Friday, December 30, 2011

Thoughts in the Waning Days of the Old Year

I often think we'd all be better off if the extremists and fanatics and ideologues of whatever stripe could be packed off to some tropical island where they could continue their quarrel-to-the-death with one another, and just leave the rest of us alone. You know, the rest of us? The 80 or 90 percent of us within shouting distance of the broad center?

Because I think many of our social and cultural and political ills stem in large part from the toxic, dysfunctional attitudes of those fanatics and extremists, those engaged activists whether on the Right or on the Left. They're so geared up, so filled with bile and hate, so engorged on the tunnel vision of their uniquely righteous stance on uniquely vital issues, that they can't imagine how most of us really don't give a damn.

Or, even harder for them to imagine, the rest of us do give a damn, but only within limits. We care, but we don't care enough to upend the world in the verbal and emotional and ideological equivalent of World War III. We have our own view of things, but it is a view which is less than totalizing, a view strongly tinged by an informal sense of live and let live. We're not into mudslinging. We're not into scorched earth. This is unsatisfactory to those, on Right or Left, whose rigid bent has ever been let our ideology prevail, though the heavens fall.

How tiresome it must be to be always approving or disapproving of the "correct" things, the "correct" people, the "correct" arguments, the "correct" ideological stances. One cannot be a Conservative in good standing, one cannot be a Progressive in good standing, unless one burns a pinch of incense at the "correct" ideological altar, unless one voices one's approval of all that is "correct," and unless one barks out full-throated disapproval of one's opponents.

Disapproval in particular is essential, disapproval of those on the opposite side, disapproval of the hated, despised, demonized enemy.

Why don't these haters on either side-- good Progressive haters, good Conservative haters-- just go off to a tropical island where they can continue their incessant rigid rage-filled fights, and leave the rest of us alone? Leave the rest of us alone, and stop ripping our society to shreds in the name of an ideological purity, whether Right or Left, which is never pure enough to satisfy the extremists, and only eggs them on to greater and greater displays of utopian purism?

Because the rest of us may care, one way or the other, to some greater or lesser degree; but we don't "care" so intensely that, in order to save the society we live in, we're willing to destroy it.

Come to think of it, it may already be too late. The Center Did Not Hold. The history of the past half century in these United States is largely the history of centrifugal ideologies of Right and Left spinning faster and faster, gaining angular momentum, eroding culture, eroding the economy, eroding the political system, until the entire damn structure is ready to fly apart. Somber thoughts as we come up on 2012.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Blues

The presents are wrapped at last. I'm getting things pulled together and packed. And then it will be off on the long drive to the city, to visit my mom and my brother for Christmas and several days of vacation.

More than once as I've been getting ready, I find myself pausing and gazing off into the middle distance, and something indefinable descends upon my heart, like the pale grey light of winter. This will be our first Christmas without my father. He passed away this summer. Suddenly, quietly, in his sleep. He was up there in years, but still in good health, and it was completely unexpected.

I find I'm approaching Christmas with decidedly mixed feelings this year.

Monday, December 12, 2011

So Where's the Snow?

Usually by this time in December we've been buried under at least one knock-down drag-out snowstorm. But not this year. We've had no more than a few dustings of snow so far. Of course it's been cold enough that the snow, once fallen, stays. But unlike the past several years-- when winter came early, attacked in earnest, and stayed late-- so far this year the weather has served up nothing much worth speaking of.

And I'll be honest, I feel deprived. I've lived most of my life in parts of the country where long, hard winters are a way of life. I have lived at times in parts of the country where the climate was milder, but by reflex informed by long experience I expect winter to be one blizzard after another. Getting this far into December without more than a tantalizing trace of snow makes me feel antsy.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Day by Day

Sometimes life just slides along, day by day, like pearls on a string, like beads on a rosary, until I come to and realize weeks have fled. And all the while, I was busy attending to everyday life, and I never even noticed.

Monday, November 14, 2011


More number voodoo. About a year ago the odometer on my Jeep turned over 200000. Now just today it turned over 211000.

And suddenly it dawned on me: ever since it rolled over, a year ago, there's always been at least one zero on my odometer. Soon, for the first time since last November, I will have an odometer with no zeroes on it. And that will happen once the odometer reaches 211111.1 miles.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Eleven Eleven Eleven

Oh dear. I heard the morning crew on the radio going bananas over "11/11/11." That's eleven Eleven ELEVEN, seven come eleven, heaven eleven, oh, heaven eleven Eleven ELEVEN!!! It's enough to make me swear off certain numbers for life.

Perry Drops Out

Governor Rick Perry dropped out of the race for the GOP presidential nomination today after repeatedly misidentifying himself as "a Senator from the state of Texas."

Friday, November 4, 2011

Mageia Linux

I've used Linux as my main operating system for many years now. Started out with Mandrake, stuck with it when it became Mandriva. But the past year and a half have not made me confident about Mandriva's future directions, and so I stuck with Mandriva 2010.0 (which worked beautifully for me) long past its expiration date.

Until recently, when I finally made the transition to Mageia Linux. Not much of a transition! Am still tidying things up, post-installation: it wouldn't be Linux if there weren't always a cloud of "issues" to be resolved after a fresh install. But basically it works, and once I get it pulled into shape it ought to work well. We shall see. In a myriad of such small ways the spirit of do-it-yourself lives on.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Picture-Screeds on Facebook

Okay, so I've got a few friends who keep posting a veritable crapflood of angry turgid extremist political bilge on Facebook. It was getting to the point where these few individuals-- say, three out of a total of several dozen Facebook friends-- were responsible for something like 95% of the posts I saw every time I dropped by Facebook. All angry lunatic politicized garbage.

It got so bad, I was finally driven to install a third-party Firefox add-on which enables me to block posts on Facebook based on content. Any post that contains terms such as Obama, Bush, conservative, liberal, Republican, Democrat, dailykos, foxnews, Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street... I never even see those posts any more. They're blocked. Problem solved.

Or at least, the problem was solved until a few weeks ago, when these friends all took to what I take to be a new Facebook fad. Posting pictures. Pictures that don't really contain anything pictorial. Pictures which simply present a slogan or screed or rant. Angry rigid political picture-screeds, like the JPEG equivalent of a political poster. I can't block 'em, because they bypass any text-based filter. It drives me crazy. What is this, the latest escalation in the "political bilge" arms race?!

No, it must just be a new fad. Because my friends have no idea I'm even blocking anything on my end. And I never noticed any damn picture-screeds until quite recently. Whatever's going on, it's quite annoying. I haven't found a real good fix yet, though I have found a way to block most pictures on Facebook, period. It blocks cute baby pictures and harmless Harry Potter pictures as well as the politicized picture-rant bilge, but at least it's stemming the tide for the moment.

Meanwhile, what drives some people?! Really. Why do they think anyone wants to read dozens of angry extremist political posts from them every single day? I just don't get it.

Update: Bingo! I found the solution. It involves regular expressions. And it works with nigh-surgical precision.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Flannel Sheets

It's getting to be that time of the year again. Yesterday I changed the sheets on my bed, and I put on the flannel sheets.

Had the energy to turn the mattress, too, while I was at it.

It's flannel sheet weather again. Fall is here, and Indian summer is past.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bugout Bag: Contents

In my previous post, I laid out the philosophy behind my bugout bag. To recap: this is really more a bug-in bag, a convenient central repository of emergency items for if I had to get along here at home for a few days, with the power out and/or some major weather-related emergency. With a secondary aim of being useful when and if I have to get out and leave on short notice.

Further background: I am nobody's idea of Rambo, a survivalist, a camper, or a Boy Scout. I'm just an old bachelor in his fifties, who lives on a gravel road far out into a remote rural area of flyover country USA, better than half an hour in good driving weather from the nearest small town. I know my own limitations, and am trying to plan realistically, with and not in defiance of those limitations.

That said, the basic bedrock idea for my bugout bag is that Less Is More. I decided to restrict myself to what I could fit into a leather dopp kit, which measures about 10"x6"x5". The end result weighs little more than 10 pounds, and can be carried under my arm.

Here's what the bag contains:
  • Bandanna
  • AM/FM/SW radio powered by two AA batteries, and stored in a cardboard-lined metal box to help protect the radio against EMP
  • Ear buds for the radio
  • Wire antenna which can be reeled out and clipped to the radio's whip antenna
  • Collapsible steel drinking cup
  • Folding knife with two blades, clip and spey
  • Flashlight, aluminum, Maratac Extreme, powered by one AA battery
  • Spare AA batteries, four, in waterproof Delrin battery lockers
  • Leatherman Super Tool 300 multi-tool in a leather pouch
  • Embassy pen, aluminum, with Fisher space pen cartridge, will write under almost any conditions
  • Rhodia notepad no. 12, graph ruled, 4.7"x3.3"
  • Deck of playing cards
  • Pocket New Testament
  • Pocket slide rule, Pickett aluminum, 5" log log duplex (this is my one original idea, I've seen it nowhere else: more reliable and more EMP-proof than a calculator, and hey, I'm old enough that I learned in school how to use a slide rule)
  • First aid kit: I kept it real simple, several bandaids of assorted sizes, a piece of moleskin, and four extra-strength Tylenols, in a small resealable plastic bag
  • Prescription medications, three-day supply, in a small resealable plastic bag (you really can't have enough of these small resealable plastic bags, like tiny ziploc bags, 2"x3", 1-1/2"x4", whatever; items come in them, and I save the bags)
  • Waterproof metal match box holding strike-anywhere wooden matches
  • Steel & magnesium fire starter: this is the one boyscoutish item I got, and I oughta learn to use it
  • Small stainless steel lighter
  • Tinder, alias lint from my dryer, in a small resealable plastic bag
  • Small metal toothpick holder with toothpicks
  • Fork, knife, spoon, aluminum, compact foldable camping utensils
  • Whistle
  • Compass, brass, liquid-filled
  • Can opener, compact foldable P-51
  • Micro widgy pry bar
  • Keyring screwdrivers, regular and Phillips
  • Tiny, tiny clip light, can be clipped to clothing, leaving hands free
  • Cash, several hundred dollars in tens and twenties, stashed in the internal side pocket of the bag
  • Emergency Medical ID Card, foldable accordionlike in slipcover, with personal info, emergency contact info, medical info, list of my prescriptions, name and phone of my doctor, stashed in internal side pocket
  • House key, spare, stashed in internal side pocket
  • Carabiner, aluminum, clipped onto outside leather carrying loop
I repeat, all this is packed comfortably in a single leather dopp kit, about 10"x6"x5". I don't have scales around the house, but I'd judge it weighs little more than 10 pounds.

And I forgot, there are a few other things slipped in there. Instructions for the radio and the Leatherman multi-tool. Spare O-rings for the flashlight and the lighter (packed in an ever-handy small resealable plastic bag). You get the idea.

You'll notice, I'm not averse to redundancy on certain critical items such as knife blades, can opener, or ways of starting a fire. And if I could grab one other item on my way out the door, I'd take along a water bottle I've got, with built-in filter. Second item, I'd grab a fixed-blade knife.

Where did I find these items? Around the house, and various places online, chief among them A.G. Russell, Amazon, Duluth Trading Co., and especially Miles Stair's Survival Shop. YMMV, but those are good places to start.

All this is still very much a learning process for me, I'm a beginner on these matters and nothing more. A simple bugout bag in a leather dopp kit, really intended more as a bug-in bag. I think my next step would be twofold:

(1) On the bug-in front, start exploring the ins and outs of a small portable kerosene stove. I've got plenty of food stored away, but coffee and rice and Quaker oats do require heating, even in the dead of winter with no electricity.

(2) On the bug-out front, start thinking about what kind of items could be included in a weekend bag to go, such as a few day's supply of clothing, food, water; and blanket, and other items I deliberately excluded by sticking to my dopp kit.

Keep at it, and I ought be prepared for ice storms, power outages, flooding, blizzards, the collapse of the euro, President Obama calling a banking holiday and declaring martial law... maybe even the zombie apocalypse!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bugout Bag: Prologue

Well, I figured as long as I'm going insane and stocking some extra canned food in an unused cupboard for just-in-case, I may as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb. Yes, I'm pulling together a bugout bag. Have I gone certifiably crazy, or what?!

Actually it's more of a bug-in bag. A convenient centralized storage place for items that might come in handy in an emergency, better to have them already assembled than to be scrounging around and searching once the proverbial shit has hit the fan. I can't really think of an emergency, this side of a house fire, where I'd be better off fleeing my house rather than staying and digging in.

Still, I can think of a number of actual incidents, in the years I've lived here, when it might've been handy to have a bag like this assembled in advance. Ice storms are frequent here in the winter, and I can remember several which kept many people in these remote rural parts pretty much confined to home base for four or five days, and the roads not really so navigable, even with 4WD and a Jeep like mine, for upwards of a week. There are ice storms, there are blizzards, there are power outages, there is flooding, there are tornadoes. A tornado has never come my way yet, though there have been a few close misses, with major damage where the thing touched down. And I could tell you about the time a few years ago when I had to deal with two feet of water in my basement, and many local roads out due to flooding.

I'm basically pulling together a bag which will have what I need in one place in case I need to get along here at home, without electricity and/or without ready access to the outside world for a few days. As a very secondary aim, I'm also planning with an eye to the (much less likely) contingency of ending up staying with neighbors, or in a public shelter, or having to leave the area entirely on short notice.

You can google on bugout bags, and see what people commonly put in them. What strikes me is just how overly-heavy and overloaded many of these bags are. I mean, come on, am I really going to head off into the sunset wearing a backpack that weighs 80 or 100 pounds? I don't think so. The usual advice-- pack two extra changes of clothing, pack a sleeping bag, pack a tent, pack a portable toilet-- I'm sorry, but I'm assuming that unless there's a house fire in the middle of the night, I'm going to be suitably dressed, and carrying in my pockets those items I carry in my pockets whenever I'm dressed. And I'm not planning to leave on a permanent survivalist's camping trip on a moment's notice. We're talking have it on hand, or carry it with me, in some kind of practical real-world framework.

So, I started out by limiting myself to what I could pack inside a shaving bag. A leather dopp kit. This immediately ruled out extra clothes, or food and water, or portable toilets, or any of the other usual extravagances you'll find on so many BOB packing lists. And I was surprised at how much I could fit in that small leather bag, at a total weight of only 10 or 15 pounds.

Coming next: The contents of my bugout bag

Thursday, October 6, 2011

That Inward Horror Known as the Self

Looking inside of myself, I am sometimes horrified at what I see. I am well acquainted with some of the ways in which I am a flawed, faulty, broken human being. No doubt sometimes I succeed in deceiving myself on this front, but I know myself all too well to be fooled all of the time regarding myself.

Most of the time I conduct myself fairly decently toward people around me, and they conduct themselves fairly decently toward me. Though sometimes I do slip up, and that horror which is within me slips its leash and lacerates innocent people around me. When this happens, I am usually sickened and nauseated by my own behavior toward them.

I don't always know if they can tell. Does it show through? Does it show through to them that I am sickened by my own behavior? Sometimes I do apologize. But even when I don't (life isn't always so straightforward), does something in me show through to them, that I am cringing at what I just said or did, that my conscience isn't allowing me to get off scot free?

I wonder about this, because on those rare occasions when someone behaves poorly toward me, I can sometimes sense their inward cringe, their horror at their own behavior toward me; though more often not. Especially online, I could easily get the impression that many people rarely feel compunction regarding their careless or even malicious online mistreatment of others.

The standard patter regarding this is that on the Internet people lack the visual and emotional cues which are in motion face to face. If online behavior weren't on average notoriously so much worse than face-to-face behavior-- come on, it's become a commonplace, don't deny it-- then I might buy this standard patter as an explanation, or at least a partial step toward an explanation. As it is, it hardly rises above the level of a facile excuse. Qui s'excuse, s'accuse.

Online, as in everyday life, I've generally been quite fortunate in my dealings with people. That is, most people I encounter are quite decent and likable folks. My current blog is (thankfully) pretty much readerless and commenterless; but my old blog, which I ran for several years under my real name, had several dozen regular readers and a dozen or so regular commenters, and they were all without exception unfailingly polite, civil, courteous to one another. It was a delight blogging and dealing with them.

But one doesn't have to search very hard to find blogs, forums, boards, threads where it is quite otherwise. And these venues make me wonder. When I look inside myself, I'm horrified at the attitudes I sometimes find. I'm sickened when these attitudes within me slip the leash, and get loose. But how about some of these people out there who routinely treat their host or fellow commenters like garbage, and seem to display nary a twinge of conscience over it? Are they ever horrified by their own poor behavior? Do they have any internal level of self-awareness, any self-insight into just what a piece of work they truly are? Or do they sail along blithely with never a self-doubt and never a self-regret?

Do they succeed in fooling themselves all the time regarding themselves?

On second thought, I'm not altogether sure I really want to know the answer to that question. I'm horrified enough at what I sometimes find within myself. Let the self's faults be sufficient for the self.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tax Forms

Well, back in April I filed for an extension on my 2010 tax forms, and seeing as October 15 is rapidly looming up, I was glad I could tear myself away from my work today and find time to do my 2010 federal and state tax forms. This is one of the beauties of having a fairly flexible work schedule; I don't know quite how I would've managed it back in the days when I was punching a time clock.

It helps that I live a fairly simple life with fairly simple finances too, so that I can still manage to do my own taxes, and what's more clear them out of the way in a single manic day at my desk.

And it's a beautiful day out, shades of Indian summer, and I think I'm going to celebrate the completion of my damn tax forms by drifting up to a little crossroads community about 20 miles north of here, where there's a small restaurant that serves excellent burgers and fries.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Secularism as Mummery

secularist n One who is gripped by the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be praying.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

None So Blind As

For many who call themselves "open-minded," open-mindedness is merely the continuation of narrow-mindedness by other means.

For many who call themselves "tolerant," tolerance is merely the continuation of intolerance by other means.

For many who call themselves "liberal," liberalism is merely the continuation of illiberalism by other means.

For many who call themselves "inclusive," inclusiveness is merely the continuation of exclusion by other means.

For many who call themselves "rational," rationalism is merely the continuation of blind unreasoning rage by other means.

For many who call themselves "nonconformists," nonconformity is merely the continuation of conformity and social control by other means.

For many who call themselves "loving," love is merely the continuation of hate by other means.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Quietly Going Crazy in Deep Rural America

Have I gone crazy, or what?

Living out here on a gravel road in deep rural America, I've been following the financial news online lately. Greece, Europe, etc. This is the kind of stuff I've been following, with mild interest, for some time now. But just this morning I kicked into gear, in my own small way, for the very first time.

I made the long drive in to town to do my usual grocery shopping this morning. And I picked up a lot of extra groceries. About $100 of extra canned soup, canned vegetables, the kind of food I could eat out of the can if I were without power. Picked up other supplies as well: extra batteries, enough old fashioned light bulbs that I wondered if I might be asked about it.

I've got some cupboards in the back of my house, by the washer and dryer, largely empty. Every time I make a trip in to town from now on, I'm going to pick up some extra supplies, and stash them in those cupboards.

Maybe I'm being paranoid, but if so all it'll cost me is a few hundred dollars of extra canned goods and other miscellaneous useful items stored in the back hallway. Cheap insurance, just in case the shit hits the fan.

And if the shit doesn't hit the fan, I can always draw down my supplies, eating them at my leisure.

Meanwhile this afternoon I've been entertaining myself by hunting around and digging out my farmer matches, spare flashlight, sewing kit, folding and fixed-blade knives, and water bottle with filter. Hey, if nothing else it's a way to spend a rainy afternoon.

And I've even been pondering on the fact that most of my neighbors, who unlike me have lived here all their lives, are heavily armed, and what's more they know how to use their guns. I myself don't own a gun, and never have. But if the shit ever does hit the fan, and any troublemakers drift out here from the big city, they wouldn't dare come poking around my place. If they did, they'd be playing Russian roulette.

Having grown up as a good sane moderate middle class person, I can hardly believe I'm even typing this, much less that this morning something clicked inside me and I went and got triple my usual groceries. Nonetheless, if things head south and things get ugly a while, maybe I'll be glad for what I did. :-)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Behaviors Never Celebrated in Public

This being the Internet, I can find people who offer apologies and excuses for nearly any form of outrageous poor behavior.

But I notice I've never yet seen people openly and publicly celebrating certain forms of behavior as behaviors in which they themselves have engaged, and "proud of it!"

I've never yet seen anyone bragging about how they spread malicious gossip about a neighbor or a co-worker behind that person's back.

I've never yet seen anyone celebrating their own cheap tawdry mean-spiritedness.

I've never yet seen anyone boasting of lying and cheating and betraying a loyal friend.

I've never yet seen anyone gloating over how they inflicted intentional hurt and twisted the knife in their neighbor's ribs, always with bland deniability, always just a step beyond the reach of justice.

People do these things all the time, blatantly, flagrantly. And they're often shameless and unrepentant in public. But not shameless enough to boast openly of having engaged in such behavior. No, on some level they still realize that they deserve the burning molten lava of judgment raining down on their evil heads. Or if they don't even feel sorry for their sickening behavior, at least they know better than to brag of it openly. They know better than to cry "Look at me! Look at what I've done!"

I for one refuse to condone such folk. I mean, I have a life to live, I can't devote the lion's share of my energy to hounding them and bringing them to bay and then repaying them in cold iron as their evil behavior so richly merits. I leave that up to the righteous judgment of a just God, on a day when the sun will smolder like a dimly glowering coal in a burnt umber sky.

But in the meanwhile, I refuse to pretend that black is white. I refuse to gladhand and backslap the haters in our midst. I decline to condone those who willfully make themselves channels and conduits for an unbridled and shameless evil, at the expense of their innocent fellow man.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bad Teeth

I'm thankful for modern dentistry, because without it, my middle-aged teeth (such of them as remained) would be in hopeless shape. I inherited bad teeth from my father. But thanks to the dentist, my teeth are quite functional-- thanks to the dentist, that is, and also to a piece of bridgework, four crowns, and more fillings than I could possibly count.

One odd feature of the remote rural area where I live is that many people, and many of them far younger than I, have appallingly bad teeth. I know plenty of people around here, in their fifties, in their forties, and even younger, who have gap-toothed smiles, missing teeth, rotting teeth. Some people (again, some of them younger than I) who have numerous missing or rotting teeth.

I can't figure it. To some degree it seems to be cultural, "Why bother?", a "class" thing, a lack of vanity. But I suspect also to a large degree it's a matter of finances. People around here are not wealthy, most of them, and would rather spend such spare cash as they have on a snowmobile or a pickup instead of dental work. And so they tear down the road with a mighty roar, and with several teeth missing.

I know one neighbor who had a number of bad teeth, and getting them fixed was financially beyond him. So he got all his teeth pulled instead. All his teeth, good or bad. A set of dentures, that he could afford.

Me, I'd rather have all my teeth, or a reasonable simulacrum thereof. I'm not wealthy either, but I make a reasonable living, I have no dependents and no debt, and overall I live simply, resisting the siren lure of snowmobiles and pickup trucks. So I am able to afford such dental care as I need. And so I have no appalling gaps in my smile.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Wool Indian Blanket

Once again we come to that time of the year when I get out the old wool Indian blanket. And I have the windows open in the house. And after breakfast I lie here on the sofa, cup of coffee at hand, laptop computer running, and most of all the old wool Indian blanket covering me.

A cool breeze blowing in through open windows. Hot coffee. A streak of morning sunlight across the living room floor. And the warmth of a wool blanket, which frankly is unlike any other warmth on earth, though perhaps distantly related to the warmth from a wood burning cast iron stove.

No substitute for wool. Nothing quite like it. There are joys on earth, and then there are wool Indian blankets, as an early hint of fall tinges the air.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Return of Rod Dreher

I'm awakened from my relatively non-blogging torpor by the news, relayed by John E. over at Alexandria, that Rod Dreher has amicably parted ways with the John Templeton Foundation, and that Rod will be returning to blogging after Labor Day.

Longtime Dreher junky that I am, this is better news than I had any reason to hope for as the Labor Day weekend draws near. Back to my daily dose of Rod Dreher! Yes!!! :-)

I also wonder if my blog, ordinarily readerless and nigh traffickless, will also see a spike in visitors this holiday weekend. Because just about the only traffic this blog has ever seen, came from several posts I made, well ranked in Google, about Rod Dreher and the mysterious circumstances under which Templeton lowered the boom on Rod's previous blogging endeavor.

Meanwhile, best wishes to Rod in his new job, and his new blogging efforts. Welcome back, sir!

UPDATE: And I see earlier today Mr. Dreher tweeted: "Today I start at The American Conservative. Blog begins at on Tues."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

So What If You're Right?

I'm always amazed at people who invest so much emotional energy in being right. You know, arguing, "proving" that they're right, patting themselves on the back for being on the correct side of some pet issue, and especially basking in the warm glow of demonizing and scapegoating their eeeevil opponents.

I mean, so what if you're right? I really don't care.

Go ahead. Be right. Meanwhile I'll be getting back to living my life-- my way and not your way, thank you-- living my life, ignoring your feverish spittle-flecked rodomontade, and in general conducting myself as if your pet issue doesn't even exist, as indeed it probably doesn't outside the hothouse imagination and angry Internet debate forums of you and emotionally maladjusted aspie misfits like you.

So what if you're right? So what if you're an argumentational legend in your own mind? I really don't care. And tomorrow the sun will rise in the east, as usual, entirely without reference to you and your frenzied manias.

Monday, August 8, 2011


I've been troubled now for three weeks with earworms. You know, earworms -- music that gets stuck in your head, and it keeps playing over and over again, and you can't get it to stop.

It started one Sunday in church when we sang a hymn which somehow got lodged in my mind. Over and over and over it played, for several days.

Then the song changed, and a different tune was stuck in my mind. Every few days the music changes. Sometimes it's a popular song. Sometimes it's classical music. At the moment, I can't get Chopin's Nocturne out of my head. Often it sounds as if the tune of the day is being played on an accordion.

I've been afflicted with earworms on occasion before, but never, I think, for as much three weeks at a stretch. Really, is there some way to get the music to stop?!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Down the Tubes

Over at Taki's Magazine, Jim Goad on The Retarded State of Public Debate... omg, I wish I'd written this piece myself! The idiocy of the wrangling between partisan factions over the whole debt-ceiling fiasco, each side convinced that the other side is the locus of all evil, and neither side willing to face up to the fact that this country and its entire financial and economic structure is rapidly going down the tubes...
Since there will be no happy ending, this weeks-long 'debate' boiled down to a drunken saloon argument over whether we drive into a brick wall at 85MPH or 95MPH... Everyone with two neurons to rub together seems to know in their guts that this country is in an irreversible free-fall. Though few seem willing to admit it, most probably suspect that things will get much worse and that this debt-ceiling agreement will only be a Band-Aid on a severed limb.
Preach it, brother!

Saturday, July 23, 2011


When I clean around the house, I'm surprised at how much hair I find. In a sink. On a table top. In not-so-little "dust" bunnies of hair on the bathroom floor. It's as if I'm shedding all around the house.

On my desk, loose strands of shed hair, and a sprinkling of dandruff. I'm shedding. I didn't know I had this much hair to lose. I didn't know I had this much hair to shed.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Heat Wave

Like much of the nation, we've been hit by stifling heat these past few days. HOT.

I really find it hard to believe I'll miss this next winter, even when it's 20 below.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


It was a month ago that my father died. Peacefully, in his sleep, at home, but quite unexpectedly. It was a month ago today that I unexpectedly made the long drive to the city, to be with my mother and my brother, and to help plan for my father's funeral.

In this past month I've been grieving, and I can't say it feels like any grief I've known before. At first, on some level, the reality of it all wouldn't quite sink in; that lasted maybe a week. Since then memories come back to me, scenes from childhood, flashbacks from years past, and they hit me with all the force of a sudden gut punch. They come unexpected and unbidden, sometimes at the oddest moments. Or a sudden tinge of feeling hovers over me, and I find myself in tears.

People over here in the countryside have been very kind to me, friends and neighbors. Some of them had met my parents in years past when they came over here to visit.

And I phone my Mom, and we talk on the phone, and we cry together. A huge piece of our lives has receded without warning into the past. I thought I had some acquaintance with grieving, but until this past month there were tracts and facets of it that I didn't know at all.

Friday, July 15, 2011


The other evening a young couple, neighbors who live out here in the remote countryside, invited me over for dinner. It was very kind of them-- "neighborly" is the term used in these parts-- and we had a good meal and good conversation, far better than I would've had heating up a can of soup and eating alone in this big old rambling house of mine, as I often do for dinner.

But that's the way people are, out here in deep rural America. Neighborly: this young couple is nothing out of the ordinary in these parts. He's a diesel mechanic, and a damn good one; his parents are my nearest neighbors, down the gravel road from me a ways. When I first moved here twelve years ago, he was around junior high age. Now he and his fiancee will be getting married soon. Time does fly! And as the years pass by, the roots of our lives become interwoven, friend with friend, neighbor with neighbor.

People can sling bloodless abstractions around, talking about the wonders of "community" and whatnot-- generally people who themselves live in some urban neighborhood where they may not even know the names of many of their neighbors. Out here in flyover country it's not a bloodless abstraction. It's not just rhetoric. It's something solid and real. Neighbors. Just as solid and real as rambling conversation around a tiny table in a cramped little kitchen, eating carrots and baked potatoes and meatballs, with a glass of milk at one's elbow.

Twelve years ago I moved here, to a remote and unfrequented area far out into the countryside. Moved here from the big hectic noisy impersonal city. And time and again I find myself thinking that moving here is one of the best things I ever did in my life.

Friday, July 8, 2011

TV Reality

Day before yesterday I headed in to town for some repairs on my Jeep at a car dealership.

While I was waiting in their lobby I saw some morning TV talk show, Baba Wawa and a group of airhead chicks all sitting around and discussing the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial. I hardly ever watch TV, and it really is bizarre to see how dead serious they are, and how they latch onto the most vapid airhead scandal situations as if these "events" are somehow the center of the universe. "Coming up Sunday! An exclusive interview with Jaycee Dugard, how she was kidnaped at age 11 and forced to live in some weirdo's backyard for the next 18 years!" All approached from a breathless "women's perspective" in which life in the suburbs, jokes about new recipes, maudlin tears over one's kids and cute little animals, and heedless high-income consumerism are all unquestioned aspects of The Only Possible Way Of Life That Could Ever Exist.

Like I say, I hardly ever watch TV. I go weeks and even months at a time never turning the damn thing on. So when I do get a glimpse at "TV reality," it really is a jolt. There actually are people who take this circus-house-of-mirrors view of the world seriously?!

Thursday, July 7, 2011


One of the small joys of living out here in the country: I wake up in the morning, and through the open window I can hear all the birds singing.

I'm no expert on birds, I often don't know the species by name or by sight, but in the coolness of the early morning I know them by their song. Some of those same birdsongs I remember hearing through an open window in the morning, visiting my grandparents on their farm back when I was a kid. To this day those birdsongs are imprinted on my memory.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Der Untergang des Abendlandes

Ah yes, I've got my plans for the Fourth of July weekend, and I presume you've got yours. My plans involve, among other things, sitting here in my big rambling old 130 year old house on a gravel road out in deep rural America, fortified with a hip flask of liquor, and hiding in modern air conditioning from a triple digit heat wave.

It was twelve years ago this week that I moved here from the city. Moved here, in part, to get away from the city and the Undergoing of the Eveninglands of failing ailing late-modern America. I was sensing, even as the 90s were drawing to a close, that the declining empire of the USA was playing itself out, and that the day was coming when I'd be better off in a corner of the land where people were still capable and self-sufficient and rooted in God and family and tradition, and mainly geographically well removed from any combustible urban areas.

The past few years it has become more and more evident that my wisdom at the time I moved here was prescient. We are now three years into a deep recession and house-of-cards financial sector with no end in sight, and the only question is whether we will limp along like this indefinitely for years to come, or whether things will head south-- way further south-- fairly suddenly, like a collapsing house of cards, some time not too many years down the road.

If so, I live in a remote and untraveled corner of rural America where people still live by the ancient verities, and they could pretty much feed themselves and heat their homes and defend themselves and keep the lights burning and the machines running all by their own native ingenuity if they had to. And I've become very much a part of the community since I moved here. We will survive. Even if the cities burn. Even if the Evening Lands Go Under. Even if it comes to that, we will do okay.

I return you now to your soporific Fourth of July celebrations already in progress.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Perfection or Consequences

One mind game I've seen people play might be called "Perfection or Consequences." It goes like this. They claim that if you're trying to revive an old tradition, you must revive it perfectly or not at all. Or they say that if you're trying to live up to an ideal, you must live up to it perfectly or else you're an eeeevil hypocrite. Or they argue that if you're trying to act according to the ancient forms handed down, you must do it perfectly or else you'd better not even make the effort.

The game of "Perfection or Consequences" is a lie, and those who play this game are almost always motivated by a covert malice. They are hateful liars, not honest enough to come out and confess the hidden hate which burns within them-- they hate that old tradition, they hate that noble ideal, they hate that ancient form handed down.

They are liars filled with a hate that dare not speak its name, and so they presume to persuade you of the impossibility of what they ardently desire you not to do. They limn for you a dartboard with an infinitesimal bullseye, a bullseye the zero dimensions of a mathematical point, and they lyingly claim that you must hit that infinitesimal bullseye with absolute perfect precision, or else you lose. Off by a fraction of a millimeter and you lose.

Of course they are lying liars, and they secretly hope to dishearten you so you won't even make the effort. "Perfection or Consequences!" Whereas the truth is that in most practical matters, as in the game of horseshoes, "close" is close enough. Try to revive that old tradition, strive to act according to the ancient form handed down, and "close" ought to be close enough. "Close" ought to be good enough that many good things will follow in your train.

Of course that's exactly what the liars who play "Perfection or Consequences" are afraid of. They're afraid you'll come close enough to succeed, and so they lie through their goddam teeth in an effort to discourage you so you won't even try.

Absolute perfection may be required before the judgment throne of God. But in practical matters of everyday life, in efforts to revive or continue the ways that long held sway, "close" is close enough. Just as in horseshoes. Don't let a malicious lying liar tell you otherwise, under the guise of "Perfection or Consequences."

Friday, June 24, 2011

Upset Words and Triangle Pancakes

Here's an intriguing short story/ramble I ran across: Upset Words & Triangle Pancakes. It captures to a tee a certain rigid, angry, dysfunctional personality type which I've encountered online all too often.

Encountered, and avoided as best I can.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


Once again I have made the long drive of several hours to the city. It was unplanned, it was unscheduled. My father died.

None of us expected this. He was getting up there in years, but he was in excellent health. He went peacefully in his sleep. My mother wasn't able to wake him in the morning, he was gone.

And so here I am, in the city, up in the middle of the night and unable to sleep. I feel stunned. We've been sorting through my father's things. The funeral will be on Monday.

We all just took it for granted that he'd be with us yet for years to come. I can't wrap my mind around it. And here I sit, in the middle of the night, unable to get to sleep, and feeling as if I've been hit over the head.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Requiem for a Modern Church Hymnal

"Our hymnal is Voices United (Disabled). It contains a diversity of inclusive hymns for all ages and all generations, persons of every race and ethnicity and gender and sexual orientation, persons who are differently abled and persons who are temporarily abled. But it does not contain any hymns of hate or Republicanism, and non-inclusive wording has been altered to reflect today's evolving attitudes. Some of the tunes are even singable. We think you will enjoy using Voices United (Disabled)."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dog Days Come Early

It's been incredibly hot the past several days. Up into the mid to upper 90s every day, and at night often no cooler than the mid 70s. Last night I was up at two in the morning, at which time it was still 82 degrees outside...

We've been getting August weather in early June. I'll be honest, when it doesn't get down to at least 70 overnight, I don't function very well the next day.

Down to at least 70 overnight: in this part of the country that's ordinarily a reasonable expectation, except for a few of the very hottest dog days of summer. I don't know how we got into the dog days at least six weeks early this year.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Pebble in My Sandal

We're coming once again to that time of year when I wear my Birkenstocks whenever I can get away with it. And I discover all over again one of the hazards of wearing sandals.

It is all too easy to get a pebble in a sandal. Doesn't have to be a big pebble, not much larger than a pinhead. It's agonizing. And all too easy living, as I do, on a gravel road out in the country.

Oh right, I should go walking on a bed of nails to toughen up the soles of my feet. Go get a life! Get real! Believe me, there's nothing like being halfway out to the mailbox, and discovering I've got a pebble in my sandal.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bookmark Deleted

There's a particular blog by a particular left-wing blogger that I've been reading regularly for some time now. His posts are often interesting, and though I seldom agree with him, I've found him to be usually thoughtful and usually thought-provoking.

Then in recent months, his posts started becoming more and more extreme, written in more and more of a fevered tone. I wondered if he was going through trying times in his personal life, or what. Posts got even more extreme, now often with an air of intense ideological rigidity. Some of his commenters jumped ship, others jumped on the bandwagon with glee.

Now it has reached the point where this blogger and several of his commenters are openly defending Stalin, openly defending Stalinism, and as a cherry on top of the whipped cream they're arguing that naw, ol' Uncle Joe didn't really kill very many people after all.

Well, that's where I get off. I've deleted the blog from my bookmarks, and I won't be going back. Blogospheric idiots defending Stalin, to my mind that's right in the same league with skinhead Aryan-pride types who defend Hitler, who defend Nazism, and who argue that naw, the number of Jews murdered under Hitler was exaggerated by orders of magnitude.

Sites like that, whether Hitler apologists or Stalin apologists... I come away feeling dirty, defiled, like I need to scrub the filth off me with an industrial strength cleanser.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Unsolicited Phone Calls

The national Do Not Call list was one of the few unconditionally and unalloyedly good ideas ever to be passed into law. A good idea, with really no downside. I remember how telemarketers used to pester the hell out of me, and what a blessed difference it made once I was able to put my phone number on that list.

Oh, I still get a call from a rogue telemarketer once in a blue moon: you know, the type that don't care if they're breaking the law, catch me if you can. But it's nothing compared to what it used to be.

If I were able to make one adjustment in the Do Not Call law, it would be to allow people to opt out of unsolicited calls even from those few remaining categories that were granted a loophole: politicians, pollsters, and charities. Yeah, I know, it'll never happen. And I've long since developed ten-words-or-less responses to excuse myself from whatever they're trying to rope me into. But really, having done away with 90% of the calls I used to receive, why would I want to be pestered, awoken from a nap, interrupted in the middle of supper or during a TV show, to answer poll questions, give to a charity, or listen to some damn political message?

If family, friends, neighbors, clients, business associates want to phone me, fine. Otherwise, you are free to send me a letter, or an email, or catch me in person-- some mode of communication that doesn't bid fair to interrupt me right while I'm sitting on the toilet, or while my supper is getting cooler by the minute.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Soul of a Community

Before I moved here twelve years ago, I moved often and lived in a bewildering variety of communities scattered across several states and from coast to coast. Mostly small towns, a few cities. I spent my young adult years as a nomad, and when I moved here in my early forties to this remote corner of deep rural America, I was ready to settle down.

Moving here, and staying, turned out to be one of the best things I've ever done.

Because moving around to all those places, I learned something a person who's lived in the same community all his life might never realize. Communities, like individuals, have widely varying personalities. Each community has its own distinctive tone and temperament. Unless you've experienced it for yourself, you might not believe how much one middle-class small town in flyover country can differ from another.

I was reminded of this the other day when a friend remarked to me that the small town where he grew up was "stifling, narrow, rigid, vindictive, the sort of place where you expect they burn people alive out in the cornfields at night." I know what he means; among the many places I've lived I can think of one (about 25 years ago) that would pretty well answer to that description. And it didn't differ noticeably in any economic, class, ethnic, geographic, or historical regard from many another (quite pleasant) community where I've lived. No, that town just had a bad personality. That was just the way that place was.

I'm glad the community where I now live-- spread across remote rural hinterlands, far off the beaten path-- has a very different personality from that. This place has a good temperament, a very fine soul. I've lived in a number of good places, but none as fine as this area I've called home now for the past twelve years.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Presbyterian Church (USA) Opens the Way for Gay Ordination

Googling around this morning, I stumbled across what I might not otherwise have known for some time to come: the Presbyterian Church (USA) has approved the ordination of gays and lesbians as ministers, following in the steps of several other mainline Protestant denominations.

Or to be more precise (since the mainstream media are not known for fastidiousness in their accuracy) as of yesterday a majority of the 173 presbyteries in the US have voted to approve an amendment to the Presbyterian Book of Order. Previously candidates for ordination were required to practice fidelity in marriage or chastity in singleness, which of course allowed for the ordination of a gay or lesbian who was single and chaste. Under the new change, it will be left up to each presbytery to decide for itself whom it will vote to ordain to the ministry. Straight or gay, chaste or sexually active or partnered or whatever.

As a lifelong active Presbyterian, I observe with some bemusement that, in the little rural Presbyterian congregation seven miles down the road where I regularly worship, this action will no doubt pass unremarked and unnoticed. Most of the people would be mildly upset if they knew. Most of the people have a life to live.

On the wider denominational scene, a quick check of comments and discussions on the Internet reveals that, just as I would've predicted, many of the progressives are pridefully and triumphalistically crowing, and calling anyone on the other side a "hater"; while many of the traditionalists are engaging in angry, rigid barking and snarling.

This is a big change from the past few decades, in which the traditionalists have held the edge. For these past few decades, many of the traditionalists were pridefully and triumphalistically crowing, and calling anyone on the other side a "sinner"; while many of the progressives were engaging in angry, rigid barking and snarling.

In other words, the wrangle within the denomination has passed on to a new stage, the continuation of internecine strife by other means. The prideful triumphalistic crowing continues. (And of course it's okay to hurl epithets at your enemies when you're on the "correct side" of the issue.) The angry, rigid barking and snarling continues. All that has changed is which side is doing which.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

And meanwhile, we Presbyterians out here in flyover country-- nonrigid unangry traditionalists, most of us, but middling well able to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, regardless of where we may stand and regardless of who they may be-- we will continue along as we have been, no doubt unsatisfactory to the extremists of either faction, for we neither pridefully crow nor angrily bark. No, we're resigned, many of us, to a half-inarticulate notion that the Church is and always has been a corpus mixtum. We believe that the Bible is indeed the Word of God, and that there really is something to this "love God and love your neighbor" business no matter who you're dealing with, and that there's a lot to be said for righteousness but it's not up to us to immanentize the eschaton: wheat and tares, y'know, that kind of thing?

I mean, be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect, only stop trying to out-pharisee the Pharisees, on behalf of either the conservative faction or the liberal faction in the Church.

For 2000 years the Church did one thing. From now on, the Church in its Presbyterian instantiation will be doing the opposite thing. Only the prideful crowing and the angry barking will remain the same. And may God have mercy on our souls.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Stemming the Facebook Tide

I just happened across a solution to a problem that's been irking me for some time. Namely, three of my several dozen Facebook friends are responsible for a good 95% of the posts that confront me every time I check Facebook. And these three individuals are all addicted to posting a veritable crapflood of rigid angry ranting fanatical political items.

I don't want to unfriend them, and I don't want to miss the occasional genuine message they may post. But neither do I want to have to scroll down through endless turgid insane extremist bilge to find the few personal items that are of interest to me.

Yes, I've already long since blocked Farmville and Mafia Wars and whatnot. But Facebook won't let you filter by content for politicized insanity.

However, I've found a beautiful solution: a Firefox add-on called F.B.Purity. Among other things, this nifty add-on lets you block Facebook posts which contain selected words or phrases. I added to my list the terms Republican, Democrat, Bush, Obama, conservative, liberal, progressive, GOP, Nation Magazine, and a few other terms more narrowly focused against my friends' particular manias. And voila! Almost all of the crap is gone. I log in to Facebook, and what appears on the page reads like something posted by human beings, and not by mechanical talking-point dispensers. Problem solved.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Unscented Candles

The other day I was in town, and I stopped off at the discount store to look for some votive candles. I'm running low. I like sometimes to burn candles at home, in a couple of little colored glass containers. But do you suppose I could find plain ordinary unscented candles?

There were many shelves filled with candles, including votive candles. But virtually all of them were scented candles. Henry Ford once said of his automobiles that you could have them in any color you wanted, as long as it was black. Well, I began to get the impression that these days you can have your candles in any scent you want, as long as it's not unscented. The only unscented candles I sighted were tea lights. Apart from that, dozens of varieties, apple cinnamon, fresh linen, you name it -- fruity scents seemed to predominate.

I mean, I do occasionally let controlled odors loose in my home, but that'll be by burning incense, thank you, and the sort of incense made in some funky little shop in a back alley in India or Nepal. Not by burning some apple cinnamon candle!

Finally, after I'd almost given up, I sighted amongst all the shelves a little box of unscented votive candles down in one corner. And snatched them up. If supply correlates with demand, I'd say I must be the only person in the county who prefers unscented candles.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


It is a commonplace that relativisms of whatever variety-- ethical, epistemological, cultural, what have you-- tend strongly toward radical incoherence and self-refutation. Indeed, if by relativism you really genuinely truly mean relativism-- and not just that life is subtle and nuanced and very, very difficult to untangle-- then I suspect you cannot possibly avoid being incoherent and self-refuting.

Nonetheless, relativism is popular, and it continues to gain ground among intelligentsia and grass roots alike. I suspect this has little or nothing to do with the merits of relativism, which are nil, and much to do with the convenience of a rhetorical posture which bids fair to disarm one's opponents unilaterally by intellectual fiat.

In other words, your truth is relative, for all truth is relative without exception; while my truth somehow mysteriously remains tacitly exempt from the corrosions of the universal solvent, at least as long as I'm on the side of the relativists! Relativism, like any system of patronage, is rife with corruption and graft; but for this very reason it can prove profitable to those who embrace it, and to their cronies.

What I find most revealing is that many who are relativists on cosmic questions are absolutists when it comes to political matters. Which makes no sense whatsoever: I mean, if truth is absolute as concerns the merits of the green team versus the blue team at the hippodrome, then truth can hardly be relative as concerns the sun and moon and the starry sky above. But a convenient and profitable incoherence is the first refuge of scoundrels, who've placed a hefty bet on the green team to win, even if it means fixing the race.

Me, I'll just settle for the ancient notion that truth is absolute, but life is subtle and nuanced and very, very difficult to untangle.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


I was up in the middle of the night, three-in-the-morningish, with insomnia. And so I lay there on the sofa in the dark, websurfing on my laptop. Cruising among various sites, discussion forums, reading the usual, often angry, often less than insightful back-and-forth that is ubiquitous online.

A window directly into the heart and soul of nameless grass-roots Joe Sixpacks out there. A window which can be accessed instantly, even lying on my living room sofa in the dark, bleary eyed at 3 AM. A window (it suddenly occurred to me) which could scarcely have been opened at all, even with concerted effort in broad daylight, only a generation ago.

I think back 25 and 30 years ago. The only voices in the culture at that time were those which made it past various gatekeepers: editors, publishers, mass-media broadcasters. If you weren't part of that vetted and modulated mainstream, you had little way of making your viewpoint heard at all. Truly fringe voices, if they could be found at all, were found only after concerted searching, and then likely either in mimeograph format, or in pamphlets handed out on an urban street corner.

Voices which today can be easily accessed even at three in the morning by someone lying there half awake in the dark.

What a revolution has been wrought over this past generation... It probably comes too late to make much difference: open window or no, our culture has entered its endgame. That too is a development which has become more and more obvious over the past generation. But to the degree that anything can yet be done at all, Joe Sixpack is in the mix, unfiltered; and there's nothing any gatekeepers can do about it any more. Joe Sixpack: often angry, often ignorant, but once in a while astonishingly autodidactically learned and thoughtful. Let a thousand flowers bloom!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Meditation on a Pillow

So yesterday UPS delivered my new pillow, a new goose down pillow I'd ordered online. It replaces my old goose down pillow, however many years old, which had gotten decidedly grungy and dingy and unsightly.

I suppose I could've grabbed any old random pillow off the shelf at the discount store next time I went to town. But these days I don't make it to town that often; and finding a goose down pillow, and not just any old foam rubber contrivance, would probably have meant making the long drive (several hours) to the city. Gas and time add up to money, too: factor that in, and I'm probably further ahead to order online, and have the pillow delivered to me, out here on a gravel road far into deep rural America. Such are the realities of purchases, "mail order" or otherwise, in this cyber era.

And the pillow I ordered was made in the USA, unlike most pillows I'd be likely to find at WalMart.

Too, the older I get, the less inclined I am to settle for any cheap-ass item I stumble across, simply because I'm in town and there it is in front of me on the shelf. Quality counts. This pillow joins flannel sheets with old-fashioned ticking, and a 100% wool Hudson Bay blanket on my bed. Quality counts.

I was brought up to believe that I should just settle for whatever was on the shelf, as long as it was cheap and in front of me, and never even consult my own likings or preferences. Pillows, shirts, shoes, dishes, kitchen appliances: it was considered "smart" to be penny wise and pound foolish, and decadent even to ask myself if I might like something else only a little more expensive better. I am appalled, looking back, at how many years it took me to throw off this bit of Depression-era "wisdom" my folks instilled in me.

No, quality counts. That blanket will last a lifetime. That pillow will last longer than the cheap foam rubber edition, which actually these days isn't so cheap any more. In the long run I'll probably save money, and in the meantime I'll certainly enjoy them a lot more than some shoddily-made something snatched from the bargain bin.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Three of my several dozen Facebook "friends" are responsible for something like 95% of the posts that greet me every time I log in. One of the three is singlehandedly responsible for nearly two-thirds of the total, posting a crapflood of dozens of items every day.

And what all three of them post is largely dull, dry-as-dust political agitprop. Screaming, raging, fanatical, extremist, crazy-insane political agitprop. I'm afraid I possess neither the paranoia nor the schizophrenia to buy into such panting wild-eyed ideological posturing. My eyes glaze over. I'm like, sorry, but I've got a life to live; haven't you?

I'm not even going to say which side of political center these friends, taken severally or taken together, are on. Does it really make any difference? Would I really be willing to cut any more slack for someone with insane views simply because political dead center happens not to interpose itself between me and them? No, crazy is crazy is crazy.

I've thought of hiding all posts from these individuals, but you know, once in a great while they do post something of personal interest, something that doesn't read as though it was spat straight out of a mechanical talking-points dispenser. Or some piece of personal news that I really ought to know. In the meanwhile, I shall continue to wonder how otherwise decent and functional human beings can become so hung up on such shrieking frantic utter bilge.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Out of the Hospital

A friend of mine will be getting out of the hospital this morning, according to an email from his wife. For that I am heartily thankful. He's been in the hospital now for over a week-- bowel obstruction-- and day after day they kept expecting that by "tomorrow" they'd have to resort to surgery to open things up again. But patience and waiting paid off, and by Sunday evening he was back on fluids and jello. Now going home.

I stopped by the hospital to see him a couple of times when I was in town last week. Big fellow, early 60s, and ordinarily the very picture of good health. I doubt he's ever been in the hospital before in his life. This condition came over him without warning. Feeling crappy for a couple of days, then into the hospital, and then the situation stretched out day after uncertain day.

It could happen to any of us. I'm mid 50s. It could happen with no more warning than he had. And then, for much of last week, it was far from certain that he'd get through it without surgery, which would've laid him up for far longer. I'm just glad it didn't come to that.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

On the Barber's Mind

A few days ago I drove in to town, and while I was there I stopped off at the barbershop for a long overdue and much needed haircut. Usually the place is full of greying good old boys, and as the barber cuts my hair he pretty much ignores me while carrying on an animated conversation with "the boys," on pickup trucks or hunting or the woes of life or pretty much any topic you might hear made mention of in a country music song.

But this time I was the only customer in the shop. So I had the novel experience of carrying on a conversation with the barber solo. It was a very different experience. With no appearances to keep up, we got off into a conversation about... the Canadian playwright and novelist Robertson Davies. Yeah, the writer who wove archetypes and Jungian psychology and whatnot into his novels.

Yes, the barber can conduct a conversation about a high-falutin' novelist nobody who wears a seed corn cap has ever heard of. Of course hunting did come into it-- when the barber goes hunting in Canada, he likes to stay in a town in the wilds of Ontario which figures in one of Davies' novels-- but, you know, he has conversation in him like you'd never hear in a piece of country music, and you'd never hear it out of him when his regular clientele is within earshot, either.

There are appearances to be kept up, after all. Mustn't let 'em think you're out of their league. Mustn't let 'em hear you get off into topics that couldn't be discussed in the cab of a pickup. I grew up in a small town very much like this one, and I understand.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

An Abundance of Talent

One lesson the Internet has taught is that talent is far more abundant among the rank and file of the human race than we might have thought. Back in the print era a limited number of novels were published every year, and one might have imagined there were not so very many more talented writers in existence than eventually found their way into print.

Oh, some might still be struggling unknowns, some might be marginal talents, and some through sad circumstance might miss the boat altogether despite their talents; but back in 1850 or 1950 it was not so hard to imagine that the talent that found its way into print was a substantial portion of the sum total of publication-quality talent that was out there.

The Internet has dynamited this illusion, by way of copious counter-examples. Embarrassingly copious counter-examples. Look around out there online, and you will find self-published and self-produced novels, short stories, essays, music, artwork, and videos whose quality easily equals or exceeds most of what is professionally produced and published. Professionally published works which made it past the gatekeepers turn out to be but the tip of the iceberg. The Great American Novel squirreled away in a desk drawer unpublished turns out to be for real, and it can be exampled online thousands of times over.

This is not to deny that the overwhelming majority of creative efforts online are abysmal dreck; but as the proverb puts it, "93% of everything is crap." Sift through what's available, discard the mountains of garbage, and you're still left with an Everest of self-produced, self-posted "amateur" novels and stories and songs which are as good as anything else that's seen the light of day.

I find this troubling. It implies that for every Dickens or Steinbeck or O. Henry or Brahms or Klee or Jagger or Lennon who's come to public attention, there are hundreds if not thousands of others of comparable talent who lived and died as complete unknowns, simply because they didn't know the right person, or weren't in the right place at the right time, or didn't get the right breaks. Unknowns died, and their writing or music or artwork died with them. Every passing year of the print era, the era of gatekeepers, was like a mini-sack of the Library of Alexandria.

Monday, March 21, 2011

"One Of"

The other day, as always happens this time of year, I received a notice in the mail regarding my life insurance premium which will be due in June. Cost of living went up slightly this past year, hence the cost of living rider in my policy hiked the value of the policy proportionately.

Anyhow, what caught my eye was their boilerplate remark that "the cost of living rider is one of the most valuable features of your policy."

Oh really? "One of"?! I mean, just how many "features" does my policy have, anyhow? Two? Three? Four?

So what sense does it make, in a policy which has only a few features, to call one of them "one of the most valuable features"?

I've noticed this before, the use of "one of" as a way of waffling. Someone will say of a TV show that has only a few regular characters, that so-and-so was "one of" their favorite characters on the show. Really? With only four characters on the show, what does it mean to say that a particular character was "one of" your favorites on that show? Do you mean they were in the top 50%? Or that at least they weren't at the very bottom of the list?

Waffling. Don't want to come right out and say that so-and-so was your favorite, or that the cost of living rider is "the most valuable" feature of your policy. Because maybe it ain't. And at any rate, don't want to run down the other characters on the show, or the other features of the policy-- all two or three of them-- by comparison.

So instead we waffle. Every character on the show is "one of" our favorites. Every feature of the policy is "one of" its most valuable features. Thereby putting us more than halfway toward the world of Lake Wobegone, where all the children are above average.

Friday, March 18, 2011

White Middle Class Atheists

This blog post on white middle class atheists had me laughing until the tears were rolling down my cheeks. It captures to a tee a certain kind of rigid angry parochial self-blind atheism I've encountered all too often.

The sort I call "storefront atheism," because these atheists are like members of some shabby narrow isolated blinkered little storefront church. You know, the sort of atheists who can't for the life of them imagine that there's ever been any form of belief (or nonbelief) on earth that wasn't shaped and formed in the image of white American middle class fundamentalism.

Friday, March 4, 2011


Must be a sign I'm getting older: I always view with pleasure the prospect of lying down and taking a nap. And I find I sleep more and more. I sleep soundly all night long. And then, even after that, bring me into the afternoon after lunch and few things would please me more than stretching out and napping.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Tribute Power Pays to Truth

The insistence that we adhere to formalistic niceties, whether social or ideological or methodological, is often little more than a veiled demand that we refrain from striking at the heart of the matter.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Of Course We All Agree

So early this morning I was lying there on the sofa with my laptop, websurfing or whatever. And all of a sudden this chat window pops up on my screen.

Chat window. I always leave chat running in the background, but it's been ages since anyone has actually contacted me by chat. Chat? That's so 2002!

It was an old friend of mine, in a city far away, and without so much as a howdy-do he launched into dumping paragraph after paragraph of turgid text on me, all having to do with some big political-agitation to-do which is currently going down in his city. I might've been tempted to wonder if it was a spamming chatbot that had seized control of his account, but I know my friend and I know his writing style. It was him, all right.

And what struck me about his sudden unprompted communication was, he just blithely took it for granted that I was in complete agreement with him. In complete agreement with his highly partisan take on the political doings presently breaking in his city. You know? Of course we all agree. Unstated, unspoken, but blithely and entirely unconsciously taken for granted.

In fact I am largely in sympathy with my friend's side of the cause. I suppose I'd agree with them about 65% of the way, with serious reservations regarding the other 35%. But my friend's approach left no room for 65% and 35%, no room for divided hearts or divided minds. It was black and white, all or nothing, a war of the children of light versus the children of darkness, and which side are you on, brother, which side are you on?

No, come to think of it, it was not even which side are you on? It was simply of course we're all on the same side of this issue.

I've noticed this attitude in some people before, and it irks me. Even where I'm a large part of the way toward agreeing with them on the issues, it irks me. Because to me it doesn't go without saying that "of course we all agree." No, I generally assume that there are complexities and ambiguities to the issue, and that sometimes intelligent people of good will are going to disagree, and that there are good people on either side of every issue and people with hearts of darkness on either side of every issue.

But there are people, and my dear friend is one of them, who would never dream of seeing matters in such a light. No, for them it's as clear cut as sliced bread: of course we all agree.

If my friend understood that I'm not 100% in agreement with him, I don't think he'd be angry. I think he'd just be puzzled, perplexed, and bewildered. Not that he's a bad person: if you were in need, he'd give you the shirt off his back. It's just that his moral universe includes no calculus for conceiving of people who are good, intelligent, informed, and largely sympathetic to his cause, but only 65% in agreement with him.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Beef Jerky

At the little family owned brick meat market in town, I picked up some beef jerky the other day. This is not mass produced industrially extruded beef jerky like you'd find in the supermarket or in a convenience store. This is homemade beef jerky, hand made in small batches by the family that's owned this meat market for something like four generations.

Not cheap, but it's worth it. Really, this beef jerky reminds me all over again of the difference that quality makes. We live in a world where quality is often sacrificed to convenience, uniformity, and a bland mass produced sameness. But go out of your way, go a little off the beaten path, and you'll find quality still being made, quality still available to those who don't embrace a cheap plasticized blanderized fifth-rate world.

I've often said it before, and I'll say it again: Quality counts, and quality is worth it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Rusty Drainpipe Throat

Well, today my throat feels like a rusty drainpipe. My throat, and up into my nose and sinuses. Had to drive in to town early this morning -- and we got a surprise inch of snow overnight, hello -- to have blood drawn at the clinic in advance of next week's semi-annual visit to the doctor. Ran a few other errands while I was in town, then back home. And have been spending most of the day since just lying around and feeling semi-miserable. Fortunately the little work I needed to do today I could do from home, and I can afford to take tomorrow off if I really have to.

And in the meanwhile, I'm fit company for neither man nor beast. Pardon my French, but I feel like shit. What am I doing lying here? I should get up and fix myself a hot cup of beef broth.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

State of the Union

I skipped Obama's State of the Union address last night, and went to bed early instead. These speeches become such a stock annual event, I can pretty much guess in advance what's going to happen, from the sergeant at arms announcing the entrance of various congressional and judicial dignitaries, to the bromide proposals which sound like they're promising everything but will end up delivering nothing, to the obligatory Ordinary Americans who have been selected on some tearjerker basis ("little Timmy on his crutches") to sit in the audience and be introduced during the speech for their nationwide 15 seconds of fame.

I was further ahead getting another hour's sleep last night. Whatever nonsense breaks forth in high places, it will go down either with or without my obeisance paid in the form of soberly virtuous attention to the ringing annual declamations of SOTU. If that be civic blasphemy, so be it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Damn Cold

You know, when it gets down to, say, 15 or 20 below, if I don't have to go anywhere, I just don't. No thank you, I'll stay at home, stay indoors, stay warm, preferably wrapped up beneath a wool Indian blanket on my sofa.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tangibly Inhuman

On one of the more thoughtful and interesting left-wing blogs I follow, I stumbled across what strikes me as probably one of the most truth-telling blog comments I've ever read:
The left and the right have at least one thing in common they are both tangibly inhuman. Reptilian I would say is the proper category for both.
Talk about cutting through all the bullshit and telling it like it is. I've always thought of myself, I still think of myself, as somewhere right of center. But in recent years it's hard to survey the political and cultural scene without lapsing into despair over the uniformly distributed tangible inhumanity of most of those who are activated and engaged, regardless of whether they're on the right or on the left.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Time Speeds Up

Busy, busy, busy. I don't know what's happened to my schedule, this past week or so. Well, yeah, I do know: all of a sudden a couple of irons too many in the fire, due to circumstances beyond my control. And it doesn't look like it's going to let up any time in the week to come, either.

Talk about a sudden turnabout! And when I do have a free hour, about all I can do is lie down, stare off into thin air, and vegetate.