Honey, About That Scrip

My most beautiful wife and the light of my eyes and el fuego de mi corazón, I want to take a moment to explain this little scrip of paper before you find it on a dresser somewhere. It says, in my handwriting:

Melanie Thomas
(314) xxx-xxxx
meet Thurs. night

That’s Melanie at Thomas Construction regarding the work we’re about to have done. We should call her back to give her some additional information or to schedule an evening meeting.

(Am I the only spouse out there who preemptively explains his phone message shorthand when it involves a woman?)

Steinberg on the Bandwagon

Neil Steinberg, of the Chicago Sun-Times, jumps on the anti-Wal-Mart bandwagon today:

Wal-Mart is a thing of evil

There is great irony that the Wal-Mart proposed for the South Side would be located on the site of the shuttered Ryerson steel mill, a bit of symbolism that would be too obvious in fiction, but in real life just sits there and smirks at us: the good-job, good-salary past of America bulldozed to make room for the penny-shaving gulag of Wal-Mart. Of course it’s our own fault. We rhapsodize the small town past of America, with good old Mr. Henderson standing behind the oak counter at Henderson’s Drugs, wrapping our box of cotton balls in brown paper and twine. But when forced to act on our convictions, it turned out we’d rather save a few pennies on our cotton balls by buying them in a 55-gallon drum from an indentured servant at Wal-Mart with Mr. Henderson greeting us at the door for minimum wage.

Tales of Wal-Mart excess — from forcing illegal immigrants to work unpaid overtime to triple-charging customers through a credit card snafu — were already piling up when a truly frightening story arrived from Inglewood, Calif.

The Inglewood city fathers, sensibly enough, blocked Wal-Mart from importing its Third World employment practices to their community. The Bargain Behemoth responded by getting a referendum on Tuesday’s ballot with a proposal that would basically create a sovereign Republic of Wal-Mart in the heart of Inglewood; if you think I’m exaggerating, the New York Times said the measure would ”essentially exempt Wal-Mart from all of Inglewood’s planning, zoning and environmental regulations, creating a city-within-a-city subject only to its own rules.”

My bet is that voters pass the measure — what is the integrity of your government compared to the lure of buying stuff really cheap? — and no doubt Wal-Mart will find a way to jam itself into Chicago next.

The most telling detail of the California nightmare is this: The goons Wal-Mart hired to gather signatures to get their measure on the ballot were paid a far better wage than the clerks in its stores.

How disappointing. Steinberg takes a couple of isolated incidents, mixes them together, and decides that the free markets aren’t good. Or at least great success in the free markets aren’t; maybe Steinberg prefers only moderate success mixed in with enobling failure. Granted, I’m putting words into his keyboard here, but people who hold up Wal-Mart as an example of what’s wrong with capitalism are poor thinkers. I don’t know what those people want, probably just something else, and heaven forbid if we ever get it.

Wal-Mart got to where it is by building stores where others wouldn’t, by selling acceptable quality products at low prices to people who weren’t being served by other department stores or boutiques. Although some portions of the corporation have done wrong (skimping overtime pay, hiring un-driver’s-licensed illegal aliens) and some unfortunate incidents occur (accidental overbilling), it’s not a force for evil. Its customers can shop at higher-priced stores if they get better service there or if that’s important to them; its employees can get other jobs if it’s important to them. Wal-Mart’s the intersection of free wills in this little thing we call commerce. If it bothers you so damn much, bobos, take up substinence farming and start whining about your aching backs instead.

Wal-Mart is just the Microsoft for those who don’t pretend to be technical.


Others weigh in:

Us and Them

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel catches John Kerry in an unfortunate pronoun:

Democrat John Kerry said Monday that the violent Shiite uprising in Iraq underscores the Bush administration’s failure to build a “genuine” international coalition there and create the conditions for lasting stability.

“I think they’re on a terrible course,” Kerry said of the administration’s performance, while speaking in Washington, D.C., to a group of reporters, most from Midwestern newspapers.

Asked if the United States should arrest Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical cleric who inspired the uprising, Kerry said, “I think they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do.”

I don’t agree with all of Bush’s policies, Senator, but I do agree that we are one country, and it’s our countrymen who are in Iraq right now, carrying out the orders of our elected leader.

So, Senator, how else can you divide this country into us and them?

Pretend like I haven’t paid attention to your campaign so far and summarize.

Who Questioned Emil Guillermo’s Virility?

In today’s SFGate.com, Emil Guillermo looks at the microphenomenon that is William Hung and finds what he expected: anti-Asian American racism. (Hurry, that’s a perishable link.)

For those of you who don’t know, William Hung wanted to be a contestant on the television show American Idol, but whose cover of a Ricky Martin song, “She Bangs”, proved so awful that he didn’t make the cut. Instead, he was thrown out at audition, but since these auditions aired, became an anti-star of sorts. He’s made the rounds of the television shows and has a CD coming out. America likes an earnest, but ultimately undertalented, performer. Sure, it’s funny, but it’s also endearing. A lot of us can project ourselves into William Hung.

What does Guillermo project? Seemingly, a lack of virility:

With William Hung, is there any other reason to extend the joke on America except that it plays to a racist image of the ineffectual Asian-American male?

What is Hung but an infantilized, incompetent and impotent male image? Strong? No. Virile? No. Sexy? The guy’s a virgin.

You know what, Emil? A lot of people are virgins, and some of them don’t care for it. The modern message indicates you’re a freak if you’re not getting head in third grade. I haven’t seen William Hung in action–I get my entertainment and pop culture news on the Internet– but I wouldn’t be so quick to call him infantilized, incompetent, and impotent. As a matter of fact, those words don’t tend to come to mind for most people unless they’re writing television ads for male supplements. Those men are incompetent.

Guillermo hits the v-word again with this bit:

It wouldn’t be so bad if we saw positive images of Asian-American males in the media. But, for the most part, we’ve been invisible, and the images have usually come with martial-arts enhancements.

Bruce Lee’s combative persona has been the most virile and most enduring icon for Asian-American males. But the stereotypes that predominate are the sinister and inscrutable or ineffectual and effeminate.

Jeez, buddy, give it a rest. You’re so caught up in making William Hung’s name ironic that you fail to see what makes him iconic: that he’s an underdog member of a multicultural society that appreciates underdogs.

Guillermo might want me to prove it:

You certainly wouldn’t see them glorify a black man who couldn’t sing and dance on “American Idol.” Nor would they prop up a clumsy, tone-deaf white person.

He’s wrong. For starters, Don “No Soul” Simmons was a joke in 1987. But that’s not the point.

America braces people who sincerely try, often even if they’re not the most talented. When I look to my hometown sports teams, I see that the fan favorites are often blue-collar players, not the superstars. The St. Louis Cardinals have had Joe McEwing and Bo Hart; the St. Louis Blues have had Tyson Nash, Mike Danton, and Dallas Drake. They play their hearts out, but they’re not eight-figure players.

Still, we lesser mortals can see ourselves in their positions and can root for them to succeed beyond their ability.

Well, some of us do, anyway. Others, like Guillermo, have other projections to see.

We Bear All Alanis

So, according to Drudge, Alanis Morissette has been protesting United States censorship, by which she means commercial enterprises that ask her to change words in her monobrow lyrics before broadcast. Let’s examine that more closely, shall we?

  • She’s a Canadian
  • who protested in Canada
  • about “censorship” in the United States
  • which is not actually censorship, but a negotiation between the producer (Morissette) and a purchaser (radio stations) that didn’t work out according to Alanis’s “artistic” sensibilities.
  • She protested this “censorship” by wearing a body suit (not by exposing her actual, slightly dumpy body).

How seriously does she expect anyone to take this protest? Just seriously enough to buy her new album, probably. That’s what the smart people who run her told her, anyway. If she understood or remembered.

For crying out loud, U.S. Censorship. I tell you what, honey, but I will take your point a little more seriously if I knew CBC was showing a little nudity between hockey games and shows about hockey. So if you want to see some bodies, agitate for liberation in your own damn country first. When CBC changes its ways, I’ll personally write my cable company to get it piped down here.

Other sources for the story:

Others weigh in:

I Hate It When That Happens

Fark links to a story in the Fond du Lac Reporter about a woman whose water was cut off because a faulty meter underreported water usage for her late mother. It’s a pretty sad story, but what’s even sadder is the way the story sort of changes themes in the middle:

t was no April Fool?s joke when the tap went dry Thursday for a Fond du Lac woman who was left to pay a $1,200 water bill for her deceased mother.

Sonja A. Terry, said neither she nor her late mother, Maria Wittig, had an idea the utility bills were drastically less than they should have been. The problem with an outside meter was discovered only after Terry’s mother died in June 2003 and water utility officials cross-checked what they call the “actual” meter in the basement at 120 E. Second St.

Wittig had requested and purchased the outdoor meter so the reading could be taken outside her home. The outdoor meter had slowed drastically and may not have been working at all.

Terry agreed in December to pay $50 a month toward the $1,200 bill. When she failed to make the two initial payments, her water was shut off.

“I turned the faucet on and nothing came out,” Terry recalled.

Early last week, she was given another shut-off notice due to two more consecutive months of non-payment. The water was shut off Thursday. She agreed to pay $100 and the water was turned on a short time later.

“I can’t make those (extra payments),” Terry said. “They’re putting it on my regular (utility) bill.”

Terry said her most recent regular utility bill was $242. Another $150 was added to the bill ($50 repayment schedule for each of three months), bringing the total to nearly $400 for the quarter.

Before the error at the meter was discovered, Terry said her mother’s bill was $53. The amount is the monthly charge for vacant residences, according to water utility staff. The amount suggests that the outdoor meter wasn’t functioning at all.

“I hate doing this,” Fond du Lac Water Superintendent Dale Paczkowski said. “I don?t like it. (And) it?s time consuming for us to be putting (shut-off) notices on the door and sending letters.”

Paczkowski said the water was used — it ran through the actual meter.

“I agreed (in December) to $50, which I cannot do,” Terry said. “I thought I could (pay $50 per month toward the debt), and I had my back surgery, and I lieves headache and eases insomnia. It can be applied full strength to burns, rashes or psoriasis.

Lavender is a “must-have” in the home, Vores said.

* Lemon increases optimism and sense of humor, helps calm fear and increase memory, according to Vores? list of essential oil uses. In very dilute solution (1 or 2 percent) it is good for acne, he said.

* Peppermint is a mental stimulant, relieves headache and anxiety. It is good for congested sinuses and digestion as well as emotions.

* Tea tree oil builds strength before surgery, says a list of oils Vores has compiled. It?s a strong antiseptic that stimulates immunity.

Vores describes essential oils as the “lifeblood” of a plant, the part that is fragrant. “Pure” oil comes from a single source.

It’s some sort of content error, but it’s always interesting to note how far you go before you realize you’ve missed something.

Sometimes, when I am reading a particularly hard to follow text, I have been known to skip pages when the last words of one page and the first words of the page two pages ahead mesh in a manner no more confusing than the rest of the work. When reading, I admit I don’t slow down and understand each sentence or paragraph before moving on; I tend to gather the grasp of the whole, which is why I keep reading stuff I don’t understand as I am reading it. I expect to pick it up from context. As I have a philosophy degree, rest assured I have run into the situation where I accidentally skip a page and don’t immediately know it many times while contending with works of on the order of Heidegger, Sartre, Dostoyevsky, and others.

P.S. I didn’t get to the whole next paragraph in the above piece, unlike some works.

Book Review: The Dilbert Future by Scott Adams (1997)

I don’t know if it was inappropriate or not, but I read The Dilbert Future at work. Unlike most Dilbert books, which lament the workplace environment and the world’s dysfunctional state, this book laments the current state and the state the world was going to be in. So it represents a forward looking bad employee attitude.

Scott Adams took his cartooning insight into trends that were nascent in 1997 (or 1996, which is when I assume he wrote the book) and projected them out into the future. With some wryness, of course, but with some sincerity, too. His futurism is hit or miss, but he did pick up on some interesting things which came true. Some don’t, however. We don’t all have ISDN, but we do have cable modems and DSL, which are gradually supplanting the dial-up lines used in 1997. And this Internet thing has gotten a whole lot bigger. Not as big as the hype which would peak within a couple years of this book’s publication, but bigger. Adams also picked up the trend of blogging:

    Prediction 52: In the future, everyone will be a news reporter.

Jeff Jarvis is so behind Scott Adams.

So Adams takes his best stabs at the future, and the book’s amusing enough with that. However, with the ultimate chapter, “A New View of the Future”, Adams goes careers off into a I’m Not Really Here-style weird Buddhist musing. He talks about how future paradigm shifts will indicate our current perception of the experience of time is inaccurate, and the near past, near future, and present are all the same, or similar, or something. He’s sincere. Hey, I am all for keeping an open mind, but this bit lacks a big enough dose of skepticism for me.

Still, it’s only a chapter, and it’s not the whole book, so I can overlook it and say the book’s amusing enough to read.

Book Review: Give Me a Break by John Stossel (2004)

When I finished this book last night, Heather asked me if I liked it. I said, “It’s okay.” Was it a good book? she pressed. “It was okay,” I responded.

There you have it: this is a nice book.

It’s about 40% biography, wherein John Stossel tells us about his evolution as a thinker and a commentator, and 60% survey of libertarian positions on issues. It’s an unfortunate mix, because it really didn’t do too much for me.

Stossel tells us anecdotes from times throughout his career when he was working as a consumer advocate reporter for local affiliates up until he became the 20/20 presence and network gadfly. These anecdotes and insights are the strength of the book. It could have used more of Stossel’s personal account of his odyssey. The first four or five chapters describe it.

Unfortunately, the remainder of the book is not much more than a laundry list of what libertarians believe (less government, more personal responsibility). The very chapter titles reflect this: “Welfare for the Rich”, “The Trouble with Lawyers”, “The Left Takes Notice”, “”It’s Not My Fault” and up to “Owning Your Body” and “Free Speech”. Stossel works in a few anecdotes–including the one excerpted in Reason–but mostly he just conducts a survey course.

Perhaps it’s a good primer for the people who’ve seen Stossel on television and don’t know much about libertarianism. If so, he assures them that others share the vision they might find attractive. Heck, he even invokes Ayn Rand a couple of times. But it doesn’t offer a detailed, reasoned argument to sway thinkers–or to offer arguments for the believers who want to them.

Of course, it’s not Bias when it comes to harsh indictment of media, and it’s not Ann Coulter or Michael Moore polemics to rouse the rabble or enrage the heretics. It’s more even-tempered than that, and it does treat the reader fairly, and the opposition sympathetically. Stossel even offers kind words to the police state government and contemporary society, noting that we’re remarkably open and free even while we’re moving towards crackpot nannyism.

That Stossel’s a nice boy.

So that’s what it is; a nice, rational, but ultimately lightweight treatise (if that’s not an oxymoron) on how one man became a libertarian (or small-l liberal) and what it means to him.

I Came Not To Fisk Whitman; It Just Happened

The world-famous DC from Brainstorming, who also appeared on the Hugh Hewitt show this evening (even if Instapundit overlooks it, we know), asks why I didn’t want to be associated with Walt Whitman.

The backstory: I took a Quizilla quiz that asked what poet I was. I wasn’t Walt Whitman, and I said I was glad I wasn’t. DC took the same quiz and was. And she wondered why I said I didn’t like Walt Whitman.

I don’t find his poetry very vivid. Certainly, most of it seems to have a point, which Whitman doesn’t hide. As a matter of fact, he pretty much delivers a non-rhyming lecture with line breaks. Let’s take DC’s favorite Whitman piece, and let’s color code it. Blue is show, which means an image or other sensory material; green is tell, which is discussing abstractions:

O Me! O Life!

O ME! O life!… of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless–of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light?of the objects mean?of the struggle ever renew?d;
Of the poor results of all–of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest–with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring–What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.
That you are here?that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.

You see, I am reduced to coloring the blooming concrete nouns to find images and turns of phrase. The rest, chatter.

Personally, when it comes to poetry, I prefer structured poetry to free verse. So let’s take a quick gander at something from my personal favorite poet (aside from my beautiful wife and, well, me, of course), Edna St. Vincent Millay:

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

The concrete images resonate at a lower level than abstractions, and the reader makes the connections and draws the higher meaning for himself, which resonates more deeply than a series of things we know, but cannot see or feel.

(Thanks to Lex Libertas, another conservative poetry lover, who led posted a pile of Millay’s poetry.)

As I said, I like structured poetry better than free verse (although not exclusively). I prefer to see a poet struggle against the bonds of tradition, and make the poem worthwhile. So it’s no surprise that I work in the sonnet form like my patron saint:

It’s always more than sex to sleep with you.
Don’t get me wrong; I like to tangle sheets
and hungry scents and taste the salty dew
of glistening sweat where heavy brow meets
soft eyelids closed, relaxed. I’ll kiss them, too,
and sample other slow seduction sweets.
But I run out of juice, won’t thump my chest
and say I don’t, and so I like the rest:
I like to lie, arms wrapped around you, deep
in comfortable darkness where the moon projects
odd patterns on the walls. I want to keep
you safe and warm as winter licks our necks.
You mumble love and slowly fall asleep;
these moments worth much more than simple sex.

You can mentally add your own blue or green highlighting to it. But keep in mind, it’s not public domain, and I better not Google it and find other hits, or I will kick your ass (don’t worry; if you don’t own a donkey, one will be provided for you).

To make a short story long, I don’t like Whitman because his poems don’t contain the things I value in poetry. Imagery, concrete sensational phrases, and/or structure.

The Bottom of the Slippery Slope?

Oh, how they mocked me last year when I shook my head about St. Peters, Missouri, arresting underage teenagers for taking pornographic videos to sell to their fellow high school students. (I went into greater detail about the absurdity the next day.) Can you get any more absurd than charging children for exploiting children?

The Meatriarchy Guy links to a story in story in USA Today:

    A 15-year-old girl has been arrested for taking nude photographs of her self and posting them on the Internet, police said.

Her crimes?

    She has been charged with sexual abuse of children, possession of child pornography and dissemination of child pornography.

She has been charged for abusing herself for having and distributing naked pictures of herself.

You know, Government could better protect The Children and the little inner The Children by straight-jacketing us and putting us in dark closets, where no carcinogenic sunlight need blemish us.

Pulling the Emergency Brake on the Train of Thought

Have you ever had this happen to you?

This afternoon, I was thinking that The Toxic Avenger was named Melvin before he became the title character. When suddenly, the absurd nature of the musing pulled the emergency brake on my train of thought, and it went off the tracks. Maybe it was already careering too fast around a bend when I saw it.

Why the heck was I thinking about a movie I have not seen?

I couldn’t retrace my thoughts nor make sense of it. Some of you know I am prone to spitting out random trivia seemingly unrelated to what we’re talking about. Perhaps you’ll feel better to know I do it to myself, too.

Book Review: Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen (2002)

Ah, a light mystery romp. This is the first book of Carl Hiassen’s that I have read, and it probably won’t be the last.

It’s the story of a newspaperman who’s gone from the front page of his small Florida daily to the obituary beat, punishment for his forthright (and possibly self-destructive) nature. As he grows older, he starts obsessing about the ages of famous people when they died, and whom he’s out lived–without contributing as much.

When an obscure 80s pop star dies, Jack Tagger suspects foul play. He’s right, of course; what kind of mystery would it be without it?

You know, Hiassen might just be the funniest writer to come out of the Miami Herald ever. The voice of the book is light, vulnerable, and humorous. It’s a good light read, and I look forward to my next Hiassen novel.

Yep, that’s all I got for a review.