Friday, December 2, 2011

Dale and Tim

I must first note with some concern the absence of Dale Smith from his blog Faith in Honest Doubt for over a month. Hopefully he has simply had better things to do and not suffered some misfortune.

A co-worker recently asked me why people have such a strong dislike for Tim Tebow. I personally don't understand it myself, but from what I've gathered, a few thoughts came up.

From a football angle, I can imagine some Denver fans (and coaches) thinking that the team is only going to go so far with him at QB (or modern single-wing tailback, as I prefer to think of him), and continuing to start him will delay the offensive improvement necessary for the team to compete at a higher level.

I agree with that line of reasoning to some degree, but (1) they're winning right now, even if it has been by the skin of their teeth against mostly bad teams, (2) Tebow is young, with room to improve and (3) it's not like he's holding up the development of a QB with greater NFL potential. I agree with the general analysis that they're not good enough to beat the likes of the Packers, Patriots or any team with a top offense. But as long as the defense holds up well enough to make Tebow's late-game heroics possible, they may as well enjoy the ride.

But from what I see, most of the criticism is personal, with his overt Christian faith a prime target, followed by the feeling that he's either too good to be true as a person or a phony with well-closeted skeletons. I also noticed a certain irritation with the zealousness of his fans, which has been true of many fans of celebrities and isn't Tebow's fault.

The faith does seem a bit overdone, but as long as it doesn't affect team chemistry it's really no one else's concern. As commenter billsfan1104 put it at The Stir...

He does not go around forcing anyone to believe what he believes. Many reporters ask about his religion and he answers them faithfully and without being ashamed. what is wrong with that??

As to whether he's a phony, I fall back on innocent until proven guilty, which makes me think some of the feeling is the classic jealousy of someone who seems to have it all, and who manages to succeed at a job for which he lacks what are considered by most experts to be the necessary skills. Again from The Stir, this time from commenter kelticmom...

So let me get this straight, the guy is nice, talented, humble, faithful to his beliefs, not ashamed to identify as a Christian, has good sportsmanship, morals....and people hate him for this???

I hope he realizes that it's possible to have the right enemies.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Premature Syndication and Insufficient Occupation

It's nice to see The Big Bang Theory in syndication, but I'm not entirely thrilled with the trend of putting shows out so soon. The program only has four seasons in the can, which I believe is 88 episodes. At the rate it's being shown - six nights a week on a local station here - they will cycle through the whole series in less than four months. Add to that TBS running it in big blocks on Tuesday and whenever else they can plug it in, and I worry about burning it out. On the other hand, at least it's still worth watching. The TV Guide Channel has dredged up some stuff (Ned and Stacey, Veronica's Closet, Cybill) best classified as cheap filler.

A co-worker asked me what the Occupy Wall Street people and their off-shoots are trying to accomplish. As I see it, they are demonstrating in the literal sense; they are trying to demonstrate to the moneychangers that actual people suffer from the consequences of their actions. Unfortunately I don't think they're really making much impact on their intended targets. I think of the scene in Dr. Zhivago where the protesters are marching in the snow while the upper classes sit inside at a fancy party and make fun of them (so far no cossacks, though, which is good). I suspect the only way they could get to the moneychangers would be to amp it up and put real fear into them, which would run the risk of losing popular support.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Taking a Compliment

Part of life is discovering things about yourself. Indeed, that is practically the definition of growing up; you find out what genetic hand you were dealt and what you like and dislike. But even well into middle age, it’s still possible to have something pop up and challenge your self-image.

What brought this to mind? Recently I have been informed that -at least to some women -I am considered good-looking. Not swoon-inducing, mind you; I haven’t been asked to sign undergarments for women who couldn’t believe their luck at meeting Brad Pitt in South Dakota, nor have I been getting hit on at stop lights as used to happen to a buddy in college. But reliable sources have told me that I am reasonably attractive to certain members of the opposite sex.

I know, Boo Hoo, what a traumatic revelation, have I sought help in dealing with it? More to the point, why is this notion such a surprise? After all, three women chose to marry me, and no indications were ever given that it was despite my looks (it certainly wasn’t for money), nor was unattractiveness ever mentioned during the bad times leading to two divorces. At no time in my life have I ever had reason to think that my physical appearance was a major factor in my life.

Perhaps that last sentence explains it. I have never given much thought to my looks, and when I have considered it, I’ve been ambivalent. I was the skinny nerd of my class growing up, with the stereotypical shyness, clumsiness and fashion sense. I never thought that I was going to attract girls physically, so I didn’t put any effort into it, which made it self-fulfilling. Eventually I learned to use humor and intellect, to which I’ve always given credit for my small romantic successes. I gradually improved my style somewhat and overcame the shyness, but I never gave my natural physical attributes real consideration. When my wife told me that her daughter said I look “a little nerdy”, that was right in my comfort zone. Conversely, when I’ve gotten compliments about my appearance I’ve usually shrugged them off.

Thirty-plus years later, I still think of myself as that bony kid. I guess it’s time to consider the possibility that I’ve aged well and learn to enjoy a pleasant surprise when I get one. Oh, and to keep a marker handy in case I have to autograph a bra.

Without Charlie

I guess my personal verdict is in on the new Two and a Half Men: I didn’t feel like watching it last Monday.

I had decided to try approaching the show like a spin-off, since I thought eliminating Charlie Sheen was going to require too much plot demolition to retain continuity as it existed. I felt this could be a chance to retool a show that had begun to get tired and weird. I also realized it would be a long shot. I’m not sure what the producers and writers were thinking. I get the impression so far that they aren’t sure either.

To their credit, they handled the awkward part – getting rid of Sheen – fairly well. The funeral had a mix of comedy and sadness and an overall feel consistent with the series. Ashton Kutcher’s introduction also had a jarring suddenness that fit in with this show’s lack of subtlety. But since then, the show seems to reflect a conflict between the desire of the producers to prove it could continue as it was without Sheen and the writers’ inability to let him go.

They dropped Kutcher into a plot contrived to try to keep the remaining characters more or less as they were despite the radical change. Sheen’s old girlfriends are turning up to hit on Kutcher and Judy Greer - who once played Myra, Judith’s new sister-in-law and one of Sheen’s more entertaining flings – is now cast as Kutcher’s estranged wife. (I must say that this is also consistent with the show’s past. Jennifer Taylor, who played Chelsea, Sheen’s last big love interest, had appeared on the show three times before as different characters, and April Bowlby had been on as someone else before she played Kandi.) The result feels like they’re trying to go back and forth between two shows with the same actors.

Kutcher’s performance suggests he realizes that he was hired strictly as a gimmick to keep the show going. Hopefully the creative team will put more enthusiasm into his character, which might give this a chance to succeed, although the ratings trend isn’t encouraging. I’ll probably tune in again to see how they’re doing. But they have to finish mourning Sheen and move on.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Surgery Prep

It's not often that I see two of my regularly-read bloggers agree so completely about something non-political. First, Dale at Faith in Honest Doubt.

So, to summarize: Netflix is joining the poor quality of its video streaming offerings to a less useful web site experience and more complex billing.

Now, James Lileks.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cool, nifty, successful company screw the pooch with such vigor before.

Here I must confess to missing out on yet another hot idea: I have never used Netflix, so I can't offer any firsthand commentary on this. But typically in the business world such an action is a prelude to selling/killing/filing bankruptcy proceedings for one of the entities. The fact that the DVD part is getting the new name would seem to indicate they are anticipating the streaming business taking off while the DVD business wanes, so they want to be in position to ditch the DVD part quietly and efficiently.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

But is It Still Hot and Juicy?

Big news in the burger world.

When Wendy's decided to remake its 42-year-old hamburger.....


Wendy's is trying to boost lackluster sales and fight growing competition from much bigger rival McDonald's on one end and expanding fast-casual chains like Five Guys on the other. Part of the problem is that Americans, who are being squeezed by the tight economy, are being pickier about how they spend their dining-out dollars. But the biggest issue is that Wendy's, which hadn't changed its burger since the chain began in 1969, let its food offerings get stale over the years while its competitors continued to update their menus.

Last year, McDonald's had 49.5 percent of the fast-food burger market in the U.S. up from 41.6 percent in 2002, according to research firm Technomic. In the same period, Wendy's share fell to 12.8 percent from 14 percent. Burger King's fell to 13.3 percent from 17 percent.

Fair enough, but McDonald's didn't change its core items; it just added other stuff to the menu (as has Burger King, with smoothies of its own). But I suppose this should have been expected after Dave Thomas died.

Then there's this.....

...Wendy's polled more than 10,000 people about their likes and dislikes in hamburgers. It found that people like the food at Wendy's but thought the brand hadn't kept up with the times.

So the food is fine but the image needs an update. So they change the food. Not just a little,either.

In the end, Wendy's researchers changed everything but the ketchup.

Personally, I didn't see the need to mess with what was the best big-chain burger out there. I've said it before: if someone would open a Wendy's here, the other chains would be dead to me.

Some of their other plans sound better.

Wendy's, which just got a new CEO last week, wants to expand overseas and on the West Coast, relaunch a breakfast line that's easier for on-the-go eating, and sell more high-margin snacks and beverages. And early next year, it will introduce new chicken sandwiches.

Just as long as they don't mess with the chili.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

As Fast As Possible

It's possible Jon Carroll needs to socialize a bit more.

So, see, my OnStar operator would be my invisible friend.

On a more serious note.....

There I'd be, driving along a lonely road late at night, and oops I would slip and I'd be up against the guardrail.

And then I'd push a blue button and my imaginary friend would wake up, and she'd call a tow truck and an ambulance (just in case), and soon all the benefits of a First World nation would be surrounding me in my hour of need.

This rang a bell with me because occasionally I'm the person they call for those services. They and the other roadside assistance companies like to present an image of having everything readily available at their fingertips to provide help in minutes, and On-Star seems to have an an extensive system.

But out here there are cracks in that system, and when they find one, they usually call us. Then we have to deal with the gap between what they advertise and what is possible. Sometimes response time is going to be in tens of minutes or even hours in certain parts of this state, a concept that often doesn't register with these often urban-based companies. Again, On-Star seems to be a pretty good one. But some companies seem to operate with the hope that their customers won't travel outside heavily populated areas.

School Days

Ah, September. The weather cools a bit from the August oven. More importantly, school starts, which means full-time paychecks for Wifey. She had some summer income, but things were pretty lean. Now we clean up the mess of deferred expenses and try to get a handle of things for next summer, which we rarely accomplish fully. I know, the sensible thing to do is set aside money, and I'd like to do that this year, but history is not encouraging.

Bean has taken her first step into the educational world with pre-school. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings. Breakfast, reading books, play time, arts and crafts, lunch, and done. She is ecstatic about it so far. I know the enthusiasm will wane when real work starts in later years, but it's fun to see her all fired up now. Hopefully she'll retain a little of the upbeat spirit.

I personally didn't mind school, probably because it wasn't very hard for me, and it put variety into a small-town life. I never felt the urge to skip. What would I have done in a town of 350 people on a weekday morning/afternoon that would have been more entertaining? The only possible enticement would have been the thrill of breaking the rules, of defying authority, and frankly I didn't think the rules were all that onerous.

A small school (the high school only has 8 classrooms) has an intimacy to it that can be comforting; as a senior I knew not just everyone in my class but all the juniors and most of the sophomores and freshmen. The fact is my friends were all in school, so skipping would have been counter-productive. Hopefully, Bean will have a similar experience.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Not Celebratory

James Lileks went on a Disney cruise to Europe. He made an interesting point about one of the themes on Day 5.

On the ship it was Pirate Night.... I arrred well and hard at the maitre d’ when we entered: it’s table nine I’ll be wanting, me hearties - but once Bradford, our waiter, asked me if I would be dressing up, I explained that my sympathies were with the colonial administrators, just trying to get the money to the mother country without losing it to some thieves. Pirates are interesting, but not admirable, no matter how you gussy it up with yo-ho-hoing and avast-ye-matey exultations of a life unbound from convention and oppression. As all the waiters danced around the room, wearing pirate costumes, I had a vision of a ship 400 years hence, with all the waiters dressed up for Al-Qaeda night, wearing suicide vests and waving automatic weapons.

The Al-Qaeda reference might be going a bit too far, but seeing the suffering caused by current pirates, and realizing that past pirates caused similar fear and loathing, does temper my enthusiasm for extolling them, even in cartoon form, which is what this is. I also can't help but wonder at holding such a party on a ship.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Cheer Up As Best You Can

Once again, Jon Carroll hits it.

It's been a gloomy few weeks, hasn't it?All that nonsense in Washington, followed by that nonsense on Wall Street, followed by rioting in London and most of the nation baked so badly in crippling heat that one is surprised their brains were not fried right there in their skulls like eggs on the sidewalk.

We've had all that, plus a summer of steady flooding, which brings up a thought. What can you think about flooding caused not by natural calamity, but by conscious decision? Yes, the motivations for the decision were natural - heavy snow pack in Montana - but there was something very odd about the Corps of Engineers saying, "We're going to cause major flooding in your community, by releasing a certain amount of water, starting on a certain day, for a certain length of time." That cold precision has not gone down well. The Corps has made a few enemies around here.

Anyway, Jon says to take heart.

There is pleasure all around us, and while we are suffering from the News, the not-news should give us comfort. You know, rubber ducks and old dogs and tall trees and tomatoes (They're in! They're fresh! I have mentioned this already!) and good-looking members of the human race. Also wisdom and Rembrandt and jug band music. So many things.

It won't just happen,though.

The bad news is always with us; we have to make the good news.

This or That

A recent issue of Car and Driver had a number of short two-car comparison tests, some traditional (Mustang vs. Camaro) some, well, seemingly based on whatever cars they had on hand (BMW 1-series vs. Mazda RX-8?). This got me to thinking (uhoh) about the preferences in my own life.

Since Car and and Driver started this, I'll lead off with them vs. Road and Track. I've subscribed to both for longer than I care to ponder, and each has a distinct character. C&D has always been edgier and bawdier, especially during the David E. Davis era (RIP sir), and a bit more willing to be critical of its subjects. R&T has a generally mellower tone and, more importantly, it has Peter Egan. My taste tends toward C&D, but as long as I can afford both (and Egan is still writing) I'll read both.

McDonald's vs. Burger King. Again, I patronize both, but in this case it's because neither really sets me off enough to justify exclusivity. I've begun using the McDonald's value menu because (1) I'm cheap and (2) the burgers on it have a certain old-fashioned minimalist flavor that I've been finding refreshing as the main offerings seem to be trending toward gigantism. I have yet to try this at Burger King, largely because the Whopper is a fine sandwich, especially in Angry form. Burger King's lack of a children's play area can be a factor if we've got Bean with us, since she's more likely to sit still and eat without the looming temptations. It's to the point that we alternate, if we can recall the place at which we last ate. We do make occasional spontaneous stops for waffle cones at Burger King on Wednesdays and Sundays when they're on sale.

(Important point: On a recent trip to Sioux Falls we ate at Wendy's, which reminded me that if someone were to open one here, the other burger joints would be dead to me. The burgers, the chili, the frosties....the place just hits the spot.)

Coke vs. Pepsi. This has never been a real contest: I've always been a Coke guy. Unlike some people I know, though, I will drink either depending on what's available. It also depends on what form the beverage takes; I drink regular Coke from fountains, but lately I've been buying Cherry Coke from the machine at work. I also keep some Caffeine-free Coke (non-diet; I have not yet found a diet pop that doesn't leave an aftertaste, although Diet Squirt isn't bad) at home for those times when a Coke sounds good but I need to be certain of getting to sleep.

Old Looney Tunes vs. reruns of The Simpsons. This one comes up because they are on opposite each other at 11:30 am weekdays. This one can put wear and tear on the remote control depending on what is being shown. I'm a big fan of most Chuck Jones productions, but certain classic Simpsons episodes (The B-Sharps, The Last Temptation of Homer) can hold the tuner in place. Usually, it ends up as a click-fest during commercials.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Flying Time

Finally, a chance to post something. This poor blog gets treated like our house plant, which somehow continues to survive despite erratic watering and being in the same pot of soil it came in several years ago. My wife says it’s the perfect plant for her.

One distraction was the commemoration of Bean (the nickname given granddaughter Whitney by her grandmother) attaining three years of age. A large crowd turned out for festivities that were held in my backyard, which is actually a common area in the mobile home park that has a picnic shelter, a concrete area with a basketball hoop, some playground equipment and a large sandbox.

Meat was grilled, and large quantities of liquids were put to use to combat the equatorial heat, both by internal consumption and in an inflatable combination pool and slip-and-slide that kept the kids entertained, especially the birthday girl, who decided to use it without changing into her swimming suit, which was only a temporary problem given the quick-drying outdoor conditions.

Naturally Bean acquired lots of swag: dolls and clothes and various other goodies. One hiccup in the soiree was the birthday cake from Wal-mart; it looked like it had been assembled by Bean herself. There wasn’t time to get a proper replacement. Grandma plans to investigate thoroughly. (Update – a full refund was procured.)

Overall, though, good times were had until the mosquitoes declared an end, leaving me to try to avoid thinking about how quickly it seems that this has become three years old.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wiper Fluid and Hot Wheels

Once again, sound advice from James Lileks.

I made a Trader Joe’s run, stocked up on all sorts of fine things to eat, bought some enormous flagons of spirits but did not go with the plastic bottles, always a sign that the guests wake the next day feeling poisoned. If you can imagine the same bottle containing windshield wiper fluid, don’t buy it.

Followed later by a memory.

As I said, I had a Hot Wheels version, painted with sparkly metal. I loved those things, even though the tracks invariably broke and became difficult to connect. See, you had these long strips of track connected by flat pieces of plastic that fit into grooves on the bottom. The grooves split. The tracks were not seamless. You sent a car down the track, it hit a groove, flipped. Which was cool because you make explosion sounds and pretend everyone was on fire and screaming – you know, innocent boyhood play. But eventually all the tracks were ruined. This may have happened for everyone who ever had Hot Wheels.

As I recall the tracks made fine weapons, emitting a loud SLAP and leaving a distinctive red mark when applied to skin.

It Depends On Who is Watching

I’ve been periodically checking out the new additions to our cable TV with the hope of finding some reason to watch them, and I‘ve noticed few things.

The durability of film stock – and just as importantly the willingness to hang on to old productions - has apparently come a long way over the years, judging by the number of movies shown on the This channel that I thought would have disappeared a long time ago. To be fair, I must say that at least some of them are as entertaining as some of the junk that gets played repeatedly on other cable channels, and they at least add a little variety.

Bravo and E! (the exclamation point hardly seems justified based on the product) have reminded me that almost anyone with a lack of shame can get a TV show, particularly if they can add some emotional instability.

E! has reminded me of something I’ve thought about in the past, though. I’ve occasionally come across Sex in the City reruns there, and I’ve noticed that their versions are edited differently - with a bit more risqué content left in - than the ones I saw on TBS. I’ve seen this before, most memorably with Caddyshack, which I have seen edited at least 4 distinctly different ways (on at least 6 different channels, which brings up another point: these days any halfway serviceable movie or TV series is distributed so broadly you can find some of them seemingly at any time of the day or night). One of these completely eliminated the candy-bar-in-the-pool scene, which requires a level of prudish thinking that I didn’t think still existed in the television industry.

I wonder who made those decisions? I know the networks have departments that handle it, and I assume cable channels have something similar. It’s also possible with a well-known movie like Caddyshack that they just took what the distributor offered them with a description of the changes that had been made.

On the other hand, I know it can be much less organized at the local station level. At KEVN years ago I was involved a couple of times in checking out a syndicated movie before it was aired. Both times we had to do some editing, and both times it was just two people making the calls, with no guidelines other than our personal tastes and a general knowledge of broadcasting standards.

I’d like to think the big boys have a more sophisticated process, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not much more so, other than the likely involvement of lawyers. It’s never helped that FCC rules have long been “we know what is wrong when we see it”, which leads to a conservative approach, especially at local stations who can’t afford to risk the big fines.

In one case – a topless female corpse - the decision was simple. What to do about a scene in another movie involving a (very brief) shot of a power drill being used on someone’s hand was slightly less clear. We decided to take it out since the movie was to be aired on Thanksgiving afternoon, which shows how arbitrary the process was. It also says something about broadcast TV - boobs bad, torture maybe not – about which I’d best not get started.

Monday, June 6, 2011

McGinley, Movies and Mid-Continent Service

I'm still trying to figure out how the producers of Two and a Half Men are going to make the Ashton Kutcher for Charlie Sheen thing work. Perhaps they should have gone after the master of joining a series in the middle, Ted McGinley, who would at least be right for the role of older brother and has always had a rakish charm similar to Sheen. The show has been going downhill anyway, and McGinley has experience in such situations.

I recently had a brush with peril while channel surfing. On TCM was All Quiet on the Western Front. Three channels over TBS was showing Mamma Mia. For some reason I was compelled for a short time to switch back and forth, which created a mind-altering effect that seemed to radiate from my TV. I had to stop before I did myself an injury. I can only speculate what would have happened if I had a high-definition set.

It's nice to have an experience that goes against a negative stereotype, especially one that is thoroughly ingrained, and I think I should relate mine. Our cable-company-provided Internet has long been a bit sporadic, with burps that required resetting the modem. I had always attributed it to wiring that had been done over time by various people with varying skill levels, and just lived with it as long it wasn't too annoying.Not long ago,though, it seemed to really take a turn for the worse, so I called the cable company. The lady checked the connection and detected enough of a problem that she suggested sending a technician the next Monday. He arrived right on time and did a thorough check of everything. He not only found and fixed the faulty Internet cable but replaced some other sub par connections, eliminated a number of splices, ran a new cable in the living room and generally spruced things up, all with a genial good humor.

It was enough to make me give greater thought to getting telephone service through them, though my general aversion to putting all my communication eggs in one basket will probably keep that from happening. I have some quibbles with the programming end of Mid-Continent Communications (why does the TV Guide Channel rundown only approximate what we actually get?) but their service has been top-notch.

No Argument

It happens to almost all of us at some point, and it recently happened to me. I was sitting quietly on the couch when I heard a knock at the door. Opening it revealed two door-to-door missionaries, in this case Mormons, resplendent in white shirts and dark slacks, looking entirely too happy to be there. It happened that my wife was due home with supper soon, so I used that as an excuse to put them off in the hope that they would forget about returning. But return they did, a few days later. This time I went to the rope-a-dope, being as polite as possible in expressing my satisfaction with my relations with the Almighty while avoiding any specifics that would give them an opening for discussion. Eventually they realized nothing was going to be accomplished, so they moved on.

I’ve given some thought to that encounter, especially my actions. Why didn’t I gird my loins and engage them in lively conversation? After all, I’ve read enough about Mormonism to wonder about some of its more… er…interesting aspects. I could have at least asked them what luck of the draw got them Pierre instead of someplace like Ethiopia, and whether they considered that a good thing. Instead I basically curled up like a hedgehog and waited for them to tire out.

The shallow reason is I wasn’t in the mood. I was enjoying my evening and didn’t want to interrupt it by arguing with a couple of strangers. More to the point, I didn’t feel like engaging in a discussion that had no hope of accomplishing anything other than perhaps determining who had greater patience with the other. I certainly wasn’t going to join the Latter Day Saints, and anyone who has the conviction necessary to cheerfully (at least apparently; if they were faking it they were doing a fine job) engage in missionary work isn’t likely to be swayed by the likes of me. That at best leaves agreeing to disagree, which hardly seems worth the trouble.

As for treating it as an opportunity to learn more about their faith to satisfy intellectual curiosity, that would have violated a basic rule for dealing with people with Conviction: don’t get them started. Had I popped that cork I likely would have had to forcefully replace it. The end result would likely have been general irritation, which would have spoiled everyone’s evening. Perhaps under different circumstances, such as a discussion group or a classroom-type setting, I would be more inclined to pursue an inquiry, but not one (or two) on one in my living room.

I guess it comes down to apathy. As long as they do me no harm, I don’t care enough about their religion to inconvenience myself arguing about it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mr. Las Vegas in Mitchell

Ah, the last day of a stretch of time off, one that originally was going to be nine days long, then became eight, then finally one day off, one day at work, then six days off. Oh well, it was quite enjoyable anyway.

As usual, this vacation was coordinated with my wife's doctor's appointments in Sioux Falls, but also with a special event for her; a Wayne Newton concert at the Corn Palace (oops, that's The World's Only! Corn Palace) in Mitchell. My wife is a slobbering Wayne Newton fan. She's had a crush on him since she saw him on The Lucy Show in 1965. (Googling....yes, it's out there.) She saw him in Las Vegas just before he stopped his regular gigs there, and this was likely her last chance to see him again, so when I heard about this show and saw that the tickets weren't outlandishly expensive by today's frightening standards I jumped at it.

We got there about an hour early and there was already a crowd waiting for the doors to open. I noticed at least two charter buses of people from around the state. I also noticed that I was probably in the lower 20% agewise. (When Newton announced that a couple was celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary I sensed a fair amount of "I remember when we hit 50 years" feeling in the crowd.) My wife purchased two souvenirs; a key chain with Newton's picture and a nightgown that has "I spent an evening with Wayne Newton" printed on it, augmenting her t-shirt from the previous concert and a poster for this one that she got from a Pierre restaurant.

As venues go, the Corn Palace is small, even by South Dakota standards. There are permanent seats on only one of the long sides of the main arena, with a stage opposite them and barely enough room for a basketball court in between (no seats on the ends of the court). This theater-like layout does, however, suit it well for shows like this one, when they put seats on the court. Our seats were straight out and just a bit above stage level (per the suggestion of the lady I talked to when I ordered the tickets back in December) which was just about right. The show started pretty close to on-time with a band that interestingly was over half local talent; Newton only travels with a small core of regulars.

This was my first live exposure to a Las Vegas-style act, and I immediately noticed a few things. First, Newton seemed to really enjoy himself. After so many years he could hardly be blamed for being a bit weary of the whole thing, but he came out with good energy and did his best to liven up the crowd, which responded as best they could for their age. Second, there must be certain standard songs, because Newton did a few that I had seen Elvis do in a movie of his show. In fact, I couldn't help but think about how Elvis might have looked if he had still been alive and performing at Newton's age (69).

My biggest impression was that Newton really is a multi-talented guy. He played a number of instruments, sang a wide variety of songs and told a few jokes. Like any performer of that type, though, he did some things better than others. I've never been that big a fan of his singing voice, and frankly I think he should re-examine some of his choices of material. I thought of George Jones, who we saw in 2008 and who is 11 years older than Newton. Jones is also not what he once was, but he sticks within his range and style and can still put on a good show; Newton could learn from that. On the other hand, Newton was quite competent on guitar and actually pretty good on violin. He also gave some of his backup talent a chance to show their stuff, and as you would expect they were excellent.

The show went for a little shy of 2 hours, and I got the feeling that his fans were quite happy with it. I know my wife thought it was great. That's really all any entertainer could hope to accomplish.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Getting Loaded

Sometimes I think Jon Carroll and I live the same life.

I am the chief dishwasher in this house, and I like to have some control over my territory. I like things in a certain order because (a) it's possible to get more stuff in the washer per load if Certain Rules are followed and (b) it's possible to unload the dishwasher more quickly if like objects are grouped together.

You probably noticed that when Jon refers to himself as a "dishwasher", he means "the person who sees to it that the dishes are washed" as opposed to "the person who washes the dishes".

I am the chief dishwasher facilitator (that seems to be a more accurate or at least more impressive-sounding description) here, mainly because I am also the primary cook. Somehow it feels more comfortable, more complete to do both jobs.

Unlike the manual dishwashing of old, when one person washed and other dried, this is not a group effort.

If, God forbid, someone should come in to offer help, we resist in the strongest possible terms.

I have strayed somewhat in this area on occasion, for the usual reason: Bean (Grandbaby's nickname, given to her by Grandma) likes to help once in a while, and making exceptions for grandchildren is part of The Code. Note, however, that this only applies to unloading.

Jon and I have also faced similar inquisitions.

We were sitting around the kitchen after dinner as I was doing the dishes, and the grandmother said something in French to the father, our translator for the weekend. They had a small hushed argument, and finally he said, "She wants to know why you wash the dishes before you put them in the machine that washes the dishes."

My daughters have been my interrogators on this subject, so I have been able to write it off as youthful ignorance of the tenacity of dried food on kitchenware, and the detrimental effects large pieces can have on on dishwasher innards. My younger daughter has since moved into an apartment with her own dishwasher, and with it has acquired maturity and understanding. I haven't seen her loading technique, so I haven't had a chance to offer advice, which may be for the best. As with many things, she should develop her own style.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Weather,Waltzing, and Wal-Mart

The weather continues its ups and downs as we head into May. Not long ago I was beginning to notice a slight defensiveness in the tone of the local TV weather people, as though they were weary of having to constantly bring bad news. It's hard to blame them after six months.

My wife recently received a collection of country music CDs which included the Patti Page song "Tennessee Waltz", which reminded me of a question I had often thought of exploring. Is there an actual Tennessee Waltz as mentioned in the song? If so, where can I find it? Google is silent on the matter as far as I can tell.

Once again, James Lileks strikes a nerve.

Went to the local Walgreen’s, where my suspicions of the last few weeks was confirmed: they appear to have dumped the house brand of popcorn. This is a problem.....Dismayed, I put back my empty basket, hoping I could find a manager who would assure me that it was just a supply problem, the popcorn would return, but I know better. And thus are my trips to Walgreen ended. I went for a particular item, and usually picked up more stuff. No more.

I frequently have the same problem here. The local Wal-Mart regularly stops carrying items we find desirable, items which are often available at Wal-Marts elsewhere. I sometimes think that this store is at the end of the truck route, and thus gets whatever is left.

I'm also annoyed at the unwillingness/inability of other stores to step into the gaps Wal-Mart leaves. K-mart in particular seems determined to stay just a little worse that Wal-Mart, like a runner who slows down to keep a gap when the runner in front stumbles. I have noticed that K-Mart has started expanding it's appliance offerings - no doubt trying to compensate for the absence of corporate mate Sears here - which could be a good idea, although I wonder how the support will be.

Got Him At Last

I must interrupt my usual blathering to note the killing of Osama bin Laden. (I was going to provide a link, but c''s everywhere.) Much will be said about this, so I will only offer congratulations to all involved for improving planetary quality.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Disease and Death

At last, some relatively seasonal weather, or at least something that meets community standards that have been steadily lowering ("At least I have haven't had to scrape frost.") Blustery and cool beats snow, tornadoes and flooding.

I've been perusing our recently acquired new cable channels, and one in particular doesn't thrill me, that being the change of Fit TV to Discovery Fit and Health. I wasn't a big watcher of Fit TV (all workouts, all the time) but the new channel seems to be mostly freak shows, some with the word actually in the name ("Freaky Eaters"). Really large or incredibly small people, hoarders, ER oddities, people with gigantic tumors or other rare diseases....if there's an odd medical or psychological condition, it's on there. A co-worker asked me what purpose these shows serve, and I had to admit I hadn't thought about it, and couldn't think of anything legitimate. I suppose they can classified as either there-but-for-the- grace-of-God-go-I or the point-and-ridicule group, depending of your level of sympathy. Either way it seems a bit unseemly for the Discovery Networks.

My daughter recently went through one of those life experiences we all face at some point, though not usually this soon; the death of a friend, in this case sadly at only 20yo of liver disease. They had been pretty close in junior high and high school. The friend had moved to Sioux Falls after graduation, so we didn't know about the illness, which added to the shock. The poor girl had a hard life, with a father who molested her and her siblings as youngsters and a mother who was so ineffectual that the children were taken away for a year and (as I understand it) only given back to the mother after she had left him. (Frankly, I doubt the wisdom of that return. I only met the mother once, but I wouldn't trust her to feed a fish.) Even then the girl was the glue that held the household together, which is no way to grow up. She had been planning on becoming a chef when I last talked to her a couple of years ago, before the disease. Sometimes it seems some people are born under a cloud.

Technological Leap Frog

To my seemingly endless list of reasons to neglect this humble blog, I can now add equipment failure. A few days ago I pushed the start button and was greeted with only a blinking light and eventually not even that. After a brief bout of classic temporary insanity during which I repeated the same procedure hoping for a different result, I unhooked everything and took the computer to a trusted repair shop, where a diagnosis of power supply failure was reached and a new one installed at relatively low expense.

During the two days it was at the shop I naturally did some shopping for a replacement should it have been necessary, and I was reminded of the constant growth of the capability of PCs, especially in hard drive capacity. Basic units have hard drives that dwarf the one in the ancient PC I'm using, which itself is only about at 1/3 capacity. I frankly don't know what I would do with so much memory, since I'm not a big game player and I don't store a lot of video.

I mentioned this to my professional IT brother and he said something that brought back memories. He noted that even basic software takes up a lot more memory that it used to, and that Windows 7 is noteworthy as a storage hog. I couldn't help but chuckle at this, since I'd been dealing with that since the dawn of PC time, when companies such as Osborne and Victor still roamed the landscape and Bill Gates was not yet sleeping in pajamas made of money.

There has always been the chicken-or-egg question: was hardware growth necessitated by software demands, or did software swell because the hardware allowed it? Looking back, I think it tended to be first the latter, then the former. Software developers used all the available abilities of the hardware, which induced manufacturers to build better equipment to allow better performance, which created room for software to grow, repeat to this day.

Of course, it wasn't and still isn't as sequential as that. Often someone in one camp jumps in front; HP has long been putting huge-for-the-time hard drives into their computers, and game companies often seemed to have products in their warehouses waiting for a computer that could handle them, although that has become less frequent as custom gaming machines have come back. (I wonder what the old Atari people think about the rise of Wii, Playstation, etc.? Having others stand on your shoulders is often uncomfortable.) I suppose it will eventually level off, but at what point is hard to say.

Monday, April 18, 2011

As Long As It's Crunchy

I went to see what Chairman Bill had to say about the upcoming royal wedding, and found this.

Not having his glasses to hand, the Chairman blindly grabbed a nearby open Tupperware box into which he put the bacon bits before taking it outside to scatter on the salad.

Later, when Hay and the Chairman were doing the washing up, Hay enquired how the Tupperware box for the cat’s kitty crunchies had gotten into the washing up.

Anyway, the upshot is that kitty crunchies make excellent and economical salad croutons and no-one can tell the difference.

I find that unreasonably funny. I must say,however, that I'm not sure of the economical part of that statement, based on what I've seen of cat food prices versus those of human food.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Blow, Indeed

Charlie Sheen's Tour of something-or-other continued in Chicago after complete disaster in Detroit. Jeffrey Sconce was there to see Sheen try to get back off the canvas. (via Faith in Honest Doubt)

...I felt deep inside the faintest stirrings of a long lost sensation that I believe I once called "shame"--as if I had just been caught emerging from a brothel / geek show / monster truck pull.

Sad,sad,sad....but equally unsurprising. Also unsurprising is that two drug recognition experts I know, when asked what they think Sheen is on, said without hesitation "cocaine".

Monday, April 4, 2011

Expression, High and Low

To some people I would be considered a Renaissance man - that is, someone from the 14th through the 17th centuries. I have neither a Twitter account nor a Facebook page. This humble blog and an e-mail account constitute my Internet presence. I do not own a movable music-playing device unless you count the radio - with a cassette player, no less - in my car. My chief electronic medium for entertainment and information is the antediluvian television, which I first encountered in black-and-white. My primary telephone still makes use of wires running to my house, some of which I connected myself. A cellular telephone does reside here, but it is used almost entirely by my wife when we're on the road. I have been told it has picture-taking capability but I have never bothered to investigate.

All of which is a very long way of explaining why I have no pictures of the objects I recently encountered. Both are another ancient form of communication; signs stuck to the backs of cars. The first was on the back of a vehicle behind which I was parked while waiting for my daughter. It was in the shape of a ribbon of the "Support the Troops" style, but white with a red border, and it said "Support Farting". This one induced more thought than it probably should have, probably a result of it being right in the line of sight for period of time.

My standards for humor are fairly low, but this perplexed me. It's not clever, and it's not disgusting enough to elicit a wince. I sat there trying to imagine the type of person of sufficient age to own and operate a motor vehicle who would not only consider it amusing but worth purchasing (sadly, there are a number of retailers) and publicly displaying. Then the driver of the vehicle came out of the building, and I must say that except for being slightly older he pretty much perfectly fit the stereotype I had formed, at least in appearance. I didn't consider asking him about it; it didn't seem prudent.

The second vehicle I encountered - at a stoplight - was completely different. It actually had two stickers. The one on the left said "Freedom of Religion Means ALL Religions". The one on the right said "Born Again Pagan". The license plate indicated the vehicle was from Brookings County, home to SDSU and thus slightly more likely to be a location for such thought. Still, a display of that type isn't something seen frequently in South Dakota, at least by me. Based again on a quickly-formed stereotype, and without being able to see the driver, I wish this had been the vehicle I had been parked behind. I would likely have tried to strike up a conversation. I'd like to think it would have been interesting.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Only Move When Necessary

Jon Carroll is suffering.

I threw my back out the other day. Now everything has to be done with great attention to detail, lest pain set in. Pain sets in anyway, but the amount is not as great.

This causes a very basic change.

A bad back takes away the impulse to impulsive behavior. No more carefree days of rising and getting a drink of water. Now it's a 10-minute process, complete with thinking.

But is he complaining? Well,yes, but....

I'm not really whining; I am expressing solidarity with all the other back sufferers. You really don't know what it is until you get it, and if ever, ever I was less than effusively sympathetic to someone with back pain, I take it all back now. Nobody knows the trouble you've seen. I believe that now.

Growing Out of a Name

At last, true signs of Spring. Most of the snow is gone here, and any that replaces it is now likely to be short-lived, a last rear-guard action. Now all the talk on the news and among government officials is of flooding, with Emergency Operations being planned and patrols looking for road closures. There are also robins in large numbers, as well as a sighting of the first outdoor spider of the season, along with a fly large enough to carry off that spider if it so desired.

Saturday was also the first day in the yard for Grandbaby this season. She had noticed with great excitement the gradual reappearance of rocks and grass from under the snow after 5 months, which is a considerable period when you've only put in 32 months on earth. Now the ground had dried sufficiently for running about and swinging and chasing a local squirrel and generally wearing out Grandpa. Happily for my cardiovascular functions she finally slowed down when she got the idea to use a tree branch to "catch fish" in the water running along our curb (her timing was spot on, too; by Sunday all that water was gone). It's interesting to see what sticks in a child's memory. She hadn't been fishing since last summer, yet she still recalled it well enough to reenact the basic mechanics.

Typing this also brings up something I have been contemplating. If you saw my previous post (sorry) you know that Grandbaby is no longer The Grandbaby. That and her movement out of Babyhood have led me to consider a name change for her in this humble blog. (I know, she'll always be her Mom's baby, just as her Mom is still my wife's baby and my daughter is still her Mom's baby, etc. I'm not going anywhere near that.)

Granddaughter is accurate, but not distinctive; we have 5 granddaughters. I admit to giving Stink Pot serious consideration for reasons that become obvious to anyone who experiences more than 10 minutes of her...shall we say... precociousness. Bean has been given to her as a nickname by her Grandma. Then there's always Whitney because - as she would say - that's her name. I will have to give this more consideration. Certain decisions should not be rushed.

Teeth and Other Discards

James Lileks and I (see previous post) aren't the only ones with a tooth-related tale. Dale at Faith in Honest Doubt not only has a memory, he has the teeth.

I have kept them as a reminder of oh, say, the frail, ephemeral quality of our bodies, or because it's not clear how best to dispose of cast-off body parts.

I had my wisdom teeth pulled at about that same time (I don't recall exactly when, and it would be too much work to find out). My problem was opposite the usual; one was sticking out, causing me to bite the inside of my cheek. The upside to that was they all came out quite easily, the only slight problem occurring when one came out of the pliers and I had to sit up rather abruptly to avoid swallowing it. I also took mine home. I presented them to my first wife, who let me know she would have lived on quite happily without that little surprise. Sadly, I don't still have them. Interestingly, I don't have that wife either. I shall move on without further pursuit of that.

I have had different experiences with body part disposal. I wasn't allowed to keep the bone chip that was removed from my elbow. Apparently the hospital needed it to prove they actually accomplished something. My first wife, however, got to take her gall stones home (different hospital), and my daughter took them to school for show-and-tell. From what I understand, the kids thought they were cool, but the teacher's reaction was similar to my first wife's response to the teeth.

Most recently my wife told me that her son gave her his newest daughter's umbilical cord, and that she is crafting a pouch for them to store it. (As an aside, this young lass was born roughly 5 weeks prematurely at 9 lbs. 9 oz. In the preemie ward she looks like a Harley in a parking lot full of scooters.) Apparently this is a Lakota tradition (the mother is Lakota), but it was new to me, and my initial reaction, though outwardly subdued, wasn't much different in thought from the others I mentioned.

Ah well, as Dale noted, I guess it beats just throwing the old parts out. I believe the slogan is "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle".

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pick Your Pain

James Lileks and I share an affliction.

A quiet evening at home with only the dull silent roar of my back molar to interrupt the heart-salving balm of domestic joy. I think that was the problem with the chap in the Munch painting, “The Scream.” Had nothing to do with the condition of modern man confronting the challenges of modernity, and the attendant disruption of old social norms and the rise of an atomized sense of individuality lost in the screaming sea of urban life, adrift from the anchorages – God, King, Country – where once Man found shelter. Dude just had a toothache.

My tooth trouble isn't nearly that intense, just ongoing. It had a large cavity, which I had filled last November, I believe. At the end of January a mysterious crunchy material appeared in my mouth, and the tooth began stinging occasionally. Nothing terrible, just annoying. A trip to the dentist determined that the filling was still OK, but the tooth was falling apart around it. The dentist attempted reconstruction, which seemed OK for about two days before the mild ache reappeared. Again, it's not a large inconvenience, so I don't feel the need or have the funds to run back again. Further deterioration may change that.

James also recalled his days as a high school debater.

There were certain types of speeches about the subject du jour – if the resolution concerned energy conservation, and you were neg, you’d go shale, or deep-water drilling, or nukes, or a combination of all available options. As soon as you said “Nuclear power” the other team would roll out the boilerplate, and with a bad team they’d throw everything at the walk without addressing your specifics. First neg would make a speech he or she had made before, but it wasn’t necessarily a rebuttal of what you’d said. Second affirmative would rebut the salient points; second neg would crow over all the things they’d said you hadn’t rebutted.

Something tells me we called those splatter-shot arguments “spamming.”

It seems to me to be a fair description of typical political discourse in this country. I prefer the toothache.

Charlie and Elvira

Another day started with snow shoveling, which happens here in March, I know. I'd just like to see the outside temperature rise to something close to average.

One thing worth pondering (to me, anyway) about the Charlie Sheen breakdown (I don't know what else to call it) from a purely TV angle is the coincidental deterioration of Two and a Half Men. The plots seemed to be getting more fanciful and less coherent, with Sheen's character acting almost as crazy as he has been doing. This had to have an additional enabling effect beyond the normal Hollywood ass-kissing associated with success.

It also brings up a chicken-or-egg question. There's always been a certain art-imitates-life feel to the show, what with guest appearances by Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, old friend Sean Penn and even second wife Denise Richards with their daughter Sam. Have the producers and writers been trying to accommodate Sheen's lifestyle to keep the show together, or has Sheen been letting his character bleed into real life? Likely a bit of both. I also can't help but notice that here's another person who has succumbed to the the pressures and distortions of a life spent in and around the Hollywood fantasy machine.

As for the show, it has reached the age where many series start to go downhill anyway. I don't see how it can survive. Plugging in someone else, Bewitched-style, for Sheen wouldn't seem to be workable, although the producers have nothing to lose by trying. Perhaps Jon Cryer and Angus Jones could spin off into a new show.

On another TV note, we've completed our company-forced conversion to digital cable with the successful installation of a converter box on each of our three TVs. They work OK, I guess, even as they remind me of the boxes I used to have in the early days of cable, except for the remote control, of course. We considered replacing one of the TVs to avoid paying for a box (two of them are free) but we don't really have the money for that, and $2 a month is cheap enough. I'm not terribly impressed with the channel-surfing ability of the tuner, though.

This has added the off-air digital channels we didn't get before. The other two Public TV channels basically run stuff the main channel has run, along with some programs not seen around here before. It also allows all the state high school basketball tournaments to be on TV. There's also a movie channel called This, which adds a bit more variety to the lineup even if it has brought Elvira back with her lineup of truly bad movies, such as Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter. (The title should be all you need to know, but if Horror indeed.) NBC's Universal Sports channel is great if you like skiing. The two additional Fox Sports channels haven't been of much use so far except for the airing of some local college basketball. KELO's weather channel isn't much to watch, but it does offer another source for local conditions, which is nice given the local Weather Channel's abandonment of the bottom-of-the-screen ongoing updates for our area. Overall, it's been more good than bad, which is rare for channel additions.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Skip the Cookies

Once again, Jon Carroll touched on something that has long irked me.

So I was walking by a school the other day and there, set up right in front of the administration building, was a woman selling Girl Scout cookies. Her daughter was in class, she explained, and she was just helping out, and did I want a couple of boxes of Thin Mints?

The Girl Scout literature in re: cookies suggests that, in addition to raising money for the organization, cookie sales build teamwork, responsibility and basic financial skills. There's also, in theory, a sense of pride developed when a girl sells enough cookies to win a small prize of some sort.

No word yet on what emotions the girl feels if her mother wins a small prize.

Personally I think what it teaches the girls is how to use cuteness and charm to get what you want (would you buy those cookies at those prices if the local V.F.W. was selling them?) which may be useful to the girls who retain those qualities as they get older, but isn't necessarily a good overall lesson.

Here I must say that the notion of parents helping sell cookies isn't what bugs me. Parents know that if they don't raise money this way, it will come out of their pockets some other way. The Girls Scouts can talk all they want about what selling cookies teaches the girls. What ends up coming through is an old parenting maxim: parents do what they must for their kids, and sometimes the grand ideals take a back seat.

Jon provides an example of what has actually irritated me about this.

The girls launched into their speech, and I said we really didn't like to keep cookies in the house and could I give money instead? Just then, I heard a voice. "The cookies. He needs to buy the cookies."

I peered around and, yes indeed, there was Mom, hissing instructions at her little darling. (I needed to buy the cookies, I later learned, because the points and prizes do not accrue to people who just get cookie-size checks - why this should be I have no idea.)

That tells me that this isn't about supporting the local troop, it's about competition, and selling cookies to support the other people involved in the operation. The Girl Scouts of America can talk about how much of the money stays in the "area", but it doesn't compare with 100% of a direct donation to the local troop.

That Mom lost sight of the real goal, which is to raise money for those kids. Take Jon's donation and put it straight into the troop coffers. Encourage the local troop to work direct donations into the campaign (the health angle is a good one) and have awards for it. Politicians like to blather about local control. Here's a case where it's a good idea.

Optional Activity: the Ultimate Luxury

At last, a chance to enjoy a bit of my vacation, now that I'm at the half-way point, done with the current round of snow-shoveling and waiting for the next, which has been predicted to come tonight into tomorrow. At least we had a bit of melting before the big blast, which took care of all but the largest, here-until-May piles of plowed snow which are now even larger because they occupy the only good places to put it. I don't have any plans that will require getting out early to shovel, so I may be able to look out and say, "I think I'll stay in today." People talk about what they would do if they won the lottery. I think that being able to avoid doing something unpleasant because you don't need to do it is an ultimate luxury.

I also completed the task which served as an excuse to take some time off, sneaking between the snow storms for the quarterly trip to Sioux Falls for the wife's doctor's appointment. I use the singular because efforts to coordinate with other doctors had failed despite three months' effort. (It sounds like the next trip could be more successful, but I'll believe it when we're there.) We also found out that the doctor is leaving, as is her primary physician here (again), which means rebuilding relationships while hoping nothing important falls through the cracks. On a cynically positive note, the way things have gone in the past, having someone new take a fresh look might not be all bad.

Teleconferencing is becoming increasingly available, which is usually a poor substitute for an in-person visit. But since these visits often consist of talking about tests that can be done here (assuming the results are relayed to the doctor, which is far from a given; a test about which I'd written in the past failed to get sent, which is far from the first time, and like the others no one could be persuaded to answer the phone, much less provide an explanation) this is a better-than-nothing solution that reduces the need for what we just went through yesterday. We recently had one, and they tried to replicate the in-person experience by having us spend most of the time waiting while looking at a video feed of an empty chair. But it did get the job done without a day-long road trip and the arrangements necessary to take it.

I know, I did use the trip as an excuse to take some time off. But I go back to that lottery thought, which is that doing something because you like the idea feels more luxurious than doing it because you must.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pledging and Spangling

I had not heard of this objection to the Pledge of Allegiance.

She objects to the phrase "with liberty and justice for all," saying that she doesn't believe that this country provides liberty and justice for all.

The results have been predictable.

Naturally, she's taken a lot of heat for her stand, mostly from people who can't vote for her. Commentators called her unpatriotic. I personally don't believe that patriotism has much to do with reciting rote words in a public setting. The meanest traitor could do that, and it would not improve his character one bit.

I'm reminded of an episode of M*A*S*H in which Dr. Sidney Freedman is accused of being a communist because he didn't sign a loyalty oath. He replied by asking, "If I were a communist, do you think I would have hesitated for a second to sign a loyalty oath?"

Jon Carroll makes an interesting point from this.

Like most Americans, I learned the Pledge in elementary school. I don't recall anyone trying to attach meaning to the words; I just recall having the words drilled into me.

Really, pledging allegiance to a flag sounds rather silly. I know, it's part of a larger loyalty oath to the country. But that larger loyalty is directly expressed in the pledge. So a separate reference to the flag seems a bit odd.

Jon also raises a different-than-usual objection to the words "under God".

Surely everything in the universe is under God, and therefore our nation being under him should merit no specific mention. I learned later that the "under God" line was just a late-arriving tin-eared attempt to hurl monotheistic religiosity into the Pledge, something that its original author, Francis Bellamy, had not thought necessary. Bellamy was a Baptist minister.

Jon also discusses other flag references.

The other obvious symbol of patriotism is the national anthem, which is also very heavily invested in the flag. (Not all national anthems are so flag-heavy.) The national anthem is another thing I learned by rote, and I really was clueless about what it meant for a long time. Turned out, it meant: "Rejoice! Fort McHenry has stood stalwart against the vile British jackboot!" Darned odd when you think about it.

My biggest problem with The Star-Spangled Banner (Spangled? When and how else have you ever heard that word used?) has always been musical. It's hard to sing, and it's truly awful when not done well. Still....

I like the national anthem better than the dreary "God Bless America" - and there's God again, looking down from his heavenly throne, from which he is supposed to both stand beside us and guide us. Well, he's God; he can do that.

I think "America the Beautiful" has better lyrics overall, with references to the country itself rather than to one specific event, although God makes an early appearance in that song as well. You need to get to the fourth verse (yes, there are four) of The Star-Spangled Banner before God shows up.

Perhaps it would be fun to have a contest to write a new national anthem, just to see what people could create. Handle it like American Idol, with regional applications and audience voting. I know the odds are pretty good that it would turn to garbage, and that actually getting a new song approved would likely never happen. (What exactly would the process be? Congressional approval? Something similar to that for Constitutional amendments? The mind boggles.) But it could be entertaining.

Dale, Doug and Jon

At last, a little time to check in on some friends.

I'm sorry to see that Dale at Faith In Honest Doubt is facing the ax. I've been there, and it's tough to put a good spin on the anxiety, the way life gets put on hold. It's easy to say that he'll come through eventually one way or another, but it's best for eventually to be as soon as possible.

Doug Wiken, meanwhile, had a more trivial but quite annoying run-in with Tele-Check. I find his suggestion that this sort of thing might be part of an intentional ruse to ward off checks somewhat plausible. I always find it interesting that many businesses either refuse to take checks or require ID just short of DNA to take one, while they unquestioningly honor a debit card that gets its money from the same account, often without so much as a signature much less any ID. Doug can bring this up during his Presidential campaign, should he decide to run.

Jon Carroll, as usual, makes a statement to which I can relate.

I hate to be right. Well, that's not true; I love to be right. But I hate when the thing I'm right about amounts to a net loss to the public good.

As a fairly consistent pessimist, I can sympathize with that sentiment. One hates to see bad things happen, even if you saw them coming. On the other hand, if things end up turning out better than expected, it takes the edge off being wrong.

Jon also dreams.

I wish I could drive a car the way a highway patrolman does. He's clearly had training. He clearly has a lot of muscle under the hood. Best of all, there's no highway patrol to worry about. Dive for an exit from three lanes over? Go right ahead; no one is going to report you. Drive in the breakdown lane? Go right ahead. Those cars can jump and swivel, striking fear into the hearts of malefactors.

I don't know about California, but here in South Dakota Jon isn't entirely correct about no one to report him, especially in the age of cell phones. If a Highway Patrolman is driving aggressively he'd better have a reason, because someone will call and complain, and contrary to the prevailing cynicism about sweeping such things under the rug, I can say that they take complaints seriously.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Colonial Rift

It seems sectarian tension can develop anywhere.

A judge's ruling to dissolve a Brown County Hutterite colony and sell its assets is being appealed to the state Supreme Court. In November, Judge Jack Von Wald ordered the colony's corporation dissolved with the assets to be sold and distributed to members. During the process, a receiver - Aberdeen attorney Harvey Jewett - has been named to manage Hutterville Colony's financial matters.


In recent years, Hutterville members have lived together on colony property but have split into two groups that have been bickering. Supporters of Johnny Wipf and followers of George Waldner Sr. differ on which branch of the Hutterite religion the colony should follow. Both groups claimed to be the colony's proper leaders.....Wipf and his supporters asked for the colony to be dissolved. Now, Waldner and his backers are appealing the decision.

I was unaware that there is more than one branch. Googling.... the internet is a wonderful thing.

It's allegedly gotten ugly.

Von Wald ruled that the colony's directors were deadlocked and that there was a nearly even split among colony members as to whom they support. Von Wald also ruled that there have been oppressive acts that include Waldner's followers locking gas tanks and buildings that house firefighting equipment to restrict access by Wipf and his backers....Rochelle Sweetman, an attorney representing Wipf's supporters, said during a brief court hearing conducted by telephone Wednesday that the appeal is an attempt by Waldner's group to remain in power and control the colony's $55 million in assets. She said Wipf and his backers are still being denied financial support, including payment of medical bills.

The article notes that they could still patch things up, but....

During the trial, Waldner's attorney had argued that Wipf's group could not be in control of the colony because they had been excommunicated.

That's not a good sign.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Doing It Again

Time to squeeze in one last post this month, although as I look back a lot of this month has consisted of repetitions of various events. For example, as I write this we are getting more snow, the removal or at least organizing of which is starting to become a problem. At least we had a few days of relative warmth which melted some of the previous accumulation.

The news also seems a bit repetitive. Headline News is breathlessly hashing over Charlie Sheen's latest troubles, which are just his old troubles, and discussing whether CBS can/should fire him from Two and a Half Men. I tend to think CBS will keep him around, if only because the show is still a success. The fact that his character on the show is only about two steps behind his real life might also actually help him keep his job. It's not like he's ever been a role model on there.

I find the Egyptian turmoil a bit familiar as well, perhaps because it's the Middle East. Let's not forget that Mobarak came to power after Anwar El-Sadat was assassinated for talking peace. It also reminds me of some of our Cold War follies, when U.S. support of some pretty unsavory characters because they were anti-Communist blew up in our faces. I did find it interesting that an eyewitness from South Dakota who was still there said that that most of the protests were in a small area in Cairo, and that no one had threatened them.

One personal event was also a sequel. My wife got to take another ambulance to Sioux Falls after the local hospital spent two days not figuring out what was causing her chest pain. The local ambulance service decided the roads were too bad for a non-emergency transport and refused to take her, so an ambulance from the Sioux Falls area (Brandon, to be specific) came and got her, which delayed her arrival by about 5 hours. On a positive note, this time an actual diagnosis (stable angina) with a strategy for treatment was reached. In my wife's case, while the affected blood vessels are too small for the standard installation of stints, her condition is treatable with medication and cardiac therapy. They also found that a blockage which had been discovered last time is now gone, which vindicates her previous regimen and makes the idea of paying the upcoming bills a bit more palatable.

Even our income tax refund was partially a repeat, in that we always designate part of it for the same thing; payment of property taxes. (I think of this bit of irony every time I see debates over tax cuts/increases; you always end up paying someone.) This year we had enough left over to buy a much-needed new bed. It had been many moons since I shopped for one, and I was surprised to see how much thicker mattresses had gotten; our sheets barely fit the new bed despite it being the same size as the old one. Overall, though, it has been a vast upgrade, as well as an opportunity for me to dispose of another remnant of my previous marriage.

One item that was new; Grandbaby had her first early childhood screening. This was partially motivated by concern over an allegedly developing lisp, which I had never seen and was attributing to her often-displayed and apparently congenital (although I am frequently blamed for this despite the lack of a genetic connection) Stink Pot Syndrome; she was probably just goofing around to see how it sounded. The testers also found no evidence of any speech impediment. In fact they were quite impressed with her abilities in that area, especially her use of relatively complete sentences, which they said was well above her age. She scored well in almost all the tests, the exception being cognitive skills, which was mostly attributable to her unwillingness to participate in a drawing test, probably because she didn't like having to draw on the same paper as the tester (see above Stink Pot Syndrome).

On that good note it's on to February. Hopefully if this repetitiveness continues there will be more positive.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Waves,Vibrations and Minding My Own Business

A few random thoughts while basking in the afterglow of successfully completing my tax return...

Every time I hear Walking On Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves on one of the classic rock radio stations (we have 3 FM stations here, two of which are classic rock) I can't help but think about the the pure coincidences of life (unless you think that whoever named the hurricane did so with the band in mind) and the effects they can have. I'm guessing that song still isn't on play lists in Louisiana and Mississippi.

The ad for the oscillating workout weight reminds me of the old machines that used a vibrating belt to supposedly jiggle the weight off while the person stood there. I also have to believe that sex toy technology is related to it somehow.

Speaking of ads and sex toys, there's something slightly amusing about the the way the Trojan TV commercial for vibrators describes the product almost to the point of an actual demonstration, then promises discreet delivery.

I've been avoiding most of the post-Tuscon-shooting publicity because it makes me a bit uncomfortable. The lack of any direct personal connection makes following that too closely seem a bit too voyeuristic for my taste. The people involved have enough on their minds without strangers like me poking in, even if only electronically.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

eBay, Space Bags and Bad TV

This is coming to you via a newly upgraded computer, now with eight times the memory! The old routine of starting the computer, taking a shower, eating lunch, then coming back to see if it has finished booting up is no more. The upgrade came courtesy of an eBay dealer my brother (an eBay veteran) says is reputable. Naturally, I let my brother do the purchasing; I just installed the memory, which itself was something of a novelty for me. I hadn't opened up a PC with serious intent in a long time, so I printed off instructions, which showed me how much easier making such modifications has become. It took longer to clean out the dust than to install the memory.

Speaking of eBay, its mention always reminds me of an old friend, now deceased, who loved it. He also liked to drink, which occasionally resulted in some purchases later regretted. However his frugality always overcame the booze, so the amount spent was never large. But I bet his relatives were astounded when they cleaned out his house after his death.

Whenever I see the TV ad for Space Bags, with the opening line about having too much stuff and not enough space, I always think (and sadly sometimes say out loud), "get rid of some of the stuff!" This is not a knock on the product. My second wife bought some, and although - like most products - the process isn't as smooth or easy as advertised, they do basically work. I just think the thought process involved could be put to better use. If the item in question has sunk in usefulness to the point that you are considering putting it into vacuum storage, perhaps you should sell or give it to someone else.

As I clicked past a reality show (I couldn't tell you which one) the other day, I thought of something I saw on the TCM series Moguls and Movie Stars. In the early days of movies the scripts were rudimentary, only setting up a general story line, with sections often saying no more than, "Keaton (or whoever) improvises for five minutes". This is basically what reality show producers do now, provide a basic framework and tell the participants to just go to it. The big difference is instead of seasoned performers like Buster Keaton with proven ability to entertain, we get people off the street, resulting in... well, you've seen it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Unexpected, Good and Bad

I've been doing something unusual, at least for me; pondering the recently past holiday season. Normally I like to move on quickly, with a sigh of relief that I can do so. Due to family complications, some past holiday seasons were strung out interminably, with gatherings from just after Thanksgiving to early February, which has made the past few relatively simple years that much more enjoyable. But this past season has hung on in the mind a bit.

It started off fairly straightforward. My family had been able to set up a gathering on December 26 at my brother's house, which wouldn't even require rearranging my work schedule. Even better, everyone would be there, so there wouldn't be that lingering get-someone-their-gifts-later hangover. My wife had set up two suppers for our kids and grandkids at our house; one on the 24th and one on the 25th, with only the former involving gift opening. I wasn't sure why we had a pair of suppers, but I had pretty much handed everything over to my wife (several times I looked at the stack of presents under our tree and realized I had no idea what they were or who was getting them) so I had no right to ask too many questions. I was just happy everything was under control.

Then on the evening of the 23rd My wife's Grandmother died. It wasn't out of the blue, since she was 95 and her health had recently been failing dramatically, but the speed of her downturn (until less than month before her death she had not only been living in her own apartment but taking care of her polio-crippled son) did catch people off-guard. As the obituary stated with the understatement common to such writings, this affected a lot of people in a lot of places. It also added another large amount of planning of a very different sort to the holiday mix. The end result: holiday gatherings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, a funeral on Monday, and the need to take a day off on Tuesday to put life back together.

I must say that there were few problems; all the events went off with few hitches. But the overall atmosphere of the season took a decided turn. Not just the obvious damper a death puts on everything, but also a slight change in the other direction. The funeral was held at a Catholic church still decorated for Christmas which, along with the presence of a large number of small children who didn't really know the deceased and who still had Christmas on their minds, seemed to lighten the overall mood. The speed with which everything happened and the fact that the funeral was added into an already hectic time also prevented feelings from sinking too low for too long.

I sense that it led to a bit of a hangover, though (the fact that I'm typing this now is a good indicator). The putting in order of various death-related personal affairs was held up by the holidays, and there's a certain "what just happened?" feel. Just last night Grandbaby asked about going to see "Grandma Aggie and the birds", the latter being birds that the nursing home keeps and I suspect her main focus, but nevertheless a reminder of all that had gone on.

After finally being able to take the time to reflect, I have to say the season went just about completely unexpectedly. There were unexpected events, with effects that weren't exactly what would be expected from such events. About the only predictable outcome was my relief that it's over.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

To Playoff, or Not Playoff

As John Lennon said, another year over and a new one just begun. I could have gotten by without snow up to my rear, but as the saying goes, it's that time of year.

Sifting through the various college football bowl games naturally brings to mind the idea of a playoff for top-tier teams. Many have said much about this, and a few like Mark Cuban have backed the idea with cash, so I may as well chime in, although even as I type this I realize that the more I think about it the less I care. But what is blogging for if not spouting off about subjects like this?

The most obvious idea is something similar to what is done in the other divisions; a straightforward playoff bracket. I think 8 teams would be sufficient, and they could use the BCS rankings to determine who gets in. There would still be plenty of argument about that last spot, but I think most people would agree that one of those 8 who beat 3 others in 2 weeks would be deserving of the championship trophy. This could be done in the same time frame as the others, early December. This would allow the bowls to continue to do their thing and create the possibility of intriguing match ups, such as a championship rematch or a chance for a team that thought it got hosed out of the playoff to prove it by beating the champs or another playoff team.

A variation on this would use the existing bowls. Again, 8 teams, 7 games, two weeks. This would allow more bowl games to have real meaning, as opposed to now where only one game has the championship aura. It would also have a trickle-down effect on the other bowl games, since only 8 teams instead of 14 would occupy the top 7 bowl games, leaving better teams for the others. It could still be done in the current bowl season.

Again, the more I ponder this the harder it is to get really excited. The existence of a Division 1-A football playoff system really isn't that important. Indeed, it could be argued that the absence of a playoff lowers the stakes and keeps the game in something closer to a proper perspective, although anyone who follows the game knows that isn't actually the case. I haven't heard anything to indicate that any real change is in order, so I guess the best thing to do is just enjoy the games for they are and not worry about it.