October 10, 2011



The scattershot approach to voicing the progressive concerns highlighted by the Occupy Wall Street protest include many over-the-top populist anthems that, while perhaps ringing a tone that resonates with a majority of Americans, are not the way to proselytize the uninformed. This is important in crafting a strategy to overcome how the right keeps repeating the same stupid lies until they almost sound true to the average inattentive citizen. And to the many who are ignorant of the reality of progressive politics, some of the worst tenets of the right seem to make enough sense to justify railing against all these dirty, jobless malcontents camped out in front of the NYSE (who may also be students, union members, working mothers, single fathers, airline pilots, teachers, retail workers, military service members, and laid-off foreclosure victims, but who definitely ARE Americans exercising their right “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”).

Most of the uninformed masses are hard to reach with what they see as pointy-headed, over-educated liberals pushing their commie-Muslim-gay propaganda. It's not complicated — that's what they hate because that’s what they’ve been conditioned to fear. Perhaps the most focused way to scare them back the other way is incessantly repeating the vision of corporate fascism that thrives on constant internal and external Holy War and what will come to pass if these billionaire gangsters aren't stopped and damn soon. Then again, most of those who are at the point of accepting the reports of Fox News as gospel are likely not worth the time to engage.

So if the many great voices out there are for the most part preaching to the choir, what can less verbose progressives do to help? Start by making copies of good articles and offer to discuss them with friends and relatives who are right-wing sympathizers. You won't win a lot of popularity contests, but is that really important? The idea is to make the world slightly less stupid, one Republican at a time. You can only defeat the truly evil, but you can educate the clueless and confused.

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September 30, 2011


Google Politix

It was realized unto me that The Great Google has been outed for giving cash to the right-wing Heritage Foundation (bullet point one). My connections in both Facebook and Google+ may have seen that I’ve been mounting a one-man campaign to get folques to try and perhaps even switch to Google+. Few are the simple reasons for this and if I haven’t told you or you’ve yet to figure out that Facebook is evil then the matter will, hopefully for the sake of your mortal soul, soon be apparent. So The Google’s a bona fide grown-up now. I've never said it wasn't part of the system — could be it’s one of the beasts of St. John’s wacky vision and will usher in such tribulation as will have blood flow to the horse’s bridle. Or it could be that Facebook is such or even another beast in tandem, triplicate, or whatever. I lose count, and I digress.

It was just a matter of time before this, which has likely gone on for a few years, had a stink raised. Welcome to America, big deal. The only way to get your way in politics is to spend money. That may be unfortunate for many of us, and so the only answer may be to get moneyed interests that align with yours to get in to politics. Most of us can’t/don't want to take the time to do that. And hereby sits the friction™* — I defer first to the Way Left of Right Rev. Jeff Mosier, who knows as did George Carlin that “it’s a big club, and you ain’t in it.”

“The table is tilted and the game is rigged. It's not the GOP or Dems, it's the legalization of bank robbery, the industrialization of war, the suicidal addiction to FDA-approved food that kills us, and an addiction to material objects as a replacement for family and community. We're sick people and yet we stand and let delusional preachers, pundits and bullshit marketers from every walk of life sell us and scare us by controlling the conversation. Shame on us. People need to start posting, prodding and making some real noise in the country. I'm shocked every single day at the silence. Really shocked.”

So can we overtake the powers that be? Realize that it has to be a bloodless revolution of the mind because any other kind literally, yes literally, means the unfolding of a very unkind world that could take decades to start healing after the brunt. Yes, that’s heavy, but I still have hope that it will not go that way. Back here in 2011 we see the information age chugging along and with it the greatest opportunity for the masses to engage the system and mold it into what’s workable for stable society, complete with mixed economy, neighborliness, and tolerance for all. That’s a pledge I could stand for.

So is Google wrong for playing the game with the rules that have been written over the last 200 years? Not if they want to stay alive, and I’m glad they’re working at that because they are a tool we need. The right wing is not going away and represents a major chunk of their customers. I could sit and wring my hands over how awful it would be if all information was ground to a halt, but I believe, (of course idealistically, since it could be electricity that halts) that a majority of prominent individuals in the tech universe as we know it are bent toward true social action, reaction and interaction, and that they know the right is on the wrong side of history (again). Until, and if so after the shit hits the fan, I have to work it like they and billions more people in a hundred other fields have got my back.

*replacement cliche, all rights reserved. 

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September 22, 2011


Faux toes

My mother was a dedicated, if somewhat frugal, archivist. By this I mean she kept a diary that was almost strictly composed of short date/event postings (“Aug. 12 - Brookfield Zoo – lost Timmy during dolphin show”) as opposed to flowing, thoughtful prose about the meaning of it all. Indeed, the woman sprang off seven kids, so when the question of existence came up it was filtered through the experience of being pregnant for five-and-a-quarter years, and I can’t help but think that just keeping her eyes on the prize of eternal basking in glory was a suitable default. Photo-wise, she faithfully documented all manner of events from church picnics to her golf league’s crazy hat day, though her Depression-era raising usually precluded anything more than three or four snapshots per. She’d mail rolls of film off to a processor and it would take weeks to get them back. She was just going the usual ultra-cheap route and not considering the cool buildup of surprise unconsciously growing in us to the point of explosion when the mailman pulled out that yellow craft envelope with the green triangles around the border.

I was into photography big time in high school and college. I still regard it as one of the most perfect blends of art and science. I love to take them, I love to look at them, and through the years I've even taken a few stabs at organizing them. Of course there's a difference between artistic compositions and everyday snapshots, and for both I've applied my usual level of slackery to putting them in order. My collection is divided between a few somewhat chronological albums and framed (and hung) work along with several very disorganized shoeboxes full of photos still in the processing envelopes and a pile of to-be-hung frames (some waiting nine years now since we moved to our current residence). A few times I've had the bug for finding certain photos of a certain something and ended up browsing happily through the boxes for hours.

A friend recently mentioned their disenchantment with taking and archiving heaps of photos, and I can’t say I’m immune to the ennui and the conflict between being a packrat or a pragmatic “what are you going to do with all of these?” person. Since my son was born I’ve produced thousands of pictures and several hours of video. The latter is truly compounding my trepidation of what to do, as the task of rendering them into remotely watchable lengths and subjects stands at monumental, and the boy isn’t yet five. But there is a converse comfort to having them available – every time I’ve ever sifted through them I get blissfully stuck in front of the computer screen just as predictably as when I get out the shoeboxes. I’m an incurable shutterbug, for worse but mostly for better.

It’s interesting how the science of photography has changed the hobby, obviously since its inception but also in the 30 years since I had my first 35mm SLR – a Ricoh Singlex TLS. The camera was solid; I sometimes imagined myself as a crime-fighting news photographer, waylaying evildoers with a roundhouse swing of my 5-lb. TLS and then taking the photos for the article on their capture. I’ve long regretted having sold it some years after college for a relatively paltry sum. A couple of years ago I acquired a relatively modern 35mm SLR film camera of very good quality, but I rarely use it. I had meant to have it as a hobby camera for artsy B&W stuff, but over the years B&W film processing has become expensive and of questionable quality. Setting up a darkroom is but a dream at this point, what with most equipment either approaching antique status or, if new, sold at inflated niche market prices. So for now I’ve taken to the popular modern pastime of learning Photoshop fairly well and having fun with that, but I would like to get back to my old school ways someday, at which point I’ll need more shoeboxes.

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July 28, 2011


Mr. Louderstill


I am trying to be a better person/less judgmental asshole.

Mr. Louderstill has lived in the house next door since before I became his neighbor. He is younger and that makes me wonder if I am sometimes being a stick-in-the-mud old fart when I get severely annoyed by his penchant for activities of advanced decibellàge. I may be a curmudgeon, but you’ve got to know the man is a menace to peace and quiet.

Think of any noisy mechanical apparatus and chances are he owns one. Monster truck with glass-pack exhaust – check. Four-wheelers (several, none street legal, including a two-seater that he was letting his eight-year-old drive) – check. Chainsaw, pressure washer, power blower – triple check. He also has jet skis, which of course don’t affect my household, but I bet if it snowed here more often he’d have a snowmobile that he could race up and down our road. He owns an auto body shop and so occasionally has side projects going in his garage, complete with an air compressor and several vwip-vwip-vweeeeeearr tools that it runs. Then there are the fireworks. New Year’s Eve and July 4th without fail, and usually at annoying intervals into the post-midnight hours instead of just doing as the pros do and lighting them all off in quick succession (they’re illegal in our state but available in startling abundance in two adjacent ones, split between roadside kiosks and ballpark-lighted supermarkets of sparkly danger nicknamed with the premise of some certifiable proprietor).

There is some relief in our son having overcome most of his problematic sensory overload from the noise, and now that the dogs are gone we don’t have to worry about puddles of pee caused by abject fright.

But that’s not all we get. Mr. Louderstill recently installed a widescreen television and surround stereo speakers out on his deck to add to the fun of his redneck friends (a.k.a. the Smokersons) watching NASCAR races or some CMT tripe. They’re pointed in our direction and even that’s not usually too bad if we stay indoors, but when they get the subwoofers cranking, boy, I’ve felt my kitchen wall vibrating. He has a pool and his guests’ young children can often be heard screaming with aquatic delight until well past any halfway responsible bedtime. Adding to the fun two doors down are the Methicks, from whence Mr. & Mrs.’s drug and alcohol-fueled disagreements come. They’re hard enough to tune out, becoming intolerable when their yappy dogs get worked up with either them or any random breeze.

Essentially, Mr. Louderstill has little and often no regard for his neighbors. Not long after we moved in he told us that he didn’t plan on staying in his house forever. It was Mrs. Louderstill #1 that got to move out (said she couldn’t take the degradation anymore), and she was pretty nice and sometimes even sheepish about her boorish then-spouse.

We have some pity for him because we’ve suspected his work and party ethic are fueled by a hyper-recreational use of drugs. For several reasons we would prefer to simply (or even complexly) just not be his neighbor anymore. That’s the easiest way.

How do you reach out to people that make your skin crawl?

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July 12, 2011


Questioning things isn't pretty


I recently came across that one from a FB friend, and aside from it being one of the better bumper sticker aphorisms I've seen, it is today's topic (seems that getting back into blogging isn't going to be all lighthearted fun after all. Who knew?).

The Internet has proved to be such a great tool for impromptu, casual forums, in particular for religion and politics. Formerly taboo subjects for polite conversation, these twins have latched on to the fact that the Innertubes are often less than polite if not just plain insufferable - the speed of technology makes it harder and harder to hold on to good ideas and remain intellectually honest with out going all troll. In the midst of trying to be a better person, which at times seems like a nowhere-to-go-but-up proposition, like a raven I still look for the shiny objects to plunder and horde. Thankfully the times for needing to deliver the smackdown, meet my match, or duel to a draw are waning, and I'm relieved to see calm, measured, respectful and knowledgeable discussion increasing.

So today, let's take religion. A recent Gallup poll posits that nearly one-third of the people in the U.S. believe the Bible is to be taken literally. I perceive that number to be big, and it's actually down 10 percent from a peak in the 1980s. The poll shows the unsurprising trend that belief in a literal interpretation of the Bible declines as educational attainment increases.

Speaking of which, it was also not surprising that a fellow writer, seminary student, and FB friend from whom I shared the link wryly questioned how many of the 30 percent have sold all they own and given it to the poor. A commenter replied with a question, "How do we interpret God's word without clouding the truth with our own biases and those of society?"

Indeed, "the truth" is always elusive and most of the time impossible to fully ascertain, but for me and many other seekers it's not about recognizing anything written down by men as canonical. Eschewing that has served me well since the time when my Christian faith began to diminish because of, as is written in Ecclesiastes, "making many books" and from trying to parse meanings as literal, figurative, or metaphorical. The seminary student commented that the only way to go deeper than interpreting an interpretation is by "knowing, experiencing, and opening ourselves to God."

I agree on two of three points -  opening ourselves to spiritual experiences is important, if difficult in the lives of the paycheck to paycheck lower middle class parents of a special needs child (I've done precious little of it in the past few years, and struggled with depression knowing that any justification, rationalization, or excuse is not insurmountable). But I have to draw the line between me and so many religious people in my belief that "knowing" is dangerous ground for anyone to stand on, whether a believer or an atheist.

The "Questioning" FB friend said in a separate discussion that they suffered PTSD from their past religious experiences. They said that it put them "at risk of being overly judgmental of the god that has been created by man, and of forgetting that there is a peaceful function for many people in religion." At the risk of sounding crass - Amen, brother. I also deal with PTSD of that type, and part of the continuing struggle with that is dealing with my occasional bigotry toward religion, particularly hyper-dogmatic, doctrinaire Christians. As I stated in my recent post on the Pledge, I strive to apply my faith in the human ability to love one another, including our "enemies." I can overcome the seeming harshness of the latter by considering - how often is someone truly that?

But I am going to need a LOT of tweaking, because I am a product of those who "know," and that tends to have me, perhaps like most people on this planet, wanting conclusions instantly and missing the usually wonderful, always unfinished process of discovery. As Questioning pointed out, "dogma is living with the results of other people's thinking," and while I'm getting better at calling out dogma, I hope I can eventually eliminate my usual kneejerk reactions of either pummeling dogmatists with all that I "know" or running away screaming in judgment. Better results should come from my often being mindful of Jung's famous quote, "Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves." And if questioning things isn't pretty, understanding them ain't the belle of the ball, either. Shall we dance?

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June 30, 2011


I'm not a cynic, but I play one on TV

The U.S. is in the midst of yet another national debt brouhaha. It's a common situation - the country has experienced federal debt since its founding (BTW - happy birthday), with war being a consistent culprit. Currently the U.S. is in the highest spike of the percentage of its total debt to GDP (2010 = 96.3%) ratio since World War II. But the debt sunk quickly in the prosperous post-war years, while today financial wonks in public accounting agencies and private sector economists are in lock-step agreement as to the path of sustainability the country is on, or more accurately flying wildly off of.

Is it coincidence that the U.S. is experiencing some of the highest federal debt during a half-century low of its marginal tax rates? Could there be some kind of correlation between tax rates and tax revenue? In the parlance of the new GOP math, of course, "lower taxes increase revenue."

I'm seriously thinking of adopting this method, as surely it would help my personal budget in a manner similar to the government's current faux fortune. Yeah, that's it - if I spend more than I make, I'll just work less hours to make up for it.

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June 23, 2011


I don't pledge OF allegiance

Recently there was a dust-up caused by NBC when, as part of its coverage of the U.S. Open golf tournament, the network twice omitted the words “under God” from a clip of students reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Of course, Pious America gave the move the thumbs down, and while I understand why they would, I’m still not buying what they’re selling (something that’s become a tradition for me). Frankly, ever since I was old enough to give it some thought I’ve found the Pledge to be rather hollow. We recited it daily in grade school, but I don’t recall ever being taught the meaning. Young students simply memorizing a pledge is less about patriotism and liberty than it is about obedience. The latter is not an undesirable teaching, but aren’t supporters of the pledge missing the irony of a nation built on the principles of freedom of thought and the right to dissent requiring its youngest citizens to pledge allegiance to it? They don’t understand most of the pledge they are taking nor by any of our laws are they qualified to give their consent.

Before I continue with my main theme, some background is essential. The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy (avowed socialist and inventor of the Bellamy Salute shown here - a particularly ironic choice of deference that was 86'd by FDR after the U.S. entered WWII). It was published in the popular children’s magazine The Youth’s Companion as part of a campaign to instill the idea of American nationalism by selling flags to public schools and magazines to students (In cash we trust, no?).

The original Pledge read as follows:

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The phrase “under God” was incorporated into the Pledge of Allegiance by a Joint Resolution of Congress and signed by President Eisenhower (raised a Jehovah’s Witness - see below) on June 14, 1954. From the outset objections were raised, mostly on grounds that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects one’s right to refrain from speaking or standing. Ironically, decades before any Atheists were led to challenge the Pledge legally, prominent lawsuits were brought in the 1950s by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian sect whose beliefs preclude swearing loyalty to any power other than God, and who objected to policies in public schools requiring students to swear an oath to the flag. They objected on the grounds that their rights to freedom of religion as guaranteed by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment were being violated by such requirements.

In the last decade lower courts have ruled both for and against reciting the Pledge or the inclusion of the “under God” phrase, but the Supreme Court won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. In 2004 the SCOTUS cited a technicality to duck a ruling on the merits, and on June 13, 2011 it denied an appeal against a lower court’s upholding of the God phrase.

There is a very prevalent misconception in the United States that lends to my distaste for religion (which here, of course, pretty much means Christianity) - that the government is a democracy and in a democracy the majority rules. The first point is erroneous because the government is a democratic republic (thus, “and to the republic, for which it stands”) with representative governance. Pure democracy is direct governance by the people where policies are decided through town hall meetings, referendums, etc. In a democracy majority indeed rules, but in a republic the officials can vote according to their knowledge, wisdom, ignorance, and/or campaign donor list.

Indeed, the majority of the U.S. citizenry identifies as Christian (with tens of thousands of denominations over a massively wide spectrum of doctrines - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominations), but does that make it a “Christian” nation? To say that the U.S. was founded on Christian principles is quite true, but there is a great chasm between the principles of Jesus’ teachings and the doctrine and dogma that too often rule the day in the average fervent follower’s perceptions. The core group of the framers of our government was undoubtedly influenced by Christianity, but split about evenly between fervent bible readers and those who espoused a deistic philosophy (Thomas Jefferson called the book of Revelation the rantings of a madman). All, however, realized that the establishment of a state religion would be anathema to the new republic.

Though not in our Constitution (as is often believed), Jefferson’s proclamation of there being a “wall of separation between church and state” is an effective metaphor. I don’t see any current infringement on Christians' free exercise within the walls of their churches and rarely in the surrounding community, especially here in the Baptist Belt where the right wing has refashioned the classic three Estates of the Realm (clergy, nobility, and commoners) into a single bastardized one. When exceptions are voiced against public exercise it is always on the grounds of being inappropriately foisted upon mixed public company (think Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe cheerleaders with religious signs, Ten Commandments in the courthouse, etc.) and not against any peaceable assembly exclusively made up of believers. Unfortunately the courts have not always held that “inappropriate” equals an unconstitutional establishment (dare I say endorsement) of religion.

Though I have eschewed revealed religion in my life, I don’t disagree that there is often intolerance of Christianity on the part of staunch Atheists with chips on their shoulders (works both ways, that), but I believe we should all pledge to love our enemies and not scream back at them.

September 08, 2010


The Occasional Max

Wow, 10 months. One of the biggest reasons that this blog has been idle for that long is my disdain for the obligation of regularly keeping up with it. That and a little thing called Facebook, which has, despite its shortcomings and sundry aggravations, become my latest Internet obsession. I’ll spare any non-FBers (we’re pretty sure you must exist somewhere) the details of my fancy except to say that it sort of streamlines the Internet social experience and gives you a tad bit more control as to who enters your world (and speaking only for myself, I do NOT mean that in the prison sense). There is also the fact that most people actually use their real name.

So I don’t know yet if MTIH will get the full Lazarus, but what else to start with after nearly a year but a recap? Many of my regular readers (haha) Innertubes pals are familiar with at least some of this, but I need the therapy.

As best I can recall the transition from ‘09 to ‘10 was fairly uneventful, but as our son Max’s third birthday approached we decided to take steps toward determining something that we had growing suspicions about. In early February we received an initial diagnosis that he is “mildly to moderately” autistic. For months Max had displayed some classic tell-tale signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), so the news, while disappointing, was not totally unexpected.

I spoke with my sister not long after the doctor’s appointment, and later she sent an e-mail with these words which moved me to tears with their heartfelt honesty, “You are parents to a beautiful, fun, adorable little boy who brings a lot of joy to a lot of people. Max is ‘special’ not only because he has different needs but because he is an amazing little boy, and I truly believe that he will thrive and flourish, and show us all what he can do.”

Indeed, on the plus side Max has shown improvement in some of the areas we were initially concerned with. And the developmental pediatrician who diagnosed him noted some strengths that, with the relatively early intervention we’ve been provided, indicate the strong possibility that he will lead a relatively normal life.

Of course Jen and I dove right into protective/pro-active parent mode, and after some therapy assessments we determined he would do well to have weekly speech and occupational therapy sessions. It’s interesting to weigh in our minds the differences and similarities between Max and “neurotypical” kids (pardon the jargon – I’ll try to be sparse with it). For example, when he has a meltdown, is it because of the sensory overload that his autism sometimes subjects him to or is it because he’s three?

Max is a bright little boy and very sweet (except of course when he’s not). His vocabulary is solid and he often talks up a storm. The ASD is apparent in the conversations though – the vast majority of his speech is echolalia, or repeating what he has heard; he doesn’t ask questions very often and sometimes has trouble answering even direct “yes” or “no” questions (though he is gaining excellence in the art of “NO!”). He also has trouble making eye contact with whomever he is speaking to. He is not particularly socially awkward, but he is deficient in the area of respecting, much less knowing about, personal space. Sometimes it’s cute how gregarious he is, but he is big for his age (nearly 40 inches and 45 lbs.) and has been known to knock other kids over, sometimes quite forcefully. There is some consolation in that it’s from excitement and not aggression. There is also consolation in knowing that it takes extended observation or a professional eye to even notice that Max is any different from the other kids on the playground. He plays enthusiastically, climbing like a monkey or riding his balance bike (a two-wheeler without pedals and drive train – he really moves on it!). He is usually very friendly and affectionate – he likes to snuggle and be tickled and to rough house and giggle and run around the house naked.

The diagnosis has not diminished our hopes for him, it has just made us aware that we need to be especially vigilant for his sake. There are struggles with the realization that many aspects of human nature that we take for granted will be an uphill battle for him, such as humor and romance and detecting dishonesty. But his literal and logically oriented thinking may often be a plus for him.

Max continues weekly therapy and is now enrolled in preschool full time (8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then afternoon daycare until around 4:00). The initial transition from being home with momma all summer was difficult at times, but he seems to be improving weekly.

The transition for Jen and me was interesting. She got laid off from the school system she has worked in for the past 12 years, ostensibly a “reduction in force” due to funding. While that might be generally believable by way of the governor and his fellow party legislators gutting Georgia’s education system of billions of dollars over the past eight years, it was dubious in the local sense because the county Jen works for pink-slipped over 100 teachers while surrounding counties let NONE of their staff go. Insult was added to injury but then topped by opportunity when the school system then advertised hiring for positions that included Jen’s former job. Oops! To make a long story short, there was back and forth between Jen and her union lawyer and the administration, Bob’s yer uncle, Jen still has a job with no loss of tenure.

In the fear-wracked interim of looking at losing our primary income and family health insurance, I was compelled to seek full-time employment. I was fortunate to not have to look far, as my former employer was seeking a staff writer/reporter. I don’t know who was happier – me for avoiding the dreadful beating of the pavement (which might have involved my head if it had gone on as long as my last bout of unemployment) or the publisher who didn’t have to interview a dozen unqualified wannabes.

The relatively sudden acquisition of my position and resolution of Jen’s debacle presented a new challenge – finding fulltime daycare for a yet-to-be fully potty trained special needs three-year-old. Suffice it to say that the local school system (we live one county from where Jen works) came through with essentially aeronautically navigable hues, and we found a better-than-tolerable facility to watch him for a couple of hours each afternoon.

Max had nice visits this summer with family. First his Auntie Joogie (soft ‘g’) made her annual trip down south, and then, looking at the fact that my new job would not afford vacation time for a year, we decided to return the favor and took a road trip up to Chicago. Not wanting to risk the emergence of Mr. McCrabbypants, we took overnight stops each way, and a good boy named Max took it all in with exuberance.

And now, as regular occurrence is questionable, I present The Occasional Max (I Know What You’ve Done Since Last Christmas edition):

Deck it out.

We enjoyed several good snowfalls this past season.

"Nice" I'd say.

This was the bungee-tramp thing at the Swedish Festival in Geneva, IL
Max has a frequent flyer card for the one at the mall near home.

I wanna live with the cinnamon dogs...

Lots of pride (and a bit of caution) that Max has entered
the "I can do it !" stage of toddlerdom

Awesome little helper that boy is. Stylin' too.

"I can do it!" Part Two


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November 05, 2009


City Mouse, Country Mouse

I am at a point on the timeline of my life in which I have experienced nearly equal parts of being a city dweller and a resident of less populated areas. I was born in Chicago to parents native of it, and by way of “white flight” and ostensibly better schools, raised just a few miles up the shore.

I know from history that in previous generations it was simpler to see the difference between many of Chicago's classic ethnic neighborhoods. Gentrification has made those boundaries much less obtrusive today. Still, in most of the major metropolitan areas of America, short distances of a mile or two can represent worlds of difference. An observant visitor or any realtor worth their salt can still see this, albeit increasingly along socio-economic lines as the cultural ones are being homogenized.

While my upbringing was not technically urban, my specific neighborhood and its proximity to the city provided an experience much more so than the typical concept of suburban life (e.g. Leave It To Beaver, The Brady Bunch, etc.). Urban-like diversity was apparent in my high school's student body as well as in real estate, with homes separated by a short physical distance often having disparity of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in value.

We didn't have near as much in the way of direct supervision growing up, much less formal play dates or groups. The bicycle was the ultimate instrument of independence, shrinking my microcosm to any limit that could accommodate being back before the streetlights came on. After outgrowing that rule the bike continued to provide essential transportation since I was not one of the fortunate teens who was either provided or could afford an automobile. I miss those days and have concern that my son may not be afforded the local geography and relatively safe traffic needed for youthful neighborhood bike adventures.

I am often amused by the thought of how distances seemed so much greater in my days as a city mouse. When my eldest brother left the nest I was about eight or nine years old, and the anticipation of the 20-mile drive to go visit him in his new digs was quite titillating - one might have thought I was going on my first plane trip. To not spend the night at his place required a round trip that was practically a pioneer wagon voyage by my excitable pre-adolescent perceptions.

In contrast, the sparser population centers of my past two decades of residency have alternated between the in-town life of a couple of southern micropoli and more rural digs not far from such. By and large I have enjoyed the change, at least enough to give my old northern stomping grounds the status of “nice place to visit - wouldn't want to live there.” But now in the wide open spaces of Georgia I have friends that live 20 or more miles away. Of course the lightly traveled two-lane highways here probably require a third less travel time from the “surface street” routes of the cities and suburbs (a standing joke in Chicagoland is that it takes 45 minutes to get anywhere – in good traffic).

As to the aforementioned timeline, like anyone I hope that it includes many more decades of healthy and happy existence. And while the cultural draws of a city will always be worth the occasional long drive, I lean toward increasing my distance from the magnetic convenience of the modern business district. Years ago I moved from the Bay Area of California to the bucolic (if culturally stunted) environs of northwestern Georgia. After a few years of settling in I began a subscription to Organic Gardening magazine, which guided me in maintaining a small plot of veggies and flowers for two years running before letting expense and laziness become excuses not to.

I want to get back to things like that in the worst way. I confess to the possibility that this is just a pipe dream (my consolation being that currently I am minutes from a symphony and great Thai food). My desire to eschew city life is coupled with a perception that American society has changed too much from the quasi-urban neighborhood of my youth. Sidewalks are rare, old growth trees even more so, and these are superficial things to the real concern that modern parents have of leaving their child unwatched.

I suppose there is irony in having the most desirable areas of rural America gentrified into hobby farms and estates of various rustic-looking excess. I confess that I dream of having a few hundred topographically diverse acres on which to develop a mountain bike park. It would be naturally sustainable of course – no need to remove thousands of trees and install expensive turf that requires bajillions of gallons of water and tons of chemical fertilizers that inundate the aquifer. I guess I could settle for being a thousand feet from my nearest neighbors (none of whom require any sort of gas-powered lawn maintenance equipment), an effective composting system and enough summer sunlight for a salsa garden.

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October 31, 2009


Primera noche de las brujas



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October 25, 2009


Who is Howard Beale?

Incensed by the continuing wholesale kleptomania of the financial world as described in the Washington Post, El Jefe at Boiled Dinner did that "write to your senators" thing that passionate citizens do when they're mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Kudos to Jeff for a succinct and effective note.

As happens from time to time, here is a typical "comment on a blog that became a post instead."

I have fear that increases a bit with each article I read about all this financial stuff. It's a fear that America, like some strung-out junkie, will have to hit rock bottom in order to snap out of the consumerist greedocracy in which it has become so comfortable living. And yes, as Jeff pointed out, rage is something else I have - it's about the only thing that keeps me from being burned out on concern for our nation's future.

It is a frustrating thing to be unable to muster any trust for our elected officials to fashion a proper solution to our troubles.

The only things that I can so far agree to, based on a plethora of news and commentary both organized and informal, are the following rather nebulous points of indeterminate feasibility:

1. Break the grip of the two-party system. One more viable party would great, two seems to be the impossible dream.

2. Declare 100 percent public financing of all elections. How much would this cost in comparison to American military deployments and financial bailouts? Seems like a bargain to me.

3. Reform of corporate personhood designations that facilitate loopholes in everything from liability to taxes to government lobbying.

4. (Write-in)

5. (Et cetera)

6. (Et cetera)

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September 24, 2009


Loss, bitterness and renewal

Last Friday toward the end of my shift the owner flagged me down and told me that my wife had called. She wanted me to call back before I left work, he said. "I'm not real good at discerning these things, but I think she had been crying."

Of course I was worried right off the bat, but I knew if it had been an emergency that obviously Jen would have asked to speak with me right away. I only had a few more things to finish up until I was done for the night so I made haste with that and called home. She was upset because she got the news that a former co-worker of mine, not a very close friend but much more than an aquaintance, had just lost her husband, her 10-year-old daughter and her brother in an auto accident. "I just wanted to hear your voice and to tell you that I love you and to be careful on your way home," she said.

After clocking out I numbly walked to the car and broke down. I was stunned by the news that the lives of two people that I knew (I had never met her brother) had been instantly and violently ended and by how her life is now so painfully fragmented by the loss of not just one or two but three loved ones.

The typical "public" events that follow death were in this unusual case augmented by a candlelight vigil two nights after the accident. Despite this area experiencing some of the heaviest rain seen in years, 300 people attended the ceremony. Forces beyond our control (lack of babysitter) had Jen and I decide that only one of us could go, but then forces of nature (flash flooding) caused us to opt out altogether. All things considered it was a wise decision, as a mutual friend posted Facebook updates on being stuck at the church until 2 a.m. due to the high water. I heard another former co-worker's account of attempting to navigate a flooded road on the route home and nearly losing his vehicle in the current.

A funeral home visitation took place two nights later, but as I was scheduled for work Jen decided she would make an appearance, if only a brief one because of the necessity to have child in tow. I am grateful that she was able to talk with our friend briefly to express sympathy and say simply that when the storm abates a little in a few weeks or even months (I envision at least partly cloudy skies for the rest of her life) to give us a call and we'll get together.

I was only able to attend the funeral service at the church today. This is the one event I would have chosen last, for the selfish reason that I am not comfortable among those trappings. I had to breathe deep often to counteract the swelling grief in me for this wife and mother and her remaining 6-year-old daughter (an anchor that is surely keeping her sane). There were such unfathomable sights today - of a little sister too young to fully grieve, of the slightly older friends and school mates, faces red and streaked wet, who have little to no context in which to frame their intense feelings of loss. I was heartbroken by the thought of them having to deal with something so incomprehensible, by a "why?" so far beyond a relatively normal death like that of a grandparent.

This all has left me in a tough place because, although my life experience has caused me to eschew religion, I am still a "want to" believer in the grand purpose of our race and our space. I consider myself basically an agnostic deist - I have zero need for dogma yet I am hopeful that a benevolent, laissez-faire higher power has something else in store for us beyond what we perceive in this life (and that "beyond" should not be obsessed upon). The funeral left me struggling with bitterness at the raspy-voiced old fire and brimstone preacher who turned from that tack and proclaimed that "this is the day that the Lord has made - let us rejoice and be glad in it." It's bitterness toward what BS I think that is but also somewhat toward having lost the faith of those who can comfortably lean on that B(lis)S. Actually, I am glad to have been released from what I see as ignorance in many instances, but I think I need to allow others their faith, free from my prejudice, so they can do the good they are capable of and I can release the bitterness that only hinders me from doing the same.

I haven't found the perfect happy medium where I can just let go of my anger toward religion and pursue that peace that passes all understanding, to paraphrase Paul née Saul of Tarsus. I know that internally I've got work to do. Being a father is beyond a doubt aiding this work very positively. As for externally, well it'd be a tough row for Jesus to hoe, since he (and/or his representatives) have burned me no less than twice. But I feel like there is a corner to be turned up ahead, and it's like Jen told me, "don't begrudge anyone praying for you - it can't hurt."

Ask for a burning bush or a Virgin Mary waffle.

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