual reasons - an extremely hot day, an extremely tight deadline - and it's no fun at all. I stuck to the chair, so getting up involved a fair amount of pain. I then tried a beach towel draped over the back of the chair, but the towel stuck to me too, so when I got up I looked like a naked man wearing a terry cloth Superman cape. There may be images that say "seriously crazy" better than that, but not many.

I went into the kitchen to make myself a sandwich. "Back away from the knife," my wife said.

You may rest assured that I am always fully clothed when cranking out this humble blog.

He Must Avoid Cable TV News, Too

Tim Goodman vents a little.

Do you ever have those days when you keep thinking, "What is WRONG with you people?" Of course you do. We all do. Do you ever find yourself in a room and thinking, "Please get me out of here before I kill everyone?" Sure you do. Who hasn't been in that room? Let's face it. We live in a world - and especially a country - where we could spend most of our time going around saying, "Really? No, really?"

How does he control this?

I try to limit my exposure to idiots and other ignorant people as much as possible, figuring that life is short and precious and if I spend my time worrying that people with closed minds will procreate it will only cause me undo stress.

I can only assume by that statement that he doesn't wander the internet regularly. Personally, I try to take a different approach, once explained by a character in the Bloom County comic strip; when you're feeling down, taking a look at all the dweebs around you will make you feel better about yourself. There's nothing like a dose of "it could be worse; I could be that stupid" to cheer me up. Of course, my job puts me in regular contact with enough idiocy (you ran out of gas 2 miles past Sioux Falls?) that I rarely need to go looking for more.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

High Finance in Lower Brule

The headline for this item caught me a bit off-guard.

South Dakota tribe buys New York financial company

It was like reading that the local VFW bought a Las Vegas casino, or hearing that the mailman retired to a home in the Bahamas.

Lower Brule tribal Chairman Michael Jandreau said the purchase will complement the tribe's other businesses and develop an income to improve the standard of living for its 3,600 members, 1,850 of whom live on the Lower Brule reservation in central South Dakota.

It's a big addition to an organization that was already larger than I realized.

The tribe already owns businesses in construction, food manufacturing, farming and ranching, and gaming. "This has the potential to far exceed that," Jandreau said of the tribe's Golden Buffalo Casino at Lower Brule.

Of course, the past few years have also shown that it can go bad in a big way as well.

I'm all for anything that will improve conditions on a reservation, although the checkered past of some tribe's finances invites concern. There's also an interesting benefit for the company.

Westrock Group Chief Executive Donald Hunter said the company's American Indian-owned status makes it largely tax-free.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Destination Known

In his latest column in Road and Track, Peter Egan laments the time constraints that forced him to pass by various attractions during a road trip/comparison test, and ponders the idea of going back when he has more time. This revived a thought process in which I engage once in a while: pondering road trips my wife and I would like to take.

The trips I usually consider are the ones we're most likely to take. Naturally these are fairly local, usually doable in a week or less. The reason for the destination can be pretty random, although we like to use a nearby, previously unvisited casino as an initial excuse. From there it's a matter of finding out what else there is to see, although in the case of one casino on our list, on I-29 at the North Dakota/South Dakota border, the very existence of such a huge operation in the middle of nowhere is a novelty. One that has recently come to mind is an area north of Sioux Falls, with the Royal River casino in Flandreau and the grave of an old friend in nearby Pipestone, Minnesota. (This one may be at the top of the list; I still think of him with some regularity.) I think we'd combine the previously mentioned casino in the middle of nowhere with a trip to Montevideo, Minnesota to see a former colleague who now runs a café there.

Then there are the trips that may never actually happen, but could, given favorable circumstances. One that I enjoy considering actually involves Mr. Egan: a drive past his Wisconsin farm southeast of Madison, just because I have read so much about this area in his columns and articles over the years. (No, I wouldn't stop in, unless he happens to be outside when we drive by; then I might say hello). My wife would like to go to Las Vegas again; she loves the place and an old friend lives there. I have never been there, so we'll probably do our best to make this one happen someday.

The trips about which I give the least thought are the pure fantasy drives that could be taken with unlimited time and resources. The possibilities are just too numerous, and the unlikelihood of being able to do one makes it hard to consider.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Lot From a Little

Finally a chance to peruse a few websites, and just in time: James Lileks spent some time here in South Dakota, hitting the standard stops. First up, the Corn Palace.

Mitchell has done a tremendous job of marketing itself, thanks entirely to the maize-smothered structure at the end of downtown.

The boosterism was strong, as you can expect, and stirring as well: for every twenty towns that never grew beyond a half-dozen streets and a post office, there’s a Mitchell, a town that grew big enough to think it could be much, much more.

Really, it is amazing that Mitchell is what it is - a regional shopping destination and a vibrant city - considering it's only about 60 miles from Sioux Falls. That boosterism has been wildly effective over the years at using a single mid-level (at best) attraction to create a community that really has no business being that successful.

Then, after stops in Murdo and the 1880 Town, Wall Drug.

We headed right for the 5 cent coffee and the ice water. Better coffee from an urn I’ve never had; colder, crisper, cleaner water can’t be found. I had three cups of coffee and tipped the box a dime. (It’s on the honor system.) We wandered through the gift shops - well, no, let me rephrase that. We wandered through Wall Drug, which is a gift shop. The quantity of kitsch is astonishing, and if the entire complex was buried by a layer of volcanic ash, archaeologists of the future would conclude we were a civilization based around the worship of wolves and lanky men in hats.

But after taking the usual tour, he came to realize something.

At that point I looked around at the walls, smothered from street to back with pictures and testimonials, thought of the laminated clips that lined the hallways, the old scarred statues, the signs that were old when I was young, and I thought, well. Nine, maybe ten years, a fellow could get to the bottom of all the secrets here.

Again, more than there should be.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Suction, Football, and Sean vs. John

Ah, the things that pop into my head while lying on the couch brandishing the
TV remote control with Grandbaby sleeping on my shoulder (don't worry,
I'm an experienced broadcast equipment operator; I haven't injured anyone
in years).

- She generates considerable suction on her bottle while sleeping. She
drinks it dry, then creates a vacuum inside that causes a loud hiss
through the nipple when she finally lets go. When my daughter was a
baby we used disposable bottle liners; this kid would collapse one of
those into a tiny ball in the tip. Happily it doesn't seem to give her any
tummy trouble, so she must not swallow the air. In case you're wondering,
she has judged a pacifier to be unacceptable as a substitute for an empty

- While the two sports that use the name football - oops, two of the three;
mustn't forget Australian rules football, which can be a hoot to watch
when I can find it on TV here - are about as different as possible,
I've noticed a few similarities. (1) At any given time, most of the players
aren't involved in the primary action. NFL football is especially big on this;
all the shifting and motion for a handoff up the middle can be hilarious.
(2) Certain penalties seem designed to be killjoys, inhibiting exciting
moments. The offside rule in soccer and the many variations on holding
in football are the big culprits. (3) A lot of down time, although in football
it's designed into the game while in soccer it's more a matter of players
kicking the ball back and forth either waiting for a chance to try something
or take a breather.

- Craig Ferguson's stand-up bit about his fellow Scot Sean Connery brought
John Wayne to mind. Ferguson noted that Connery essentially plays himself
no matter the character; Wayne did that for years. Each has/had a natural
presence, although Wayne never had Connery's sex symbol image. Both
also attempted to resemble Asians with unfortunate results; I'd give
Wayne's Genghis Khan in The Conqueror the advantage over Connery's
disguise in You Only Live Twice, because Wayne had better makeup and
enjoyed the advantage of having other less-than-convincing actors with
him, whereas Connery was working almost entirely with actual Asian actors
during his scenes, which made him look even sillier.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Enticing Anthony

I see that Anthony Bourdain's next show was done nearby, in Montana. For
those of you who don't know, Bourdain is the host of a program called
No Reservations on the Travel Channel (new shows are on Mondays at
10:00 Eastern, with reruns at various times). He is a former chef who
travels the world in search of local food and whatever else he can find.
My wife and I are regular watchers,and we occasionally try to think of
what he might find interesting in South Dakota.

Of course Mt. Rushmore comes to mind, but he tends to skip the big-name
attractions. He intentionally skipped the Pyramids when he was in Egypt, so I
can imagine him not taking in the four faces. Deadwood could appeal to him,
especially if he came during the Sturgis bike rally. My wife suggested a reservation
pow-wow, which would offer some unusual food and a glimpse into a culture many
Americans who don't live nearby don't think exists anymore, and the annual Custer
State Park buffalo roundup. Then there's Wall Drug for the what's-this-doing-here
angle. Hmmm...that would probably be enough, and we're barely out of the Black Hills.

Moving east, I suppose the Corn Palace could offer a relic-from-the-past attraction.
The vinegar museum in Roslyn has an odd food angle. He enjoys drinking, so he
could stop at whatever small-town festival is going on at the time. As for which
restaurants he should try, I would have to consult others with more knowledge.
But I think the state could show him a good time.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Stacking 'em Deep, Selling 'em Cheap

Once again, the mind wanders on the overnight shift......

The AP reported that Tito Jackson announced he'll pay tribute to his brother during a series of concerts in England. I know nothing about Tito or his act, but I can't help but think that the fact that he is even able to put on several shows in England is itself a tribute to Michael's reflected star power.

As the health care reform "debate" slops about like mud wrestling, my own health insurance naturally comes to mind. As I understand it, the State of South Dakota actually insures itself and hires DakotaCare to process the paperwork; a public/private combo. I wonder if such an arrangement could be modified to include everyone and still be made acceptable to enough people to get it implemented. Another personal angle is the fact that my daughter will soon be kicked off my insurance for the crime of turning 19 and not being a full-time student. We are exploring some options, but universal insurance would simplify life considerably.

I see the cash-for-clunkers program is being closed down amid claims of success, but I think a bit of restraint is in order. The largest total sales number associated with it that I saw was 472,000, so it may make half a million by the end. New car sales for this year were being projected at roughly 10 million, compared to 13 million in 2008 and 16 million in 2007, so while the program provided a nice bump, it was essentially a gigantic government-sponsored clearance sale, not an industry saver. It's also hard to say how many of those sales would have happened without the program or how many were pulled forward to the detriment of next year. In addition, I saw that of the top selling cars in the program, only one - the Ford Focus – is made by a U.S.-based manufacturer. I haven’t seen any reports of what is being traded in, but it’s reasonable to assume that it’s a lot of domestic-brand SUVs and big old gas-guzzlers, which means the domestics lost more ground in terms of people owning their products and therefore caring about them. This can only hurt their still-precarious position. I do applaud the exchange of gas hogs for more fuel-efficient vehicles, and not just from an environmental and economic point of view. As someone who has been driving small cars for some time, I can appreciate having fewer large vehicles clogging up roads and blocking views. But overall I think it's best to think of the program as a day's rain during a long drought; momentary relief, but nothing more.

At Least It's a Prime Number

Another birthday passes by. 47......not a milestone age; basically it's one of those "a few years until..." points in life. On the other hand, it’s also part of that pleasant time in life when the pop-culture marketers have given up on you and the AARP doesn't have you on the mailing list yet. Only the “do not go gentle” weight-loss and plastic surgery people have you in their sights. Weight moderation for health is fine, but the "look younger!" angle sold by cosmetic surgeons (and the cosmetics industry in general) is a bit silly. Some people do get positive results, looking good for their age, but most that try to look younger just end up looking like they're trying to look younger.

I celebrated in grand style by going for a check-up required to get a doctor's signature on an entertaining form that was part of an application to take a work-required class, certifying that I'm "free of physical and mental defects that would prevent or restrict the performance of duties" that I've been doing for 7 years. The doctor and I shared a chuckle over the form, she checked a few vital signs, asked a few questions and signed it. She also burned off a few suspect moles with liquid nitrogen on the “it’s easy to do, so why not” theory of preventative medicine.

Later my wife and I went to one of the fancier restaurants in town. I had never been there and hadn’t planned to ever go, since I had heard the menu is pasta-oriented (we eat enough pasta at home) and pricey, but we had gift cards to provide motivation and lessen the sting. Since this was going to be a rare event we decided to be adventurous with a breaded and deep-fried calamari (squid) appetizer, which was fairly tasty. Both of us had non-pasta dishes, she the salmon and I a veal chop which, like the squid, was something I hadn’t had before. It was roughly 3 times the size I anticipated, and also quite delicious. The most interesting item was the goat cheese (another personal first) which was served as part of each meal. It went very well with the potatoes. We finished off with a fine piece of rum cake. Everything was very good but I don’t imagine we’ll return anytime soon without financial aid; at $70 for the two of us it was just too expensive to make a habit, although they do have cheaper items on the menu. I know in many sophisticated places that’s a good price, but I’m just a tight-fisted rube at heart.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Two Unrelated Questions

As still more Michael Jackson-inspired drivel sullied the TV screen a few days ago, a co-worker asked what I thought made him so successful. I must say that I struggled for a coherent answer at the time, and the question had been rattling around in my head since. I finally realized that for all the complex angles one can take in analyzing that (racial, demographic, musical), the basic answer is that he was a good song-and-dance man, and they have always been successful.

Of course all those angles did come into it - he was still young enough and cute enough to attract young fans as well as bring back his old ones; the country was finally ready for a black superstar; the musical scene at the time (late 70s-early 80s) was due for a comeback of that type of performer. But under it all is the fact that he was a good entertainer; people liked his show.

During a later conversation a daughter of that same co-worker asked a more offbeat question: Why don't men use romance novels as a source for some type of clue to wooing women, since they seem to provide what many women like? Again, I didn't have a ready answer, but a few thoughts came to mind.

First, doing that would require reading such literature, much of which is simply bad. I'm sure there are well-written romance novels out there, but the process of locating them would be too much effort for most men, especially young men, whom I believe were the target of this. Even among the good ones, finding something appropriate and applicable could be difficult. Those books tend to be period pieces, and translating that into a modern relationship might be problematic.

I suppose the above problem could be mitigated by finding out which books she has read and limiting the research to those, but then there's the matter of whether she would really want that. Those are fantasies, after all, and fantasies rarely transform into reality well, especially when the man attempting it lacks the abilities and resources of a fictional character. It's also possible that she just likes reading that type of fiction and has no interest in actually trying to live it. No man wants to find that out the hard way.

Finally, there's the pathological aversion to reading instructions. If a man won't glance through four pages of a chair assembly pamphlet, how could he be expected to read an entire book about something he thinks he can just figure out on his own?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Bubbles and Dancing

Recently I did something I hadn't done in over twenty years. Hmmm... over twenty years. I seem to make increasing use of that time frame. The list of activities or events from a score or more years past to which I find myself referring has grown quite a bit lately. Looking back I realize that a good many of those activities were things (1) I shouldn't have done in the first place,(2) not worth doing again, and/or (3) not repeatable even if I so desired. On the other hand, it's better than not having anything memorable on which to reflect. What? I wandered off-topic again? So I did. Perhaps that's connected to the increased twenty-year flashbacks somehow. Probably best to not think about it.

What I did was set foot in a Catholic church, for the same reason I did back then; a wedding. The building has a floorplan that leaves no doubt that it has been expanded at various times and within limited real estate boundaries, resulting in small staircases and ramps to connect the additions and a sanctuary with pews set at many angles to the altar, which does seem to maximize seating capacity but feels like it was set up solely with that goal in mind, neglecting aesthetics and ergonomics.

The service was pretty much what I remembered. It had calisthenics (sit, stand, kneel, repeat multiple times; I passed on the kneeling due to bad knees) and, for Catholics, communion; others could go up and receive a blessing (I passed on that too). It did seem less stiff and formal than the previous service, which is fine by me. This one was also over in about an hour, whereas I recall the past one taking forever, mostly because the preacher loved the sound of his own voice and seemed to think he should use his sermon to instruct the couple on every conceivable aspect of marriage. This one also had something I hadn't seen before; we were given small tubes of soap with utensils for blowing bubbles as the couple left the church. From rice to bird seed to bubbles; soon we'll be given small bottles of seltzer to generate congratulatory burps.

The reception meal featured roast beef and chicken breasts, the latter better than the former, although that may have been mostly due to the inability of the plastic cutlery to handle the beef. In addition to the punch they also gave each person two tickets good for any beverage at the bar. An unattended cup with a tiny bit of residue of one of those beverages led to an unsurprising but amusing discovery; Grandbaby, unlike her Grandpa but like most people, doesn't like the taste of Guinness. She also wasn't happy with a 3yo boy - the son of a friend of her Mom - who took a liking to me and sat on my lap. She didn't actually squawk, but she gave him the Evil Eye.

She did like the music, however; she held onto various people's hands and shook her diaper energetically, at least after a short nap that once again made me envious of her ability to sleep under almost any conditions. My daughter also hit the dance floor hard once she got the nerve, aided by a lady who cajoled both her and an equally reticent young man into action. I limited myself to some slow dancing with the wife and trying to keep up with Grandbaby, which was more than enough to do me in. We just received an invitation to another wedding with the reception at the same facility. I don't know if I'll be able to go, but if it's anything like this one I'll definitely have to be well-rested if I do. All in all, a pretty good time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

This Prayer Thing

A novice has a go......

"Well God, I've heard a lot of people speak highly of prayer, so I thought I'd give it a try. Of course I need to make a couple of assumptions; (1) You exist and (2) my concept of God is compatible with what You find acceptable. The latter may be the bigger leap of faith, so to speak. After all, whether you exist is basically a 50/50 chance, but given the many views on what is acceptable to You, each saying the others are wrong, the odds of having the correct one seem to be pretty long. But I digress."

"From what I've seen I should start out by laying on a little flattery, which seems a bit silly. You're supposed to be omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. It's pretty tough to come up with anything to compete with that, and based on those characteristics You already know what I'll say anyway. Let's see....... I understand You're responsible for the existence of everything, which is pretty impressive, although I've noticed people tend to downplay all the bad stuff included in that. I think it's reasonable to expect a few problems with that big an undertaking, but people don't seem to like the idea that things didn't turn out exactly as You wanted - I guess it clashes with that omnipotence - so they end up saying things like this is the best possible world, which doesn't speak terribly well of You in my opinion, or that You put us here to make things better, which again isn't very flattering; given the overall record of the human race I would think You could do better. "

"I see I have drifted off again. Staying focused is proving to be a bit of a problem. I don't see how people like the Pope can pray for hours. I believe here is where I am supposed to make my supplication. It seems people have all sorts of requests; world peace, good weather, healing of sickness both individual and group, an end to war.... it goes on and on. Most of it wouldn't seem too difficult for a being with the power they attribute to You. But they always end with an out; "Thy will be done". I guess this covers the possibility that either You don't listen to them or You like things the way they are. It seems odd to always allow for the complete failure of something they claim is so important, but based on their apparent success rate I suppose it makes sense. "

"Anyway, it seems best to keep it simple, so......there seems to be a general claim that everything is a part of some sort of plan You have for the universe in general and us in particular. I hope that I don't get hosed over in this plan, but You're going to do what You want, and based on what I've seen so far I won't be surprised if I do. If You're listening, thanks. Amen. "

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Just a Bit More Room

As I type this preparations are being made to mark the passing of 52 weeks since Grandbaby made her first appearance outside of her mother's womb, to generally good reviews. Yes, she's hit the Big 1.0. Picnic supplies are being procured along with the usual birthday goodies, and presents are being contemplated, ignoring my suggestion that she would be quite happy with either the wrapping paper itself or anything chewable. I'm sure she'll pull in a good haul, although I'm slightly concerned that her well-known predilection for dancing will result in her receiving a lot of music-producing objects that will end up in my living room, since there isn't any other place for them at the moment.

This space shortage comes to mind whenever I watch one of those house-shopping shows on HGTV where people with resources that suggest either illicit income or a lender who missed the memo on sub-prime mortgages look at properties with hallucinogenic price tags. These people usually start off with reasonable goals (more space for kids, a shorter commute) then end up with silly justifications for their decision ("We really don't need a pool since no one can swim, but the kitchen appliances are so pretty we can't resist!").

When I think about what I would want to improve in my current house, actual living space doesn't emerge as a high priority. Although either a larger third bedroom or a fourth one would be nice right now, with some organization we could fit everyone and their daily needs into what we have. Our kitchen is a nice size with adequate cupboard space. The bathrooms are fine, and two of the bedrooms are nicely sized, although if I had to do it over I would replace the garden tub in the master bedroom with a walk-in closet. Overall the space is sufficient, if not abundant.

Our problem is stuff. My poor wooden garden shed bulges at the seams, and items are shoved into any available nook instead of being displayed as intended.What I could really use is an addition with a lot of wall space for shelves and hanging up pictures, and walk-in closets for storage; basically an overflow area. That would free up my house for actual living.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fill-in Fatherhood

So far the preliminary investigation into the Steve McNair shooting seems to point toward a crime of passion or something like it,once again showing that while political and religious ideologies may motivate the large-scale human tragedies, sex continues to inflict similar damage a few lives at a time. I'm glad that my romantic misadventures were relatively uneventful; no criminal acts resulted, and the civil litigation, while vexing and distasteful, was a teardrop in a rainstorm compared to many divorces.

Among the people who have been interviewed about McNair is Jim Fassel, who worked in various capacities for the Baltimore Ravens when McNair was there. A few years ago when Fassel was quarterbacks coach for the Ravens, he likened it to his previous job as head coach of the New York Giants as the difference between being a grandfather and being a father. That comparison has been on my mind lately as Grandbaby and her Mom continue to cohabit with us.

To my thinking, a father bears ultimate responsibility; he is accountable for the health and well-being of the children he brought into the world. This means constantly making decisions, often impromptu and unpleasant ones, then dealing with whatever consequences arise. It also means maintaining a certain disciplinary persona. Being a Dad has made me a better person, and my daughter has been just about as good a kid as I could have desired, but fatherhood has been a source of huge anxiety and tension. Seeing my daughter grow up to be a fine young lady hasn't just been a matter of fatherly pride; it's also brought a gigantic feeling of relief. The hardest part of the divorce from her mother was the uncertainty of raising her in such a situation (I got custody).

Grandfather,on the other hand, is a pretty sweet gig. Gramps has already been through it, made his mistakes, and (hopefully) learned from them, so he's not as easily rattled as the parents. He also doesn't have the 24-hour responsibility of running the household, so he can be more indulgent, as well as provide a broader perspective that parents,especially young parents, can lose in the day-to-day stresses. There is also the practical perk of being only an emergency provider of child maintenance such as diaper-related activities.

Those of you who have suffered through my previous posts know that I live by the shore of Lake Estrogen; females abound in my household. Add to this the departure of Grandbaby's father from the vicinity and I find myself having to uphold the masculine end of things,which means some fatherly duties as well as being Grandpa. This isn't a big deal, but it brings back some of the old anxieties. But my current wife has been fantastic with and for my daughter, and I plan to continue to do whatever I can to help out her daughter and Grandbaby (I'm babysitting as I post this), even if it means recalling some old skills that I had hoped not to have to use again.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Midnight Rambling

Just a few thoughts that occurred while working the night shift and admiring my driver's tan, which means my left arm is slightly darker than my right and which nicely accentuates the gray hairs growing from the birthmark on my left forearm, a blemish which has elicited comment from many a medical professional but which has been unchanged in size and shape my entire adult life.

- First of all, that first sentence clearly demonstrates that I need to buy that laptop and get back on the internet more frequently.

- It didn't take long for the rumors about Michael Jackson's death to start. Naturally the idea that he faked it to get away from financial and other pressures popped up quickly. It may be interesting to see what if anything his estate will contain; from what I read he had borrowed against about everything he owned. I'm reminded of the line in Citizen Kane about the guy who was supposedly wealthy but left nothing but debts when he shot himself.

- North Korea's behavior is somewhat mystifying, even for such an unhinged bunch.. I can understand that they want to be treated like an important country, but it's hard to believe that no one has said, "Look, if we start shooting missiles at U.S. territory they may inclined
to shoot one back, and theirs can end our ability to support life much less be a military power." I would hope China would want to nip this in the bud; it's bad for business. They should also consider the possibility that North Korea might try to similarly blackmail them someday.

The media's coverage is also odd. They sound like North Korea could go toe to toe with the U.S. in a confrontation. You don't hear about it much since the end of the Cold War, so people seem to have forgotten that each of our submarines alone carries enough firepower to hit every military installation they have,and you can bet that the Pentagon has had the spy satellites plotting targets for a long time. Yes, North Korea has a large army, but that would just be a large target for the Pacific Fleet.Certainly such a scenario should be avoided if at all possible, and South Korea wouldn't fare well to say the least, but this is the type of thing for which a large part of our military was designed. North Korea would be lucky to emerge like Iraq after the first Gulf War; barely struggling along as a nation.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The "Ick" factor

A friend of mine recently told me of a conversation she had with relatives regarding homosexuality. More specifically, her trouble reconciling her desire to be what she considers a good Christian (she is a life-long Catholic) and be tolerant of all types of people with her dislike of even the idea of gay sex. She's aware of the evidence that it may be genetic or at least a natural condition, but she just can't get past her distaste for the sexual part. Her relatives called her a homophobe, and she wondered if they might be right.

At this point I should say that this discussion was pretty much theoretical to her, as she has led what she called a sheltered life; to her knowledge she doesn't know any gay people and has only ever met very few in her life. She has lived most of her life here in South Dakota, where there aren't that many people to start with, and diversity of any sort is pretty limited. Combine that with a fairly high level of religious participation and you don't have the ingredients for a thriving gay community. I'm also not certain why she mentioned this to me. She's aware of my general skepticism and libertarianism; perhaps she wanted input from someone with those inclinations.

I told her that I had happened upon this topic a few years ago in an internet chat room where a couple of people were decrying lack of acceptance of gays while professing devotion to a Bible-literalist religion. I was met with disbelief when I pointed out to them that the Bible they hold to be literally true and inerrant specifically disagrees with them about this. I said to them then and to her now that this is something with which any fundamentalist believer has to deal. I then suggested that if it's just the sex that bothers her so much (she's also been a bit sheltered in that regard), she should try to look at it as she would any other sexual behavior between consenting adults that may not be to her taste; as long as it doesn't involve her, there's no need to care.

Later I thought about this a bit more and wondered how many people feel that way. How much anti-gay feeling is just an "ick" factor with gay sex? Would a celibate gay couple be perfectly fine? I may have to revisit this topic with her.

Not surprisingly, given the way my mind works, silliness also popped into this. At some point during their conversation one of her relatives mentioned that the Bible "was written by men". It occurred to me that,as I recall, male homosexual acts are called an abomination, but female homosexuality isn't mentioned. Perhaps the mentality that accounts for the popularity among men of various types of girl-on-girl action has deeper roots than I thought.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tractors and Turkey Nuggets

The wife, younger daughter, two granddaughters and I spent the say before Father's Day in Huron at one of those family reunions where I know a few faces and a few names but almost no combinations of the two. Most of the people who know who I am hadn't seen me in many years. I told my daughter to identify herself as my Mom's granddaughter, as this was mostly my Mom's generation.

A couple of factors made it more interesting, however. First was the setting; an antique tractor and car show. This gave a certain (not entirely welcome) counterbalance to the feeling of being a whippersnapper at the reunion, because I can clearly recall many of those "antique" tractors being used for farming, occasionally by me. The tractor pulling the dump rake brought back especially painful memories of a long day sitting on the seat of one of those rakes as we bounced along cutting and raking hay. Grandbaby enjoyed the parade of tractors, the louder the better. It was also interesting to see the stationary engines on display. Although there weren't any of the really big ones with the gigantic drive belts that rely on friction to stay on the pulleys, the smaller ones still serve as huffing, popping reminders that internal combustion hasn't always been the science it is today, and another reason farming has been (and to a certain degree still is) a dangerous occupation.

Then there was the other novel element. Mom has had dealings with the local Hutterite colony for many years, teaching piano and occasionally playing for their church services when they didn't have anyone who could do it. Lately her brother has also been teaching music there as part of his job with the Iroquois school district, of which their school is part. As part of the reunion Mom arranged for supper at the colony, and their kids sang a few songs. We ate in the dining hall early, before the men came in for supper. The phrase "simple country fare" has become a cliche, but this pretty much fit; carrots, radishes and an interesting cold corn and cabbage salad; bread-crumb soup; turkey nuggets that if sold on the open market would force any other producer of similar items out of business; mashed potatoes that managed to be incredibly creamy yet have heft, with unnecessary but delicious gravy; and what I thought was apple/rhubarb pie that was very good but sweeter that I expected, almost like applesauce. The kids sounded good, especially considering some of them haven't had that much experience with English; German is #1 there.

Pearl Creek Colony was a bit larger but no different than I recalled from my last visit. They aren't Amish; the facilities and equipment are thoroughly modern, although TV and other such frivolities are still a no-no. They aren't Amish in another sense; Mom quietly suggested we lock our vehicles "to eliminate temptation". Clothes were the same, as was the curiosity; the kids give you a good looking-over. Grandbaby was a bigger hit than usual, with her dark skin; one young boy asked the lady in charge if they got to keep "the little brown baby". I told my daughter that if she wanted to stay I could probably get a pig for her and they would likely find her a husband by Monday, but she demurred, as did the other daughter when I suggested later that we could get at least a cow - or maybe a truckload of turkey nuggets - for Grandbaby and her. All in all a fairly good time, although getting these girls married off is going to be tough if they're going to be so picky.

Monday, June 8, 2009

It was Nice of the Iceberg to Cooperate

James Lileks came across this. I really don't know what to say.

Ah, the things a little research reveals: there’s a book about the theory that the Titanic found on the bottom of the ocean was not the Titanic, but was actually the Olympic, which had suffered a collision with another vessel and was too costly to repair. So they switched the identities - change the nameplates, the china, the towels, the stationery - and deliberately sunk the “Titanic” for the insurance money.

The author of the book also notes that some people believed the Titanic was sunk as part of a Jesuit plot to enable the creation of the Federal Reserve, but he finds those theories absurd.

Truly astonishing.

Do It Hard

An article in the latest issue of Car and Driver (not on-line as far as I can determine) has this quote from a California woman who moved to rural Texas with her husband and bought a small race track.

"We prayed about it," Laurie Scribellito says. "We prayed hard. And we were very specific about it."

Once again, this is something I've heard about people doing all my life but had never given much thought. How does a person "pray hard"? Why would it make a difference to an allegedly omniscient God who already knows not only what you're asking but how it will turn out? Do people really believe that extra intensity will cause God to change his mind? I suspect that what it actually does is help the person really focus on the problem and seriously mull over the ramifications of the decision. The mention of being "very specific about it" is also interesting. They don't say what specific questions they asked, or if they got specific answers, which is probably for the best. Even the God-fearing citizens of rural Texas would probably have raised eyebrows at a California couple who showed up saying that God told them to buy the local race track. As the saying goes; you talking to God is prayer, God talking to you is schizophrenia.

The article does mention that the husband had previous experience running a race track and was at least casually looking into the possibility of another go (hence the perusal of such ads on eBay), and that the successful sale of their house and business in the current economic climate were taken as "signs" to go ahead, but it seems to me that those actions indicate they were inclined to make the move unless the clouds parted and God said "DON'T DO IT YOU IDIOTS!". I'm reminded of a Simpsons episode in which Homer prays about some potential action and asks God to signify approval by giving no response. Ah well, according to the article the move seems to have been successful, so good for them and their God. It might make a cute movie for the Inspiration Network, or Speed Channel.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Children and Electronics

Gee, I go two weeks between posts and a plane falls from the sky, David Carradine hangs himself, North Korea tests a nuke and lobs missiles, GM goes belly-up.....apparently I owe it to civilization to get here more often.Of course, it would be nice if I had something worth typing, but my life has been pretty uneventful, and my limited internet access has made it difficult to crib from - er, be inspired by other people.

Grandbaby is continuing to generate Cuteness and Chaos, discovering the entertainment value of getting Mom excited, wearing out her aunt (her preferred partner for learning to walk) by insisting on repeated strolls through the house, and learning that it is in fact possible to aggravate Grandma, usually by attempting to examine our seemingly indestructible house plant, which has so far survived curiosity as it survived previous neglect. This has been especially eye-opening for my daughter, the aforementioned aunt who hasn't been around babies that much but who has now been pressed into babysitting duties. She has caught on quickly, aided by Grandbaby's naturally sunny and uncomplaining disposition, although diaper changing continues to be a bit adventurous and the level of alertness required to constantly account for a curious baby with rapidly improving mobility has been a bit startling to her. She has asked "Was I like that?" quite a few times. (Mom has asked Grandma the same question. I believe this is called Grandparent's Revenge,and it is fairly sweet.) I said that all babies are like that, and that Grandbaby is actually a pretty well-behaved one,as was she.

I recently had to kill some time at Wal-Mart while a prescription was being filled, so I wandered back to the electronics section. It's good to see prices for digital TVs coming steadily down, although that was bound to happen as manufacturers got better at making them. I'm intrigued by the tiny laptop computers; one of those could at least partially relieve my internet blockage. What is actually purchased and when will be determined by a variety of factors,of course, but it's nice to keep informed. The 500-gigabyte hard drives in some of the computers amaze me, since my current desktop has a 40G which is roughly 1/3 filled. Of course I'm not heavily into games or video, so I don't need much storage space. I think back to my time working at ComputerLand in Rapid City in the mid 1980s when we sold a lot of 10- and 20-meg hard drives in IBM PCs. I once went to a customer's house to pick up of the first computers they sold to be brought in for repair. It took two people to safely carry the 5-meg hard drive, which was a separate unit from the rest of the computer. Hmmm....I had thought I was on a completely different topic, but those last few sentences definitely have a Grandpa feel.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Proper Citizenship Test

In the comments to a post on drive-ins and root beer was this......

My wife is from South America. I introduced her to Root Beer and she HATED it. Said it taste like a "remedy". Then I added ice cream to the mix. Now she LOVES root beer floats.In fact on Memorial day we have BBQ ribs, corn, red potatoes and root beer floats.

She is now a card carrying American.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Call It Fishball

James Lileks,no fan of fishing or baseball, has an er....interesting idea.

If they could combine fishing and baseball, we'd have twice as much action. "And it's a line-drive cast up the middle -- Johnson throws it right at a muskie! He's hooked! -- but no! The umpire is signaling Johnson was over his limit, so they're throwing it back. That's two outs and one DNR fine." But even that would wear thin after a few innings.

A commenter had a fine take on an old saying.

Give a man a fish, and you'll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll sit in a boat and drink beer all day.

Graduation,Large and Small

Finally back, although I'm actually cheating; I typed this up earlier to post when I could. Yes, it has come to that. It seems a bit in violation of the spirit of blogging, but sometimes you do what you must.

A sudden housing crisis has resulted in the older daughter and Grandbaby staying with us for a few days, reminding me that our house was designed for a certain occupancy and exceeding it is problematic.Of course if they were staying long-term we could organize and lessen the stresses; as it is the interior looks like it was attacked by monkeys with leaf blowers. That this happened right before graduation weekend added to the jollies.

Speaking of graduation, everything went as well as could be expected at both ceremonies (my nephew's in Viborg on the 16th and my daughter's on the 17th) and their accompanying festivities, which provided interesting comparisons. Superficially they were quite similar. Pomp and Circumstance was played by the school band; caps and gowns were worn; relatives were proud. Both ceremonies were even about the same length, a bit over an hour.

Most of the differences grew out of two primary characteristics. The first ceremony was in the school gym and graduated 19 seniors; the second was held on the football field and gave diplomas to 195 kids. The first had a main speaker, some scholarship awards and a video presentation with a short biography of each graduate; a similar video for the second would have lasted over 3 hours and probably incited vigilante action against the responsible school officials. Conversely, had the first been organized like the second it would have lasted about 20 minutes, which wouldn't have been all bad but might have left some feeling a bit shortchanged.

The Viborg gym setting was familiar to me, as was the size of the class, so it felt more traditional. I had never been to a graduation in Pierre nor to an outdoor ceremony; bringing along a lawn chair was a good idea, although there were seats set up for spectators (for the first time, according to my wife) and the football field stands were available. This gave it a less formal feeling, especially since there was no exit procession; they simply gathered up up their tossed caps and dispersed. Happily the weather was just about perfect; the backup plan as I understood it involved a number of undersized school facilities and seemed as though it would resemble a street scene from a Godzilla movie.

Sharing the reception with my daughter's best friend's family turned out to be inspired, especially since we were out of town the previous day. My wife and the other graduate's mother worked together splendidly and my wife's son, who works at the hotel where we held it, saw to the organization of the courtyard. I upheld the traditional roles of manual laborer and trying not to be an impediment. All in all, things went quite smoothly. Still, I'm glad we don't have to organize another one - at least until the first grandchild graduates in 9 years, which coincidentally is how long it has been since my divorce from my graduate's mother...*sigh*.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Back to the Bone

Time to squeeze in bit of blogging before the chaos of Graduation Weekend sets in. Sunday my daughter will graduate from high school; then comes the fun part of learning to be an adult. This hasn't really sunk into her yet, as with many kids; even ones who seem ready to go, like my wife's daughter two years ago, get blindsided. Adding to the fun, my nephew graduates from Viborg Saturday, which means serious driving for the family.

Speaking of driving, recently my wife and I stayed at my Dad's house in Centerville so we could be in Sioux Falls for an early doctor's appointment brought about once again by the lack of facilities in Pierre for anything but basic patch-up medicine....sorry about that, but by the end of the month we will have made three health-related trips to Sioux Falls. Every time I see a TV ad for the local hospital I want to throw something.

My Dad had recently compiled pictures of his Iroquois High School 50th class reunion, and I noticed that there were only 11 graduates in his class, yet there wasn't a question of viability. Compare this to today when schools of that size are facing the choice of consolidating or just folding. What has changed?

One difference came up indirectly that same evening. We were talking about my uncle's health trouble, and Dad mentioned that my uncle started school two years late because he wasn't considered ready. My wife noted that her severely handicapped uncle never attended school because the local school wouldn't let him in. Today that wouldn't happen. Each of them would have been admitted under a special Individualized Education Program. It's the right thing to do, but it's not cheap, especially when severe mental or physical handicaps are involved. It's not just the unusual cases. Standards are higher and scrutiny tighter than they were then, and making sure everything is in order involves more cost. Schools are required to offer more programs; again a good thing, but at more cost.

I also think there has been a bubble factor. When Dad was in school, the facilities and resources were were barely big enough. Then the student population grew considerably for a number of years, peaking sometime in the 1970s with much larger classes, and the school had to expand to handle it. Then down it went again,very quickly. My class in 1980 had 30 kids, and I recall that when I was a freshman, the senior class was the largest, with each class smaller than the one preceding it. My brother's class three years later had 20 kids; It looks like that's about what they'll have this year, but some lower grades have single-digits.

Meanwhile increased requirements mean costs haven't gone down with population, so adjusting for those fluctuations has been difficult. You can eventually decrease staff, but buildings and other resources that were needed in the 1970s couldn't just be swept away, and this maintenance added (and often still adds) to the burden. Advances in technology can help with efficiency, but that costs money, and the resources it replaces must still be managed.

Unfortunately cutting to minimum requirements seems to be the trend. I see that the Winner school district has sliced a large number of elective offerings, and others will follow suit if they haven't already done it. The 1950s may be coming back to some schools at 21st-century prices. There's no way that will end well, but there's also no alternative for them.

We may be forced to bring back something else from the past. My wife's family moved from their rural home when she was young to avoid sending the kids away to live with someone else during the school year, and my Mom stayed with a family in town when she went to high school. That may be returning, especially with open enrollment allowing parents to send their kids to other schools. My wife has commented about "gypsy" students, who bounce from district to district for various reasons. This isn't good either, but good options are becoming increasingly rare.

Not Going Quietly

Via Dave Barry....Even death won't shut some people up, and others aren't happy about it.

The headstones — fitted with screens and speakers — play recordings of the owners' lives when their loved ones come to pay their respects. But spooked visitors have asked graveyard officials at Linz, Austria, to ban the gadgets.

I found this statement interesting.

He said: "Talking tombstones are very popular in America already and it won't be long before they are a common site in European graveyards so people will have to get used to them."

Admittedly I live in an area that isn't on the cutting edge of the latest trends, but I have never seen one of these tombstones nor heard of one existing in this area. I suspect that people here know that such a device would be forcibly removed or vandalized with the quiet support of the community, so installing one would be a waste of time and money.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Canine Consumption

Via Andrew Sullivan.....Gene Weingarten encourages a realistic view of dogs.

I think we understand that one of the most endearing traits all dogs share is that they are absolute knuckleheads. In fact, if you examine the top of a dog's head -- check it out right now, if you happen to have a dog nearby -- you will see that they all have this lump there, right in the middle, toward the back. Feel it? My daughter, who is in veterinary school, informs me this is the occipital crest, but my medical theory is ... that's the knuckle!

As I was writing this speech, a friend sent me a link to a story from England, where veterinarians had operated on a family dog, expecting to confront and extract a huge stomach tumor, but instead found, and I quote, "enough clothing to fill a clothesline," including two rugby gloves, two golf gloves, one mitten, one stocking, nine socks and a dish towel.

James Lileks also had some words on this subject recently.

Many years ago my dog harked up a straight pin an inch and a half long. I stared at the mess in amazement -- are you auditioning to be a circus sword swallower? A pin? Branching out into the metal food group now?.......The same dog ate a piece of nicotine gum. I chastised him, of course -- I'll let you out in the middle of the night to do the other things, but if you're thinking of whining because you want to go out for a cigarette, forget it.

That dog is now 14. He has trouble getting up the stairs, and is either deaf as a brick or tired of my conversation, but otherwise he is the same companion we've had since the first Clinton term.

There Went the Hooker Money

From the police activity summary at you're doing this, you're bound to end up in jail for something.

"Drunken driving. A woman called police after a suspicious man came to her door and said he was there for prostitution. She told the man to leave and he left in a red pickup truck. Police located the vehicle in Columbia Heights on the 4400 block of University Avenue NE. The driver admitted he went to the wrong address. He was arrested for driving while intoxicated."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Do They Get Extra Communion Wine?

I had heard about this practice, but tried not to think about it.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is investigating the posthumous "baptism" of President Barack Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, as a "serious breach" of religious code, a spokeswoman said. Church records published by a liberal blog, Americablog, show that Dunham, who died in 1995, was baptised last June 4 in Provo, Utah, and received endowment, another sacrament, a week later.

You might think that this whole idea would be against their doctrine, but no.....

"The offering of baptism to our deceased ancestors is a sacred practice to us and it is counter to Church policy for a Church member to submit names for baptism for persons to whom they are not related," said spokeswoman Kim Farah in an emailed statement.

So the problem isn't baptising dead people, it's baptising dead people who aren't relatives. This isn't the first time this has caused problems.

The practice of posthumous baptism by proxy has caused controversy in the past, as when Jewish groups raised objections to the baptism of victims of the Holocaust.

I can't help but think of the old political machine practice of registering dead people to vote for them. After thinking about this far more that it warrants, I have a few questions for these people.

- Do you really think your God is so stupid that he/she/it is fooled by the charade of adding to your church people who have already spent literally their entire lives outside it and are obviously no longer capable of joining?

- Don't you think he/she/it would be insulted by this low assessment of his/her/its intelligence?

- How can you be loyal to a God for whom you have such low regard?

Sighing, shaking my head and giving a hat tip to Andrew Sullivan for this.